By: Mikael and Thrillism
12 minute read
Last updated June 5th, 2020
Over 6 million tourists travel to the Dominican Republic every year, and it’s not just to chill out and relax on the Caribbean beaches. Yes, that’s a major part of the DR draw, but the more adventurous travelers prefer the wave riding action.
That’s right. The Dominican Republic is so much more than just a honeymooners’ paradise or a beachy party spot. When you visit the right spots at the right time, the ocean gods will bless you with barrelling breaks and stellar conditions.
In this guide to Dominican Republic surfing, we’ve covered everything from where to surf, when to do it, and everything in between.
The DR is an island in the Caribbean just west of Puerto Rico. The island is split into two separate countries; Haiti on the western portion and the DR to the east. The standards of living are considerably higher in the DR, which is why so many surfing tourists choose this over Haiti (even though the surf conditions are more or less the same).
To get to the DR, there are 3 primary spots to fly into: Santa Domingo, Puerto Plata, and Punta Cana. There are tons of flights from the US and Canada, and you can also find direct flights from London to Punta Cana. For surfing Dominican Republic, just find a cheap flight into Punta Cana or another major airport and then make your way to the final destination via a shuttle bus or taxi.
Before you arrive at your Dominican Republic surf camp, try to have an understanding of the DR customs, culture, and travel advice for foreigners. Here’s what you need to know:
There are beginner waves all year-round, but for hardcore surfers, the best time to visit the Dominican Republic is from November to March. These are the months when storm systems continuously bring swells from the west.
If you’re planning on enjoying Cabarete Dominican Republic surfing (Cabarete is one of the most popular spots on the island for water sports) just remember that the surf season here coincides with hurricane season. The typical traveler might avoid this area during stormy weather, but surfers welcome the rain.
The Dominican Republic uses the same 110V outlets as the States, so you’ll need an adapter if you’re coming from Europe or Australia. No matter where you’re coming from, it’s a good idea to use a surge protector since voltage irregularities are common here.
A lot of travelers are surprised to find that the internet is not the best on the island in terms of quality. Finding WiFi isn’t hard, but the connection won’t be the strongest. It’s possible to get WiFi in cafes and restaurants as well as the Dominican Republic surfing resorts, but some midrange and budget hotels charge a daily fee for access to the internet.
Definitely DO NOT drink the tap water in the DR. No matter what other travelers or locals tell you, tap water is not safe to drink and will very likely make you sick. It’s best to buy bottled water from your resort/hotel or nearby supermarkets and quick marts.
US citizens and residents of many other countries do not need a visa to travel to the DR for stays shorter than 30 days. Just be sure to check the requirements for your country before entering the DR.
The official currency of the Dominican Republic is the peso, and one peso (DOP) is equivalent to about 0.02 USD. So USD 20 would be just over 1000 DOP. There are ATMs all over the place, especially in popular tourist spots like Punta Cana and Santa Domingo, but it’s still a good idea to come with a bit of US cash to exchange just in case.
Like many low-income travel destinations, ATM fraud is not uncommon in the DR. Do your best to only take cash out from ATMs at reputable banks (preferably inside the bank) and always use your hand as a cover as you input your pin. If you prefer not to take out of ATMs, feel free to use a currency exchange, but just be prepared to pay the fees.
The DR has a 3-tier healthcare system, and it’s one of the most advanced in the Caribbean. Low-income locals have access to free healthcare, but middle and upper class (and tourists) must pay out of pocket for quality care. Always, always protect yourself from major illness and surfing injuries with travel insurance from a provider like World Nomads or Safety Wing.
The DR is one of the most friendly and welcoming places in the Caribbean, but that doesn’t mean you can let your hair down and throw caution to the wind. Most of the crime that happens here is solely opportunistic like bag snatching and pickpocketing of unaware and tourists. The good news is that violent crime isn’t common, but just try to keep an eye on your belongings.
Once you’ve flown into one of the major airports on the island, getting around is a cakewalk. There are tons of local transportation options like buses, publicos, and taxis – there’s even a metro system in Santa Domingo.
If you’re on a strict budget, you’ll probably end up catching a few rides in motoconchos. These “motorcycle taxis” are cheaper and easier to find than traditional taxis, and don’t be afraid to negotiate with the driver before hopping on.
If you’ve got a long journey ahead of you to get to a DR surf spot, you can either take a domestic flight or hop on a bus to your desired destination. Whatever you do, don’t hitchhike; like most places in the world, grabbing a ride from a stranger poses some serious risks.
