Winter Surf Trip Dominican Republic
Is a winter surf trip to the Dominican Republic a good idea? Is there more than big Hotels in Punta Cana and old, fat white people, looking for cheap sex?
The answer is simple: Yes, there is more, and it is a good idea.
If it comes to surfing in the Dominican Republic, you’ll hear about Cabarete. Cabarete is very well known for its perfect side shore wind every day, the big kite beach, and the wild parties at night. But there are waves too.
What is the surf like in the Dominican Republic?
Usually, you get waves during the first few hours in the morning, before the wind picks up. There are waves in the afternoon too, but they are not good most of the time. Sometimes you get lucky, and have a day without wind, while the waves stay great from dusk till dawn. But on most days, the strong wind from the east starts blowing around 9-10 am.
If you are a beginner, and you’re happy with white water waves, or small and fat (not steep) waves, you can basically surf all day, every day. And best of all, you’ll surf pretty much alone in the afternoon!
But if you want to surf “real” waves, you will have to wake up early and get all your surfing done before the wind starts.
On a normal day during the surf season (more about that later), the North Coast of the Dominican Republic has surfable waves almost every morning. They are usually super clean and somewhere around hip- to shoulder high. Of course, there are some smaller days or even the odd flat day. But on the other hand, you will get a number of bigger days as well. I’ve been here for 3 weeks in January, and there were two mornings when I didn’t surf because it was too small, and one morning when it was too messy. But if you have (or rent) a big enough board, or bring a twin fin with you, you can surf almost every day!
The waves are relatively weak, which means a little bit of extra volume in your surfboard will be helpful. And on the bigger days, the waves won’t be as heavy as somewhere else with the same size.
Another thing to keep in mind is, that you’re in the Caribbean and that most swells come with a short period. This means you have less time between the waves, and they are not as perfectly organized as in Bali for example. But on the other hand, this means that a lot more waves are coming and a bit of a crowd is less of a problem.
Most of the surf spots here are really shifty and peaky. This makes it easy to get waves, even if you don’t want to fight for for them on a crowded peak. Just sit 10 meters to the side and wait. A wave will come your way. But as they are so peaky on most of the days, the waves are not peeling very far. It’s often only a take off and one turn, or the wave has a flat shoulder. So enjoy the days, when the waves are actually peeling down the line perfectly… These days exist too!
What boards to bring?
I highly recommend bringing something for small days. The waves have usually a good shape and are easy to surf, but it is very often small and powerless. Bring a step-down or a groveller board, if you’re into high-performance surfing. Or even better, bring a hybrid, twinny, Mini Malibu, Longboard, or foamy, and you’ll have plenty of fun on those days.
For the bigger days, (or the not very small ones), take your normal shortboard. You can surf it on most days. And as the waves are so friendly, you won’t need a step-up or something you would surf in bigger waves somewhere like in Indonesia.
If you don’t want to carry so much with you, the selection of longboards and Mini Malibus to rent is pretty good. But with around 15-20$/ day, not as cheap as you might think.
There are a few surf shops where you can buy everything you need. Or just bring all your gear with you, and maybe an extra bar of tropical temperature wax.
When and where to go?
If you want to surf the Dominican Republic, your best choice is to go during the northern hemisphere winter. This means winter here too. But with a mild 26-30° Celsius on average and warm water, nothing to complain about.
I would say you can surf more or less regularly from October to April, but it gets more consistent from November to late February. During that time, there are more storms and movement in the North Atlantic, and the chances for a good long period swell is better.
As most of the surfing in the Dominican Republic is around Cabarete, flying to Puerto Plata would be ideal. But if you only find flights to Punta Cana or Santa Domingo, you can book a domestic flight, Minibus, or take Caribe Tours as the cheapest option to get here.
Coming from the Airport in Puerto Plata (POP), you will first pass Sosua. Sosua has a reputation for sex tourism, and that’s not without reason.
Sosua has actually a number of nice beaches and really good snorkeling and scuba diving. One beautiful reef with countless fish is only around 200 meters from the shore and you can easily swim out by yourself. And if a big swell hits, you can surf here, as the main beach is west facing. This means it needs to be a seriously big swell to get proper waves here, but then it has off-shore wind and relatively clean waves. At least in theory! When I was there and a big swell hit, the swell was so messy, that Sosua bay had waves and we surfed it, but it was far from clean or great!
Around 4km further to the East comes Encuentro. This is where you want to base yourself if you want to surf. Encuentro has a good number of accommodations of all kinds. From Airbnb to typical surf camp or luxurious Villa. Look online and you’ll find whatever you’re looking for.
Keep going for 4km more and you will reach the famous Wind- and Kitesurf town of Cabarete. As I said, I highly recommend staying in Encuentro if you want to surf.
But going from Encuentro to Cabarete or Susoua is very easy. Just wait on the main road for a Guagua (Minibus for 30 Pesos/ person), Motoconcho (Motorbike taxi for around 100 Pesos), or take a Taxi. But ask for the price before. You probably have to pay somewhere around 400 Peso one way.
So where (else) to surf?
Playa Encuentro is the place to be if it comes to surfing the Dominican Republic. There are two surf schools and board rentals on the beach, and two bars/restaurants. The beach of Encuentro has a reef, that produces surfable waves all along the way. So just come down to the car park, where the surf schools and restaurants are, and check the ocean in front of you.
