SURFING DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
SURFING DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
THE ULTIMATE SURF TRAVEL GUIDE
Name: República Dominicana
Capital: Santo Domingo
Location: Caribbean region
Lat / Lon: 19°00′N 70°40′W
Currency: Dominican peso
Coastline: 800 Miles / 1288 KM
GETTING TO THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Easy quick flights from New York, Boston, Miami, Toronto and major cities in Europe bring you to Puerto Plata (POP) or Santiago (STI) international airport
BEST TIME TO VISIT DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Year round surf varying from waist high in the summer months to well overhead in the winter months. Always warm and no need for a wetsuit. There’s no distinct rainy season or dry season
LOCATION OF THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
The Dominican Republic borders the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Caribbean Sea in south.
Hispaniola is home to the independent nations of Haiti in the west and the Dominican Republic, which occupies the eastern part. The nation covers an area of 48,310 km² making the Dominican Republic slightly smaller than Slovakia or about the size of the U.S. states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.
WHY THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC AS A SURF DESTINATION?
- Year-round surf destination
- No need for wetsuits / warm clothes
- Fun waves for all different levels
- Plenty of non-surfing activities
- Easy travel
- Friendly Caribbean vibes
- Great food
- Good choice of accommodation
BEST TIME TO GO ON A SURF TRIP
The great thing about choosing a surf holiday in the Dominican Republic is that there are approximately 350 surfable days each year, with very few flat days to spoil the fun. Another notable thing about surfing in the Caribbean is that there is no distinct rainy season (unlike in Costa Rica and Nicaragua where June to September are a wash-out).
|Average wave size
THE BEST SURF SPOTS IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Surfing in or around Punta Cana (south east of the island) is practically non-existent. If you are looking for a surf camp in Punta Cana, or to take surf lessons in or around Punta Cana, you may be disappointed. This is because Punta Cana is bordered by the Caribbean sea, a largely flat body of water. Waves need open water to generate (you may not know that waves travel hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles before they reach the shore). Punta Cana will get some waves in hurricane season, being one of the most exposed points to any approaching storm approaching as they do from the East.
It’s not that Punta Cana has no waves at all; there are occasional waves at a location called Macao Beach, but don’t expect consistent waves or anything over waist high on most days.
Cabarete, on the North coast is bordered not by the Caribbean Sea, but by the Atlantic Ocean and the waves which reach the north shore are often started (as I already mentioned above) many miles away from a passing storm over North America. The waves generated take longer to arrive to shore, which makes them more organised and powerful.
Encuentro, Puerto Plata, Canal, Preciosa and El Barco on the North coast all face the Atlantic and are recognised surf spots. Here is a guide to the best spot for you to go and surf, depending on your level, the time of year and swell direction.
SURF SPOTS OF THE NORTH COAST OF THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
|Reef / beach break
|Right & Left
|Right & Left
|Right & Left
|Right & Left
|Rio San Juan
|Right & Left
DETAILED SURF MAP OF PLAYA ENCUENTRO
Shallow, fast & hollow // For bodyboarders or kamikaze expert surfers
Great left hander, best in winter months with north swell direction // For advanced surfers, and respect the local surfers
Main Peak of Encuentro
Ultra consistent right and left hander // Melow waves for intermediate and expert surfers
Inside at Bobo’s is a perfect learning wave where the surf school of Encuentro teach surfing on a mellow inside wave
Quality left (short) and right (longer) // For advanced surfers only, it’s a fast barreling wave over a pretty shallow reef
Offshore reefsA few miles of offshore reef all the way to Cabarete, ideal for SUP ( SUP is banned at Encuentro for safety reasons). Also, a few peaks that have quality waves on north swells for surfers. ( no crowds)More surfing cabarete info can be found on this page
LEARNING TO SURF IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
It’s not just intermediate and expert surfers that will benefit from a surf holiday to the DR. For people that have never surfed before The DR provides ideal learning to surf conditions pretty much year-round. Playa Encuentro is one of the most consistent surf spots in Central America and the Caribbean, rivalling Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
What makes Cabarete such and ideal place to learn to surf?
