Punta Cana Can Easily Be Our Early Retirement Home

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If you’ve been to Punta Cana and have stayed only at resorts for a few days without venturing out, you should return to experience all that Punta Cana has to offer outside of the resorts. We recently spent two weeks there the “local way”. While the trip was mainly for vacation, we also arranged an appointment with a realtor, as we’re considering Punta Cana as our first early retirement living destination.

To explore Punta Cana properly, we felt the need to immerse ourselves in the the local atmosphere. We rented a car (yes we did, and we both drove Dominican style!), stayed in a few condos, visited many beaches, shopped at the local grocery stores and the large supermarkets, and checked out the nightlife. After exploring Punta Cana, we can now safely say that it’s a great option for us to start our early retirement in, as it has a lot to offer for a young married couple like us.

Punta Cana is a paradise at a very affordable price when you compare it to what you get in other beach destinations, like Miami or the Jersey Shore. It’s not as cheap as moving to a more undeveloped Latin American country, but you’re also not in the middle of nowhere. And yes, you might encounter a dog, a pedestrian with a child, or a motorbike trying to cross the highway as you drive at a high speed, but at least it’s a paved highway!

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Once we retire, our needs will be very different from a traditional retiree for several reasons. One, we’ll still be pretty young and are looking for a spot where we can have fun, go dancing, spend early evenings walking by the shore, and still be able to get away from the crowds. Two, we’re planning on having children and although home-schooling might be the way for us to go, Punta Cana has great options for private international schools. Three, it’s a great place for our children to socialize, while learning about their Dominican heritage right in the motherland. Four, there’s a lot of diversity in the area due to the mixture of locals, as well as foreigners that have made DR their home, and it’s reflected across the board: schools, restaurants, entertainment, etc.

A little history on Punta Cana

Punta Cana is part of the Punta Cana-Bávaro-Veron-Macao municipal district, in the municipality of Higüey, in La Altagracia Province, the easternmost province of the Dominican Republic. The area has beaches which face both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and it has been a popular tourist destination since the 1970s. You can click here for more about its history.

Getting to Punta Cana

As early retirees, we plan to be traveling a lot more than now, so living in a key location close to at least one major international airport is a big plus. Punta Cana has one international airport and this airport is the best connected airport in the Caribbean. The living locations we are interested in are within a 25 min distance from this airport.

There’s also another international airport, in La Romana, that is about 45 mins away from the one in Punta Cana. If that’s not enough points of exit, you can drive for two and a half hour to the city of Santo Domingo and fly from there as well. Three airports give us more flexibility with flight departures and discounts.

For this trip we found a great deal for direct flights from Philadelphia with Frontier Airlines to Punta Cana. The seats on the Frontier plane are not very comfortable, but we’re always willing to make it work for the right price, and it’s only about a four-hour flight. After we arrived, we were greeted by the local airport band that plays merengue tipico, the traditional Dominican music. These folks can get you going!

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Getting around

We reserved a car with Alamo. We decided to rent it during our whole stay because 1) it would cost around $30 to get a ride to our condo one way alone, so it’s a sure way to avoid airport transportation cost, 2) we figured renting the car by the week was more economical, and 3) we were going to be out and about most of the days exploring the area.

We were happy to feel the warm temperature and headed straight to the rental area after we picked up our luggage. Unfortunately, the car wasn’t ready. They offered us an upgrade to a gas guzzler, a pick up truck with a double cabin, but we didn’t want the hassle of driving a huge truck around and waste resources unnecessarily. So, we waited an extra half hour to get the compact car we reserved.

Joselito, the customer service rep, was really nice and quoted us on the spot a cheaper price than we reserved. We’re not sure how they computed a lower price, but we weren’t going to get upset over that. We also asked them, in Dominican negotiating language, to waive the additional driver fee and they complied. The rental cost came out to $30 per day. By the time we got the car, we were starved, couldn’t wait to drop off the luggage at the first condo, and hit a local stand for a late lunch.

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Our first condo was a 24-min drive from the airport.

Tip: If you decide to visit Punta Cana and want to stay at a condo without having to drive a car, you can rent one that is close to all amenities in the Cortecito and Los Corales area. These are the closest areas to all beaches, restaurants and a supermarket. Even though we drove around, we felt relaxed and at home.

Our first DR meal during this trip!

