Que calor – this is Cabarete!
A picture postcard of white sand, merengue, salsa, palm trees, rum and frolics all blowing in a beautifully inviting breeze – Cabarete situated on the north-eastern coast of the Dominican Republic is truly the country’s windsurfing mecca. Lucy Robson reports….
Visualise yourself standing at the end of a long baywith a flat lagoon touching the shore and beyond that waves breaking over the reef shaping white crests and blowing mist over the sea. The air is 30 degrees and the water an inviting 28 degrees. The beach is a vista of flags blowing in the wind and windsurfing centres showcasing the best of their kit for your viewing; this is tropical windsurfing at its best!
I found myself in Cabarete after being faced with the familiar conundrum in the UK this winter of escaping the frigid chill encapsulated by the torrent of freak snow showers and bitter northerly winds to somewhere warm with consistent windy conditions offering both the option for freestyle and waves with the opportunity to also surf. After a bit of research I took the plunge to try this spot out and was genuinely pleased I did. Cabarete really offers something for everyone but most importantly you get great windsurfing.
|Windy Season||June to Sept|
|Water Temp In Summer||28 degrees|
|Air Temp In Summer||30 degrees|
|Average Wind Speed||20 knots to 35 knots|
|Flight Time (From UK)||10 hrs|
- How To Get There
There are direct flights from the UK to Puerto Plata. I flew from Gatwick and the flight took approximately 10 hours. There is no denying that this is a long flight with no stop-over but once you land in Puerto Plata the onward journey is short and hassle free. We found a taxi at the airport, negotiated a price of 30 US$ and were driven together with our kit in a people carrier to our hotel in Cabarete in just 20 minutes.
When you are looking to book a flight be careful not to make the mistake of flying to Punta Cana or Santa Domingo which are 13 and 5 hour taxi rides away from Cabarete respectively.
We flew with Thomas Cook airlines, mainly because this was the cheapest and seemed to have the most reliable excess baggage policy for sports equipment. A return flight with Thomas Cook cost £480 each.
Insofar as carrying kit is concerned Thomas Cook’s website at www.flythomascook.com quotes £40 return for long haul flights. I arrived with 3 big bags (double board bag, quiver bag and triple surf board bag) and managed to get away with just £40 return. A smile always helps!
If you want to really take the back seat and have all the arrangements made for you, there are plenty of travel companies like First Choice which offer all-inclusive packages for 2 weeks at a cost of approximately £1500 per person depending on the time of year you travel.
Tour Operators: for packages with or without flights contact www.sportif.travel for full ATOL protected holidays.
- How The Wind Works
The wind is a powerful trade wind, blowing from 20 knots to 35 knots from the beginning of April until the end of November and almost 100% consistency of more than 20 knots from June to October!
The stats indicate that the most consistent months for wind are from June to mid September and for the best waves and wind combined from February to April.
The regular trade winds blow cross shore from right to left (starboard tack) typically increasing from a light morning breeze to a windy Force 5-6 most afternoons as a result of a local thermal effect. As a result of this the wind is actually underestimated by both www.windguru.czand www.magicseaweed.co.uk
- The Sailing Spots
The deep half moon shaped Cabarete Bay is enclosed by a reef situated 800m from the shore. This provides good backside and frontside riding depending on whereabouts on the reef you choose to go. The waves are predominantly shaped by open ocean swell and are quite a fat. It is not therefore that great for jumping since the wave pushes in at 45 degrees to the wind so you will find yourself heading into wind when you try to get air off the ramps.
The waves were between shoulder to logo high and really good for improving wave riding. The water is shallow here so watch your fins! This is also not a spot for beginners to venture out to or intermediates that are not confident and quick with water starting. I saw quite a few people swimming for kit!
The inside of the bay is flat with small chop and is perfect for freestyle. There are a number of locals who, like in the other Caribbean islands, specialise in freestyle and are an inspiration to watch.
There can be a small shorebreak at times but nothing to even deter a beginner.
There are a number of hot locals, most memorably Sammi, Chibo and Fernando. Whilst we were there they held the Encuentro Surf Classic and a locally organised slalom competition and the week previous the Master of the Ocean Competition took place all of which attracted international competitors. In June there is the annual Cabarete Race Week which is a highlight in the local calendar alongside the Kiteboard World Cup event.
