By Nicholas J. Klenske
New Zealand may have the title of King of Adventure Sports, but you don’t have to go clear to the ends of the southern hemisphere to find excellent adventure travel options.
Cabarete, located on the Dominican Republic’s north coast, is a quickly developing adventure sports haven with an eco-conscious twist.
What makes Cabarete a destination for adventure? According to world-champion kiteboarder and Cabarete resident Laurel Eastman, it’s the fact that “There’s a sport for every type of person and a sport for every type of weather.”
Cabarete is a bustling, authentic coastal village pleasantly lacking high-rise mega-resorts. The beach is public and expands for miles and the sands are full of local-flavored restaurants, bars, stores, and, most importantly, surf shops.
Whether you are at Kite Beach or Bozo Beach (named for the novice kiteboarders who are often found entangled in their ropes and washed up on shore), the cobalt blue waters are active with windsurfers, surfers, boogie boards, catamarans, and sea kayaks.
From sunrise to sunset the open skies become a kaleidoscope of confetti as multi-colored kites dive and weave like a giant tropical dogfight.
Inland, mud-caked mountain bikes traverse the tropical mountains while the villages are explored by day-long cycling tours. Down the road, a group is trekking through the ferns of a national park before heading up the slopes of the island’s highest mountain for panoramic Caribbean vistas.
Adventure by Sea
In the distance the thunder of waterfalls running down nature’s stairway echoes while a helmeted crew meticulously cascades through them. Whether it be on land or water, “Cabarete is about sports,” says Eastman. “That is why you should do them all.”
Cabarete is considered by some as the kiteboarding capital of the world. With its open seas and regular winds, this isn’t hard to believe. Kiteboarding is a combination of snowboarding and parasailing that originated in Hawaii. One straps a board to their feet, harnesses a giant parachute-like kite to the waist and lets the wind carry them flipping and spinning over the waves.
Cabarete’s kiteboarding reputation was solidified when world champion female kiteboarder Laurel Eastman moved here to establish Laurel Eastman Kiteboarding School (commonly referred to as LEK) in 2003. Originally from California, Eastman relocated here because of the good weather, good water, and abundance of instructors and local talent.
“Cabarete is a wonderful place to live and work,” she says. “The people are open and welcoming with a wonderful spirit for life.”
Like many of the adventure outfitters found here, Laurel Eastman Kiteboarding focuses on benefiting the local community and people by hiring locals and contributing in multiple ways to both the community and the surrounding environment. Surprisingly, guests will find Eastman working in her school’s open-air office, personally greeting everyone.
Her hands-on approach, rather unique in the world of celebrity-sponsored tourism, extends beyond her customers and into the community.
As Eastman says, “Cabarete is a community of water.” Accordingly, her school offers more than just kiteboarding. Here one can also learn to surf, kayak, boogie board, and snorkel. Yet, kiteboarding remains the main event.
For those adventurous enough to try, the program has built a reputation for placing an equal emphasis on fun and safety. Students are encouraged to sign up for three to four two-hour lessons. The studies begin in the sand, where time is spent learning how to control and fly the wind-beaten kite. From here it’s into the water and, finally, onto a board.
“I’ve taught people anywhere from six to seventy years old, so there’s no excuse for not trying,” Eastman says. “If you haven’t strapped on a kite, you haven’t experienced Cabarete.”
Adventure by Land
Iguana Mama is the founder of adventure travel in Cabarete. Back when the village was just a wooded back spot along a quiet stretch of beach, Iguana Mama began offering land-based adventure tour options.
“We started as a mountain biking outfitter, specializing in single track treks,” says manager, Chicago native and former day trader Steve Leone. “But as the area has grown and developed, our routes were being bought up by private landowners, so we had to start expanding our offerings.”
Today Iguana Mama has expanded into a full-fledged adventure tour operator, catering to the niche demographic of in-shape, adventurous thrill-seekers.
From day hikes through mist-hidden El Choco National Park to scrambling 2,700 feet to the crest of towering Mount Isabel de Torres; from galloping bareback along the beach on horseback to playing Old Man and the Sea on a deep-sea fishing trip, there truly is an adventure for everyone.
“We focus on adventures that will take you off the beaten path,” says Leon. “After all, why would you want to go where everyone goes?”
This philosophy of taking the path less followed is what separates Iguana Mama from its competition. The most popular off-the-beaten-path adventure is the unique cascading eco-tour. Here one will be guided down the astonishing twenty-seven waterfalls of Dama’uagua, a rainforest enshrouded wonder.
“This isn’t a walk in a natural water park-like Jamaica’s popular Dunn’s River Falls,” Leon laughs. “This is rappelling down a rock wall while water is constantly hurled at you. It’s a real trip.”
Even mountain biking is making a comeback. The company is currently working with private landowners to negotiate the rights to use private property for single-track access.
“We thought it was about time we got back to our roots, as there really is no better way to discover the hidden wonders of this island than by tearing down a forested, mud-slicked mountain path.”
Keeping with the area’s eco-tradition, Iguana Mama also contributes to the local community and environment. The Green Project is a company-sponsored program teaching local college and high school students business skills in the hands-on setting of the Iguana Mama operation.
The Pueblo Project assists with building houses for local residents, while the Dream and Get Wet programs to donate money and supplies to various local charities and schools.
“We not only want you to experience this amazing area, we want you to be a participant in the ongoing effort to make it better for the locals and preserve it for future generations to discover,” says Leon. “Without the area’s unique culture and environment, there would be no adventure. And without adventure, there is no Cabarete.”
Whether you are an adrenaline junkie or a beach bum, everyone who comes to Cabarete must experience a bit of adventure. Although laying on the beach, soaking up the sun and enjoying an ice-cold mojito is tempting, experiencing one of the many adventure travel options is the perfect way to shoot a bit of adrenaline into an otherwise lazy vacation.
“How can you say no to jumping off waterfalls or biking headfirst down a mountain?” Leon asks in sincere wonder. “These are the things that give your vacation a story — something you can share for years to come.”
After all, a vacation without a story is nothing more than just another day on the beach.
Adventure Sport Tour Operators:
Laurel Eastman Kiteboarding 809-571-0564
Where to Stay:
For more information:
Nicholas J. Klenske is a freelance writer and attorney. His work has appeared in such publications as The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, New Haven Advocate, and The Telegraph Herald.