Because it’s a Caribbean island, the DR isn’t the most affordable travel destination on Earth. It’s possible to set a budget and stay within it, but you need to be realistic about your spending. Travel costs vary depending on your lifestyle and eating habits, but it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to spend less than $60USD per day.
A mid-range daily budget is more like $60 to $150 per day, whereas for luxury (like a staying at a beachfront resort and eating 5-star meals) is more like $200 per day at the high end. If you’re trying to stick to a strict budget, you might find it difficult – but it’s definitely possible.
All the best surfing is along the island’s northern coast, so try not to get your hopes up about surfing Punta Cana Dominican Republic (it’s essentially nonexistent here). Since Cabarete in the north is bordered by both the Atlantic and Caribbean, you’ll get to enjoy powerful, consistent waves. For staying in this area, consider Swell Surf Camp Cabarete or Cabarete Surf Camp.
Puerto Plata is another popular surfing area, which is further to the west than Cabarete, but there aren’t nearly as many surf camps here. There are plenty of surf schools, but not many that offer all-inclusive surf retreats. The better option is to stay at a surf school in Cabarete and then go for a day out to nearby Puerto Plata.
If you focus on the east, you’ll hit surf spots like Rio San Juan and Playa Grande. These areas are a bit limited on surf camps and resorts, so your best bet is to focus on the surfing hotspot of Cabarete.
Finding a surf camp Dominican Republic in Cabarete isn’t difficult – finding the right one is the challenge. Swell Surf Camp is not only one of the most highly rated camps in Cabarete, but also one of the best on the island. It’s the perfect setting to learn to surf or simply rent a board and catch the nearby waves.
“Swell provides an active surf adventure with quality accommodation, healthy food and a unique friendly social vibe between staff and guests in the cool tropical surf town of Cabarete.”
– Swell Surf Camp
This camp caters to all surfing levels, and they’ve got plenty more activities to keep guests busy – like yoga, kitesurf, and day trips around the island. The Swell 1-week surf package includes accommodation, airport transfers, lessons and equipment rental, most meals, and access to all amenities (like the pool and chill-out areas).
Another great choice for visitors to Cabarete, Cabarete Surf Camp is open for business all year. It’s a bit more chilled out than Swell and offers more of an adult scene than backpacker vibes. It’s a great combination of beach vacay and surfing school. If you don’t want to spend all of your time surfing, you don’t have to. You also have options for kitesurfing, horseback riding, and more.
“We are one of the few special surf camps in the Caribbean that offer a combination of a beach vacation and top quality surfing vacation. Staying here is a perfect way to escape from your hectic schedule, slow down and experience life in a new way.”
– Cabarete Surf Camp
CSC has several surf camp packages to choose from, but the most popular is the Surf Gear rental package that includes 3 nights accommodation and 3 days gear rental. There are also options for travelers who are hoping to learn to surf and spend more time at the camp (like 7 or 14 days).
Even though Cabarete is by far the best place for surfing and kitesurfing on the island, some travelers prefer the resorty vibes of Punta Cana. There are tons of all-inclusive resorts here, making it a great spot for couples and families (not so much for budget backpackers). The top surf camp to learn the art of surfing in Punta Cana is Macao.
“At Macao Surf Camp, through an easy-to-follow, step-by-step method, we help you build a solid surfing foundation…We can specifically target areas to help improve your own individual technique.”
– Macao Surf Camp
Macao offers private and group lessons and you can purchase a single lesson or a pack of 3 or 5. If you prefer just to rent gear, they offer surfboard rentals for an hour, a half-day, or a full day. There’s no accommodation offered through the surf camp, but you should no trouble finding a place to stay (there are tons of options in and around Punta Cana).
This next one is also located in Cabarete, but it offers a different vibe from the rest. This B&B is all about providing guests with quality chilling time through both surfing and yoga. To get to the beach takes about 7 minutes on foot, and once you’ve arrived you’ll love how untouched and unspoiled this part of Cabarete is.
“Relax in the amazing tropical gardens surrounding the pools… do yoga in the fantastic yoga studio, cook your own meal in our well-equipped communal kitchen, or take a short walk to the unspoiled Encuentro Beach for a surfing session.”
Surfbreak has tons of room options, so everyone can feel included here no matter their budget. The rooms are simple yet elegantly rustic and guests can use the yoga studio free of charge or sign up for yoga classes. For surf lessons, you’ll rent through Pauhana Surf School where you can just rent a board for a day or sign up for a week of surf instruction.
