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Destination The Dominican Republic

by Nicole Dorsey Straff

Thousands of fragrant, scarlet hibiscus flowers nearly block my entrance into the sparkling and sunlit spa on the Paridisus Punta Cana along the eastern seaboard of the Dominican Republic. Veteran Spa Director Mayra Ramirez grins and plucks three bulbs for my all-natural, organic Hibiscus Journey ($200 for 80 minutes), a signature treatment at the 13-year-old original Yhi Spa, which has been recently refurbished. Mixed with local beach sand and raw sugar, an amazing orange-red hibiscus exfoliation paste is then applied to my entire body after a soothing floral footbath. With locally produced Golden Flower essential oils, remarkable treatments are literally pouring out of these nature-friendly caoba-wood spas. From the meat of local young coconuts and prickly pineapples all the way to Dominican coffee scrubs and non-chemical facials, both facilities utilize the best of the island, including bay rum herbs, calming lavender baths, and marine-algae foot masques. Sundari products are also used at both spas.

“Paradisus Spas are designed for the most discerning guest, and they both celebrate a passion for healthy and vivacious living,” says Ramirez, who says a full 15 percent of hotel guests utilize the natural spas. Both properties also sustain several green initiatives, including recycling programs for guests and employees, annual beach clean up days, water recycling plants on-site, and “Water Day” and “Tree Day” celebrations throughout the year, when they teach guests about their surroundings.

In order to respect the natural environment and not disrupt local fauna, both large hotels were constructed in the midst of wild mangrove swamps. There are 584 rooms at sleek Punta Real and 684 rooms at the older Punta Cana. Both resorts also contain casinos, fitness centers, tennis courts, theaters, and a dozen restaurants so you never feel the urge to slink off-site. Like me, though, you should force yourself to see the surrounding jungle, maybe take a trot-worthy horseback ride across luxurious Playa Blanca (White Beach) or rent a Segway and tour downtown Punta Cana.

A shuttle bus takes me to “Indigenous Eyes Ecology Reserve” where I witness iguanas, fossilized seashells and sponges, limestone coral, and over 500 varieties of plants. At this local “Center for Sustainability,” organic beekeepers and smiling guides show both tourists and locals the unique natural properties of this island, including freshwater lagoons, waterfalls, endangered wildlife, and hundreds of healing plants (acres of lemongrass and aloe-vera) among rolling tropical gardens.

Back at the Spa, I climb out of the last cold plunge pool and tuck a gigantic hibiscus behind my well-scrubbed ear, I thank Yhi, the Dominican goddess of light, for wrapping me into the magic of the Dominican Republic and the Sol Melia resorts. I feel bewitched by the place as I sip a cup of local “chlorophyll tea” steeped with organic honey and luxuriate across my daybed with a view of the turquoise Caribbean. Heavenly. Rates start at $257 at the Paridisus Punta Cana and $364 at the Punta Real resort. www.paradisusresorts.com

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