Twenty years – to the day: July 8th if you’re curious. In 1992, it was the day I met “her” and also the day I had the foresight to ask her on a second date. Love at first sight. In 2012, it was the day that we began the trip of all trips to celebrate twenty years together. Our wedding anniversary is in December. What kind of crazy kids get married in Salt Lake City at a time when there’s three feet of snow on the ground? Hindsight says it was lovebirds that couldn’t wait to spend their first Christmas together. Some of those twenty years we’ve celebrated cozy at home; still others, a quick overnighter in town. Our tenth was a little more adventuresome with nine days in California’s Bay Area with San Francisco and Monterey getting the lion’s share of the trip. That fact, coupled with what materialized for twenty, has me excited about where to from here?

Affordable and comfortable JetBlue® http://www.jetblue.com flights from LAS (Vegas’ McCarran Airport) to JFK, then JFK to POP were just the beginning and get their “extra space” seats. I know, I know . . . where is POP? Unfortunately for me, this might be one of those secrets that won’t stay kept for long.
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Both lists, traditional and modern, show that the “silver anniversary” should be the 25th. However, the Caribbean’s “Silver Harbor” that is Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic http://www.puertoplata.com/ (airport code “POP”) is the island paradise where we spent our 20th. Again, foresight was in our favor as, on a tip, we found prices too good to turn down booking through www.cheapcaribbean.com to stay with the Lifestyles Resort http://www.lhvcresorts.com/ in Puerto Plata. Cheapcaribbean.com is worth pinning to your “look at everyday” list of websites; we have seen them offer this all inclusive trip as low as $15 per person per day. We weren’t quite that fortunate, but not far from it. If you’re going to be opportunist vacationers like we often are, find a few “tipsters” of your own. Acquaint yourself with someone you trust who might be an “early adopter” while you patiently wait in the wings to snatch last minute or killer deals. Our lead had been to this resort, had even taken some of the excursions we wanted to take and had returned with rave reviews. In fact, we even had a second witness come from another friend and then we followed a travel blog commentary for a few weeks before making our purchase.

“Tell It Only to Your Best Friends” is the motto of the Lifestyles Resorts and believe me friends, we found plenty worth telling. The killer deal we found was the same quality offering regardless of the price you ended up landing; prices likely fluctuate based on season, occupancy and travel provider. We “told it to our best of friends” and they joined us to celebrate their 20th as well. The deal delivered a Lifestyles exclusive, all-inclusive vacation which included such amenities as an exceptionally clean, tiled room (there are very few bugs in the DR – we never saw any in our room throughout the week) with daily turn down and mini-fridge service, an in-room safe for valuables, air conditioning (a must in the DR), a 47” screen TV with cable access, open and airy rooms all with a balcony view. All the aforementioned amenities come “stock” as part of the all-inclusive deal with any room ranging from the cheapest to their Presidential Suites. My bias could be in the fact that I speak Spanish, but we found that the staff members were almost always approachable, kind and helpful at every turn. Options for play are around every corner while there. A list of tomorrow’s resort activities was slid under your door nightly and there seemed to be something for everyone; beaches, dancing, parties, shows, poolside entertainment, shops and of course the food. Oh . . . the food. Upon arrival, guests are encouraged to book restaurants of choice due to resort scheduling and potentially busy dinner crowds. Those who don’t lock down a specific eatery are always welcomed at the buffet. We tried the buffet on our way to our first night’s reserved-restaurant meal and were pleasantly surprised with the variety and quality of food and drink. While I can’t comment on the variety day in and day out, never is a piña colada or banana mama any length away from your reach and the options seem limitless.

Much like we do, we encourage you to do it your own way . . . but here is how the week rolled out for us:
Pre-trip planning not only included our booking with cheapcaribbean.com but we also put a call in to them to ask about AC-DC power (they have US and Euro options), currency exchange suggestions and any other tidbits they might have for us. Their representative was both helpful and knowledgeable. Of course, reps can’t offer some of the tips that we were looking for. One such was how to find a cheaper taxi to and from the resort. We followed the advice of one heavily trafficked travel blog and went with a trusted local in Jesus Garcia at http://www.taxiaeropuertopop.com/; his price was less than half of the price of the shuttle – $50 per couple instead of $120. He was a kind soul who not only was honest but went the extra mile meeting us at the airport with a sign with our name on it and four cold sodas in hand. Jesus even stopped, at our request, on our way to the resort to allow us to change currency at the local “casa de cambio.”

