Thursday, July 17, 2008
Get Into Hot Water in Cabarete
The Dominican Republic’s north coast is the Caribbean capital of edgy aqua sports and extreme partying.
1Where to Stay
Central Cabarete is flush with reasonably priced hotels — most under $150 a night, even during holiday season. Boisterous crowds cram the beach bars lining the central part of the bay, so move to the edges if you want some relaxation. Several hundred yards west of the bars, there’s beachfront suites with fully equipped kitchens at Palm Beach Condos (from $140) on a quiet section of the shoreline.
West of town at Natura Cabañas (from $60), there’s a cluster of eleven fan-cooled, palm-leaf-roofed huts on a stretch of usually deserted beach. Unplug (no TVs or phones) with spare bamboo-and-rattan furniture, a kitchenette, and a stone veranda with swinging hamacas.
Ditch the X Games scene altogether at Casa Colonial (from $350) a half-hour from Cabarete in Puerto Plata. The swankiest property on D.R.’s north coast (at least until Boykin Curry’s private resort, Playa Grande, opens a few miles away in 2008), the 50-suite hotel is filled with Donatella Versace types splashing around the rooftop infinity pool and dining at the high-demand restaurant, Lucia.
2. Where to Eat
Tie on a napkin and wrestle with a giant skillet of anise-infused, shell-on prawns at the waterfront Casita de Don Alfredo (Playa Cabarete; 809-986-3750). Show up just after 5 p.m. to score one of the tables on the outdoor porch—reservations aren’t accepted.
Hydrate with kite-boarders at the around-the-clock hangout, Eze Bar & Restaurant (Playa Cabarete; 809-880-8779). A friendly, sun-bleached staff keeps blenders whirling all day, making banana smoothies for breakfast, carrot and wheatgrass juices at lunch, and frozen cocktails at night.
Drive twenty minutes inland (south) to the town of Jamao del Norte, where the mountaintop Castle Club offers a rarity in these parts: breathtaking views and tablecloth dining. Ingredients from the property’s sweeping gardens and orchards find their way into hearty yet elegant dishes like ginger-carrot soup and chunky crab cakes with a pepper rémoulade. Book at least a week ahead and dress up a little; pack a sundress or linen suit just for this.
3. What to Do
The western part of Cabarete Bay, from Bozo to Kite Beach, is kite-surfing territory. Since this side of the bay is largely outside the “wind shadow” of the village, it gets big gusts, strong enough to send even novice boarders flying out of the shallows. Among the many kite-boarding schools along this stretch, Laurel Eastman Kiteboarding gets consistent raves from return visitors. While Eastman — a women's kite-boarding champion in 2002 — teaches advanced classes in jumps, board rotations, and aerial spins, her instructors also teach four-day beginner clinics (starting at $410) and two-hour crash courses ($110, $130 for a private lesson).
The offshore reef and Trade Winds along the eastern sweep of the bay make for choppy surf — great for windsurfing, especially after midday (mornings are calmer and better for beginners and kids). Carib Wind is the most respected windsurfing center here, offering all-inclusive, multiday instructional packages (starting at $60 per day, including equipment) and top-of-the line rental boards. (You can even hire out Bic Formula Racing rigs, provided you know how to handle them.)
Just north of Cabarete is Sosua Bay, a spectacular diving and snorkeling site where octopuses, lion fish, and even whale sharks are often seen. Advanced divers shouldn’t miss the Airport Wall — an underwater cliff pocked with explorable tunnels. Northern Coast Aqua Sports runs daily trips to the wall from their dive center in Sosua Village ($40 gets you a 45-minute dive, plus all equipment). Beginner dives on shallower reefs are also available.
4. Insider’s Tip
A string of lively, lantern-lit beach bars lines Playa Cabarete — and all of them serve variations on the locally brewed liquor called Mama Juana (a dark, heady concoction made from dark rum, red wine, honey, herbs, and tree bark). Bartender Rade Baunovic, who pours the stuff at the always-packed Bambu Bar (809-982-4549), says most tourists prefer their Mama Juana cut with something sweet, like Coke, 7-Up, grenadine, or even milk. Go ahead and ask for a shot. Just be prepared to sleep in the next morning.
To taste the Mama Juana of a real master brewer, look for Pedro Alcantara (grizzled, mid-40s, always wearing a white Panama hat), who sells his bottles on the beach. Pedro hand-gathers more than sixteen different herbs and roots for his Mama Juana, including one locally considered to be a potent aphrodisiac: paraquevito.
5. Oddball Day
If you want to a break from the sea, try canyoneering in the Cordillera Septentrional mountain range, about an hour inland from Cabarete. Iguana Mama runs trips from Cabarete (they’ll pick you up at your hotel at 8 a.m.) for tours with names like “the Magic Mushroom” and “the Big Bastard” ($79 half-day; $89–$109 full-day). Some require minimal climbing and offer lots of deep pools to swim in; others are utterly exhilarating, with scrambles up craggy cliffs and sudden, 60-foot plunges. Trips include transport to and from your hotel, all equipment, lunch, snacks, and drinks.
Dominican nightlife is high intensity, and you can sample it at La Barrica (Avenida Manolo Tavares Justo 106; no phone), just south of Puerto Plata town. A 35-minute taxi ride from Cabarete will run you between $25 and $40. Juicy dancing and aggressive flirting accompanies the raucous salsa and meringue music (sometimes spun, sometimes live). The club doesn’t bump till after 10 p.m., so there’s plenty of time for a pre-game nap.
6. Related Links
Debbie's Dominican Travel is the most comprehensive D.R. site online, with hundreds of user-submitted hotel and restaurant reviews and forums where travelers can post questions.
Go Dominican Republic, the site run by the island’s tourism board, has an interactive map and good basic information about north-coast beaches, activities, and tour operators.
Cabarete Kiteboarding and Cabarete Windsurfing are the online headquarters for these water-sports communities; they have maps of the bay’s best boarding spots, frequently updated wind and weather reports, and wave-jumping video galleries.