Cabarete, Dominican Republic

by Jason Holland

“I came here on vacation and quickly realized this is where I needed to be,” says Kathy Pow. She lives in Cabarete, a small beach town on the Dominican Republic’s north coast. With two international airports nearby, in Puerto Plata and Santiago de los Caballeros, it’s fairly easy to get to and from North America, with many direct flights from the major cities there.

Cabarete first gained fame as one of the best places in the world for kiteboarding and windsurfing thanks to steady trade winds that pick up in the afternoon.

But there’s a lot more to Cabarete. There are expats of every age and background, from ambitious small-business owners to relaxed retirees. There’s a laidback vibe. Everybody has the same uniform of shorts, t-shirt or tank top, and sandals.

The beach runs on the long, graceful curve of Cabarete Bay. On the east side is a cluster of open-air bars and restaurants, with tables right on the sand. If you’d prefer to lay back in a lounger on the beach, with an umbrella…servers will come to you. Either way it’s the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

The beach at Cabarete is a popular place to while away sunny days.

Kathy first visited this stretch of the Dominican Republic’s north coast eight years ago. She kept coming back, a week here and a week there, then months at a time, before moving down full-time three years ago as a retiree.

As with many from northern latitudes, Kathy found Cabarete’s climate a big draw. It’s warm every day, the heat tempered by the sea breezes.

“The weather was a big reason. Winters in Canada last six months,” says Kathy, who’s from Perth, Ontario, near Ottawa. For this retired hospital administrator, a relaxed life on a Caribbean beach is just what the doctor ordered.

“I don’t have a car, I don’t have a watch. I never know what day it is—I guess I need a calendar,” says Kathy, laughing. “Life is simpler here. More…minimalist. At home everything is so busy and expensive. It’s different here.”

One recent Sunday afternoon found her relaxing at a local expat hangout, Los Gringos. It’s an informal weekly meet-up, at which veteran Cabarete residents and newcomers can get to know each other. And the ones who have been here for years tell the newbies the lay of the land. Cabarete is one of those towns where everybody knows everybody.

Later that night there was live music at Voy Voy, a popular beach bar, with friends. Open mic night draws a very talented group of locals and expats, who come together to play everything from country to jazz to rock to bachata, the predominant Dominican style of music known for its love songs.

“I am here on my own, but I find it very safe. The locals are happy to have us here. You can make friends. It’s a good community of locals and expats. And there’s so much to do. There are still restaurants I haven’t tried,” says Kathy.

Although it’s very laidback, Cabarete has caught up to the modern world in many ways, with high-speed internet, 4G/ LTE cellphone service, high-tech medical clinics and hospitals down the road, and well-stocked grocery stores with plenty of imported items. (Many expats, though, still get their produce from one of the fruit and vegetable stands on the road through town.)

There is a wide variety of housing options too. You can find rental homes and condos from $300 to $3,000 a month, says Kathy, who usually rents. She says you won’t find the best deals online but rather by asking around. In the summer she housesits a luxurious villa for friends who leave town. Not a bad gig.