The airport will offer to change your currency for a fee but don’t do it there. The resort will offer to change it for a lesser fee but only do it there if you can’t find a reputable ride to take you to the “casa de cambio.” We figure we saved $10 – $20 in the exchange – might not be worth the hassle if you don’t want to brave the city. Also prior to leaving we contacted an American friend living local in the DR who suggested we never venture out on public transportation. He said that for every story you hear about there being no issue, there are several more that ended in travelers being taken advantage of in one way or another. We did get that sense while there; stay with a trusted taxista. Our favorite while there was Rafael Eve. He was both the cheapest ride and the kindest man we met while in Puerto Plata. He can be reached via email prior to coming at edwardreynoso@yahoo.es or via phone at 829-599-9125. Note that 809 and 829 are Dominican Area Codes and international charges apply. In fact, part of the draw for us to go on this wonderful vacation was the fact that our phones would need to be turned off for the week to avoid roaming and data charges. While there, we found it prefect to check in with our kids via email or Skype® with free Wi-Fi available in VIP rooms or in certain spots in the resort.
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Our last pre-trip ritual is my personal favorite. As we always do when we travel together, Brandi and I left our wedding rings safely stored in SLC with intent on personally renewing our vows once we found new rings somewhere in along the way. Puerto Plata is along the amber coast of the DR and Larimar is their “official” stone. Three of those nouns made finding Brandi’s new ring a cinch: we needed it to be Silver (Plata), Amber and Larimar.

The vendors call it “happy hour” (see closest above.) It’s a double banded silver ring that is reversible with Larimar on one side and Amber on the other. After some haggling, Brandi’s only cost $17 . . . $25 was the going rate throughout the week. Mission accomplished. Vows renewed. Our 20th anniversary vacation a success. The “how to” details of that glorious vacation are as follows:
Our first day in the DR was, as is every “first” when traveling, eye-opening. Take in the surroundings and take pictures! We were fascinated by the many “motorconchos” or motorcycle taxis. At times we saw as many as four people riding one motorcycle. Another carried a mattress. One had a woman riding side-saddle. Nearly no one had helmets. Our driver said there are not many days that go by without seeing someone hurt on one of these cheap rides. Don’t take this mode of transportation anywhere while there as it is both unsafe and unreliable.

Upon arrival at the spacious Lifestyles Resort (through several gated and guarded areas) we were welcomed by breathtaking tropical beauty and a kind, efficient staff. Drinks and smiles abounded. Staffers were quick to arrange our shuttle to our room; take the shuttle wherever you go here . . . yes, it really is that big! Our concierge showed us to the room, answered our questions and described all amenities.

The Lifestyles Resort and Vacation Club http://www.lifestyleholidaysvc.com/ has a lock on some of the best resort locations in the DR both in Puerto Plata (north) and in Punta Cana (east).

This Austrian owned series of properties has made their go in the DR since 2002 and touts more than 14,000 members. This is a resort that is actively looking for “members” (affiliated with RCI) and as such, though certainly priced right, may not be the worry-free trip for every would-be traveler. We found that their sales reps were aggressive yet kind when rebuffed. Sales reps were easily identified in their white golf shirts and their usual question was “when did you arrive” or “did you just arrive yesterday”? Our answer that we had been there a few days would encourage them to move on. No need to ever tell them your room number and don’t be afraid to express your not wanting to buy or upgrade. However, for those looking for a membership, upgrades are immediate. Once upgraded, staff will move your belongings to the upgraded room and change your bracelet VIP status. Amenities for VIP members were considerably better including additional access to exclusive restaurants, beaches and clubs.

VIP rooms came with many upgrades including larger rooms with king-sized beds, spacious balconies, jetted tub, etc. We discussed the matter and determined that, upgrade or no, this resort was worth the money you would pay regardless of your decision to go cheap or go “big.” It wasn’t uncommon to find members there that were returning for their second or third time. This truly is a resort one would gladly return to again and again.

