Eye on Travel

Radio Guest List — Puntacana Resort & Club in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic — January 24, 2020

Locations in this article:  Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

This week’s episode of Eye on Travel broadcasts from the Puntacana Resort & Club in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. I have more reporting on the Boeing 737 Max story and the possibility that there may be criminal cases filed. And a real world, real time update on personal safety and crime for travelers to and in the Dominican Republic. Joining me on this week’s show is Jake Kheel, who explains the work by Grupo Puntacana to not only preserve but rebuild the country’s coral reef system, and a remarkable but true story of why you should thank the Parrotfish for the white, sandy beaches in the Dominican Republic. Cruise Critic Managing Editor Chris Gray Faust reports on a new parade of cruise ships entering the market (how, why and where) — and why the cruise lines are building/developing their own islands in the Caribbean. Margarita González-Auffant, Director of the Alcázar de Colón Viceregal Museum in Santo Domingo, shares the historical background of Santo Domingo, including the real story of Christopher Columbus. And yes, Peter makes his own cigars (photo here) and enjoys an unexpected smoke. There’s all this and more as Eye on Travel broadcasts from Puntacana Resort & Club in the Dominican Republic.


Click here to listen to the show streaming live from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. ET on Saturday, January 25, 2020.


Have a travel question? Then ask Peter. E-mail him at peter@petergreenberg.com, or tweet your questions to @petersgreenberg (include #AskPeter).

The cool thing about visiting the Don Lucas cigar company in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, is that if you ask, you get to make your own cigars. And while I mostly failed arts and crafts in my younger years, I managed to not only make a good cigar but smoke it with the guys who helped me make it. 


Ilana Benady, Author and UK Expat, speaks about Dominican cuisine. Her favorite cuisine here is actually a snack, the yucca fritters. She also admits one of the hardest things to cook is actually the rice. It’s a very simple dish, but the way Dominicans have it mastered. She also addresses the elephant in the room — safety in the Dominican Republic. One of the reasons she moved to the island is because of the safety. She will continue to live on the island and encourage friends and family to visit.


Santiago Salamanca, Executive Chef and Food Manager for Puntacana Resort & Club, talks about the eight different kitchens that service both the hotel guests and private restaurants. He came to the resort for the first time in 2003. One of the biggest points he makes about the food across all menus is that it is properly sourced. The easiest ingredients to get (extra space) locally are lobster, red snapper, Mahi-Mahi, octopus, and goat. Goat is probably the quintessential dish here in the Dominican Republic. He explains that the trick to goat is that it has to be done slow and low — best when served in stew. All of the restaurants on property have a goat dish on the menu.


Chris Gray Faust, Cruise Critic Managing Editor, explains that there is a cruise line for everyone now. If you want to go on a Harry Potter or Disney cruise, they exist! Then, she speaks about the ways cruise lines are always looking for different revenue avenues. What we are seeing in the Caribbean is that cruise lines are building their own islands and have another source of revenue instead of taking people to a different country destination. Cruisers like these islands, because they are getting a very controlled experience. They have less work and guaranteed amenities, such as not having to worry about booking things like a lounger in advance or finding towels.


Oscar Cerda G, Pilot, Founder of Punta Cana Flight Tours, Host of Hola Punta Cana Radio Show and Punta Cana Foodie Festival, talks about the best places for breakfast in Punta Cana — including an unexpected spot for bagels in the Punta Cana Village. Then, he explains what Mamajuana is and the variations on the island. Sometimes, the ingredients include some unexpected and unappealing surprises!


Lebawit Lily Girma, an Ethiopian-American travel journalist living in the Dominican Republic and Author of Moon Dominican Republic, discusses how she initially came here on assignment for the book but loved it and stayed. She’s seeing that more visitors are getting curious to know the culture and having adventures instead of just staying by the pool. Despite recent news, she thinks Punta Cana is the safest part of the country. She travelled solo for the whole year and used a lot of public transportation. She says her biggest surprise on the island was probably the cuisine and how much it varies beyond rice and beans.


Professor Anne Eller, Author of We Dream Together: Dominican Independence, Haiti, and the Fight for Caribbean Freedom, speaks about how the Dominican Republic holds the oldest Spanish society in the Americas. It used to be said that the majority of native islanders perished. Although it’s true that a large portion was killed by Christopher Colombus, there were a lot who survived. There is a lot of colonial history in Santo Domingo. It started as a very rural society that grew into a very independent one. The majority of people were focused on agriculture with cattle, tobacco and wood making as the main industries.


Jake Kheel, Vice President of Grupo Puntacana’s Corporate Environmental Programs, describes how the beach doesn’t happen unless there are coral reefs. Coral reefs are also a protection for the coast. He says if you’re talking about tourism, you have to talk about protecting the coral reefs or you won’t have the locations still there. One surprising fact is how Parrotfish are critical for the function of a coral reef. The fish eat algae and help keep the coral at a manageable level. In fact, some coral is fine, but too much of it is bad. Also surprising is that the white sandy beaches are because of the Parrotfish as they eat portions of the coral reef and end up “pooping” out the white sand.


Margarita González-Auffant, Director of the Alcázar de Colón Viceregal Museum in Santo Domingo, gives insight into the historical background of Santo Domingo. In 1492, Spain fought against Muslim communities and sent away Jewish communities. As these major developments happened, Queen Isabella sent Christopher Colombus on expedition because she felt they had little to lose. The first European court founded in America was in Santo Domingo. Christopher Columbus left his son Diego in charge of the court because he liked the island so much. There are four to six different types of indigenous people on the island. Also the Spanish traveled around from island to island in the Caribbean, and that influence is felt today and in Puerto Rico. Dominican Republic is the fusion of three cultures — natives of the islands, Africans, and the Spanish.


Alberto J. Abreu, CHA – Vice-President of Hospitality, Puntacana Resort & Club, explains how there was nothing in Punta Cana, 50 years ago. At 24, Frank Rainieri, founder of Grupo Puntacana was the first person who came up with the idea to sell the location as a tourist destination. In 1986, when he started working here, the only airline coming here was American Airlines from Puerto Rico. One of the biggest challenges for most visitors may be the language barrier as Spanish is the official language. Travelers are becoming more educated about different Caribbean islands though, and this has helped to set their expectations.