You can’t decide if you shall book your vacation to Punta Cana or Puerto Plata? It might indeed be a difficult decision as both are the top holiday destinations in the Dominican Republic. While Punta Cana is famous for its endless sandy beaches and elegant all-inclusive resorts, Puerto Plata can score with a more low-key atmosphere and incomparable natural attractions. As I have been to both holiday destinations several times (and am living in one of them 😉 ) I have made a comprehensive comparison between both and tell you at the end which is the better place to go: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?
If you want to know how to get from Punta Cana to Puerto Plata, you can check out this post.
Completely UPDATED: March 2022
Flights to Punta Cana
Punta Cana is one of the biggest hubs in the Caribbean and features connections to over 20 countries – also after Covid-19 which strengthened the position of the Dominican Republic as the most important holiday destination in the Caribbean. As of March 2022, the United States has direct flights to Punta Cana (seasonal or year-round) from more than twenty cities (among them Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago-Midway, Chicago–O’Hare, Cleveland, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Miami, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York–JFK, Newark, Orlando, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Juan, Washington), Canada serves Punta Cana non-stop from approximately 15 cities (Bagotville, Deer Lake, Fredericton, Gander, Halifax, London (ON), Moncton, Montreal, Québec City, Regina, St. John’s, Saskatoon, Thunder Bay, Toronto) nation-wide (most of them seasonal with Toronto and Montreal being year-round). Furthermore, Europe is widely connected with Punta Cana, among them direct flights to Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom.
If you can’t find the right flight to Punta Cana, you can also fly to La Romana (with limited connections to the United States and Italy) and Santo Domingo. The last one mentioned is the capital of the Dominican Republic, around 2 hours away from Punta Cana and does have several connections to Latin America, Europe, the Caribbean and North America, totaling up to around 20 different countries as well.
Flights to Puerto Plata
Compared to Punta Cana, Puerto Platas flight connections are considerably less. Sometimes it might be a struggle to reach Puerto Plata via their international Gregorio Luperón Airport. Although Puerto Plata has recovered from some years with hardly any flight connections including those during Covid-19, it still only features direct flights to 10 countries worldwide as of March 2022, among them the United States, Canada, Germany and some Scandinavian countries. While this might sound sufficient, also the frequencies are remarkably lower than to Punta Cana or Santo Domingo as a lot of the destinations are only served once weekly. Flights from Puerto Plata to the US are limited to Boston, Charlotte, Miami, New York-JFK and Newark. Canada has connections from currently 9 airports to Puerto Plata (Bagotville, Halifax, Hamilton, London (ON), Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Québec City, Toronto), most of them being seasonal.
However, similar to Punta Cana, Puerto Plata does have an alternative airport that is around an hour away – Cibao International Airport close to the second biggest city in the Dominican Republic, Santiago de los Caballeros. Santiago counts with excellent connections to New York with usually more than 10 non-stop services daily (!) (+ services to Boston, Fort Lauderdale and Miami), but is lacking flights to other countries as it is just connected with Turks & Caicos, Panama and Tortola otherwise.
In case you want to visit Puerto Plata but get better and cheaper flights to Punta Cana, you can find all the options of getting from Punta Cana to Puerto Plata here.
Head to head: Punta Cana Airport vs. Puerto Plata Airport
|Airports as of March 2022||Punta Cana Airport||Puerto Plata Airport|
|Destinations in the US||21||5|
|Destinations in Canada||14||9|
|South American countries||5||0|
Flight connections: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?
The discrepancy of Punta Cana and Puerto Plata can also be seen in the total number of passengers. While Punta Cana and Santo Domingo together received 11 million passengers in 2019, Puerto Plata and Santiago just counted around 2.5 million passengers combined.
Preliminary score: Punta Cana vs. Puerto Plata 1-0
Transfer time from the airport to the hotel
Transfers from Punta Cana International Airport
Punta Cana International Airport is located right at the ocean and the roads from the airport to the resorts are well maintained and developed. Depending on where you are staying, your transfer time – assuming you are booking a private transfer – can vary between 5 and 45 minutes. When choosing a resort directly in Punta Cana or Cap Cana you are there in 10 minutes, if you go all the way to Uvero Alto it will take you at least 35 minutes. However, most all-inclusive resorts in Punta Cana are a 20-30-minutes ride away from Punta Cana International Airport.
