Frequently when I am on my way to stay at a modestly priced resort hotel, and I see a lavish five star hotel, I jokingly say, “That is where I wanted to stay.”   Usually the fancy resorts have a grand entrance and beautiful grounds and you have to drive into and out of the resort. The resort itself is out of the public view.  When we last went to Punta Cana, Santo Domingo our small resort (no stars) turned out to be the best choice.

Punta Cana is in the easternmost province of the Dominican Republic. It is best known for its beaches facing both the Caribbean and Atlantic Oceans. Punta Cana has an estimated population of 100,000, and I venture that the townspeople are happy to see all of the tourists.

When you walked into our resort, you walked right into the building in a neighborhood.  When we walked out of our resort, we saw children on bicycles and families who were out in the street, shopping, going to work and living their day-to-day lives.   We went to the local grocery store, ate at neighborhood restaurants and bakeries.

We got to know the staff at the resort, and they got to know us, and after a few days, we felt right at home. When we dined at our resort, we dined al fresco (there was no indoor dining room).  A local chef, with locally grown ingredients, prepared the food. It was delicious.

The resort did not have any fancy grounds, but it did have a pool, one of my favorite places to hang out and read, while we are on vacation.  Our teenage kids ran into other teenagers and enjoyed jumping in and out of the pool.

We made it a point to go out to see some of the countryside around the town.  My daughter was invited to take part in the local festivities.  We visited a rum factory and saw how they make the island’s most popular export.  We saw birds, snakes and of course the local fowl.

Punta Cana’s downtown features a colorful square and the usual tourist shops.  The people were very friendly and even though it was not the height of the season, there were places to eat on the beach.

When we got home my son, (who is usually not a fan of beach vacations) said that it was ‘the best vacation we ever had’.  So do not overlook the little resorts when you plan for your travels, forget the number of stars as a definitive guide.  You might see local children running and playing in the neighborhoods, and families engaged in their daily routines.  Even in a tourist Mecca, real life with real people beats a swanky (and at times impersonal) resort, each and every time.