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Dominican Republic: Punta Cana, Family Vacations - Snorkeling, Dune Buggies, and Secret lagoons. Celebrated beaches of white powers and sparking turquoise waters are the main reason families chose to vacation in the Dominican Republic. Punta Cana hosts the perfect atmosphere for families; just about every tour embarks from this area so no one in the group can complain about being bored. Punta Cana is undeniably breathtaking with tall swaying palms scattered along 21 miles of some of the whitest and finest coral sand beaches in the world.

Dive into an Eye. The Indigenous Eyes Ecological Reserve is a private forest reserve owned and managed by the PuntaCana Ecological Foundation which encompasses over 1,500 acres and is home to 80 species of birds, 160 types of insects, over 500 varities of plants (36% of which live nowhere else in the world) and a maritime area which spans 8 kilometers of coral reef. The park is known as Ojos Indígenas, or Indigenous Eyes, because of the 12 freshwater lagoons, which the local Taino Indians refer to as “eyes,” and many believe that the lagoons hold particular medicinal properties. The lagoons are fed by an underground freshwater river, known locally as Yauya, which eventually makes its way to the ocean. The reserve is guided by a Leave No Trace Policy, so visitors are asked to respect the local flora and fauna, and to only swim in certain designated swimming-accessible lagoons. Discovery: Once a year Red Land Crabs climb up from their protected ocean side crevices by the thousands to mate. Need to know: Since the reserve is a private forest reserve, visitors must either be a guest at the PuntaCana Resort & Club, or make prior arrangements with the PuntaCana Ecological Foundation.  Bonus points: The park organizes guided tours to help visitors make the most of their visit. Also, there horseback excursions are available in the park’s interior and/or along the reserve’s coastline. Punta Cana Ecological Foundation. (809) 959-9221, fepc@puntacana.com or www.puntacana.org/ecoreserve.htm

See the Sea. The Marinarium is a unique marine park which invites families to discover the wonders of life under the sea, and the startling diversity of coral reefs. Glass bottom boats leave from Cabeza de Toro to travel to the marine park, which is located nearby. The half-day cruise offers families the opportunity to explore the 40,000 square meters of the park, as well as snorkel with stingrays and nurse sharks. After snorkeling the cruise takes a sightseeing tour along the coast of Cabeza del Toro and Bávaro, finishing at the deep still waters of Bávaro’s natural pool. Green points: The Marinarium’s objective is to create a model sustainable conservation area in which part of the revenue from eco-tourism is used to support environmental conservation and educational activities. Cabeza de Toro, Bavaro, Playa Bavaro - Punta Cana. (809) 468-3183 or www.marinarium.com

Explore the countryside. Bavaro Runners Safari Adventures offers a wide range of fantastic ways to explore the Dominican Republic, from half-day to full day tours. Some of the tours offered include: Punta Cana/Bavaro (full-day and half-day), La Romana Countryside Cruise, La Romana/Bayhibe (full-day), La Romana & Altos de Chavon Shopping (half-day), Samana Adventure (full-day), Puerto Plata (full-day), Las Terrenas (Full-day) and Zip-Lines Adventures. The tours wrap rich cultural traditions and natural countryside beauty into a couple of hours – great for multi-tasking traveling families. www.bavarorunners.com

Dive into wonder. About 37 miles south of Arena Gorda lies Parque Nacional del Este, the best place for diving in the Dominican Republic. Three areas in particular are worth noting: Isla de Saona, Isla Catalina, Cabo de Tiburón and the Padre Nuestro Cave. In the waters surrounding Isla de Saona divers can see over 150 species of tropical fish, as well as bottlenose dolphins and manatees from the West Indies. The beaches around Saona are also spectacular. Isla Catalinita is home to coral reef that lies just a few meters below the surface, which makes it an ideal spot for inexperienced divers and snorkelers. Between Isla de Saona and Isla Catlina lies Cabo de Tiburón, a great place for experienced divers and home to many sharks. Expert cave divers must check out the Cave Padre Nuetro, which features a narrow 951 foot freshwater tunnel – a truly mesmerizing and memorable dive.
 
Ride the Dunes. Families looking for adventure and exploring the Dominican Republic off the beaten path have to check out Xtreme Buggy. Xtreme Buggy near Bavaro offers half-day and full days tours of the Punta Cana-Bavaro area by dune buggy – it’s an exciting way to explore the Dominican countryside. For those looking for a intensive experience there is a three-day trip to the peninsula of Samana and a six day tour of the entire Dominican Republic. Need to know: Each dune buggy seats four people – the driver must have a current driver’s license. Bavaro - Punta Cana. 1 (809) 351-0783, contact@xtreme-buggy.com or www.xtreme-buggy.com
 
Make it happen. Check out www.godominicanrepublic.com.
 
Information gathered by Travel Communications, Inc. Images courtesy of The Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism. Copyright 2013.
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