In case you won’t like to book a private transfer from the airport in Punta Cana, you can also go by shared transfers, Punta Cana public transport or rent a car. Continue reading here about all options you have to get to and from Punta Cana International Airport.
Transfers from Puerto Plata International Airport
Gregorio Luperón International Airport in Puerto Plata has a nice oceanfront location as well, counting (usually) for beautiful ocean view approaches when landing. It is located halfway between Puerto Plata and Sosua. Travel time to most all-inclusive resorts in Puerto Plata is a mere 20-minutes, if you have booked a hotel at Playa Cofresi (Senator, Playa Bachata) it is a 35-40 minutes ride.
Same as in Punta Cana, transfers at Puerto Plata Airport can be arranged by private transfers, shared transfers, public transport or by renting a car.
In case you are arriving in Punta Cana and want to go to Puerto Plata you can find a full guide here about getting from Punta Cana to Puerto Plata or vice versa.
Head to head: airport transfers Puerto Plata vs. Punta Cana
|Airport Transfers||Punta Cana Airport Transfers||Puerto Plata Airport Transfers|
|Travel time to most resorts||10-40 minutes||10-40 minutes|
|Public transport available||Yes, limited||Yes|
|SUV transfers available||Yes||Yes|
|Shared transfers available||Yes||Yes|
Airport transfers: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?
Travel time and available options are similar at both airports, Punta Cana and Puerto Plata. Therefore, it is a tie.
Preliminary score: Punta Cana vs. Puerto Plata 1.5-0.5
Hotel Quality and Selection
Hotel Options in Punta Cana
Hotel options in Punta Cana are endless – and this goes for the choice of accommodation types in general as well as for the selection of all-inclusive resorts. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for a luxury villa next to the golf course, for a small guesthouse in the town center, for a beachfront condominium or for one of the omnipresent all-inclusive resorts, Punta Cana has it all. And as most of the properties were just built in the last 5-15 years, the majority of accommodation is quite new. Quality is an important word in Punta Cana, I am always impressed with what you get for your money. Everything is super clean, high quality and the service usually impeccable (of course, depending on your final choice of accommodation), but there is hardly anything you will miss while enjoying your vacation in Punta Cana. If you are not sure how to find the best all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana, check out this article.
Hotel Options in Puerto Plata
Puerto Plata does have its own little all-inclusive area called Playa Dorada with several all-inclusive resorts as well as further hotels at Costa Dorada and Playa Cofresi. However, you can see and feel that the boom of Puerto Plata was in the 90s – and that most resorts were constructed back at that time. This is why most accommodation in Puerto Plata tend to be a bit older even though they are renovated, of course. Furthermore, when determining if you shall visit Punta Cana or Puerto Plata, the latter one is lacking true luxury options as most hotels here are in the budget and middle-class segment. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t get good deals in Puerto Plata, especially as the price level is significantly lower than in Punta Cana (see next point in the comparison Puerto Plata vs. Punta Cana).
Head to head: Punta Cana accommodation vs. Puerto Plata accommodation
|Hotel Options||Punta Cana||Puerto Plata|
|All-inclusive resorts||around 90||10-40 minutes|
|Airbnbs||more than 4000||more than 2000|
|Hotels, guesthouses and
|around 800||around 450|
Hotel options: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?
Punta Cana does have significantly better hotel options – both in quantity and in quality. Just check the links above and you will be overwhelmed by the options (this is why I offer travel coaching by the way 😉 ). On the other hand, compared to Punta Cana, Puerto Platas’ choices are limited, but you can get good deals though.
Preliminary score: Punta Cana vs. Puerto Plata 2.5-0.5
Prices for a holiday in Punta Cana
Even the Dominican Republic is a developing country with a decent price level, Punta Cana is not a budget destination. This is due to heavy tourism which levels up the local prices. But also hotels in Punta Cana are more expensive than in other parts of the country – partly because of the high demand, partly because of the high quality mentioned before.
It is very hard to put a general price tag on a Punta Cana vacation as it all depends on your needs and how you are traveling. But to give you a few examples, Punta Canas all-inclusive resorts are starting at around 70 USD per person per night in low season, while you can grab a deal in Puerto Plata starting from 55-60 USD. Transport prices in Punta Cana are nearly doubled (public transport and taxi) compared to the rest of the country due to the focus of solvent tourists. And while I can get my Cuba Libre on several beach bars in the country for 100 to 150 Pesos (approx. 1.70 USD – 2.60 USD), a common price for the same drink in Punta Cana is between 5 and 6 USD. These examples can be continued with restaurants, services, activities, etc., but I think you get the point.
