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Punta Cana consists of nearly 50 all-inclusive resorts along a near 30 mile stretch of the most beautiful soft white sandy beaches, lots of swaying palm trees, a near constant gentle breeze, and some of the most vivid turqoise blue waters you'll ever see anywhere.
However, don't believe what some of the resort people tell you regarding safety. Since 2006 Punta Cana has been reported as having one of the lowest crime rates in the world, mostly because of the low drug crime here. Statements, primarily from resorts who are protecting their market share, saying this area is NOT safe, do not benefit the Punta Cana area or the people who live here (hopefully the resort directors are reading this - as you are also hurting yourselves too). It could be they are saying this so they are not liable for stupid people who get crazy on vacation outside the resort, and show disrespect to the locals. But also because of the new competition of so many gorgeous vacation condos for rent that are on or near the beach, and a short walk to all the modern shopping and dining amenties... which are often much more affordable than staying at an all-inclusive resort.
In fact, there are many POLITUR (police just for tourist) who do nothing else but scope the area making sure tourist are safe and having fun.
Assuming the resort you are staying at is located in or near El Cortecito or Bavaro... It is quite OK to get off the resort and check out the local area and mingle with the locals and expats. In fact, new sidewalks are now under construction connecting the Bavaro and El Cortecito - Los Corales areas together, and should be completed by late April, 2012. There is a whole amazing world outside the entrance of your resort. Punta Cana is quite safe and the local people are very friendly and helpful. Of course, no matter where you travel in the world, you can't get "stupid". Also remember, the locals will approach you in regard to selling their souvineers. Keep in mind, they also have families to feed, and will try to sell you stuff for more than you should pay . But if you're happy with your negotiated price, and they're happy... then everyone is happy. If you don't want to be bothered, kindly say "Not today thank you"... or, if you want to impress them with Spanish just say "No hoy Gracias" (the "h" in hoy is silent).
If you're not staying at a resort further from the El Cortecito or Bavaro... and want to get off the resort, just take a taxi - the drive to these areas, (unless you are staying in Uvero Alto) is within a 10-20 minute drive away.
There are now many people from all over the world that live, work or have retired to Punta Cana/ El Cortecito/ Bavaro; hence, English is now heard almost everywhere. These people, called "expats" are mostly from Canada,Spain, France, Italy, United States, Germany, and recently from various places in South America and Russia. In addition to the many Dominicans (and Haitians- the true worker bees here), it's truely amazing to see how many people from all over the world live and work harmoniously together here in Punta Cana.
Getting around can be challenging because there are only a few directional signs and actual street signs and nobody really uses them. Several streets weave around different communities and resorts, and many do not follow the beach... so its important to know in advance how to manuver around so you can find all the cool places like: Beach bars, restaurants (on and off the beach), excursion companies, Casino's, Discos (a couple of them are in caves), golf courses, big grocery stores, new and modern shopping malls, bakeries, ATM machines, IMAX Cinema movie theatres (where you can buy popcorn and a beer), Hard Rock Cafe Punta Cana, a huge and very nice mall, cash exchange places, tons of other beautiful beaches, ship wrecks, adventure tours (2-tracks)... and other places off the tourist strip where prices are better... the list is endless. Its highly recommended you check out either Saona Island or Catalina Island (full day tours).
Oh, and the name "Punta Cana" is used loosely. Besides the International Airport, there are actually only a few things to do in Punta Cana. In fact, most of the people that live in Punta Cana come to Bavaro or El Cortecito for the beaches and night life.
Enjoy your trip and get out of the resort!