The Dominican Republic has a reputation for being a wallet-friendly island getaway. But like many Caribbean outposts, plenty of cookie-cutter all-inclusives have set up on its beaches in the past decade, particularly along Punta Cana's sandy white eastern coast. Yet long before there were Iberostars and RIUs, there was the Puntacana Resort & Club, which marked its big four-oh last year with resortwide room refurbs and unique new voluntourism outings. Translation: you get to hang with hawks.
Encompassing an epic 67 sq km, the resort has a distraction for just about anyone: there's a ranch with horses prepped for beach rides, an eco-reserve composed of a dozen aquamarine freshwater swimming holes and more than 80 types of birds, a Six Senses Spa overlooking the ocean and P.B. Dye and Tom Fazio fashioned golf courses (some tees sit just meters from the spray of the surf) with a new one debuting next year. On Dye's La Cana course, the pièce de résistance comes in the form of the Hecklebirnie hole, which Dye has affectionately christened a "golfer's purgatory" on account of its 21 traps.
To prep for its momentous birthday, the resort revamped the rooms at its main hotel, its 21 ocean-view and beachfront casitas and the upscale suites at the Tortuga Bay villas, where power couple Bill and Hillary Clinton like to unwind. Equally progressive are the resort's eco-programs: guests conduct bird counts alongside ornithologists and replant endangered staghorn coral. The more intrepid visitor can even feed a Ridgway's hawk, which the on-site ecological foundation is working to repopulate the Dominican Republic with.
After a day of do-gooding, dinner options include the new beachside Playa Blanca, Tortuga Bay's Bamboo restaurant (the sweet-corn gazpacho is delicious), and the thatched-roof La Yola, with views of the marina and a trio of musicians who travel table to table strumming local love songs.
Hotel rates start at $96, two-bedroom beach casitas from $280 and Tortuga Bay suites from $495. For more information, go to www.puntacana.com.