Prices for a holiday in Puerto Plata
Compared to Punta Cana, Puerto Plata vacations usually come with a lower price tag. As mentioned above, hotel deals might be significantly cheaper in Puerto Plata and due to the lower impact of tourism to this area, general prices are lower as well, even not as low as in other parts of the country. The interesting thing about Puerto Plata is that you get prices like a local once you leave the resort and head toward the city center of Puerto Plata, a nice bustling town with all the chaos, charm and beauty the Dominican Republic has to offer.
Prices and Travel Budget: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?
A vacation in Puerto Plata is more probable to end up cheaper than in Punta Cana. The only problem might be higher flight prices due to the limited connections described in the first point (but you can fly to Punta Cana and head to Puerto Plata from there), but once you score a good deal, Puerto Plata will please your travel budget more than Punta Cana do.
Preliminary score: Punta Cana vs. Puerto Plata 2.5-1.5
The beaches in Punta Cana and Puerto Plata
The Punta Cana beach
The beach might be the most important reason when raising the question if Puerto Plata or Punta Cana is better. After all, this is why people choose to book a vacation in the Caribbean. Looking at Punta Cana, it is no wonder why millions of people head to this holiday destination every year. More than 30 miles of beaches are awaiting you in the whole area of Punta Cana, all of them with the finest sand, ranging in color between white (especially in Cap Cana and Punta Cana) and lightly golden (in the Uvero Alto area). You can have endless beach walks, particularly at Bavaro Beach, swim in the blue or turquoise ocean and enjoy thousands of swaying palm trees. Beach clubs, pristine stretches and colorful boats every now and then are counting for great photo opportunities, including beautiful Macao Beach. Is there anything else you can ask for from a Caribbean beach?
Interested in further information? Check out the 10 best beaches in Punta Cana here.
The Puerto Plata beach
Puerto Plata has a decent beach as well. Calm waters, a long stretch of golden sand, a very calm atmosphere and if you leave Playa Dorada eastward, you enter a particularly pristine part of the beach without any people or buildings – nature at its best. Still, Puerto Plata cannot compete with Punta Canas beaches, there is hardly anyone arguing about that. The only advantage Puerto Plata might have beach-wise is that it is a lot less populated – the hundreds of people strolling up and down the beach in Punta Cana you won’t find in Puerto Plata.
Which beach is the best: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?
Hardly any category in the battle of Puerto Plata vs. Punta Cana is as easy to determine as the question of the beach. The long beaches in Punta Cana are clearly better than the ones in Puerto Plata.
Preliminary score: Punta Cana vs. Puerto Plata 3.5-1.5
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Excursions and guided tours
Excursions and guided tours in Punta Cana
Punta Cana has an endless choice of excursions for its visitors – especially for those, who are only staying in their all-inclusive resort and would like to see something different than just the hotel. Dune buggies, catamaran tours, Los Haitises National Park, Safari adventures, VIP tours, riverboat experiences, Isla Saona, Ziplining, a monkey jungle or a full-day excursion to Santo Domingo are just a few of the options you can experience when vacationing in Punta Cana.
It does not matter what kind of guided tour in Punta Cana you are looking for, probably one of the excursion operators will have it for you. If you feel like exploring, you definitely won’t get bored in Punta Cana, as you can see in this overview about the best things-to-do in Punta Cana.
Excursions and guided tours in Puerto Plata
But the tour operators in Puerto Plata are getting creative as well to gain access to the wallet of the vacationer. Cayo Arena, 27 Charcos de Damajagua, the historic city of Puerto Plata, seeing manatees, visiting monkey jungle, an ocean view zipline, countryside safaris and the cable car up to Puerto Platas mountain Isabel de Torres are just one of the few experiences you can have when booking organized excursions. And this is not without a reason, because the surrounding of Puerto Plata is super nice and interesting. Contrary to the section above mentioning the price differences between both destinations, prices for guided tours hardly vary for Puerto Plata or Punta Cana.
Where can you have the best excursions: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?
It is hard to choose a winner in this category as both holiday destinations have their highlights. Furthermore, both are offering a high diversity of excursions, hence it’s a draw between Puerto Plata and Punta Cana.
Preliminary score: Punta Cana vs. Puerto Plata 4-2
Sports and Adventures
How to be active in Punta Cana and where to find adventures?
