Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Top Beaches near Puerto Plata: Sosua

Playa Alicia (Playa Santa) of Sosua
More tranquil than Puerto Plata and Cabarete, but still with its unique sense of coastal charm, Sosúa attracts a slightly older and less rowdy crowd than its frenzied neighboring cities. The city center and the beaches are small, and therefore is easily navigable on foot. Playa Sosúa connects Sosúa's two distinct barrios: Los Charamicos in the west, less developed and with very few foreigners, and the now ironically named El Batey, the "downtown" and more tourist-oriented section of Sosúa.

Sosúa's short history has a fascinating origin. In 1940, the dictator Rafael Trujillo offered asylum to about 700 Jewish refugees in this tiny farming village. Though most have left, they began Sosúa's development, and it is now one of the larger towns on the North Coast. Its international nature lives on, as tourism is the roaring engine of Sosúa's commerce.

Where to Eat

Finding authentic eats right by the beach can be tricky. Luckily, there is Batatica (“small sweet potato”), named after a local who went by that nickname. Tucked off the main drag, this spot draws a purely Dominican crowd. The conch shell and fish are specialties, and the prices are the best in town. RD$125-175; 133 C/ Pedro Clisante (Note that the restaurant is actually located on a side street off C/ Pedro Clisante marked with a large sign; every mototaxi driver knows where to find it if you are unable to); 809-571-1558

Waterfront Restaurant
Waterfront Restaurant
The fancy awning, upscale décor, and bluff-top location shouldn’t scare off, but rather welcome budget travelers. Though Waterfront is a classy establishment, the charming owner complemented his upscale fare with half-price daily specials, and smaller items for less than RD$200, as well as a generous happy hour from 5 to 7pm. Tantalizing and unique dishes include calamari in ink over black rice, or the extravagant plato de cinco mares with shrimp, crayfish, conch shell, calamari, and fish. RD$100-600; 1 C/ Dr. Rosen (where the street ends); 571-3024;            829-755-6068; sainz.andres@gmail.com; Free Wi-Fi

Where to Sleep

Hotel El Rancho
Tacky isn’t a problem unless you make it one, so don’t mind its presence here, where kitsch equals fun. El Rancho offers 17 comfortable poolside rooms with tropically bright interiors. Groups and those with a larger budget ought to look out for the apartments with kitchens and the sweet penthouse. Check out the casual snack bar, serving fast food and drinks, located in the lobby. US$40-155; 36 C/ Dr Rosen; 571-4070; www.hotelelranchososua.com/3.html

Patio of Piergiorgio Palace Hotel
Piergiorgio Palace Hotel
Assuredly the most charming hotel in Sosúa, this hotel was built in the Dominican image of the neo-Victorian style, right on water’s edge. Rooms are well-lit, with a view of the ocean. They are elegantly simple, compared to the grandeur of the rest of the hotel: perfectly manicured gardens, leafy trees, gurgling fountains, and multiple white balconies peer over the seawall. US$95-250; 809-571-2626/2786; piergirorgio@codetel.net.do; www.piergiorgiopalace.com

What to Do

Playa Sosúa
Full of families, expats, and loquacious vendors, Playa Sosúa is the archetypal Dominican beach. Though not very broad, the beach stretches far, connecting the two major barrios of Sosúa,  and bringing in tourists, merchants, and locals to enjoy sand and sea. As it curves inside a bay, the water is calm, perfect for a leisurely swim. Snorkeling is therefore especially popular, as the reef reaches almost to the shore, providing a haven for marine life.

Playa Alicia (Playa Santa)
This cozy beach is a short landing of sand below steep and rocky cliffs. It is most accessible from a staircase by the Waterfront Restaurant, offering stunning views of the sea from on high. The beach spontaneously (and mysteriously) appeared in 2002, when an underwater earthquake supposedly moved a sand bar, causing the ocean to recede and leaving this tidy little beach in its wake.

