When to go, where to stay and where to find the best surfing spots of the Dominican Republic
Name: República Dominicana / Dominican Republic
Capital: Santo Domingo
Location: Caribbean region
Lat / Lon: 19°00′N 70°40′W
Currency: Dominican peso
Coastline: 800 Miles / 1288 KM
Population: 10.63 million
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.
1,5 hours flight from Miami
3,5 hours direct flight from new York
4,5 hours direct flight from Toronto
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).
JAN – MAR
APR – JUN
|Average wave size|
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
|La Puntilla||Reef break||Right|
|Sosua Bay||Reef break||Right|
|El Canal||Reef break||Left|
|Playa Encuentro*||Reef / beach break||Right & Left|
|Offshore reefs||Reef break||Right & Left|
|Bozo Beach||Beach break||Right & Left|
|Mananero||Beach break||Right & Left|
|Rio San Juan||Reef break||Right|
|Preciosa||Reef break||Right & Left|
Destroyers: Shallow, fast & hollow // For bodyboarders or kamikaze expert surfers
The left: 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
Bobos: Inside at Bobo’s is a perfect learning wave where the surf school of Encuentro teach the surfing on a mellow inside wave
Coco Pipe: Quality left (short) and right (longer) // For advanced surfers only, it’s a fast barreling wave over pretty shallow reef
Offshore reefs: A 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)
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 reason:
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 bgigger ( 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. )
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 takes 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, 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 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.
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
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. 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 accommodation like Swell surf camp offer packages of accommodation including surf lessons, airport pickups, some meals and surf beach transportation.
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, 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 tips
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: $
If you are looking for a great surf and adventure getaway in the Caribbean. Then a Surfing holiday to the Dominican Republic is not going to disappoint you, your partner, friends or your family. At Swell we have space for 20 people, so space fills up quickly. Contact us today for a surf holiday to the north coast of the Dominican republic
Warm water, fun waves……