A few steps along the beach to the left (west) is the fast and fun left-hander called la Esquierda. Behind that is a heavy and shallow peak called: Destroyer. La Esquierda is possibly the best wave on this stretch of the coastline, and definitely the break with the highest density of good surfers in the water.
Just in front of the Restaurants and surf schools is the super mellow and slow right-hander (La Derecha). This is more of a longboarder wave and has often sections that don’t really connect. But if things come together, it becomes a long and super fun wave. And it is often the wave that works best with afternoon wind.
More to the east are a number of other peaks of different quality. Just go to the beach as early as possible, and find the peak you like. They are all close together and you can paddle from one peak to the next.
If the swell is big enough, you can surf inside the bay of Sosua as well. And there are of course various other waves along that stretch of coastline. Puerta Plata (one Hour to the west) and the surrounding area has a good number of surf spots too. But the water quality there can get really bad. Especially after rain.
If you keep driving further to the east, way past Cabarete, you’ll get to a town called Rio San Juan. Around there are many more nice surf spots and fewer people.
Or you just keep driving and try to see what else there is. I can tell you that the North Coast of the Dominican Republic has much more to surf than only Encuentro. I found some of the most beautiful and obviously uncrowded waves a good few hours driving to the east. But just check google maps, go exploring, and you’ll find.
How expensive is it?
The Caribbean is more expensive than South East Asia or most places in Latin America. Keep that in mind if you decide to go there. A Taxi from the Airport to Encuentro is depending on your bargain skills somewhere between 20 and 40$, and so is a nice fish or lobster in a restaurant on the beach. Renting a luxurious apartment is easily 100$/ night and a decent rental car is somewhere around 40-100$/ day. This all together adds up very quickly.
But you can do it on a budget too if you want.
There are some nice and cheap hostels/ surf camps or Airbnb’s that become even cheaper if you rent them with a few friends. Get a place with a kitchen and cook your own food. And if you want to have fish in a restaurant, don’t go to the ones right on the beach. Some of the best ones are a street or two behind and only half the price. Ask around and you’ll find them like everywhere else in the world. (My personal favorite is grilled fish from the Full Moon Bar at the main road in Cabarete). Fruits are maybe the best I’ve ever had everywhere in the world! And pretty cheap if you buy them in the local fruit shop.
If you stay in Encuentro, you don’t need a rental car or a scooter to go surfing. Just walk the few minutes down to the beach. And for those days, when you want to go to Sosua or Cabarete ( we went almost every afternoon), just take a Guagua for less than 1$!
But I highly recommend renting a car for at least a few days to explore a bit more of the North Coast, and to spend a few nights far away from Encuentro. This is such a beautiful island, and surfing the waves of the Dominican Republic is only one of many things you can do. Try not to miss out on everything else.
So if you are on a tight budget, you can have a good time with less than 30$ pp per day. But if you can spend a bit more every now and then, even better
What else than surfing is there to do in the Dominican Republic?
There are a lot of things you can do. But if you book them with a tour organizer, all those trips are relatively expensive. And most of them are really easy to do on your own.
Snorkeling in Sosua is absolutely worth it! Swim out in the bay and enjoy the reef, or just ask the dive schools in town. A snorkeling trip, including the gear, is somewhere around 30$/ pp.
The Dudu Lagoon (first scene of the video), close to Rio San Juan is nice too. Go there alone and you’ll be surprised how cheap the entrance fee is. The same goes for canyoning at 27 Waterfalls. Rent a scooter, drive there and it costs not much. When I was there in January 2021, it was a 500 Pesos entrance fee, 100 shoe rental (if you don’t want to walk through the water with your own shoes), and tips for the guide.
Puerto Plata has a nice city center and its worth an afternoon walk. And the view from the top of Mount Isabel de Torres looks spectacular too. You can take the cable-car to get there. If you are late enough in the season (from mid-February on), you could think about a trip to Samana to see the whales. If this is your piece of cake? Decide for yourself. Here is my experience from Sri Lanka, and it is not all that different here. But then again, Samana and the area has very nice nature and is worth a little trip I’d say. Check out the waterfalls in el Limon, and spend some time in Las Terrenas and/ or Las Galeras. And if you do your homework, you can combine that with a bit of surfing too… I found some super fun and empty waves around here.
On the other hand, the caves in Cabarete are way too expensive in my opinion, and you better treat yourself to a lobster than doing this!
So in short, is it worth going to surf in the Dominican Republic?
Yes, it is!
The island has so much more to offer than what the “all-inclusive deals” sell you on billboards. The people are unbelievably friendly and relaxed and the food is great! The surf in the Dominican Republic is not world class but relatively reliable. I wouldn’t recommend it if you are full-on surf crazy and need to surf your 6 hours per day. But if you’re happy to be in the water, if you don’t mind surfing small waves relatively often, and if you want to see something else than just waves… the Dominican Republic is amazing.
And if you want to go with a partner who doesn’t surf, perfect!
You surf early morning, while your partner is still sleeping. And by the time you’re done with surfing for the day, you’ll have not only enough daylight hours to do something together but also incredibly beautiful nature and a lot of options.
And with affordable and easy flights from North America and Europa (and easy Corona restrictions), this is a perfect 2-3 weeks trip to get away from the cold winter weather.