After we dropped off our luggage, we headed out and hit up a local place. We wanted real Dominican food, so who do you ask for that kind of food? The locals! We ventured out and found the restaurant Delicias de Bavaro, located in Plaza Punta Cana. For $18.03 we got a serving of grilled chicken breasts with tostones (fried plaintains), a salad with avocados, yuca balls and two large ice cold Presidents, or novias (brides) as Dominicans call them, because they come dressed in a ice glaze that makes them look like they’re wearing a white dress. The flavorful meal totally hit the spot, we got nice and tipsy on the novias, and we were officially on island time from then on!

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After finishing our meal and becoming human again, we started to appreciate our surroundings, walked around the area and even found some hot, sexy art.

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Lodging

Prior to buying the flights, we already knew we wanted stay in condos to have a local experience. A few of our friends decided to join us for the first weekend, but they stayed at an all-inclusive. We thought about joining them at the resort for a few nights, but the prices at most Punta Cana resorts were outrageous during that time (Valentine’s Day Weekend). It would have cost us at least $300 a night for the two of us to stay with them. So we skipped it and joined them on a few activities outside of the resort. They stayed at the Paradisus and since they were only going to be there for four nights, we rented a condo nearby for the same timeframe, and then rented another cheaper one for the next 10 nights, 20 min southwest.

White Sands Residential (our first stay)

We first stayed in a condo in the Karibo Complex via Airbnb. This place was a 15-20-minute walk to the beach or a 5-minute drive. The jacuzzi on the porch was a plus. The complex is conveniently located between Cortecito and Arena Blanca beaches.

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The apartment had some interesting art throughout. This one was Mrs. Enchumbao’s favorite.

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Serena Village

After our four-night stay in the White Sandals Residentials, we drove southwest to Veron, where Serena Village is located. While the location is not ideal for beachgoers without a rental it worked out great for us. Most local beaches were 15-20 minutes away, there was a security guard at the gate, and while the furniture in this condo wasn’t as comfy, it was a great deal for $26 less per night than the first condo, closer to the beach.

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We also got a chance to cook some awesome meals

Our slow travel pace allowed us to cook healthy meals. Groceries are very affordable in the DR, at least for people that get paid in dollars. Although we didn’t pay 2 cents per lime like Justin, from Root of Good, did in Mexico, we ended up paying about $6 for the groceries pictured below.

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We also visited my parents in Santiago for a couple of days and brought back about 2 lbs of beans, from their farms, which required some fun manual labor. Have you peeled beans before? These are the moments that we enjoy during vacation down time. After peeling, we boil them for about two hours and then finish them with Dominican season (seasoning) and tomato paste.

And… the finished product!

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This little detour to visit our family was entertaining and made us grateful to have survived the journey. Driving from Punta Cana to Santiago can get extremely exciting when you have to drive through Santo Domingo to get there. The crazy city drivers and the high traffic can make for a very stressful experience. We were told that there’s another way to avoid passing through the city and we’ll definitely try it next time. As I learned two weeks later though, the risk was totally worth seeing my mom again, which turned out to be the last time.

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The city of Santo Domingo

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Once in Santiago, we got a chance to visit the Monument – A tribute to the Founding Fathers.

Beaches

Since we’re considering Punta Cana for our first early retirement destination, we wanted to visit as many of the beaches as possible. Many of them boast clean white or golden yellow sands.

punta cana beaches

The following Punta Cana beaches’ descriptions go from north to south. As you head down, the sand tends to get whiter. Water temperatures reach a winter low in the upper 70s and go to a summer high in the upper 80s. It’s perfect beach weather all year round! We visited a total of seven beaches.

Macao Beach

A very virgin beach, as there are no hotels along the water, about 20 minutes north driving from White Sands/Cortecito Beach. It’s known for local fresh-caught fish, which you get grilled or fried at two of the restaurants. You can pick the fish from a cooler, pay per pound, and it comes with a bunch of sides. We ate at El Morro, which is further away when you first arrive, because they gave us better price per pound and they offer more sides. The Mrs. Enchumbao-negotiated price: 400 DR pesos, which is under $10 per pound. The meal you see below cost us about $15 plus beer. However, you can bring your own cooler for drinks, as we learned. You can also rent the lounge chairs and umbrellas, but make sure you pay no more than 50% of the asking price.

