Whilst better known for large all-inclusive resort hotels, the Dominican Republic has so much more to offer than endless buffets and watered-down beers: For the active adventure seeker, the Dominican Republic actually offers everything from good waves for surfers of all levels, to a variety of water sports and non-water adventures that range from kite surfing to canyoning, snorkelling to whitewater rafting and horse-riding to mountain biking.
Some quick facts about the country
Location: The Dominican Republic occupies 48,482 square kilometers (it’s pretty big), making up the eastern two thirds of the island of Hispaniola, with the country of Haiti comprising the western third.
The island of Hispaniola sits more or less in the center of the Caribbean Islands – with the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas to the north, Cuba and Jamaica to the west, Puerto Rico and the Leeward Islands to the east, and South America to the south. The north coast gives way to the Atlantic Ocean and the south coast gives way to the Caribbean Sea. It takes about five hours to drive north/south and seven hours east to west.
Language: Spanish, but English is widely spoken in the tourist areas
Currency: Dominican Peso (DOP) 1 USD = 45 Pesos, 1 Euros = 51 Pesos, 1GBP = 66 Pesos (at time of press)
Getting there: Direct flights from Europe and North America into Santo Domingo Airport (SDQ), Santiago Airport (STI) or Puerto Plata airport (POP). POP is closest to the best surf and don’t make the mistake of flying into Punta Cana airport (PUJ) since it’s at least five to six hours driving from any consistent surf.
Visa: 15 day Tourist visa on arrival for European, British and North Americans.
Surfing in the Dominican Republic
The DR has over 1280 Km (800 miles) of coastline that is exposed to either the Atlantic ocean or the Caribbean sea. As a result there’s plenty of surf to be found in this part of the Caribbean. The Atlantic coast (north) is by far the most consistent part of the country with year round consistent surf.
The south coast gets good surf when the hurricanes pass south along the island
The south coast gets good surf when the hurricanes pass south along the island in the Caribbean sea between September and November. However, the north coast gets by far the best and most consistent surf, especially in winter (October through April) as the swells arrive having travelled a long distance from storms passing over the USA.
If you are not going hurricane hunting on the south coast, then it’s best to base yourself on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, a 25 minute ride from Puerto Plata airport (code POP) is the town of Cabarete, dubbed the action-sports capital of the Caribbean.
Cabarete became famous in the 80s for perfect windsurfing beaches, but surfers also started to slowly take notice that the country had more to offer than just wind sports.
Playa Encuentro, the main surf spot: A few miles east of Cabarete is the pristine and undeveloped beach of Playa Encuentro. Encuentro is an ultra consistent surf spots that caters for surfers of all levels and has surfable waves 350 days of the year, with waves between waist and double-overhead.
Playa Encuentro is a stretch of beach of about one mile in length and it hosts several different reefs breaks (mostly flat, limestone reef). The main peak of Encuentro is a left-hander which breaks year round and is suitable for intermediate and expert surfers.
Beginners can also enjoy Playa Encuentro even on big days
100 meters west of the main peak is La Izquierda, (‘The left ‘ in Spanish) : A superb barrelling left-hander that is great in the winter time, especially when there is some north direction in the swell. La Izquierda is suitable for experienced surfers only and can get crowded.
200 meters east of the main peak at Encuentro is ‘Coco Pipe’ a fast, barrelling right-hander which breaks over uneven coral and lime stone reef and is therefore only recommended for experienced surfers.
Beginners though can also enjoy Playa Encuentro in several spots in shallow water and even on big days, the inside reforms into perfect waves for learning to surf. On a smaller swell the mellow peaks in front of Bobo’s surf school are great for getting your first rides in.
In and around Cabarete: The bay of Cabarete and Kite Beach are protected by reefs that lie about 100-300 meter offshore. If you are fit and like to surf with no more than five people in the water, these are the spots to head to. Waves line up best in north swells and this usually happens between November and May.
Surf spots further East of Cabarete: About 45 minutes East of Cabarete is the town of Rio San Juan; drive another 15 minutes and you get to Playa Grande. Next to Playa Grande is Preciosa and El Barco.
Playa Grande is a beach break, close to shore, similar to Hossegor and best in winter time (Oct through March).
Preciosa is a reef break that breaks right in front of a large cliff. Perfect barreling left-handers and shorter right-handers can be found here. The local community of Rio San Juan hasn’t yet discovered the sport of surfing, so crowds of less than 10 people on a double-overhead, glassy day are very common.
The above-mentioned places are well documented surf spots, but there are however still dozens of secret spots to be found within the two hour drive radius between Puerto Plata and Rio San Juan.
Practical surf info
Surf season: Winter season for bigger waves: between October and April you can expect the average wave size at Encuentro to be around 4′-6′ (head high to overhead).
Between May and September expect the waves to be between 2′-5′ (waist high to overhead).
Surf Equipment: Bring a standard shortboard or longboard. If airlines charge too much, there are a good amount of surfboard rentals available in Cabarete or at Playa Encuentro.
If you are not a competent swimmer, bring reef boots but leave wetsuit at home as the water’s warm year-round. Do though bring plenty of sunscreen and Lycra.
Where to eat and drink: There are plenty of good places to eat in Cabarete, with new restaurants springing up all the time.
You’ll find pizzas, Mexican food, sushi, fine cuisine, or delicious local Dominican food (rice, an incredibly rich and tasty stewed chicken and beans): There’s even a great vegan place recently opened. The beach-side dining scene is pretty cool with your feet in the sand, you’ll sit beneath many lantern-strewn palm trees and often be entertained by the local musicians.
Prices vary from 4 to 50 USD for a meal for 1 depending on how fancy your meal is. Local beer Presidente, is very tasty and costs around $3 in a western style bar on the beach. There’s plenty of nightlife in Cabarete as well if you are into that: Mellow beach lounge bars, or night clubs with thumping Latino Reggaeton.
Transport: Taxi’s from Puerto Plata airport to Cabarete take 25 minutes and costs 3 5 USD. Local shared buses (guagua’s) are also available they are cheap, crowded, entertaining and often drive way too fast. Local car rentals are also available, but driving in the DR is not for the faint hearted! Moto taxi’s can be rented to get around town and to and from the local surf spots and cost around $3 – $5 USD.
Where to stay: Cabarete offers a variety of lodging options, ranging from basic (around 10 USD per night) to high end condo’s and hotels (125 USD and up) + everything in between.
Words and Images: Jeroen from Swell Surf camp
Swell Surf camp in the center of Cabarete, is a purpose-built surf camp for surfers of all levels, offering quality rooms and food and also providing surf beach transportation, surf lessons, surfboard rental and surfing expertise to their guests.