Last updated on January 15, 2023 by Wandering our World
When it comes to dream getaways and honeymoon vacations, Punta Cana and Puerto Plata should be two destinations at the top of your list. Both of these friendly beach paradises can offer amazing experiences, especially if you’re looking for sun, sea, sand and adventure.
However choosing whether to visit Puerto Plata or Punta Cana for that once-in-a-lifetime holiday can be exceptionally difficult. Particularly as these destinations are actually very different from each other.
For example, if your priority is a fantastic beach, all-inclusive hotels and epic nightlife then Punta Cana is the better choice. But if you want a more authentic Dominican Republic experience, in a beautiful beach city where there’s plenty of adventure and fun to be had away from the coastline, then Puerto Plata will suit you more.
But ultimately that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how these two destinations are different and similar.
Luckily after spending time in both, we’re here to compare Punta Cana vs Puerto Plata below, and show you what each has to offer!
We also give you a run down of some of the best natural sights and things to do in each destination to help you decide which one is better for your holiday.
Let’s get started!
- A Quick Overview
- Which Has The Better Beaches & Activities?
- Which Has Better Nightlife?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
- Which Is Better For Food?
- Which Is Better For Honeymoons?
- Which Is Cheaper & Safer?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview: Vibe & What To Expect
If you’re looking for a resort holiday, or an all-inclusive holiday, then Punta Cana may suit you better. Why? Well, Punta Cana is geared towards tourists, and is marketed as a destination for sun, sea, sand and relaxation.
The beaches are gorgeous (more on them below), there are many all-inclusive resorts, lots of tourist excursions all set up and ready, English is widely spoken as tourism is the number one job provider in the area, and it’s easy to find a hotel room right beside the beach.
Recommended: Punta Cana Safety Tips Every Tourist Should Know
Puerto Plata is not as ‘polished’ as Punta Cana, but what that means is this destination has more of an authentic vibe and feels more like the real Dominican Republic. In comparison, Punta Cana can sometimes feel a little ‘Americanized’.
It’s a city that is still focused around locals more than tourists – unlike Punta Cana – which means it’s great for getting a real feel of the culture and food of the DR. It’s also easy to make friends with locals here too!
Puerto Plata has some lovely beaches too, and because it’s more windy the city is a watersports hub – more on that below. So if you want to have some fun on the waves and water, then you’re going to love it.
Luckily both destinations are within easy access to the Dominican Republic’s lush mountainous inland as well, so there are some great excursions close to each – like hiking or swimming in waterfalls. Although, we would say that these sort of excursions are more easily accessible from Puerto Plata.
Which Has Better Beaches & Activities?
Both Punta Cana and Puerto Plata have great coastlines, but if beaches are your priority then Punta Cana will be a better choice than Puerto Plata.
Punta Cana: The Beaches & Activities
The Dominican Republic is marketing itself more and more as a resort destination, with the region of Punta Cana and the “Coconut Coast’ as its crown.
No wonder too, as the quality of beaches in Punta Cana is far superior to Puerto Plata and other areas of the country. This region of the Dominican Republic has incredible palm-tree lined white sand beaches, whilst the ones at Puerto Plata tend to be a little darker in color and not as soft.
It’s less windy at Punta Cana too, making it a better place for swimming due to the calmer water.
Beaches in Punta Cana such as Bavaro Beach and Macao Beach, are incredible white-sandy stretches of coastline that are perfect for a day’s swimming and sunbathing.
With such a gorgeous coastline, there’s plenty of water activities to enjoy too – from snorkeling to catamaran trips. Many of the beaches in Punta Cana are developed and have facilities beside them like restaurants and bars, so it’s easy to enjoy a whole day relaxing in the sun.
But if you’re visiting this area, don’t confine yourself just to the beach.
One of the best places to swim in Punta Cana is actually set back from the coast surrounded by jungle. That place is called Hoyo Azul, and it’s a gorgeous lagoon that looks out of this world – jumping into the clear blue water on a hot day is an absolute must!