- Water State
Beginners: There is a relatively flat sea state (although it can get choppy if a north swell is running in the winter months). This is perfect for learning, assisted by a gentle breeze in the mornings. I also saw good beginner equipment (including kids’ equipment) and qualified instructors on hand for group and private tuition for all levels up to looping and aerial freestyle.
Intermediates: The inside of the bay is protected from the ocean swell which provides for perfect blasting conditions. The cross shore wind and the shape of the bay also allows for safe sailing. Should you encounter difficulties you will always end up on the beach! Like for beginners there is a good range of hire equipment available and instruction for improvers to include stance, harness, foot straps, etc.
Experts: For freestylers there is flat water inside the bay and regular consistent Force 4-6 wind every afternoon. To compliment the freestyle for those interested more in wave riding there are cross-on to cross-off waves depending on the section of the reef and typically from February to April the waves are 2 – 5m high.
- Instruction And Kit Hire
There is a choice of 6 centres all located directly on the beach.
This is the biggest and probably the best equipped centre stocking 2008 Neil Pryde rigs and JP and Starboard boards. Vela Cabarete also enjoys the optimum location on the bay for launching and landing being placed directly in the middle. This is a lively centre with two amusing British instructions (Neil and Searle “the pirate”) and has the benefit of its own adjoining bar /restaurant and shop. You can book direct for online discounts atwww.velacabarete.com on kit and instruction and also for enquiries for a package to include accommodation, transfers equipment, rental and qualified instruction at all levels.
We hired kit here for Caspar and were altogether pleased with it and hung out a fair bit with the guys and at the bar!
This is a small rental centre at the most upwind end of the bay stocking Mistral /North kit for hire. Unfortunately it suffers from a wind shadow close to the beach.
There is reasonable kit and facilities available here and the centre has an adjoining bar /restaurant and shop.
This is a small centre with limited and well-used equipment but redeems itself with the high level of local sailors that work here and train freestyle regularly on the water. The centre attaches itself to Café Pitu which has a nice Caribbean vibe and some interesting characters who drop by!
Villa Tarina Surf
This centre sits downwind and stocks a good range of equipment.
Club Natalie Simon
You will find Neil Pryde, Taboo and Fanatic kit herein good condition. The only disadvantage is that this centre sits the most downwind and next to the kite beach on the boarder with all the kiters!
There is no shortage of places to stay in Cabarete and plenty within a windsurfer’s budget! We booked theCasablanca Hotel for US$40 per night for a double room with a sea view. This is nice small hotel which is run by a Canadian couple and is set back 2 minutes from the beach on the main road and is approximately a 5 minute walk along the beach to the windsurf centres and launch spots. This price does not include breakfast however there is the use of a kitchen for an additional small charge of US$5 per day or alternatively there is a restaurant attached which is open Tuesday – Sunday between the hours of 08.00 – 14.00 called Claros. This is a really nice place to eat offering a very American cuisine of pancakes and breakfast burritos amongst other things and is good for post surf re-fuel! It is a little on the pricey side though so you may want to reserve this for a treat!
The Casablanca is a nice and convenient place to stay but it was noisy being next to the road and is basic. For more information or enquiries visit their website or you can contact by telephone on 1-809-571-0934. Ask for Cabarete William!
Other places will offer you similarly priced accommodation some also including breakfast and /or dinner or offering apartment facilities.
Ali’s Surf Camp This is a 15 minute walk away from the beach and it set off the main road in a private residential area which is guarded! This place has a great atmosphere and you will be guaranteed to make lots of friends if you are travelling on your own. There is also a really great and reasonably priced restaurant attached which offers a hearty grill menu. This became a favourite place of ours to eat due to the huge and tasty grilled meat and fish and the absence of street vendors peddling items you probably do not need and interrupting your dinner at other beach restaurants!
Residencia Dominicana A clean budget hotel within 10 minutes walk from the beach.
There are also a number of more luxurious options available, some of which we would pass on our walk home and feel ever so slightly envious! These cost approximately US$100 – 150 per room per night including; Velero ; El Magnifico; Palm Beach Condos; Villa Taina amongst many other places.