Our meals while there were exceptional. We made reservations early for our restaurants of choice. They have an option for all tastes. We tried the surf and turf at The Blue Lagoon, Indochine for Chinese, Trapiche for Mexican, Brazilian BBQ at Rodizio (it was there that we met a cute couple on their honeymoon) and “fine dining” or “French fusion” at Jazz. The latter two had a dress code for dining and seemed a little too “stuffy” yet we enjoyed all with positive results. By far, the two best options we found for dining while there were that of El Pilón (authentic Dominican) and the weekly VIP Welcome Party for all guests on the peninsula. El Pilón offered some of the best food I have ever eaten. A dense broth, meat soup called Sancocho (considered a Dominican national dish) was all I really needed. The snapper civiche’ and grilled skirt steak were amazing and worthy in their own right, but the Sancocho could have been appetizer, dinner and dessert! Our party also sampled fresh caught fish (rivaling the buttery, flaky grouper we had eaten the day prior), the pork chop, chicken and various sides all with delight.
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But again, it was the VIP Welcome Party that was most worth swooning over; it was unlike any extravaganza I have attended. The entire resort literally shuts down for this event – minus the buffet for those not wanting the throng of the crowds. Preparations begin at least a day in advance. I can’t imagine how this happens weekly! There must be thousands of chairs and hundreds of tables placed all along the peninsula the night before. Some of the cooking must have begun days prior as well. By party time the night of the celebration, a grand buffet was prepared with every avenue covered. Local fruits and vegetables, cheeses, breads, meats, seafood, pastas, salads, desserts, and drinks are all in abundance.

Dinner entertainment included clowns for the children, singers, dancers and a large multi-media music, light and fireworks show. This open air evening was a Dominican Thanksgiving to rival feast and festival anywhere . . . and it happens EVERY WEEK!
Perhaps the only thing better than the restaurants and parties were the quiet moments of peace on one of the several beach options while at Lifestyles. We strolled along the VIP and Harmony beaches. Each has hammocks, beach chairs and cabanas with “beach butlers” bringing snacks and drinks as you desire them. For VIP members, the offerings of Serenity Beach and, with a little planning and a 10-15 minute bus ride, Golden Sands Beach are not to be missed. Both offer the same amenities listed above and more. Serenity has Oh Crepes! which offers fruit, chocolate or meat crepes made to order. It was at Serenity that we found a favorite drink in their virgin “Lumumba.” These treats, coupled with our own variations of piña coladas and banana mamitas and snack foods galore, helped make our relaxing days on the beaches truly our Caribbean paradise. Golden Sands Beach is accessible via short transport to another nearby resort owned by Lifestyles and sits mid-way along the prettiest beach we saw while in the DR.
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We swam and snorkeled there with the some of the clearest views to be found on the north side of the island. Again, staffers were always on hand to bring towels, food and drink. We were there on a particularly hot day and enjoyed the “cool tubs” en route to the waterfront. Vendors were aplenty outside the resort’s roped off area and yet kept at bay for most of the day.
Other “must do” activities that made this trip so remarkable were the two biggest draws for this part of the DR: Ocean World and 27 Waterfalls. Ocean World http://www.oceanworld.net/ is without comparison. We took our children to Sea World in San Antonio this summer and enjoyed every minute. However, to come all the way to Puerto Plata only to make the mistake of missing Ocean World because “I have already been to Sea World” would be a sad mistake. We began with a few minutes in the exotic bird exhibit feeding the local love birds from our hands.
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Then, we were treated to shows that allowed us to be up close with sea-lions, sharks, tropical birds and dolphins. One of the benefits of being outside the U.S. is that regulations are different. Most of the shows had front row visitors dangling their feet in the same water in which the animals were performing!
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If that wasn’t enough, Ocean World offers every visitor a free snorkel experience (see above) in their Tropical Reef Aquarium or a free swim with their Bengal tigers; only a glass pane separates you from the tigers while swimming in the same pool! Of course there are a few “upgrades” available while there. You can swim or dive with dolphins, sting rays, and sharks all of which are “once in a lifetime” opportunities and at a very reasonable price. Though we did not make it there, on Thursday nights a small peek into Ocean World comes with your stay at Lifestyles. The resort will shuttle you over to Ocean World for a free Vegas-style show called “Bravissimo.”
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Finally, reserve a day for “Los 27 Charcos” http://www.27charcos.com or 27 Waterfalls.