Fancy a little more adventure, then head to the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Reserve. This nature reserve has shady hiking trails and lagoons for swimming. It’s great if you’re looking for a change from the beach for the day.
And after all of that hiking and swimming, you’ll be happy to hear that chocolate is a big thing in the DR! The chocolate made on this island is some of the world’s best, and ChocoMuseo in Punta Cana is a museum dedicated to it. If you take one of their half-day workshops, you will get the chance to make your own bar.
So whilst the beaches and beach activities are the main reasons to visit Punta Cana, there’s plenty of other activities to enjoy if you venture away from your hotel and those tempting sunbeds…
Puerto Plata: The Beaches & Activities
There are some great beaches in Puerto Plata, and one of our favorites is Playa Dorada.
This pretty stretch of golden sand rarely gets very busy, is set against a jungle backdrop, and has some great bars and restaurants.
It’s a popular kitesurfing spot too, and is home to gorgeous sunsets. In fact because this region is windier than Punta Cana, it’s a great place to learn and enjoy some more active watersports like kitesurfing.
However what we love about Puerto Plata is the fact this region has so much to do away from the coast.
For a bit of history head to the Fortress of San Felipe. This well-preserved 16th century fort was built to protect the city from pirates, and costs just a few dollars to visit. The views from the fort out across the ocean are pretty spectacular.
But if you want the best views in Puerto Plata then take a ride on the city’s cable car! The cable car will take you from the city up into the mountains, and the views from the top are just stunning.
If you’re wanting a challenge, you can hike to the top of mountain (that will take 2-3 hours), and then take the cable car back down.
Related: Hiking in the Dominican Republic
The reality is, Puerto Plata is surrounded by lush mountains and jungle which means you are never far from some of the Dominican Republic’s best natural attractions. And about 15km from Puerto Plata is 27 Waterfalls – a natural collection of 27 beautiful waterfalls where you can hike, swim, and even jump in to!
There are guides at 27 Waterfalls who know which waterfalls you can safely jump from, but they will also introduce you to the wildlife, local fruits, and more.
Simply put, if you’re looking for a more adventurous holiday where you can sunbathe but also enjoy jungle trekking, waterfall swimming, and even exciting watersports like kitesurfing, then Puerto Plata will likely suit you more than Punta Cana.
Which Has The Better Nightlife?
Punta Cana has a fun nightlife that can rival anywhere in the country, and if you’re looking for lively nightlife with many party spots that are well catered to tourists and expats, then Punta Cana’s evening scene will suit you better than Puerto Plata.
For something really unique, head to Imagine Punta Cana which is a nightclub set in a cave! Made up of different passages and rooms, this evening spot is famous for its atmosphere and is regarded as one of the best places to dance in Punta Cana.
Another one of our favorites is Coco Bongo Punta Cana. This place has great music, entertainers like acrobats and dancers, and is often regarded as one of the hottest clubs in the Caribbean. It’s a must visit if you come here on vacation.
The nightlife in Puerto Plata is just as fun as in Punta Cana, but it’s less tourist orientated. And whilst you can find clubs to dance until dawn, this city also has a variety of places for classy cocktails, several rooftop bars, and plenty of spots for sundowners with a view.
After a busy day swimming in waterfalls or learning to kitesurf in Puerto Plata, head to Lust Afterwork – a bar with an inside club and a rooftop terrace. Expect good drinks (at a decent price), great service, and contemporary music.
Or for a bit of everything, make your way to Kviar Show Disco & Casino Puerto Plata. This dance club is fun and plays mostly Latin music, whilst the small casino attached is a great place to try your luck at the usual games.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: Infinity pools close to the beach, breathtaking views of a heavenly paradise, and gourmet food are all available at the all-inclusive Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana.