Merlin Dive Center
For beginner scuba divers and snorkelers, a lesson is a must to take advantage of the wealth of tropical underwater beauty. Merlin offers both intro classes and trips and dives for all levels of expertise, as well as daylong to weeklong certification packages. Las Caobas, at the beginning of Sosúa beach; 809-545-0538; info@merlin-diving.com; merlin-diving.com

Museo Judío
Museo Judío
Small in size but long on chutzpah, the Museo Judío in Sosúa documents the fascinating history of the spirited group of Jewish refugees who slipped through the grasp of Hitler's Europe and thrived in a strange, foreign environment. The museum showcases pictures, artifacts, and articles in a half-dozen languages along the walls of the building. The synagogue used by the community still stands, warm with wood and earthy colors; ask the guard to open it for a short, self-guided tour. There are prayer services on select holidays. RD$100; Mon-Fri, 9am-1pm and 2pm-4pm, Sat 9am-1pm; C/ Alejo Martínez by C/ Dr. Rosen; 809-571-1386

For better or worse, Sosúa has earned the reputation of being the red light district of the North Coast. That being said, where that exists, there is bound to be decent nightlife. The center of town is full of bars and restaurants, especially along C/ Dr. Rosen, C/ Alejo Martinez, and C/ Pedro Clisante along the beach. Always take care in poorly lit areas, but downtown Sosúa is generally safe.

For a full description of where to stay, eat and have fun, check out the complete Sosúa  Chapter in Dominican Republic (Other Places Travel Guide)!   

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Top Beaches Near Puerto Plata: Cabarete

Cabarete Beach
Just 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) long, Cabarete is a thriving, thumping seaside destination.  A far cry from the sleepy fishing village it once was just a couple short decades ago, Cabarete today shines as the destination for independent tourism on the north coast. Hugging a simple two-lane highway are thousands of hotel rooms, dozens of cafés, bars, restaurants, and a wide expanse of palm tree-studded sandy beach. Days in Cabarete are bustling, warm, and sunny; its nights are nothing but hot.

Cabarete was transformed in the late 1980s after area beaches were discovered to have ideal conditions for windsurfing and kiteboarding. The town is now a haven for these new adventure sports, as well as hiking in the nearby hills. Of course, lounging on a reclining beach chair with a drink in hand is a perfectly respectable way to pass time on the sandy expanses.

Outdoor Dining along Cabarete Beach
Where to Eat and Drink

Panadería Dick
Much like with their cured meats, Germans don’t loaf around when it comes to bread – Panadería Dick is the best bakery and pastry shop in Cabarete. Right in the middle of town, this restaurant’s breakfasts run around RD$100 for eggs, toast, and coffee. RD$50-100; Thu-Tue 7am-6pm; C/ Principal; 571-0612; panarolfdick@yahoo.com

José O'Shays
There is no beachside watering hole better known or more perfectly located than José O’Shays. It might be the quintessential Irish pub, except for the fact that its draft beer is Presidente and it serves pitchers of caipirinhas alongside Irish Car Bombs. The sea breeze and crashing waves outside compete with sports on a half-dozen televisions, watched by expats of all stripes. RD$100-450; C/ Principal in the center of town; 571-0775; www.joseoshay.com

Jose O'Shay's at Night

Bambú Bar
A deceivingly quiet restaurant during the day, Bambú cranks up the music after dark, ascribing to the “if you blast it, they will come” philosophy of nighttime entertainment. The party, lasting late into the night, spills out of the tiered dance floor onto the beach, where sweaty revelers take breathers and quaff Presidente. RD$100-300; restaurant 9am-11pm, bar until very late; C/ Principal; 982-4549

Friendly Cabarete Locals
Where to Sleep

Casa Blanca
Cool and Canadian-owned, this budget hotel has splendid tropical garden and delicious pool. See about the rooftop pad for 360-degree views of the beach and countryside. US$20-60; 113 C/ Principal next to Janet’s; 571-0934 or 935-0809