Get in shape enough to climb a gradual to moderate ascent for 30-40 minutes. I did it in water socks – a mistake for sure, but possible. Take hard-soled shoes that can be submerged over and over. Maybe take a pair of shoes that you can leave in the DR. Whatever you do, don’t miss this excursion and if you are adventurous enough, book it on your own instead of through the resort or an outfitter. From the resort to the waterfalls with Rafael (see info above) it cost $70 round trip for four of us – $80 with Jesus. Once there, the guided trip to and from the 27th waterfall was only 500 pesos each – about $13 U.S. Less if you only go to the 17th or the 12th waterfall. We tipped each guide another $5 which made our total cost just under $70 per couple. Rafael waited under a shade tree for us the entire time we hiked the 3-4 hour round trip. The views were spectacular and nature-carved like none other we had ever seen.
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We jumped, we dove, and we slid down Swiss Family Robinson-like rock waterslides to the delight of all. Our guides Wellington and Nelson – names not particularly reminiscent of Cristobal Colon or “Christopher Columbus” who first discovered the DR – were both patient and friendly. Nelson was the 6th person in the DR to ask me if I liked baseball. Along with many others topics, we chatted the whole way often about the American pastime turned Dominican way of life! We took a water camera with us on this excursion – a must! Nelson carried the camera and was a fine photographer; he picked up on some scenes we would have missed and also caught all the planned shots with care. Tourism has only come to the waterfalls since 1994 and the word keeps spreading; get there before it becomes too commercial and makes its way on the map. Seasons change and bring different water levels and scenery so this might have to be a regular stop on subsequent visits.

They say hindsight is 20/20 and, while that may be true, the 20/20 foresight of marrying the girl of my dreams could only be improved upon by picking this tropical paradise to celebrate our 20 years of bliss together! The Silver Harbor that is Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic would be the ideal destination for any celebration. Warm, welcoming people. Golden sands. Peace and quiet. 4-5 star lodging and food. Affordable, fun unique excursions. All within a few hours from the U.S and well within your reach. Maybe you too ought to use 20/20 judgment and not to wait 20 years like we did!

Guidebooks said it would be like being immersed in a glass of champagne but the sensation for us was more other-worldly. We dove down a few feet and then let ourselves go, soaring up in the midst of the swirling bubbles. We reached out to touch them.

This was our experience snorkeling at Champagne Beach on the volcanic island of Dominica in the Caribbean. The spot was named for the underwater hot springs caused by a crack in the ocean’s rock bottom which releases tiny streams of sulfur bubbles. Besides drawing snorkelers and divers, the warm, fizzy water attracts a multitude of colorful sea life, some not usually seen in other parts of this area.
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We were in Dominica on the fifth day of our 10-day Southern Caribbean cruise on Holland America’s MS Maasdam. My wife and I had decided to take the spring cruise, principally because it stopped at Dominica, an island we had never visited but had heard good things about. Also the itinerary included Curacao and Aruba, two islands we like very much.

We chose Holland America because, after several trips, it had become our favorite cruise line in the mid-size range. Its combination of tradition and old-world elegance has always pleased us, from the multi-storied sculpture in the Atrium, the art collection around the ship, or just finding a comfortable teak deck chair on the Promenade Deck in which to just relax. We have always found the guests on Holland America ships to be interesting, enthusiastic travelers, whether they’re from the United States, Canada, Mexico or abroad.
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Besides the Maasdam, Holland America has seven other ships in the medium size range, accommodating 1,258 to 1,432 guests-Amsterdam. Ryndam, Statendam, Veendam, Volendam, Zaandam and Rotterdam. Four other ships are larger, taking around 1,900-Noordam, Oosterdam, Westerdam and Zuiderdam. One small ship in the fleet, Prinsendam, holds 791.

This summer the line will launch its largest ship, Eurodam, capacity 2,044. All together the ships sail routes throughout the world.