There are several reasons:
- Mellow waves
- Hardly any rips or dangerous currents
- Shallow waters ( beginners surf in water that is generally chest-deep)
- Nor dangerous sea creatures ( no sharks or crocodiles, unlike Costa Rica)
- A large designated area for beginners ( so people learning to surf don’t get hit or are in the way of more advanced surfers)
WHEN TO GO TO THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC FOR A LEARN TO SURF HOLIDAY:
Playa Encuentro gets waves year-round for surfers of all levels, but there are some differences in wave heights. Generally speaking from April to October the waves are at the smallest ( around waist to chest high) so for complete beginners and intermediates this would be an ideal time to go. Between November and March, the waves are a bit bigger ( between Chest high and overhead) which makes it a good time for people that want to practise their turning and riding down the line.
From mid-August onwards, sea temperatures can warm up to such a degree that storms forming off the coast of Africa start to wing their way across the Atlantic, heading in the direction of the Caribbean. Some of these storms will stay as tropical depressions, but some will become tropical storms and some hurricanes if conditions are conducive.
Whilst Puerto Rico and other smaller islands suffered huge, even catastrophic damage in 2017 from H. Maria and H. Irma , the Dominican Republic was largely unaffected. Why is this? Well, there is a very good reason why the Dominican Republic is safer from big storms and has not had a direct hit from storm since 2004 (T.S Jeanne). This is because of Pico Duarte ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pico_Duarte ), the highest mountain peak in the entire Caribbean region.
Hurricanes need to keep rotating to maintain their power and are always strongest across open water where there is nothing to disturb them.
Pico Duarte and the Cordillera Mountain range which cross from one side of the Dominican Republic to the other, form a physical barrier to the forces of a hurricane or tropical storm and disturb the centrifugal forces needed to keep these storms active.
As a result, even when a storm looks on track to ‘visit’ the Dominican Republic, this mountain range tends to bounce the storm away from the land mass, keeping the island from suffering any real damage.
* (Whilst on the subject of hurricanes, it’s important to point out that the Dominican Republic is NOT the same place as Dominica (which was devastated by H. Maria). The Dominican Republic is a totally different island, a whopping 1004 km. distance from Dominica. Hurricanes which pass north of the D.R. (approx. 50% pass to the south of the island) are known to give some of the very best waves of the year. Instead of fear rising when a storm is approaching the north coast, Dominican surfers start waxing their big guns. )
There are a few different websites who do a good job of predicting the surf and wind forecast for the DR
How to Get There and Arriving in the Dominican Republic
There are 4 major airports on the island and a couple of smaller ones too. The Dominican Republic is actually located on Hispaniola, which is a BIG island; made up of 1/3 Haiti and 2/3 Dominican Republic. It’s approximately 470km from Punta Cana in the far West to the Haitian Border in the East (that’s a 7 hour + drive).
While Costa Rica and Nicaragua are often surf destinations which involve a day or more travel to get to, the Dominican Republic is much more accessible, with direct flights from New York, Boston, Miami, Toronto, and Montreal, all taking around 4 hours to POP, from where you can reach Cabarete in 25 minutes.
If you are planning on surfing the north coast, try to fly into Puerto Plata (airport code POP). The 2nd best option is Santiago Los Caballeros (STI) and the 3rd best is Santo Domingo (SDQ). Flying to Punta Cana might be cheap (lots of cheap charter flights go there to ferry people to the many all-inclusive hotels lining the coast) but it’s not a viable entry point if you want to surf. Punta Cana is all about white sand beaches and all-inclusives; there’s no ‘real’ Dominican culture close by.
American Airlines, Jet Blue, Continental, Air Canada, West Jet are just some of the flights arriving into POP, STI and SDQ. There are also charter flights arriving daily from Europe. You can see more flight suggestions on this page.
General travel info Dominican Republic
Getting around The DR
Getting from the airport to your choice of hotel or accommodation is pretty easy in the D.R, especially if you can afford a private taxi. Taxi drivers all have to be licensed and are very well protected and regulated by the authorities. Taxi fares are set nationally and are advertised at all ports of entry. Upon your arrival at the airport, you will always find an official taxi desk and a driver can be allocated to you for a set fare. Uber exists within the country but having an Uber collect you from the airport is extremely unlikely as the regulated taxis will not stand for it.