Kite Beach Hotel
The upscale Kite Beach Hotel offers spacious accommodations decorated with modern sculpture and paintings. Guests enjoy the on-site pool and restaurant and take comfort in the 24-hour security and gated parking lot. Special rates are available for kite-surfers getting lessons with Kitexcite (see below). US$59-US$600; just east of Extreme Hotel; 571-0878; kitebeachhotel@gmail.com; www.kitebeachhotel.com;

What to Do

Quite the sight from happy hour on the beach, the brightly colored kites of boarders across the bay from Cabarete Beach contrast with the deep blue color of the Caribbean waters. Kiteboarding, almost unheard of 15 years ago, is quickly gaining interest and popularity. Conditions at Cabarete are near perfect during almost the entire year for kiteboarding. Bozo beach, between Kitebeach and Cabarete Beach, is also a kiteboarding hotspot. www.cabaretekiteboarding.com

Windsurfing appeared in Cabarete in the 1980s as the sport began to experience international growth. The beaches around Cabarete offer that rare environment perfect for windsurfing: good winds and calm surf. Windsurfing season runs from December through April, when waves are the best, and again from June through September, with placid waters. Various companies offer windsurfing rentals and lessons.

Kiteboarding & Windsurfing Companies
Kitexcite: Kite & Surf Center at the western entrance of Cabarete; Stefan (manager) 829-962-4556; http://www.kitexcite.com/
Bozo Beach Kite Club: 571-0285; 866-1754; info@noworkteamcabarete.com;

Cabarete Coffee Company (CCC)
CCC caters to the responsible tourist, offering full-day coffee (US$100) and cacao (US$75) tours into the mountains. Beyond exploring the processing of both crops, the tours also include meals and transport. The cacao tour is local, taking place in the mountains by Cabarete, while the coffee option removes tourists to the Jarabacoa-area farm of Julia Alvarez, author of In the Time of the Butterflies. CCC began Haitian relief efforts after the earthquake and also offers internships to local youth. C/ Principal; 571-0919; info@cabaretecoffeecompany.com; www.cabaretecoffeecompany.com

For a full description of where to stay, eat and have fun, check out the complete Cabarete chapter in Dominican Republic (Other Places Travel Guide)!   

Monday, May 13, 2013

Top Beaches near Puerto Plata: Introduction

"Cristo Redentor" Overlooking Puerto Plata
Plenty of travelers fly into Puerto Plata’s Gregorio Luperon airport (POP) to bypass Santo Domingo – a great idea for a short stay aimed just at the beaches that might not include the big city. But where to go once you arrive? The sandy spots in Puerto Plata itself are nothing to write home about. Below are three of our favorite beaches in the area, which we’ll profile over the next month. They’re all within an hour’s drive of Puerto Plata: Sosua, Cabarete, and Playa Encuentro.


Sosua is the first big town east of Puerto Plata. Founded in the 40s as a sanctuary for Jewish refugees from Europe, it’s now turned into a beach town with a very distinct European influence. There are two beaches in the city, but the larger, called Playa Sosua, is a wonderful place to spend a day or two. As it’s located inside a bay, the water is calm - perfect for a leisurely swim. Snorkeling is therefore especially popular, as the reef reaches almost to the shore. Behind the beach is a long stretch of stone boardwalk lined with vendors hawking souvenirs and dishes from across the pond, like wurst and schnitzel.

Playa Alicia (a.k.a. Playa Santa) of Sosua

The rowdiest beach town in the country, Cabarete is a party day and night. Not to be forgotten, however, is the quality of its beach. The sand curves languorously, though the waves here are a bit stronger than in Sosua. The town’s bars, restaurants, and nightlife back up directly onto the sand, so that you can take in the view while you enjoy fresh fish, a Santo Libre, and the people-watching.

Seashell Salesman in Cabarete
Playa Encuentro

Unlike the other two, Encuentro is not part of any town. In fact, it’s a bit isolated, which is why we love it. The strong waves are some of the best on the island for surfing, and the sand is often deserted save a few vendors serving just-caught-and-fried fish with refreshing Presidentes. It’s just you, sand, and sea. The beach is accessible by public transport (like the others), but getting there with your own car is much more convenient.