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Playa Arena Blanca

This was the closest beach to our condo in White Sands. It bleeds into the resort beach properties nearby and wasn’t anything special. We just went for a walk along the beach and went home.

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Playa Cortecito

For the record, this isn’t exactly a beach to lay out in. There is little dry sand, as the water comes up to nearby restaurants and shops, so it’s more of a walk-through beach, unless you go further south.

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Playa Corales

This is where you get more dry sand and can enjoy laying out longer. Many restaurants offer free lounge chairs or hammocks if you buy a drink/snack from them.

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Bavaro Beach

We spent some time at the Jellyfish restaurant and beach, where you get to chill on nice beach beds, as long as you order something. Could be a budget-friendly drink or two, no one will try to get you out. This is the DR way. 🙂

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Playa Blanca

This ended up being our favorite beach. It’s gorgeous, has nice lounge chairs (no charge and they don’t make you even buy drinks/snacks), and is great for walking to nearby gorgeous beaches. It’s located inside the Punta Cana Resorts community, which means you have to stop by the information center at the entrance, provide your license plate and ID, and get a visitors pass for the day. This reduces the amount of traffic you get in this area, and the best part is that you won’t have any local vendors bugging you to buy goods or excursions. The restaurants that provides the seating arrangements has nice, but pricey food, so pack your snacks.

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Playa Juanillo

Similarly to Playa Blanca, this beach is inside a private community, in this case of Cap Cana. You’ll need to get a day pass, but everything else is free. Little John’s restaurant has complimentary lounge chairs for customers, and they had the best mojitos we tried all around, especially, the chinola one (passion fruit)!

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Indulging and savoring

Restaurants we tried and really liked….

Amaluna

A vegan restaurant was a pleasant surprise, since DR is big on meat and fish. The ambience, drinks and service were phenomenal. The food lacked a bit of flavor for our taste buds and the portions were extremely small considering the high price, but overall, we still had an enjoyable experience. Just be sure to bring cash, so you can save on the tax. We literally paid the price for not having enough cash that night.

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Jelly Fish

We tried some appetizers and drinks and were happy all around. They weren’t cheap, but since they don’t charge for beach beds at this place, we felt the overall experience was worth it.

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Katz Corner

A nice neighborhood gem we stumbled upon when leaving Corales beach. We got some breakfast burritos there. Reasonable prices and very flavorful food.

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Morro Restaurant

This is an outside shack at Macao Beach that I mentioned earlier. If you haven’t had a fried fish meal from Macao Beach, you haven’t been to Punta Cana, period.

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Pranama

Mrs. Enchumbao got me into Indian food when we met, so this was a pleasant surprise. The drinks, food and service were amazing, and we can’t wait to go back to DR for Indian food. Who would have thought!

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Zen Restaurant & Lounge

A nice asian fusion option in Punta Cana village, which is a essentially a plaza with restaurants, bars and shops near a private community. The food and house sangria were yum!

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Dancing the night away

We love dancing, and were so glad to find so many amazing entertaiment options in Punta Cana.

Coco Bongo

Located in Punta Cana Downtown (essentially, a big plaza for fun stuff), this place is in a category of its own: Vegas show meets club, meets your bachelor/bachelorette party. Bottom line: a damn good time.

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Imagine Night Club

Ever been inside a cave to party? Here is a way to do this without the bats. Imagine is a cool venue that resembles a cave on the inside. The cover is steep ($20 USD to enter, $30 USD for open bar), however, it was worth checking it out. You also get a complementary drink with the $20 cover charge.

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Jewel Night Club

The ambience of this nightclub is very chic. The entrance is $10 USD, which isn’t bad, and it’s located in a shopping mall, so parking is free. We were the first ones to show up so we got in for free! I should mentioned that all of the clubs we’ve been too have free parking – a nice plus.

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Other places to visit

Cap Cana

Cap Cana is where the wealthiest of Punta Cana reside. We made it there on our last night, so we didn’t get a chance to explore all it has to offer. We were told that there’s a great spot there for concerts, so we’ve made a mental note for next time.

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Punta Cana Village

Punta Cana Village is like the suburbs of the DR. The community consists of expensive homes, mostly one-family homes that start around $300,000. It’s not cheap. The entire area is in a gated community, but you can freely walk around after parking in the shopping plaza.

