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The tourist area of Macao-Punta Cana is defined by Decree No. 479, December 15, 1986. It is located in the province La Altagracia, in the southeast region of the island of Santo Domingo. The province occupies an area of 2,474 square kilometers for a population of 115,685 people. The temperature of the area is warm. Its principal economic activity is tourism, followed by cattle-raising and sugar cane cultivation.
The principal city is Higüey, whose name in the Taino language meant “springs”, according to some historians. It was founded by Juan Esquivel in 1505. There the Basílica de Higüey and the Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia are found, the latter designed by A. Nunoyer de Segonzacy and Pierre Nupré and opened on January 21, 1971. This Basílica was constructed to replace the Viejo Santuario, which became too small to receive all of its parishioners. Christianity arrived for the first time to American with Admiral Christopher Columbus in 1492 and from this island, the evangelization of the American continent began.
The church was constructed to venerate the Virgin Mary. Marian worship, under prayers to the Virgin of Altagracia, constitutes the highest form of popular religion for the Dominican people, which has been mixed and associated with our culture, folklore and historical characteristics. Another site of interest is the colonial house-museum of Ponce de León.
A coast of beaches
This tourist zone encompasses the beaches of Macao, Cortecito, Bávaro, Arena Gorda, Cabeza de Toro, Punta Cana and Juanillo, with dozens of uninterrupted kilometers of beaches with fine white sand shaded by coconut palms.
These beaches have, in addition to their exquisite beauty, multiple attractions in their surroundings, such as the Parque Nacional del Este, ecological reserve that possesses the greatest concentration of cave art in the Antilles.
La Saona, the island adjacent to the Dominican Republic, is the area of the Parque Nacional del Este that most interests visitors. Inhabited by a small community of fishermen, it boasts lush forests, sandy beaches and marshes that serve as a refuge for a wide diversity of insects, reptiles and birds, many of them endemic to the island. Tortoises and manatees enrich its marine life. Three hyper-salinated lakes are located in the depressions in its terrain.
Other attractions that the beach chain features are: the Bávaro lake, areas for scuba diving and international fishing in the Cabeza de Toro, the subterranean caverns and rivers, indigenous cemeteries, the mountains, natural springs and the Aeropuerto Internacional of Punta Cana. A report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), published in 1971, indicated the following: “This area is truly exceptional. Of all the tourist beaches in the world, few have such crystalline waters. The sand is so white that it is difficult to believe that it is authentic.”
Studies of accredited international organizations have recognized the area as one of the best in the world. World renowned hotel chains have made use of its attraction, constructing luxury hotels and golf courses for first rate resorts and making the destination one of the most famous in the Caribbean.