Your other options are to take a ‘carrito’ or a gua-gua if you are going somewhere fairly local. Both are forms of public transportation. A gua-gua is a mini-bus and a carrito is normally a beaten-up Toyota Camry or similar.
Both will stop for you at the side of a main road wherever you are standing, if you put your hand out, but be prepared for a crowded journey; whilst they are super-cheap (a 19km journey from Puerto Plata airport to Cabarete will cost around 100 to 200 pesos depending on your negotiating skills with the exchange rate at the time of writing being 45 pesos to 1 USD), they make up for the low-prices by seriously squeezing bodies in.
Neither are really a viable option with a surfboard or a suitcase of any size and be prepared to have your personal space invaded.
There are also Moto-taxis, which are small motorbikes which cost (generally speaking) 50 pesos (just over one US dollar) for around 5km. You will frequently hear the ‘ssssssssttt’ from a passing driver offering you a ride. Be careful of the safety of these bikes and watch for very serious burns to your calf (commonly known as ‘the Dominican Tattoo’) from the exhaust pipe. It’s a terrible way to start your surf vacation and will take weeks to heal. It’s not unknown for these guys to double up as drug dealers or pimps, so beware.
Car rental is cheap but driving in the Dominican Republic is not for the faint-hearted. Dominicans have a rather laissez-faire attitude towards driving, so always expect the unexpected (people coming out of junctions without looking, or driving on the wrong side of the road), don’t drive fast, never drive under the influence and you should stay safe.
Keep your eyes open and your mirrors tuned, especially for the motos, as they will approach at speed from all directions. A Sat Nav is a good idea for longer journeys as good signposting is a rarity. If you are involved in an accident, stay in your vehicle if it is safe to do so and call your insurance company. Dominicans can tend to flock to an accident, especially if a local person is injured, and it can be intimidating. If you rent a motorbike, and wear a helmet; it’s not only the law, but in a country with a very poor R.T.A. record, it may just save your life.
Entry requirements and visa
Generally speaking, the Dominican Republic is a visa-free country to visit. Very few nationalities require a visa to enter this Caribbean island. The majority of nationalities though will need to purchase a Tourist Card upon entry at Puerto Plata (airport code POP), or any of the other airports of the Dominican Republic
The Tourist Card costs $10 USD and is valid for 30 days of entry. You need to pay for the card in USD only. Some countries are exempt from this and I’ve provided a link below to check whether your country of origin requires a visa, a Tourist Card or neither. Generally speaking, Americans, Canadians and Europeans don’t need a visa, but do require the Tourist Card.http://www.dominicanrepublic.com/dominican-republic-visa-2/
Medical Information Before You Travel
So most of the medical-related websites, such as the CDC for example, will give you blanket advice about vaccinations required and list all medical risks. The truth is that from region to region, the risks vary considerably and some risks mentioned on these websites are not much of a risk at all. Malaria is practically non-existent in the Dominican Republic with the last reported case in 2011. The Zika virus; again, although it is reported there have been cases in the Dominican Republic, these have been centred in Santo Domingo, the capital city, located on the south coast, which is about 4 hours by road from Cabarete on the North coast.
There are no recent reports of Zika on the North Coast at the time of writing. The daytime mosquito (Aedes) carries the worst diseases, including Dengue, so it’s obviously better to prevent being bitten at all. Wear a good repellent containing DEET. Windy coastal areas have far fewer mosquitos than inland on the island. Hepatitis A and B vaccines are recommended; Hep A can be caught from contaminated food or water and Hep B from sexual partners who are themselves contaminated, or even from getting a tattoo done. If you feel you might be in either risk group, it could be a good idea to get these shots.
In our experience, the airlines are good at reuniting you with your baggage as long as you have forwarding information. It’s always best to print off a map of where you are staying so you have it to hand for the airline if your bags are lost and/or for the driver who takes you to your accommodation.