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Bottom right image: A window display showed a carnival costume. The DR carnival festivities take place all throughout the month of February and culminates with parades in many towns. Punta Cana had a parade scheduled for early March.

Safety meter

Overall, Punta Cana was very safe when compared to the rest of DR. You see foreigners walking around late at night. That being said, you should always use your judgment. Don’t flash your newest phone around or fancy jewelry. We felt safe through out the trip, but we never carry what we aren’t willing to give up either.

Our 2 week vacation cost

When we travel abroad, we try to pay with either one of our credit cards that charges no transaction fees or with the local currency from that country to negotiate a better local rate. Of course, after we return we tally up our cash transactions and enter them in Mint. Buying in another currency is not an excuse for us not to track our spending, so no matter where we go, we always track our spending. The spending chart below captures our costs for transportation, lodging, dining and entertainment during the two-week trip.

ItemCostComments
Flights$650Two roundtrip direct flights from Philadelphia to Punta . We only checked in one bag since Frontier charges for each checked-in bag or carry on.
Visa$10DR visa for Mrs. Enchumbao.
Groceries$78 We don’t count groceries as a travel cost since we have to eat no matter where we are, but we like to show it to easily compare with U.S. costs.
Restaurants$410We ate out at least once a day on average to try as many local places as possible. This cost doesn’t include alcohol.
Apartment 1

(White Sands Residential)

$307  Cost included wifi. Average cost per night: $77
Electricity$20Cost for apartment 1. Many condos charge for electricity separately, since it’s very pricey. This encourages tenants to be mindful.
Apartment 2

(Serena Village)

$515We rented the 2nd condo for the last 10 nights in Veron, which was about a 20-minute drive from the beaches. Cost included wifi and electricity. Average cost per night: $52
Car rental$420Cost per day: $30. We didn’t buy full coverage insurance, since our credit card provided it.
Entertainment$152Includes entrances to two night clubs and one visit to Coco Bongo for two.
Total$2,562One definitely can’t get two weeks at the Jersey shore for that price including all of the above! Vacation rentals at the Jersey shore run for $2,000 a week and obviously, there’s no comparison between the cloudy Jersey beaches and the Caribbean beaches.

Final thoughts

So, we had a blast, confirmed that we could totally live in DR, and tried some of the best food and entertainment that the DR has to offer. Of course, there are other factors that we’ve been researching as well as far as the economical situation of the country, political stability, cost of living, taxes and health care. We’ll talk about those in future posts. For now, we can’t wait to go back and visit again “local style”. Now that we have discovered this way of traveling to the DR, we doubt we’d go back to the resort scene, unless we get a heck of a deal.

How  and where do you picture your ideal retirement destination? Have you been to Punta Cana?

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Mr. Enchumbao

I work for a large investment management company helping people save for traditional retirement. During my spare time, I help others save for financial independence and early retirement by writing for Enchumbao. My journey to FI began in 2012. I was in a lot of debt back then, but I turned things around and became debt free a few years later. My wife and I reached financial independence in 2017 and are preparing to retire by 2020.

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9 Responses

  1. Jsaon Arkwell says:

    Punta Cana is the perfect place to retire, your dollar goes so much further than in many other countries. I went once last year and i have been planning my retirement there ever since! 🙂

  2. Henry says:

    Hi
    Great post!
    Tips are really helpful in order to choose a retirement home in Punta Cana. It has a great history. It is true that Punta Cana is a perfect place for retirement.

    Thanks, for sharing this valuable information with us.

  3. Kathy says:

    Hi. It’s August 2018 and I just found and read your blog, I am interested to know if you are still in Punta Cana or planning on going still? My husband and I want to retire early and move there. We have been going there and doing tons of research for the past 5 yrs on living in Punta Cana. Please let me know if you still feel the same about it and if not what has changed or what do you love about it. Thanks, Kathy

    • Hi Kathy –
      Thanks for reading our blog! I still feel that Punta Cana is a great place to retire. However, after staying there for a few weeks during our last vacation (in May of 2017), we decided that we’ll not retire to Punta Cana but will have long stays there after we retire. If the issues below don’t affect you then you’re choosing a great destination for early retirement.

      Something to think about as you go is how would you spend your time after drinking and going to the beach gets old. It doesn’t have to get old though. 🙂 What activities would you enjoy other than the beach?

