Where we’re at: I’m recapping my 2019 travels, which included this trip to the Dominican Republic in February. Need a Caribbean break of your own? Nab one of the last two spots to our Wander Women Cabarete: Aerial Arts + Adventure retreat next month!
I remember so distinctly the moment that my friend Amanda mentioned to me, on a crisp fall hike in Upstate New York, that she had a trip booked to the Dominican Republic a few months later. “Like, to an all-inclusive resort?,” I asked. I honestly knew nothing about the country, and kind of thought that was the only way to travel it.
How wrong I was. And I’d find that out first hand, when I ended up joining her on that very trip.
We based ourselves in Cabarete, the adventure sports capital of the north coast; epicenter of the independent travel scene. We stayed in a local guesthouse; full of surfers and other independent wanderers. We rode public transportation; little pickup vans you’d hail down on the side of the road called guaguas, twenty of us practically sitting on each other’s laps at times. We went scuba diving and hiking, watched surfers catch waves and kiters catch wind. We made friends with beach dogs, marveled at each other’s tipsy Spanish skills, drank rum in local bars where we were the only tourists, and walked to windswept beaches where we were the only humans.
It was the Dominican Republic I didn’t know existed — and didn’t know how badly I needed.
I couldn’t commit to the trip until fairly last-minute, when airfares to Puerto Plata had soared. And so 2019 became my year of getting very creative when searching for flights — I saved myself over $400 by booking Albany to Newark and Newark to Puerto Plata as two separate itineraries, as opposed to the exact same flights on the same ticket. Of course I had to fly carry-on to make it work, but that just saved me further (and forced me to travel lighter.)
And then my work was largely done, at least for the first few days, as I hopped on the itinerary Amanda had already lovingly planned, based at the charming Surfbreak Cabarete in Encuentro Beach.
The name is a bit of a misnomer — while Cabarete is certainly the largest town in proximity, the guesthouse is actually based in the rural hamlet of Encuentro, a laid-back surf beach that feels dreamed straight out of an earmarked old library copy of Lonely Planet Dominican Republic.
The guesthouse was perfection. Rooms were cheap and cheerful and there was free breakfast in the morning alongside one of two small pools, a rooftop yoga sala where I had a truly fantastic massage one afternoon, a communal kitchen, and an easygoing traveler vibe.
While Cabarete itself was just a guagua ride away, Encuentro Beach required only a quick stroll through the lush jungle to reach.
Amanda and I travel together so well — I think in part because we both crave a similar balance of structured activities and time just spent wandering down the beach, seeing what palm groves and windswept corners and gentle waves might call to us or our cameras.
And wow, is untouched Encuentro a place for just that.
The only structures you’ll find on Encuentro itself are a few simple beach shacks renting surfboards or selling beer and arepas hidden in a clearing. Otherwise it’s wild palm trees as far as the eye can see, concealing a few winding streets of homes and small guesthouses set back in in the jungle. Surf lessons weren’t in the cards for us this trip, but I’m excited to take one when I return next month — this time, we were happy to sit back and soak it all in.
It was hard to believe this wild, soul-filled place was hidden in plain sight in the most visited country in the Caribbean.
I reserved a good chunk of coveted space in my carry-on for my DJI Spark, eager to send my old friend up in the air for the first time in ages. After a poolside test flight back at Surfbreak, we toted it down to the beach, only to be intimidated by the wild winds. But I decided to go for it, anyway, and bounced excitedly on the sand when I saw the graphic aerial images of surfers I was capturing on my screen.
A conservative flyer, I started to pull the drone down before the battery gave me its own warning. And thank goodness — because as soon as it was overhead, it unintentionally attracted the attention of two vicious looking beach dogs. I’m talking huge pit bulls, copped ears, pure ripping muscles, barking themselves inside out, teeth gnashing, leaping up to try to snatch my drone out of the sky with their teeth.
I was in shock and had no idea what to do. I frantically looked around for an owner — knowing in my heart they were beach dogs — while my battery continued to drain. Worried that the dogs would sustain serious injuries from the blades, I yelled to Amanda to grab their collars. “No way!,” she replied, and I didn’t blame her.
So I had no choice — I threw the controller in her hand, and on pure adrenaline grabbed the more relaxed dog by the collar and essentially had to full body tackle the other one to the ground, hoping against hope that it wasn’t going to retaliate, while the drone, totally drained, auto-landed and we snapped it up. The one dog was still nuts, trying to grab it out of my hands and just going mental.
We were buzzing with nervous energy that emerged in endless laughter as we finally got the drone packed to safety and collapsed in giggles on our sarongs, the dog giving us the stink eye as he lingered nearby in case another flying enemy appeared, and Amanda recounted that the lowlight of the trip was not capturing the entire circus on camera.
Clearly, we’d earned an arepa — and a drink.
Wow, is Encuentro a special place. And the best part? The North Coast of the Dominican Republic is full of them.
When Amanda headed back to New York, I moved into Cabarete town, which I’ll recount our shared and my solo adventures in, in my next post. It’s without question the hippest beach town in the Dominican Republic, and it was there that I immersed myself in the aerial retreat center where I’ll be holding Wander Women Cabarete this coming January.
Needless to say, a dreamy day at Encuentro — with surf lessons, arepas, and beach vibes — is firmly on the itinerary.
Is this what you pictured when you picture the Dominican Republic, or were you as caught off guard as I am?