We’ve got one more Cabarete surf school to rave about before moving on to a different area of the island. Bobo Surf’s Up School has been around since 1983, teaching people to surf from all over the world. It’s professional yet fun here, and you’ve got the option to book lessons only or a full-on surf school package.
“It is a perfect and strategical relaxing place for beginners to learn and practice with safety in the reforming white water, while at the same time the intermediate and advanced surfers can perform and enjoy the unbroken clean face of the waves.”
– Bobo Surf’s Up School
The surf school is run by a guy named Bobo, but don’t let the name fool you. Bobo is as professional as they come; he’s considered an expert of Caribbean surf and a surf school pioneer of the DR. The school’s location on Encuentro Beach is the perfect spot for beginners, but there are plenty of nearby breaks for more advanced surfers.
The weather is tropical all year long in the DR, so no need to pack heavy clothes or even a wetsuit. Pack light and airy clothes, swimsuits, sunglasses, comfy shoes, and it’s always a good idea to have a rain jacket (even when it’s not rainy season, it’s nice to be prepared).
You won’t need to bring a surfboard since you can hire one for a daily price, but if you do choose to bring your own, check your airline’s oversized luggage fees. Other than that, don’t forget the essentials like bug spray, sunscreen, and your favorite toiletries.
Just as you’d imagine from a Caribbean island, it’s possible to eat seafood every day, especially if you’re spending all of your time on the coast. But shockingly enough, many of the traditional DR meals don’t contain seafood or fish of any kind.
Sancocho: Sancocho is a meat stew, containing as many as 7 different types of meats (vegetarians, stay away). Many Latin American countries have their own twist on this dish, but many say that the DR’s are the most flavorful and filling.
Habichuelas Guisadas: This dish is another popular stew, but instead of containing meat for protein it is made with beans. It’s often served with white rice and seasoned with spices like cilantro and garlic.
Habichuelas con Dulce: Every Dominican family has a different take on Habichuelas con Dulce, but the general concept behind it is sweet beans. A dessert containing legumes of any kind may sound strange, but don’t knock it til you’ve tried it.
For where to eat, we’re focusing on the Cabarete area of the island since this is the spot that attracts surfers and enthusiasts of other water sports.
Gorditos Fresh Mex: This oceanfront Cabarete restaurant is all about pretty sea views and fresh Mexican cuisine. They specialize in tacos, burritos, and bowls, ranging from seafood t meat to veg. If you like fish, get the Mambo Fish Taco.
Yamazato: Yamazato is the best place for sushi on the island, so if you’re craving some authentic Asian food during your time in the DR, this is the place to go.
Mojito Bar: This is the perfect spot for sunset food and cocktails. It’s right on the beach and offers stunning views of the Caribbean – don’t forget to try the margaritas.
Once you’ve finished up your surfing lessons in the Dominican Republic, it’s not quite time to go home yet. There’s still plenty to see and do, so don’t be the type of traveler who never leaves the all-inclusive resort. Instead, check out these DR activities and attractions:
Wander through the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo: Santo Domingo is the largest city in the Caribbean, but it doesn’t feel this way as you wander through the colonial zone. This historical area is rich with culture and heritage, and the colonial-style is an interesting contrast to the rest of the city.
Explore the Nature of Los Haitises National Park: If you consider yourself an eco-warrior and you do whatever it takes to practice eco-friendly tourism, then you’ll love Los Haitises National Park. This area is completely untouched by humankind, so it’ll feel like a breath of fresh air.
Visit the Largest Lake in the Caribbean: Lake Enriquillo, AKA the largest lake in all of the Caribbean, is a bit off-the-beaten-track, but it’s still worth your time. You’ll see everything from pink flamingos to saltwater crocs here – so don’t stand too close to the water!
Whether you’re a beginner or expert, you’ll want to head straight to the northern coast of the island. Not all spots in the north are suitable for beginners, but El Encuentro certainly is. The conditions are consistent, but they’re also gentle, perfect for any beginner just starting out.
Surfing in the Dominican Republic can be done any time of year, but hardcore surfers find the conditions best between November and March. If you’re a beginner and have never surfed before, you might be better off visiting during the summer (June to August).
Things start picking up a bit during the fall (September to November), perfect for intermediate wave riders or beginners who are looking for an added challenge. The winter (December to February) is when experts visit to catch the big waves, and springtime (March to May) is when conditions start calming down.