You can float up to swim-up bars in the opulent private pools, lounge poolside with sea views, or enjoy the day drifting down a lazy river within the water centre. And all of that at a surprisingly affordable price point. See photos and rates here!
Luxury: For a taste of complete luxury in Punta Cana, it’s hard to beat the all-inclusive adults-only resort of Live Aqua Beach. This beachside hotel is the perfect place to relax, has its own private beach area, swimming pools, and rooms with unbelievable seaside views.
Plus all of that is set in a great location to enjoy everything Punta Cana has to offer. It’s one of the hotels we all want to stay in at some point in our lives. See photos and rates here!
Budget: We love Villa Carolina not only because it’s extremely affordable and just a short walk from the beach, but also because the garden it sits in feels in a little world of its own.
This tree-clad villa is simple, but set in a great location in town and even has an outside pool. If you’re traveling on a budget and want a mixture of city and beach life, this is a fantastic base. See photos and rates here!
Luxury: Located right on Cabarete Beach, Ultravioleta Boutique Residences has its own private beach area, gorgeous ocean views, and some of the rooms even have private pools!
Considering all of that, and the exceptional service you get here, it’s surprising how affordable this luxury beachfront option is. See photos and rates here!
Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
Punta Cana: Family Trips
Aside from its gorgeous white sand beaches, Punta Cana is also known for having plenty of amusement parks and water parks that are perfect for keeping kids entertained. Many of the big resorts even have their own water parks so you don’t even have to leave your resort in order to have some fun!
But one fantastic family resort in Punta Cana worth mentioning is Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana, where guests can stay in a pineapple-shaped resort like Spongebob Squarepants. It’s something kids will love!
For attractions outside of the resort, you have to take your children to Dolphin Island Park in Bávaro. In this park, you and your children can watch dolphin performances and even swim with them!
A similar attraction is Manati Park, where you can see not only dolphins but also sea lions and land animals such as iguanas and parrots.
Punta Cana is also one of the safest destinations in the Caribbean, with a low crime index. Instead of crime, any concern for your kids will probably be around sunburns and mosquitoes.
As you can see, Punta Cana is well set up for families with plenty of attractions, activities and kid-friendly resorts. On top of that the town itself is also very safe.
Puerto Plata: Family Trips
As stated before, Puerto Plata offers a great deal of fun activities. So if you want to stay active with your family, explore a historic city and learn about the DR and its culture, then Puerto Plata is a great option.
We’re sure your kids will love to ride the Teleferico Cable Car up to the beautiful Mount Isabel de Torres too, as well as a visit the Ocean World Adventure Park.
Some of the best resorts for families in Puerto Plata are Iberostar Costa Dorada and Gran Ventana Beach Resort. Both hotels have a kids club with great beach access and many water sports to try out, though the reality is there are less kid-friendly resort options in Puerto Plata than in Punta Cana.
In essence Puerto Plata can be a great trip for adventurous families, but if you want family activities on your doorstep then Punta Cana will be the better choice. Especially if you have younger kids.
Which Is Better For Food?
Being part of the same country, Punta Cana and Puerto Plata obviously have very similar food.
From sancocho (meat stew) and ceviche, to bandera dominicana (literally translated to “Dominican flag”, which is a meal consisting of rice, beans, meat or fish, salad, and fried plantains), there are plenty of traditional dishes to try in the Dominican Republic. And don’t forget to try mamajuana, the traditional drink of the country.
Being the no. 1 tourist destination in the country, Punta Cana has a wide range of restaurants, both local and international – and many fancy restaurants. So if you’re looking for food from home and fine dining restaurants, Punta Cana will be more suited for you.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to dive into the local cuisine (which we think you should always do when traveling), Puerto Plata is the better choice. Go to the street food stalls, look for authentic local restaurants, and eat on a budget in Puerto Plata.
Which Is Better For Honeymoons?