If you’ve paid to bring your surfboard or even your quiver to the Dominican Republic, it might be (God forbid) that you have a broken surfboard, or a ding to repair. Luckily, down at the surf beach and in Cabarete town itself, there are some really good guys doing first-class repairs. If you are a Swell surf camp client, we will help get your board to the repair shop so you can be back riding your favourite surfboard in no time. Here’s a useful link to 2017 prices for surfboard carriage from all the major airlines here are many shops and shacks at the beach that will rent you a surfboard if you don’t want to pay to bring your own.
About the Money
Don’t change your money at the airport. Airport currency exchanges are notorious for having appalling rates. In May 2018, Wally Exchange (based in Cabarete) are buying a US dollar for approximately 45 DOP (Dominican pesos). Here’s the link to check the correct rate around the time of your visit http://www.cabarete-dr.com/banco/index.php?lg=fr
Banks are also good places to change money with decent rates. Cabarete has plenty of banks to choose from. Take an ID with you as they won’t change money for you without proof of who you are. There are money changers on the street, but you might be cheated, even with an attractive rate to lure you in, sleight of hand and dubious counting techniques will normally mean you don’t end up with the correct amount of DOP for your dollars.
ATM machines are widely available. But, as in other countries, devices can sometimes be fitted to these machines to copy card information for the purpose of fraud. Guard your pin number very carefully and mask it effectively when entering it. ATM machines only give out DOP and will frequently run out of money by Friday evening as people head from the cities to Cabarete for the weekend.
Where to Stay?
There is a huge amount of accommodation on offer in and around Cabarete alone and much more in the wider area. From all-inclusive hotels to guest houses and Airbnb’s.
Outside of Puerto Plata is Playa Dorada, an area which was developed some 40 years ago to be one of the first all-inclusive one-stop-holiday shops in the Caribbean region. Sadly, it’s showing its age and the cheapness of the flights, packaged with accommodation, reveals itself in the quality of room and food/drink you will receive.
If you value cheapness above quality, then these holidays are still a good option for some sun and beach. Playa Dorada is a good 40-minute drive to Cabarete, so getting to and from the surf beach, if you are coming to surf, will not be easy or cheap.
Sosua is a 15-minute taxi from Cabarete (Encuentro, the surf beach is only 5 minutes outside of Cabarete in the direction of Sosua). Sosua itself has a stunning bay and beautiful water for snorkelling, but a rather deserved reputation for being a bachelor haunt. Bars and clubs at night are frequented by prostitutes.
The new Mayor of the town is doing her best to clean up Sosua, but she faces a tough task. Cabarete is the sporty neighbour of Sosua. Itself set inside a panoramic bay, there’s a safe area for swimming with calm water and an area of the beach reserved for windsurfers and kiteboarders. SUP is now very popular in this huge bay where you can paddle out to the reef to catch some waves, or stay on the flat water inside and paddle up and down the bay.
The bay is light sand and lined with palm trees, just in front of a large number of charming restaurants. The restaurants have their own sun loungers where you can pay a couple of dollars to sit all day, have food and drinks served to your lounger, and watch the various water spots go on around you.
Cabarete has a ban on motorised water sports, so you won’t be disturbed by any motorboats or jet skis. There are modern apartment complexes right on the beach, Ocean One, Harmony, Ocean Dream which have apartment rentals aplenty. You can find these rentals advertised on Airbnb or on a specialist agency website like L’Agence in Cabarete http://agencerd.com/ Luxury places like Ultra-Violeta recently opened and are offering high-end, relatively expensive apartments on the beach. Kite Beach and Cabarete East also have accommodation on offer which might suit fervent kite-boarders looking for cheap accommodation, but bear in mind you will have a 20-30 minute walk back to town for dining and partying, so you will likely need transportation. Specialist accommodations like Swell surf camp offer packages of accommodation including surf lessons, airport pickups, some meals and surf beach transportation.
Surfboard Rentals and Surf Shops
Naturally, in a surf town, surf shops are abundant. You’ll find genuine article shops like the Carib Wind Centre (opens a new window) at the east end of the bay, Surfea in the middle of town but you’ll also find cheaper imitation shops, selling fake branded goods.