One of the things which is most prevalent in Cabarete and which I was surprised about is that it is expensive. If you have self catering facilities where you stay there are supermarkets but these are limited. Next to where we stayed was Supermacado Janet which stocks the basics but is limited in choice. You also need to watch your change here as in other places. You will find that you’ll pay a tourist price in contrast to the locals and if the cashier runs out of short change you will be handed a couple of sweets! We thought this was actually a free gesture at first in our naivety but started to wise up after a few days as we realised how much money we were getting through!
Typically we would eat breakfast at a Café, buy lunch from the supermarket and again eat out at a restaurant in the evening.
A good and reasonably priced place to get breakfast is a place called Friends Café which is on the main road next to Dick’s Bakery which also offers value for money. At Friends Café there is a breakfast menu including my favourite which was ‘Friends Wake-up’ with unlimited tea or coffee, fruit, muesli and yogurt bowl and croissant for 110 pesos (about £1.63).
Café Pitu also offers value for money with a range of breakfast option from the full English to a latte!
Dinner options are plenty on the beach which comes alive at night and off the main road you will find some places tucked away. We found the best (and cheapest) to be Ali’s Surf Camp (best grill available); Pomodoro(authentic Italian); El Chino (Chinese); La Casita(seafood); Blue Moon (a 20 minute taxi ride away situated in the mountains offering Indian cuisine in a very magical setting).
Cabarete Bay really comes alive at night and there are plenty of places to hang out at. The local rum is to be recommended and those Cube Libres are particularly potent here which I found out to my cost!
Enjoy sundowners at Voy Voy, Lax, Ono and Bamboo on the beach. Most places will offer happy hour in the early evening to get you in the mood! We didn’t find any clubs in Cabarete as we were often too tired from the windsurfing to make it out and the abundance of wind and good forecast sent us to bed early but I am reliably informed that there is no shortage of parties on the beach. The bars stay open very late and you will hear everything from blaring techno beats to laid back chill.
- Bored Of Windsurfing
The shape of the bay and the wind direction allows for non-windsurfers (or those on a day off) enjoying relaxing on the golden sandy beach without enduring any sort of sand blast which is often found at other windy locations. There are also numerous bars and restaurants along the beach where you can relax over your favourite drink! The mojitos are to be recommended or in fact anything with rum in!
There are other activities which are available locally and at reasonable prices including; surfing, kiteboarding, horseriding, mountain biking, canyoning, wakeboarding, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkelling and whale watching.
Good waves can be found at Playa Encuentro which is the most consistent break on the north coast and a 10 minute drive west of Cabarete. You will need to get up early and should aim to get to the beach for 0600 not only to beat the inevitable crowds but also the wind which usually kicked in around 0900 and blows the waves out. Encuentro is a package of reef breaks which offers a number of rights and lefts for different levels. There are numerous surf schools at the spot where surf boards and other equipment are available for hire.
The most consistent wave is a mellow, point break like right hander which starts breaking at 2ft. If you’re a beginner or need to put your feet on the ground regularly it is advisable to wear booties to avoid contact with the local urchins. You will find 100m farther west there are powerful lefts which break over shallow reef and are more affected by wind and currents.
If you don’t hire a motorbike or a car yourself you can always ask a local to give you a ride to the beach on his motorbike for 100 peso. Or you can go with Ali’s Surfcamp shuttle (ask for Antonio). They also offer trips to the more remote Playa Grande area about 50km east of Cabarete. We never had an opportunity to try Playa Grande area as it was a bit far on the scooter we hired(about 50 kilometres away) but heard some great reports from the other surfers and windsurfers who were making the trip there.
Off the water
- Pack plenty of high factor sun cream and bring anti-mosquito spray and mosquito net if you want to get a good night’s sleep and avoid mid-night feasts!
- Be careful at night. Although Cabarete is generally safe there are instances of mugging and avoid those romantic night strolls along the beach or secluded areas where you put yourself at risk. I’ve heard that men have also been targeted by hookers on the beach at night who will pick-pocket you whilst distracting your attention!
- Don’t drink the tap water and be careful when you are cleaning your teeth.
I would like to thank Neil, Jens, Serle and everyone at La Vela for their help in putting this article together, Antonio at Ali’s Surfcamp for storing our surfboards for free and all the fun people we met along the way!
Name: Lucy Robson, K195 (JP /Neil Pryde, SevenX) and Caspar Coninx
Local beach: Brighton
How many years sailing: 4yrs
Last windsurf move you cracked: Spock
What you’re working on now: Aerials