The sprawling Live Aqua Punta Cana resort boasts plenty of pools, nine restaurants, seven bars, and one of the best culinary experiences of any all-inclusive.
A unique brand under the growing La Colección umbrella, Live Aqua was developed specifically to appeal to a certain emerging customer: the more youthful adventurer who enjoys a sensory experience, one who craves five-star level service but without getting too precious.
As one of the leaders in Mexico’s rapidly growing hotel industry, La Colección has quickly expanded its Live Aqua collection to a half-dozen destinations in Mexico in both urban centers (San Miguel de Allende, Monterrey and Mexico City) and beachfront (Los Cabos, Marina Vallarta and Cancún — the latter which has been named the #1 Resort in Mexico and #5 World’s Best Beach Hotel by Travel & Leisure). And this summer the brand just opened their first outside of the nation’s borders in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
The sprawling five-star adults-only all-inclusive Live Aqua Punta Cana stretches out over 70-acres on a long swathe of rural beachfront property in Dominican Republic’s still mostly undeveloped eastern coast — boasting some 348-rooms, countless pools (almost 100,000 sq-ft), nine restaurants and seven bars to take full advantage of the bottomless culinary dishes and spirits.
For starters we’ll admit we’re normally not big fans of all-inclusive resorts for a couple reasons. First they tend to get cheap in quality once they have your money, the photos in the brochure looking way better than the food they end up plating (and the spirits they serve bordering on college 2-for-1 nights).
And when visiting a foreign destination exploration is one of the most pleasurable elements, as is sneaking off to a patio, café or dive bar that sparks your interest for whatever reason. All-inclusives discourage that sense of discovery — why buy street food or slip into a cocktail bar when everything’s free at the resort?
So here’s where the Live Aqua Punta Cana excels: the culinary experience is one of the best we’ve had at any all-inclusive, bar none. The resort boasts nine restaurants with a variety of concepts: Teppanyaki-style Japanese, French bistro, Italian trattoria, Mediterranean cafe and traditional Mexican, which switches to Dominican fare for lunch.
Standout dishes included moules frites, Niçoise salad, grilled octopus, linguine alle vongole with sliced habanero, Roasted lamb with hummus and even a New York strip steak. The breakfast buffet is enormous, offering everything from omelet/egg stations to local delicacies like mangú (green plantains with red onions sautéed in vinegar and oil), mofongo and fufu to yogurts, cereals and bread. The quality doesn’t quite reach top-tier/five-star European breakfast hotel offerings, but for a resort of its size it fares well.
One bug they have to fix is access to the top-shelf booze. While all bars offer decent mid-level quality spirits (e.g. Jameson, Johnnie Walker Black, Bombay, Jack Daniels, local Brugal rum, Kahlua, Campari, Stoli, Presidente beer, etc. and something called Jarana tequila we’ve never seen anywhere but at least was 100% blue agave), there is a VIP level ‘Aqua Club’ available at extra cost. This upgrade is legit, with bottles like Don Julio, Patrón, Gentleman Jack, Grey Goose, Ketel and more free flowing.
The problem is the very best of these are only available in one VIP bar in the main building by the lobby — all the way on the other side of the resort from the pool and evening bar. If you pay the extra fee for the top-shelf liquor, there’s no justifiable reason to make sunbathers pull themselves out of the pool, walk 10 minutes across the campus up to an air-conditioned bar in wet swimsuits just to snatch a chilled Don Julio. It’s understandable if these options are not available at every single bar, but there should be at least one option on the east (beach) end of the resort where they’re available to VIP level guests.
La Colección told us they envisioned the Live Aqua brand for “cosmopolitan and hedonistic adults who appreciate the luxury lifestyle and are inspired by the art, design, and subtle details that adapt to each guest’s unique tastes,” and for this they succeed. Each outlet in the Live Aqua brand features its own specific architectural style, and the Punta Cana outlet executes a clean, geometric modernist architecture.
Entering the lobby the first thing that strikes you is the sense of space: the lobby is cavernous, with a large reflection pool in the middle. A giant staircase waterfall descends to a lower lounge with an elegant marble bar called The Strainer and a nearby coffeehouse/ice cream parlor. This main building contains most of the concept restaurants and the late night Compton Street sports bar.