There are surf shops that will rent you a surfboard for a week, but at the surf beach itself, there are numerous surf schools that also rent boards. You can turn up and take a surf lesson at Encuentro, at schools like Bobo’s, Pauhana, Chino’s, etc. Pauhana specialises in teaching kids to surf. Swell surf camp will only teach their own guests to surf.
Shopping in General
Cabarete is full of boutique shops. Lili and Lou, Olivia’s and several other charming independent clothing retailers offer locally made and imported clothes/beachwear for men, women and kids. There are numerous artisan jewellery stores using locally mined stones such as Amber (the north coast of the Dominican Republic is known as The Amber Coast because of the large number of amber deposits found there). It’s a shopping beachside paradise.
For groceries, there are several choices. Food shopping has improved hugely in the last 10 years and what was a very basic provision of produce is now pretty international. Much of the Dominican Republic’s own fruit and vegetables are organic. There is not much that you cannot buy in the DR now, but be aware that specialist produce, such as gluten-free ingredients is more scarce and if found, will be pricey. If you are travelling with babies or young children, you will find everything you need for your child in the local supermarkets, from milk formulas and diapers to rash creams and soothers.
You will be able to buy sunscreen and mosquito repellent in Cabarete, but prepare to pay more for anything which is imported, as many of these products are.
The Dominican Republic is rapidly improving its cellular coverage. 4G is now available through providers like Claro and Altice Dominicana. Get yourself a local sim; it will save you a fortune in roaming data charges. Claro and Altice have offices in Cabarete. You’ll just need a passport for ID to buy one.
There are a couple of good pharmacies in Cabarete and the staff there are able to give you some decent medical advice for minor ailments. A lot of drugs which would ordinarily require a Doctor’s prescription in your country of origin can be bought over the counter without one. Hospitals and Medical Emergencies.
Between Cabarete and Sosua is the CMC (Cabarete Medical Centre), a well-equipped hospital. Seriously, don’t travel to the Dominican Republic without comprehensive travel insurance and make sure your insurance does not have exclusions for water sports.
If you have to see a doctor at a drop-in centre (there’s also one in the centre of Cabarete) it will not be cheap and you might face a bill of $200 USD for a consultation. Normally, even if your condition is serious, you will not be treated until you have demonstrated the funds to pay for your treatment. The first thing you will be asked for is your insurance information.
Eating Out; The Choice is Vast!
I’ll start with the best first; Dominican food. Dominican recipes are handed down for generations; varied, rich stews of fish, chicken, beef or pork marinaded for hours with a huge array of herbs and spices: the tender fish, meat and sauces are to die for. If you are not a meat lover, you will also love the many traditional Dominican vegetarian dishes, like Yucca fritas, aroz con guandules, and delicious platanos; really, the list is endless.
There are several traditional Dominican restaurants in and around Cabarete; they are often the simplest-looking places but you can trust the food will be well prepared and delicious. Try the famous ‘chicken man’ of Cabarete main street; marinated quarter, half or whole chicken BBQ’d to perfection and served with rice and salad.
Restaurants in Cabarete
There are a ton of places to eat, but these are our top tipsLe Bistro // French cuisine // Highly recommend // Price range: $$
Otra Cosa // Western cuisine // Romantics setting // Price range: $$$Pomodoro // Italian cuisine // Great fresh pasta // Price range: $$
Chinese // Friendly owners // Cheap & Tasty // Price range: $
Gordito’s // Mexican // Cheap , Tasty & quick // Price range: $
Fresh fresh cafe // Healthy Lunches // Price range: $$
Wilson, La Boca // Top Dominican Experience // Price range: $$
Cabarete has a vibrant party scene. Not so much that it spoils the place for those of us (myself included) who no longer wish to dance the night away, but enough that those of you who love to go out and dance will find a party on the beach most nights of the week. Once dinner is over and chairs and tables are stacked, the music is cranked up at two or three venues in the bay.
Some of the kite surf schools in Cabarete will host bonfire parties and pig roasts, especially in high season.
Presidente and Bohemia are the two major beers; Presidente being particularly good. The Dominicans are famous for their rum and it’s cheap. A Cuba libre (rum and coke) is probably the most downed drink on the island but you’ll find every type of cocktail available at the bars.