Punta Cana: For Honeymoons
When it comes to honeymooning, most people look for all-inclusive resorts where you and your spouse can spend all day sunbathing, swimming – and of course – staying inside your room (wink wink). And as we’ve already covered, Punta Cana is the best in the country for resorts and white-sand beaches with calm winds, making it arguably the best honeymoon spot.
Picture yourself and your partner lounging on the beach, basking in the sunshine, drinking cocktails, and enjoying each other’s presence. Or maybe you want to go swimming and splash around in the sea together. All possible in Punta Cana!
The town also offers laid-back activities such as water sports and golfing. Another fun “date” idea is to join Choco Museo’s chocolate-making workshop and make chocolate bars for each other. Romantic!
You also probably don’t want to think too much on your honeymoon. Well luckily because of its status as the DR’s tourist hub, English is widely spoken in Punta Cana, so you can feel at ease when it comes to communicating and are unlikely to have any misunderstandings.
Several notable resorts for honeymoons are Secrets Cap Cana, Breathless Punta Cana, and Catalonia Bavaro Resort.
Secrets Cap Cana is an adults-only resort with minibars, swim-up rooms, and complimentary water sports such as kayaking and windsurfing. Breathless is another adults-only resort, offering access to a spa and a beautiful private beach.
Puerto Plata: For Honeymoons
But if you and your spouse are the adventurous type, you might find Puerto Plata more suited for your honeymoon.
Yes, you can still swim and sunbathe and do water sports here like in Punta Cana, but you can also learn about Dominican Republic culture, mingle with locals, visit waterfalls, ride cable cars, visit ranches, hike, and much more.
It should be noted that while we keep mentioning how Punta Cana is superior in terms of resorts, that doesn’t mean Puerto Plata is lacking.
The hotels in Puerto Plata tend to be older than the ones in Punta Cana, but there’s still plenty of great options for loved-up couples.
Some of the highest-rated honeymoon resorts are BlueBay Villas Doradas (an adults-only resort where you can do pool aerobics and get massages on the beach), Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Club (where you can enjoy quiet private beaches), and Casa Colonial Beach & Spa (for an exclusive, quiet honeymoon with the best restaurants).
However all in all, Punta Cana is the classic honeymoon destination with beaches lined with palm trees and crystal clear waters. And if we were to recommend a place for a honeymoon, our choice would be Punta Cana. But for those who want a more challenging and different honeymoon with plenty of activities, Puerto Plata is a great option.
Which Is Cheaper & Safer?
In terms of expenses, as Puerto Plata is less touristy, the price of hotels and eating out is cheaper there than in Punta Cana.
That’s a big plus for solo travelers and backpackers who tend to be on more of a budget. And funnily enough, solo travellers tend to enjoy Puerto Plata more than Punta Cana, whilst couples and families tend to prefer Punta Cana over Puerto Plata!
Punta Cana while more expensive, has many all-inclusive hotels with fantastic facilities geared towards kids. So whilst you may have to pay more, for families a Punta Cana trip could make more sense.
As for safety, both Puerto Plata and Punta Cana are safe, as long as precautions are taken. I.e. avoid unlit areas at night and confrontations with locals.
Non-tourist areas in the Dominican Republic do have notable crime rates though.
Punta Cana vs Puerto Plata: Which Is The Better Holiday Choice?
Both of these destinations are worth visiting, but if your priority is beaches then Punta Cana is the better choice.
The white sand beaches in Punta Cana are better than Puerto Plata, plus the water is calmer, more clear, and better for swimming. There’s a good nightlife scene too, albeit it’s mostly made up of expats and tourists.
The nightlife scene in Puerto Plata is good too, and driven more by locals than tourists. Puerto Plata feels like more of an authentic and local experience than Punta Cana, and tends to be a cheaper destination too.
With a variety of exciting excursions close by, Puerto Plata may be the better vacation spot if you’re looking for adventure and a bit more than just sun, sea, and sand.