Step outside and a long promenade leads you down the middle of the massive campus to the opposite (east) side of the resort. Framed in greenery and hanging purple flowers, this long pergola-like tunnel feels inspired by Japan’s Wisteria Flower Tunnel in the Kawachi Fuji Gardens; there’s a bit of a fairytale feeling to just walking to the beach. The surrounding verdant grounds are lushly framed with orange birds of prey and other splashes of floral colors.
Over on the far north-east side you’ll find the gentle waves of the Atlantic Ocean, the swanky palm-studded Beach Club and the largest pool in the resort replete with buzzing swim-up bar. Here you’ll also find the late-night open-air lounge, Huzur Mediterranean café and poolside Miraflores — a Peruvian-style cevichería prepping ideal afternoon snacks to get you through the day (not that you’ll need it per se, but the glutton may indulge in a truly good aguachile).
Running along both sides of the central promenade and gardens are four large buildings housing most of the rooms — the bottom floors boasting private swim-up pools exclusive to those suits. These Superior Swim-Up rooms spread out over 626 sq-ft, but even the smallest rooms at the Live Aqua claim at least 590 sq-ft of space, while the largest oceanfront Viento Suites boast a private rooftop and almost 1,400 sq-ft.
As to the Live Aqua mandate, each room is loaded with sensory offerings: think Molton Brown amenities, Nespresso coffee machines, aromatherapy kits, BOSE audio systems, Smart TVs and minibars. Wi-Fi is robust. Pillow menus and the firm Live Aqua Bed — an exclusively designed America Mattress Traveler Collection mattress paired with 400 thread count cotton bedding — ensure a deep night’s sleep after a full day of doing nothing and eating whatever you please.
One of the standout elements are the wide freestanding bathtubs found in every room at all Live Aqua resorts. Located on our third-story terrace overlooking the gardens and pools, these soaking bubble-baths provide a near spa-like experience from the comforts and privacy of your room. Turns out the playful little yellow rubber ducks that sit sentry next to the tub are also a symbol of the Live Aqua experience.
And since it’s adults-only that means no screaming children running around, ruining sunbathing reading meditations or early afternoon cocktail sessions. The Live Aqua just feels like an adult experience, from the moment you arrive and are brought a passion fruit cocktail and chilled towel, to multinational evening meals finished with late-night drinks, and finally checking out anxiety-free in the VIP suite.
Should you get bored of sunbathing, swimming and loading up on alcohol and carbs, there are plenty of nearby distractions: world class golf courses, scuba and snorkeling, and exploring, Nearby are the historical towns of Higuëy and 19th-century sugarcane capital La Romana (replete with Altos de Chavón, a replica of a 16th century Mediterranean village).
If you want to knock out some shopping the nearby Bavaro City center will do — we recommend picking up some Caribbean rum (Brugal XV and/or Vizcaya VXOP) on the cheap, as well as a couple balls of Dominican Republic’s famed soft Mozzarella-like Queso de Hoja.
One of the better excursions was a day trip to Isla Saona, a protected island on Dominican Republic’s southern coast that’s regularly nominated for one of the most beautiful beaches in all the Caribbean. After the shuttle to a beach overloaded with sunburnt tourists and locals hawking their trinkets, you board a catamaran or speedboat and work your way out to the Parque Nacional Cotubanamá — drinking beers or rum, soaking in the rays undaunted by a single cloud.
The first stop is a beach with electric blue water filled with starfish, followed by a couple hours on the white sands of Saona. If you’re getting restless and just want an excuse to get out of the Live Aqua and see some Dominican landscape, Parque Cotubanamá’s 112 species of wild birds, manatees, turtles and bottle-nose dolphins make the day-trip a top option.
Or better yet, don’t do anything at all. Less than 45 minutes from the Punta Cana International Airport, the Live Aqua Punta Cana is just remote enough to feel exotic while still convenient — note the free airport shuttles and on-location Covid testing necessary for return to the US.
With numerous direct flights from New York, Atlanta and Miami daily, as well as Boston, DC, Philly, Houston, Orlando and more every week, Live Aqua Punta Cana makes for an easy long weekend escape — at the very least you’ll return ready to face the grueling mundanities of life in the real world.