Kites are King at Buzzing Dominican Beach Town
PHOTO: A kitesurfer leaps from the waves at Cabarete, an international watersports mecca. (photo courtesy of the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism)
A happening beach town on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, Cabarete attracts international travelers looking for watersports adventures — and plenty of other visitors who'd rather just watch the action from lounge chairs under a beach umbrella.
The warm Atlantic surf and golden-sand beaches form the common denominator at Cabarete, which has morphed from a farm town into a watersports mecca in the past 20-25 years. Only 20 minutes from Puerto Plata's Gregorio Luperon International Airport, Cabarete is also popular among North American and European retirees who enjoy the tropical climate, lower cost of living and stress-free lifestyle.
Perched at roughly the same latitude as Hilo, Hawaii, Cabarete beckons year-round with an average air temperature of 77 degrees and around 80 in the ocean, accompanied by an eclectic mix of bars, restaurants, shops and lodging choices.
As the trade winds pick up from midafternoon to sunset, dozens of giant, colorful kites, looking like prehistoric butterflies, fill the turquoise seascape. Gracefully rising, falling and turning, the kites — up to 130 square feet — catch the wind to zip the surfer tethered below across the water, providing speed for spectacular jumps, somersaults and airborne turns.
Plenty of surf schools offer lessons, but it takes a few days of practice before a novice kitesurfer can venture out on the ocean. Stand-up paddle surfing is less challenging, you'll be on your own in no time.
So dominant are watersports that Cabarete has become home of the annual Master of the Ocean competition, which combines four related disciplines (surfing, windsurfing, stand-up paddle surfing and kitesurfing) into a single event, held in late February, that attracts athletes from around the world.
Laser sailing, one-person boats of 12-15 feet, also has a following in Cabarete, which hosts the Caribbean Laser Midwinter Regatta annually in mid-January.
Music and More
Cabarete's to-die-for setting, growing expat population and zeal for music have also made it the anchor of the annual Dominican Republic Jazz Festival, which headlines Grammy winners and nominees from around the world. The 20th edition will be Nov. 8-12 with performances in Santo Domingo, on the Caribbean coast, followed by four nights on the Atlantic coast, including two nights on the beach of Cabarete. Admission is free.
The town's mile-long hotel and entertainment strip features shops, bars, cafes and restaurants, offering everything from standard pub grub to haute gourmet. While indoor seating is available at most places, there's nothing like dining with your toes in the sand beneath the coconut palms (from which coconuts are plucked to guard against injury to patrons seated below).
Within hours after sunset, the low-key, bohemian atmosphere transforms into a pulse-pounding vibe as the restaurants and bars replace 80s hits and soft jazz with the sounds of merengue, salsa and hip-hop to welcome the partygoers. Featuring spacious dance floors, live music and energetic DJs, the club Ojo-Lax rocks like ground zero of the late-night scene.
Looking for Adventure?
Plenty of adventure awaits beyond the beach for active travelers. The most popular destination is the 27 Falls of Damajagua, a natural formation of 27 waterfalls about 45 minutes west of Cabarete. After donning life jackets and helmets, visitors hike up a mountain to the seventh, 12th or 27th fall and hop, slide and jump all the way down.
Another excursion leads to El Choco National Park (formally known as the Protected Area of Cabarete and Goleta), a 48-square-mile tropical jungle popular for its network of subterranean caves. It's only a short drive from town.
Another eerie underworld lurks on the outskirts of Cabarete at the Cabarete Caves, which contain crystal-clear pools among eons-old stalagmites and stalactites. Visitors receive helmets at the ranger station and can set off to explore caves and even swim in 73-degree springs. Horseback tours in the 30-square-mile protected area are available, too.
Where to Stay
Lodging options in Cabarete and environs range from budget-friendly boarding houses and surf lodges to mid-range hotels to high-end luxury. Here are some options:
Cabarete Palm Beach Condos (cabaretecondos.com): A quiet, waterfront oasis in the heart of town, Palm Beach has 20 spacious, two-bedroom condos smartly decorated with a Caribbean vibe. Each has a full kitchen and roomy, private balcony with ocean view. The lush gardens, dotted with over 100 palm trees, feature a swimming pool and walkway to the beach. $95-$242.
Natura Cabana (naturacabana.com): An upscale eco-lodge three miles west of Cabarete, this oceanfront hideaway exudes tranquility. Rustic yet chic, its 10 bungalows are roomy and clean with spacious terraces. Two open-air restaurants use locally sourced ingredients. $130 (one adult), $180 (two adults). Includes welcome drink, breakfast.
Velero Beach Resort (velerobeach.com): A condo-hotel, Velero has 22 rooms and seven penthouses, all with ocean views. Clean and secure, units are spacious, tastefully decorated and have full kitchens and private balconies. A quaint onsite bar and restaurant overlook the ocean. Nearly two acres of manicured grounds lead to an inviting beachfront swimming pool. $135-$300.
Where to Eat
Dining options in Cabarete can satisfy a hungry kitesurfer after an exhausting outing and surprise an experienced traveler with uniquely Caribbean fine dining. Check these out:
Aqua: Just steps from the ocean at the Millennium Resort & Spa, Aqua has something for everyone, with seafood, meats, pasta and sandwiches served in a stylish, poolside setting. The tuna tartare appetizer is deliciously layered with mango and avocado. Good luck choosing from indulgent main courses such as lobster, Atlantic red crab or a juicy, imported steak. $8-$28.
Otra Cosa: Enjoy gourmet, French-Caribbean cuisine at this breezy, oceanfront gem. Ginger and lime seasonings make for a zesty lobster carpaccio appetizer. Tempting main dishes include seared tuna bathed in provencale sauce, sprinkled with fennel seeds and served with a dollop of broccoli puree and another of carrot. $8-$31.
Yalla: A pleasing, recent addition to the Cabarete dining scene, Yalla serves 20 tapas and several sandwiches and offers an extensive wine list. Try the thinly sliced beet carpaccio, green bean bundle wrapped in bacon and beer-batter cauliflower. Save room for dessert: churros with chocolate sauce and the sweet dairy confection dulce de leche. $4-$10.
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