Bayahibe was a mostly undiscovered gem on the south coast of the Dominican Republic until the late 1990’s. A few independent travelers knew about it before then but the more resort oriented traveler had never ever heard of it. Bayahibe is becoming increasingly more touristy but there is still a striking contrast between Bayahibe and the far more popular Punta Cana resort megaplex on the east coast.
Bayahibe also has a totally different atmosphere than the popular tourist destinations of Puerto Plata, Sosua, and other tourist destinations on the north coast. However, in this article, I will concentrate on some of the differences between Bayahibe and Punta Cana.
Bayahibe Has a Real Sense of Community Unlike Punta Cana
Founded in the late 1800’s, Bayahibe has a long history of being a working fishing village. As such, it has a strong sense of community that isn’t based solely on tourism dollars like you find in Punta Cana. In fact, Punta Cana’s history is relatively short-lived and is almost entirely based on tourism. Its entire development and expansion has been driven by tourism profits.
Compared to Punta Cana, Bayahibe is more unpretentious and laid back. In Bayahibe, it is easy to mingle with real Dominicans and enjoy some authentic Dominican Republic culture. Dominicans are very friendly and big-hearted people and they will gladly talk with you. In fact, don’t be at all surprised if they also want you to dance the merengue with them! If you want to meet some real Dominicans in Bayahibe, just hit the seaside bars, the open-air restaurants, the very popular billiards hall, and shop in the local community. You can find no similar authentic experience in the Punta Cana resort villages even if you try.
Bayahibe Has Fewer Resorts and More Non-Inclusive Hotels and Cabanas
The Punta Cana coast has become one all-inclusive resort after another with very few options for the independent traveler. Bayahibe, on the other hand, has only one all-inclusive resort known as the Dreams La Romana Resort. This a 568 room resort that sits right on one of the best portions of Playa Bayahibe (Bayahibe Beach). Otherwise, all the lodging in Bayahibe is small independent hotels, bed and breakfast places, and cabanas. Hotel Bayahibe is the largest of the independents and it has only 25 rooms. Again, you get a more authentic experience staying in Bayahibe as compared to Punta Cana. Just for clarification, I should mention there are 6 full scale resorts in 2-3 miles away from Bayahibe in Dominicas to southeast which is sometimes considered part of the Bayahibe region.
Cabanas are cute stand alone “huts” or small cabins, traditionally built with a thatched roof although they don’t all have these now. They are scattered throughout Bayahibe, including some right on the beach. You used to be able to rent them at a steal but the price has really gone in recent years as more tourists have come in and as more of them are being used as housing for employees of the resorts that are creeping closer — the cabanas are still a good deal though if you can find one! Of course, they are also a totally different experience than a Punta Cana resort.
Caribbean Sea vs The Atlantic Ocean
When many people think of “The Caribbean” they believe the entire region lies within the quiet and calm Caribbean Sea. However, this is not at all true. The Dominican Republic, like the other large Caribbean Islands, lies at the border of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Its north and east coastlines face the Atlantic Ocean and its south coastline faces the Caribbean Sea. Now, here’s the most important difference to the tourist: the waters of the Atlantic Ocean are much more rugged and wild than the peaceful and calm Caribbean waters.
Bayahibe is located on the south coast of the Dominican Republic. Therefore, the waters adjacent to its shores are calm and tranquil. The sand is also ultra fine and silky. On the other hand, the Punta Cana coast (which includes Bavaro) is located on the east coast of the Dominican Republic. This places it on the Atlantic Ocean where the waters are more turbulent and the sand is a bit coarser. As you head south on the Punta Cana coast, you begin to enter the transition zone between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and sea becomes a bit more gentle and the sand becomes finer. However, the sea even on the south end of the Punta Cana coast is still not as tranquil as the sea adjacent to Bayahibe.
Sunsets Over West Facing Bays Vs East Facing Water
Because of the curvature of the land in the region, Bayahibe is located on two bays that look westward. In fact, this is one of the few locations in the entire Dominican Republic to face west. Therefore, the sunsets here are considered the most spectacular in the country with the sun sinking directly into the ocean. You can enjoy this water view of the sun setting from any number of open-air restaurants and bars — or from the public beach.
Punta Cana is located on the east coast of the Dominican Republic and therefore it not ideally suited for watching sunsets over the water, although the sunrises can be spectacular in Punta Cana.
Weather & Microclimate
Bayahibe is considered by many to have the best microclimate of any location in the Dominican Republic. While Punta Cana certainly has less rain than Samana Bay and other rainy north coast Dominican locations, Bayahibe has far less rain than Punta Cana! In fact, Bayahibe also has less rain than La Romana, the popular resort area only about 19 miles to the east. It is said that Bayahibe has about the same amount of rainfall during its “rainy season” as the north coast of the Dominican Republic has in its “dry season.”
Bayahibe is also warmer on average than most other tourist destinations in the country. This is particularly true in the winter when both the ambient temperature and the water temperature is warmer than in Punta Cana and tourist destinations on the Dominican north coast.
Distance To Saona Island, Catalinita Island, and the East National Park
The most popular day trip in the Dominican Republic by far is a boat excursion to Saona Island (Isla Saona). In fact, more than 2000 people visit this island on average per day! Saona Island is part of the East National Park (Parque Nacional del Este) located on the extreme southeast corner of the Dominican Republic. Almost all Saona Island boat excursions leave from the Bayahibe Harbor. This means that tourists in Punta Cana have to first take a bus or taxi ride into Bayahibe before they can get on a boat in Bayahibe to Saona Island. This can take 1-2 hours one-way, 2-4 hours round-trip. Therefore, it is much more convenient and relaxing to take an excursion to Saona Island if you are already staying in Bayahibe!