If staying in an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana – especially in one of the better ones – you have plenty of activity options to choose from. Usually, this includes snorkeling, Hobie Cats, a gym, team activities, kayaking, tennis, pool, sometimes golf and much more. However, if you leave the resort and would like to be adventurous, options are limited in the surrounding of Punta Cana, even though there are some pretty cool Punta Cana adventures. Surfing at Playa Macao is one possibility, hiking to the highest waterfall of the Caribbean, Salto de la Jalda, another one. You can go parasailing or scuba diving and in case ziplining counts as an adventure, this is possible as well. You see, there are a lot of things to do in Punta Cana.
But to explore Punta Cana on your own and be adventurous – you have to get creative to achieve this as the typical adventure playground (jungle, mountains, pristine beaches, waterfalls, lagoons, etc.) is missing.
How to be active in Puerto Plata and where to find adventures?
Concerning watersports, Puerto Plata can count on at least the same options as Punta Cana. Although the resorts – due to their limited size – might offer fewer activities, you find plenty of additional options outside. The best snorkeling reef in the Dominican Republic (Cayo Arena) can be reached from Puerto Plata, catamaran tours are sailing along the north coast and Cabarete, approx. 40 minutes away from Puerto Plata, is the kitesurfing capital of the Caribbean. Further water activities include windsurfing, SUP yoga, SUP and diving.
However, the true difference between Puerto Plata and Punta Cana is the number of activities you can do on land. It is not only the city of Puerto Plata which is nice to visit but also the nature is absolutely stunning. Thanks to the mountain chain right in the back of Puerto Plata, the Cordillera Septentrional, you have the right setting to go hiking, mountain biking, river chasing, caving, canyoning or river-tubing. Nothing is impossible in this area. As the mountains are particularly famous for their blue rivers, some of my favorite waterfalls are located here, such as La Rejolla, Charcos del Militar, Rio Soñador, Magic Mushroom, Salto de Elena or Cola de Pato. If you want to go adventurous, then Puerto Plata and the surrounding area will be your paradise.
Where can you have the best adventures: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?
While the water-based activities are similar in both destinations, Puerto Plata has unquestionable advantages when it comes to onshore activities and adventures. Considering this, Puerto Plata is absolutely nice to visit. If you love pristine nature and lush mountains, Puerto Plata beats Punta Cana and is your place to go.
Preliminary score: Punta Cana vs. Puerto Plata 4-3
Where can you get the best food?
Food options in Punta Cana
When comparing Puerto Plata vs. Punta Cana in terms of culinary options, it really depends on what you are looking for. If you love international food at different levels, Punta Cana is the right place for you. Due to the number of tourists visiting Punta Cana, you can find all kinds of international cuisine when spending your vacation in Punta Cana – either directly in your resort or in one of the several restaurants. Also if you are into fine dining, Punta Cana has you covered as most of the best restaurants in the Dominican Republic are located in Punta Cana, among them Bamboo, Passion, Montserrat Manor or La Palapa. On the other hand, if you are into street food or local “hole in the walls”, Punta Cana might be difficult to explore, especially when traveling on a budget.
Food options in Puerto Plata
If you are looking for the fine dining experiences just mentioned for Punta Cana in Puerto Plata, forget about it. In those terms, Puerto Platas food options are limited. However, if you want to eat out as the locals do, Puerto Plata has plenty of opportunities for you, especially within the city limits. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for an air-conditioned restaurant with trendy Dominicans or a casual snack bar at the oceanfront promenade in town – both options offer the most authentic Dominican food including the opportunity to be just among locals.
Where can you have the best food: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?
If it comes to fine dining, Punta Cana is without a question the No. 1 choice in the entire Dominican Republic. However, if you prefer Dominican food options in authentic settings, Puerto Plata represents much stronger local flavors. As food preferences vary from person to person, I’ll count it as a tie when answering the question: Puerto Plata or Punta Cana.
Preliminary score: Punta Cana vs. Puerto Plata 4.5-3.5
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Authenticity: where can you explore the real Dominican Republic?
Is Punta Cana authentic?
Let’s check the last question in our comparison of Puerto Plata or Punta Cana: authenticity.
One reason why I started Punta Cana Travel Blog is to show you the real and authentic Dominican Republic because many people just stay in their all-inclusive resort and are raving about how amazing the Dominican Republic is. Well, that is wrong as if you would say you have been to Los Angeles and love the beauty of California.
