A Special Place…
This is a special place, unlike anywhere I have been before. It is not a hotel, and it is not a hostel. It is adventure camp for grownups. It’s not overly luxurious in the classic sense, but it is modern, clean, and beautiful, and the level of service and the communal arrangement gives you a sense that you are cared for in a way that classic luxury typically fails.
You come to Swell first and foremost to learn how to surf the great consistent break at Encuentro, but also to meet interesting people from all over the world and to explore Cabarete and surrounding areas while having a safe beautiful oasis to return to. You can feel confident coming alone. It is a communal gathering place so if you are looking for pure solitude or a “honeymoon” experience, it may not be the best fit. You can of course find a solo corner for relaxation, in a hammock, a lounge chair by the pool, or a bean bag under the fan, reading a book as you watch the pink frangipani flowers fall to the ground. But Swell really shines when you open yourself up to others and go with the flow of activity and energy that might “swell up” over a Presidente and a glorious Dominican group meal.
The people who work at Swell are the best part about it. Haudy is like a mama bear. She took care of so many small details. When I was there, one of the girls had a number of medical issues and she really stepped up to help her. On the last day I was so relaxed I forgot to arrange my taxi to the airport until the last minute. She had already arranged it on her own and reminded me when my flight was leaving and when the cab was arriving.
The ladies who cook and clean are amazing and kind and helpful. The whole common area and the rooms are kept spotless. And as so many other reviewers have said, the food is fabulous. You don’t have a lot of choices but that’s okay because what is done is done so well. If you are a picky eater or have to have things a certain way, again it might not be the best choice. But if you can go with the flow you will be very satisfied. Every morning after the first session, there is something hearty like burritos or omelets, with amazing fresh fruit and crepes and some delicious homemade juice and great bread for toast. They make homemade muesli with fresh shaved coconut that is to die for. I usually had a huge breakfast and could just go with an afternoon snack instead of lunch. Dinners vary every night (they don’t have them every night) but usually are Dominican in some way, fish, chicken, beef, with great salads and plenty of sides. The meals I had at camp were some of the best I had the whole trip.
I can’t say enough good things about our surf instructors, who also hung around and became our friends. Darby gave me so many great tips and inspired confidence. He really pushed me forward in my surfing without any judging. He is kind and grounded and has great taste in music! Neno was also a fabulous instructor and hang out buddy – and acro-yogi. He unknowingly inspired me to do the epic fail of a handstand on my board! Henrri did a fabulous job of taking care of us in the water and was also great company – he was always dancing! The instructors helped us plan some outside excursions and joined us on a few, and it made the trip so much better.
I had surfed quite a few times before coming to Swell, but never felt like I conquered it. Swell was perfect for me. If you are already an expert surfer, you could still have a lot of fun at Swell, but I think it really caters to people who are beginners or intermediate. A few of us ended up going out to the back and catching the bigger waves and I couldn’t be happier to be in that group, as it was the primary goal of my trip. Darby made it seem like no big deal, which really helped. A number of people had never surfed before and I think every one of them got up on the board on the inside break.
I saw that some reviewers thought it was expensive. I can’t speak to the private rooms, but I stayed in the dorm with a friend and found it very affordable, especially considering the value of the meals and the instruction and transportation to the beach, use of the boards and booties, etc. The dorm worked out perfectly. We had one other girl in there with us and it was fun to make friends. I’ve traveled all over the world and stayed in hostels so I am already prepared for the flexibility required. They have safes for each resident in the dorms and I felt very safe and comfortable there.
The yoga is sort of an add on – it is not the primary focus. But I have a fairly active practice and was really glad there were some classes. Molly is really sweet and does a really solid class.
Swell is not right on the beach, but it worked out great and I wouldn’t let that give you pause. You are close to everything in town and 5-10 minute drive to the main surf spot. I was always so happy to get back to our quiet little camp and fall into the pool after being at the beach. We easily walked down to the main beach in Cabarete where all the crazy action is.
The schedule they create for the surfing is perfect. 7:00 is early (especially after some late fun nights) but honestly I could even get up earlier to surf because the waves and the beach are so great in the early morning. You get plenty of surf time and I was always really exhausted after both sessions. Two of the days a group of us chose to skip the second session and go on excursions, but I could always get that first session in and feel like I still had a good day of surfing.
Wifi only works in the common areas, but worked well for me.
I’m sure that anyone staying here could come up with some little things they think should be done differently, but I won’t bother giving you my extremely short list. No place is perfect, but this comes damn close. Come with a flexible mind about food, culture and your schedule, a desire to learn how to surf, and an open heart to meeting diverse people, and you will have a blast!
I never do repeat vacations – and I mean never. But I WILL come back to Swell.