There is a defining moment, as I flip-flop through Sanctuary Cap Cana in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, where I feel fully, astonishingly relaxed.
And I have only been here for two days.
When was the last time I felt this relaxed?
I like this feeling. I like it a lot.
But it isn’t simply being away in the tropics at the grand opening of the iconic, adults-only resort, the first luxury all-inclusive property from Marriott International. It isn’t simply getting away, being treated like a queen with my own suite (the resort boasts 324 luxury rooms, ranging from stunning ocean-front suites like mine with a balcony jacuzzi to villas with butler service). It isn’t simply being able to sip a drink while the ocean laps at my feet or having epicurean moments, delicacies prepared by the executive chef to tantalize my tastebuds.
It is the fact that all five of my senses are alive.
My body is on fire, post hydrotherapy and a deep, penetrating massage. “You are very strong… and very stressed,” says my masseuse, digging into my tight hamstrings. Ow.
My skin luxuriates in essential oils as I meander down a path dotted with pink and purple flowers, admiring the colonial architecture, pausing to listen to the sound of the ocean playing a symphony on the right, feeling the mist of the natural, cascading waterfall fountain on the left. This space, a window to the sea, provides visitors and staff with a cool, natural crosswind.
It is no mere coincidence – everything at Cap Cana has been meticulously planned and laid out for our sensory experience. I sip tart green juice – spinach, ginger and pineapple – double-fisting with a rich espresso from the coffee shop. If the smell of Sanctuary Cap Cana could be bottled – the eucalyptus and frangipani from the spa, the cornucopia of flowers, the sun on the terracotta buildings – I would slap down my credit card and bring it home.
But the sense that is most alive is a feast for the eyes: the property is filled with aquamarine pools, fountains, and healing-crystal-covered pillars; the bedazzling ocean illuminates the Spanish-colonial-designed buildings that have been rebuilt in four short months.
When Marriott decided to enter the ultra-luxury all-inclusive market, they hand-picked Sanctuary Cap Cana, wanting to create an ultimate experience in wellness. After significantly upgrading the property, Marriott opened in September 2021; four days later, Sanctuary Cap Cana was slammed by Hurricane Fiona, causing an estimated US$20 million in damages.
Everyone loves a comeback story.
The resort is divided into four luxury types of accommodation with a range of prices, from my ocean-front suite to a private island. The villas, all with butler service, are painted bright pinks, yellows and turquoise – traditional Dominican colours that breed happiness. A giant mural is like the resort’s centrepiece, featuring a large, Spanish explorer ship. There are fine details everywhere – from the healing crystal pillars in the lobby to fountains and cascading waterfalls, and pools everywhere you turn.
The Castle Building beckons me, even before I discover that is where the gym and spa are located. As I walk into a cavern for my first workout, the overwhelming sound of water envelops me, and I turn the corner to see a huge, man-made interior fountain with streaming sunbeams: you can hear the water from inside the spa, and the wellness leaders guide meditation classes three times a week beside the cascades.
I have taught fitness classes in resorts across the Caribbean for 20 years, so I have a yardstick of measurement on gyms; Sanctuary Cap Cana’s is expansive and well-equipped, with six treadmills, ellipticals, and two stationary bikes (for a luxury brand, it is missing a Peloton and a rowing machine). The gym has a wide array of machines, racks, benches, free weights, kettlebells and a small studio to do mobility work. Daily yoga, stretching and meditation classes are at the palapa on the sea, and non-motorized water sports, like SUP, are available. Marathoners will have to go onto the private road, run on the treadmill or do laps around the resort – I simply lapped it many times to get in five kilometres.
A huge plus is the six swimming pools, and those training for a triathlon can swim in the ocean or in a pool to get the job done (with a few extra laps). Despite the resort being full, I had a pool overlooking the ocean to myself the morning I swam. Not too shabby.
The resort provides active “add-ons,” which are a short distance away. Equestrians can jump horses in the Cap Cana “Los Establos,” a private horseback riding facility, and those who love fishing can spend a day practicing catch and release off the coast of the award-winning Cap Cana Marina.
My mouth gapes at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Punta Espada, the most celebrated golf course in the Caribbean, a stunning 18-hole emerald perched by the sea. I would get a tee-time before 8 a.m. It’s hot, with little shade.
Cap Cana’s boasts four à-la-carte restaurants, along with the buffet and “Sanctuary” town, a charming food court with sushi, burgers and more for a more casual evening. When I inquire about plant-based dining, we are told every guest will be taken care of, and anyone with diet-specific needs or allergies need not worry.
The daily epicurean moments are a chance for the executive chef to highlight one or two flavours. On our special evening, Chef chooses cacao and coconut to create a visual display with artistic, edible planets made from white and dark chocolate, cacao-nib-studded chocolate bark, macarons, fluffy coconut cake and a cacao-nib tea that is refreshing and unlike anything I have tasted. Chef promises, with a wink and a smile, that everyone at this resort will leave a taste-bud memory, and I trust him: He had me the moment I tried his 70 percent dark-chocolate homemade truffle.
What does wellness travel mean?
As tourism destinations awaken to the potential of this expanding market, they are stepping up their game: One report places market size at US$814 billion in 2022, and it is expected to grow by 12.42 per cent from 2023 to 2030.
Health-focused travellers want to be able to keep up with their regime while on holidays, and while wellness is unique for everyone, there are requirements: restorative sleep, exercise and healthy, fresh food top the list. Sanctuary Cap Cana has it all. The net game is to return home feeling restored, recharged and renewed, and a trip to the spa is mandatory. I give my masseuse permission to interrogate my muscles, and she goes all in – a knot I have had in my upper right trap disappears, and in less than an hour, she has undone what three years of pandemic stress loaded into my body.
This wellness trip has me coming back to what it means to be well. Sanctuary Cap Cana’s ability to tap all my senses, for me to forget time except by sunrise and sunset, for me to get off my phone, to move, to breathe — it makes me long to return to soak in a little more.
Very, very soon.
Tips & Good to Know
- Getting There: There are flights to Punta Cana daily from many Canadian cities, including Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
- Best Time to Visit: High season is January-April; for the best deal, travel in August or September.
- Average Temperature: January-April HIGH 29-30 C LOW: 21 C
- Top Fitness Features: Gym, pools and classes, including meditation
- Top Health Features: Sanctuary Spa with Hydrotherapy, villas for couples massage and more
- Cool Things: Healing Crystals in the lobby, private butler service
Sanctuary Cap Cana
Boulevard Zona Hotelera, Punta Cana 23302, Dominican Republic
Facebook: Sanctuary Cap Cana