Of course, you can do great excursions and visit Isla Saona, Los Haitises National Park, Salto de la Jalda, Montaña Redonda or other unique and gorgeous natural sights – it will be mind-blowing and gives you a perfect start into the diversity the Dominican Republic has to offer.
However, if you would like to dig into real Dominican life – music, little villages, ramshackle beach bars, colmados, dancing on every corner, deep-fried empanadas and much more – it gets difficult in Punta Cana as you have to leave the comfort zone of the tourist area and start your journey to Higuey, Miches or other towns which are away from the tourist radar. To do so, it is best to get a Punta Cana car rental, start a road trip in the Dominican Republic and follow one of the amazing travel itineraries I have compiled here on Punta Cana Travel Blog.
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Is Puerto Plata authentic?
If you are just staying in your all-inclusive resort in Puerto Plata, it feels similar to what I just explained about Punta Cana. You are living in your comfort bubble of 24-hour food, organized excursions and personal service – which is not bad at all, do not get me wrong. If you would like to experience the authentic Dominican Republic, you have to leave this comfort zone as well, but it is a lot easier in Puerto Plata vs. Punta Cana. You have frequent public buses running right in front of the Playa Dorada or Playa Cofresi resort area, the city of Puerto Plata is easily reachable and features some amazing visit-on-your-own attractions and the mountain chain right next to the city awaits you with some amazing adventures you can easily explore on your own if you are experienced in the field – even though a guide is highly recommendable. And last but not least, if you head to the Malecon of Puerto Plata, buy yourself a Presidente beer and relax at the oceanfront promenade where you can have one of the most authentic local experiences one can imagine in the Dominican Republic.
Which tourist area is more authentic: Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?
Thanks to its connection to the local life and the city of Puerto Plata, experiences in Puerto Plata are more authentic once you leave the resort. In Punta Cana, this is possible as well, but it is a bit harder to leave the comfort zone of the tourist area due to logistical and infrastructural reasons.
FINAL score: Punta Cana vs. Puerto Plata 4.5-4.5
Summary: should you visit Punta Cana or Puerto Plata?
It’s a tie between Punta Cana and Puerto Plata – a little bit surprising at first glance. But upon a differentiated view, the result makes more sense.
Both destinations have their advantages and disadvantages. Punta Cana cannot be beaten in terms of beaches, hotels and flight connections, while Puerto Plata is the perfect playground for vacationers who want to combine a beach holiday with some adventurous outdoor activities. It depends on you, which is the right place for you.
For the same reason you can also justify this result – even the tourism figures are speaking another language. While Punta Cana has more than 80 resorts with 2-3 million visitors every year, Puerto Plata can count with around 10 resorts and maybe a 10-15% share of the amount of Punta Cana tourists. But why is everyone heading to Punta Cana if both holiday destinations offer an equal value?
The solution is simple: for most vacationers, flight connections, hotel choices, the quality of the beach and the price are the most crucial key decision points when booking a vacation. In 3 of those 4 categories, Punta Cana is clearly outperforming Puerto Plata. In other words, if we would award double points in those most important categories, Punta Cana would be the sole winner of this competition Punta Cana vs. Puerto Plata.
Therefore it is also important for you to determine what you want when traveling to the Dominican Republic? If beaches, superb hotel quality, relaxation and a smooth holiday experience are your key decision points, Punta Cana is the right choice for you. Continue browsing through this Punta Cana Travel Blog to find more inspiration for your holiday.
If you are an adventurer, love to hike mountains and would like to see the authentic Dominican Republic, you should consider Puerto Plata or other regions in the country – or plan a road-trip in the Dominican Republic so that you get the full experience. I can help you with that!
And if you are still not decided if you shall book your vacation in the Dominican Republic to Puerto Plata or Punta Cana, just contact me here and I’ll help you out.
What’s your favorite – Punta Cana or Puerto Plata? Have you been to one of these destinations or maybe even to both? Or are you just planning your trip to the Dominican Republic and can’t decide? Let me know in the comments!
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Author, Travel Coach & Punta Cana based digital nomad
Hey, I am Chris, a born and raised German, travel-addictive and Caribbean Soul. Since 2011 I have been living in the Caribbean, among them 5 years in the Dominican Republic. Punta Cana is my home-base here in the country and I’d love to tell you more about how to experience Punta Cana off-the-beaten-track and give you all the advice you want to know for your vacation in Punta Cana.