Lots of people start their party night at one of the cheaper street side bars in town before heading to the beachside to dance. Drinks are powerful in those street side bars, with big measures, so pace yourself.
If you are a smoker, cigarettes are cheap on the island, so no need to stock up before you arrive. Dominican cigars are world-famous, so make sure to visit one of the specialist cigar shops in town.
Safety in General.
The biggest danger in and around Cabarete that you will face will be from or on the roads. I don’t recommend renting a car or a bike as the driving really is nuts. Yes, it’s great to bomb back and forth from the surf beach with no helmet and no T-shirt, but we’ve seen so many horrible accidents over the years, it’s just not worth it. Take a taxi, and share a ride with others to keep the costs down. Better still, if you are there for surfing, stay at a surf camp, like Swell, where you are a short, safe walk from all the bars and restaurants and you get taken back and forth from the surf beach.
Tourist Police patrol Cabarete day and night and keep it very safe for tourists, but don’t do stupid things like leaving your stuff unattended on the beach. It’s a poor country and your iPhone is a valuable commodity.
It’s generally safe to be out late, but be sensible and apply logic. Pick pockets are operating in the night clubs and they looking for the easy targets, who it must be said are mostly drunk tourists. Top tip; if a local girl approaches you for a cuddle, it might be a set-up. Often they are doing it to distract you whilst someone else lifts your wallet/phone, etc. from your pocket. Don’t walk home alone along long, unlit stretches of beach in the early hours; stick with a friend or partner and stay on the lit streets. If your walk back to your lodging must involve a deserted area, take a taxi.
If you have suffered a theft, you will need to go and get a police report from your insurance company. There is a police station in Cabarete at the far east end of the main street. Drugs carry very high penalties in the Dominican Republic and whilst they are available to buy, consider the time you may end up in a very unpleasant prison if you are caught in possession. Being LGBT in the Dominican Republic is completely accepted and there is a relaxed attitude towards same-sex relationships. Cabarete has a vibrant gay community.
Top Things to Do in and Around Cabarete, Other Than Surfing
Parts of the movie Jurassic Park were filmed on location on the Amber Coast so naturally, it is a beautiful setting. Mountains and rivers abound and there are a number of tour companies who will help you explore this wonderful landscape.
Kayak River Adventures and Iguana Mama are the two most widely respected operators with high safety standards, and both offer exciting tours of the many canyons and rivers. The Magic Mushroom, Big Bastard, Ciguapa Falls and the 27 Waterfalls (Charcos) of Damajagua are just some on offer.
You have the choice of caving, mountain biking, ziplining, monkey jungle, SUP and kayak tours of the rivers, together with a huge road cycling community who regularly cross the country on their bikes. Sailing both Optimists and Lasers is available from the Carib Wind Centre and windsurf, SUP and kite lessons are all right on Cabarete Bay with providers like Vela Cabarete.
If you are into horses, both beach rides and mountain trekking are available to you. Check out Tommy at Rancho Luisa; he’s French Canadian born but lived most of his life in the Dominican Republic, and it seems, on the back of a horse. His rides through the mountains, rivers and villages are epic. Snorkelling in the bay of Sosua is really lovely (15-minute taxi from Cabarete) and there’s deep sea fishing from Puerto Plata harbour. Go visit the ancient port of Fortaleza San Felipe in Puerto Plata (built-in 1564 for King Felipe II of Spain). From the port, you can walk to the recently updated/restored town with its many old colonial buildings and find plenty of shopping and eating too.
Take the cable car up to Isabel de Torres, also close to Puerto Plata, early one morning to see the sunrise; there’s a botanic garden at the top with breathtaking views of the north coast. Visit the truly beautiful, huge beach of Playa Grande for the day to swim in clear, blue water and eat BBQ fish beneath the palm trees. Visit Laguna Dudu, Gri Gri and the Blue Lagoon, all close to Playa Grande. Treat yourself to a massage and an afternoon of pampering at Naomi Day Spa in the centre of Cabarete: They have all the latest cosmetic treatments available. There is so much to do in and around Cabarete that you will struggle to fit it all in.