      Here are the main reasons why we decided not to retire there:
      1. Lack of bike/walk trails.
      We love walking and can see us bike riding and walking in our neighborhoods more often once we retire. There are no bike trails in Punta Cana and walking around is a challenge with the limited sidewalks and the increasing motor bike traffic. Needless to say that there is a good amount of aggressive drivers. Having great restaurants and drinks is awesome but we like to see what options we have when we don’t want to drink and pay for entertainment. The only area that we saw where you can more freely walk is in Punta Cana Village but a house there starts around $300k and you don’t get much with that. Of course we can also do beach walks but how about those days when we don’t want to be in the sand?
      2. Lack of recycling.
      You need an extremely good filter system to drink Punta Cana water, otherwise you go through water bottles like crazy. The lack of, or very limited, recycling in the area drove us nuts because we hate throwing plastic in the trash. That was a big one for us.
      3. Real estate.
      We are considering buying a property but I think that to live in Punta Cana renting would make more sense for us. The DR has a strong economy and one of the strongest of Latin American countries but any stable 3rd world country could become unstable with any political corruption. After we thought about it, we decided that if we’re buying a home we want to have it in the U.S. which has a more stable economy and real estate market. So we’re making the U.S. our base and travel from there for long periods of time.
      4. Immigration.
      The DR still has a big illegal immigration issue and we saw a bigger influx of immigrants in Punta Cana last time we went. We picked up that petty crime seems to be on the rise with this newcomers after speaking with some locals.

      These are the main reasons why we will not retire to Punta Cana but these are issues that affect many Latin American countries so comparing it to the U.S. is not an apples to apples comparison. I love my native country and we’ll continue to return and hope to contribute my time in early retirement by tackling some of the issues where improvements can be made, like recycling.
      The Dominican people are great and I always need to come back for that hospitality!

      Good luck on your early retirement plans.

    • Barry says:

      Wife and I are currently building our retirement home in Puntacana, near the Westin Hotel and the airport. We’ve been traveling there for 8 years. Culture, natural beauty, music, food, pace, COL, proximity to States – all big draws. What to do? Remote jobs, volunteer for the needy, teach in elementary schools, retail, classes at university, a PT job in Puerto Rico. Will be there full time by year end 2019. Re walking and biking, plenty inside the communities.

      • Hi Barry – That’s awesome! We went to the beach in front of the Westin a few times and my wife would like to stay at that Westin one day.
        I agree on all the points you mention that makes Punta Cana, and country overall, a great spot. You’ll definitely find meaningful work in the area.
        Good luck on your retirement and thanks for stopping by.

  4. Peter Montero says:

    I respect your position. However, recycling and petty crime are not enough reasons not to retire in Punta Cana, I have been living in Florida USA all my adult life and everyday the crime and the murders are on the rise. Burglaries and car thefts are still happening, our kids are getting shot at their schools. Talking about immigration in Florida, this is the capital of illegal immigration. People from all over the world live here where most fail to respect laws and are rude with no manners. Yes we recycle, but the quality of life is decreasing by the minute, from traffic jams to hit and runs, polluted beaches where all you find is dead dolphins and manatees all over. Drinking Water quality is also horrible because they add so much chlorine to the water that you may die from hardening of the arteries which is caused by excess chlorine in the water so we are forced to drink bottled water. Don’t get me wrong, the USA is the best country in the world and I am proud to be an American. However, you will never be able to retire in Florida unless your house is paid off and you are 67 years old on a $1400.00 SS check which will not leave you much room to pay only for utilities and supermarket food which is very expensive. Your article is very interesting but give me other reasons other than recycling petty theft and immigration which is rampant all over the world.

    • Hi Peter – thanks for your thoughtful comment which provides a very insightful view of life in Florida. I guess there’s no perfect place on Earth. Punta Cana is probably the best of the best when it comes to law and order in the DR. Having lived in the DR and as someone who frequents it and have family living there, gives me a different perspective of the entire country. What I like about the U.S. the most is that’s there definitely more law and order than in other Latin American countries such as my lovely native DR.
      Thanks to our diligence in saving for early retirement and to buy a house in cash the budget won’t be an issue. We’re planning to withdraw anywhere from $38,000-42,000 in early retirement and beyond. Obviously cost of living is not the same everywhere in Florida so we still have to be mindful and do our diligence on where we can retire to without breaking the budget.
      You do give us something to think about… Thanks again.

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