Punta Cana: 8 Reasons to (Begrudgingly) Leave the Beach

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One look at Punta Cana's white sands, clear waters and palm trees and it's easy to understand why this Caribbean destination is best known for its beaches.

Though you might be tempted to spend your entire vacation basking in the sun, there are plenty of other activities you can -- and should -- check out in Punta Cana. From sightseeing above the clouds to swimming with dolphins, here are eight things we love.

1. Get eco-friendly

Punta Cana's stunning natural landscape is home to many indigenous flora and fauna, and the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park and Reserve is one of the best places to see it all up close and personal. The 1500-square-foot private reserve is home to a series of all-levels hiking and walking trails, where guests can explore the park's 12 freshwater lagoons, iguana habitat, petting zoo, sugarcane exhibition and other attractions. A self-guided tour is $25 per person or free for guests of Tortuga Bay and the Westin Puntacana Resort & Club, as well as residents of the Puntacana Resort & Club.

2. Make friends

Underwater animal friends, that is. Punta Cana's tropical waters are home to many under-the-sea (cue "The Little Mermaid") locals, many of whom are willing to make friends with excited tourists. Dolphin Discovery Punta Cana, a reserve park, offers guests a chance to meet and/or swim with the dolphins they work with, while Dolphin Explorer's boat cruises include an opportunity to swim and snorkel with fur seals, sharks and rays. Travelers with scuba diving certification -- or those in need of classes for their certification -- can take a plunge with companies like Dressel Divers. For DIY travelers, snorkeling equipment is easy and convenient to rent alongside most major beaches.

3. Get down and dirty

While most of the tourist areas are concentrated along the coastline, visitors to Punta Cana can explore the backroads via one of the area's many ATV or jeep off-road tour operators. Tours vary, but each offers guests the chance to see the countryside of Punta Cana, including local watering holes and homes. The Caribbean Dream Tours' 4 Wheel Adventure itinerary includes stops at a Dominica home for a shot of local coffee and Mamajuana (an elixir of rum, wine, and honey), a natural water cave, and the undisturbed Macao Beach. Island Routes' Off-Road Adventure includes a ride in a 4×4 jeep, a traditional Dominican lunch, walks through coffee and cacao plantations, and a visit to a local river. Adventurous visitors who want to explore on their own can rent an ATV vehicle from Xtreme Machines Punta Cana. Whichever itinerary and vehicle you choose, you're bound to get a taste of the local culture behind this tourist spot -- and you're bound to get down and dirty in the process.

4. Get a birds-eye view

If you're a sucker for breathtaking vistas, sunrises and heights, then there's no better way to see Punta Cana than from a hot air balloon. Dominican Balloons offers a daily Caribbean sunrise flight, including a hot air balloon flight that lasts over an hour plus breakfast, Champagne toast and rountrip transport between the launch site and guests' hotels.

5. Tee off

For golfers looking to tee off while visiting Punta Cana, the three seaside courses -- Punta Espada Golf Club, Corales Golf Club, and the Puntacana Resort's La Cana Golf Club -- are must-visits. Beautifully manicured grounds, ocean views, and a distinctly Caribbean spirit that truly embodies the leisure of this leisure sport make golfing in Punta Cana the ideal way to get up and about -- without jeopardizing your vacation vibes.

6. Head underground

For travelers looking to get a bit of exercise and adventure, an excursion to one of the area's caves will provide plenty of memories to bring back home. Local caves are best -- and most safely -- explored by tour, such as Caribbean Dream Tours' Hoyo Azul Cave Expedition. The day-long trip includes transportation, a guided hike, tour of the Iguabonita Cave, and a dip in Hoyo Azul, a stunning natural pool at the base of a cliff. For travelers 11 years and older, a day trip to the Fun Fun Cave includes breakfast, lunch, a horseback ride, hike, and full cave exploration including rappelling.

7. Zip through the forest

If you want your Punta Cana views to come with some excited squeals, then Canopy Adventures has you covered with their zipline and extreme swing experiences. The half-day Zip Line Tour brings guests high above the tree canopies. For those seeking an extreme adrenaline rush, the Extreme Swing Adventure offers visitors three distinct experiences: high-speed zip line, horizontal "Superman" fly and a swing high across the scenic location.

8. Saddle up

Horseback riding is one of the premiere activities in Punta Cana, and tours catering to every experience level are offered across the area. For those looking to stay by the coast, Caribbean Dream Tours' Beach Horseback Riding offers a guided, two-hour trot on the beach. HorsePlay Punta Cana is a good option for travelers looking to ride through the natural landscape of the inlands.

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Nile Cappello is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.