We embarked from Fort Lauderdale in the evening, and next morning we anchored off Half Moon Cay, a small atoll in the Bahamas. It proved a great to unwind. On one side there is an idyllic bay with a soft white sand stretch of beach. Parasailing or sailing, sunbathing, swimming or snorkeling were the order of the day. On the lagoon side, there were wave-runners and the popular Stingray Adventure in which people are provided snorkel gear to swim with some dozen sting-less stingrays.
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Rental horses were available for those wishing to ride on trails throughout the cay’s interior. And massages were to be had on the beach. A barbecue lunch was served while a steel drum band played in the background. It was your fault if you weren’t in a vacation mood by the end of the day.

The next day we were at sea which gave us a chance to settle in and get to know the ship. On sea days we started each morning walking laps around the promenade deck (four to a mile.) Relaxing around the pool was an option for later in the day. In the sunny weather, many came out early to ensure having a lounge chair.

For entertainment, there were a number of activities from bingo to bridge. Some days there were special activities such as a boat building contest- winning entries had to stay afloat in the Jacuzzi. At night shows were presented in the Rembrandt Lounge, starring musical revues by a company of young performers, as well as guest entertainers ranging from magicians to comedians.
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All together, the Maasdam epitomizes the atmosphere of elegant ocean travel that Holland America is famous for. As for art, this ship has numerous pieces of antique Asian porcelain-bowls, plates and larger serving pieces. Cruising also offered an opportunity to catch up on our reading, perhaps because the ship contains so many comfortable spots in which to relax.

As cruise passengers well know there is the temptation to overeat with all the wonderful food served. In fact, HAL passenger surveys rate the Maasdam No. 1 for food and service. We chose to dine at a large table with several couples. We looked forward to sharing our day’s activities with the others. By the end of the trip, we were all friends.

Like us, they had all cruised extensively and agreed that the food on board was as good as it gets at a fine dining establishment, both in quality and selection. While most days we chose to have breakfast and lunch in the Lido, a buffet on deck 9, we always had dinner in the Rotterdam Dining Room. Arriving for dinner, we were greeted by our server and his assistant who immediately pulled out the chairs for the ladies, d napkins in our laps, while offering a cheerful greeting and the evening’s menu.

On every Holland America Cruise there are always nights in which prime rib is one of the selections-and my wife says the Maasdam’s is the very best. (This was our third Maasdam cruise). And on this cruise it lived up to her expectations. As well, the others at our table who ordered the prime rib agreed that it was excellent. Also rating especially high marks at our table was the Oven Roasted New Zealand Rack of Lamb rubbed with Dijon mustard and fragrant garlic herb crumbs served with a Pinot Noir sauce. A seafood lover, I thoroughly enjoyed the Broiled Wild Salmon Filet, (available daily), the steamed Alaskan King Crab Legs along with the other ocean delicacies I dined on.

Lunch choices were also varied and interesting, both in the dining room and the Lido, but special pool side barbecues were not only delicious, but fun and enjoyed by guests and ship officers alike. Worth visiting, as well, is the ship’s alternative reservations-only dining room Pinnacle Grill, a quiet, more elegant space.
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The leisure day behind us, next morning we docked in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, a popular, bustling tourist spot. Some guests went diving and snorkeling, others took excursions, a few were ferried over to St. John Island, next door, for hiking. Many went into the pretty port town of Charlotte Amelie for shopping and exploring. The inveterate snorkelers and divers, us included, took a boat trip out to see the underwater life on a reef.

Our stop on Day 5 in Dominica proved to be the highlight of the trip. This is the “newest” of all the Caribbean Islands, formed by volcanic eruptions 26 million years ago. The landscape is still sharp and steep-few soft-sand beaches here, lots of rocks instead.
The lack of beaches is more than compensated for by the lush scenery. Because it was colonized by France for a time, it is sometimes called French Dominica. However, its official language is English though a French Creole is commonly spoken. The island is still being formed by geothermal-volcanic activity, as evidenced by the world’s second-largest boiling lake.
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This so-called ” Nature Island” is 29 by 16 miles of rainforest, dense vegetation, waterfalls, freshwater pools and bubbling hot springs from the active underwater volcanoes surrounding the island. It had the look of StateHawaii, unlike its Caribbean neighbor islands which are comparatively flat. Of course, we had to snorkel at highly publicized Champagne Beach. The beach itself is covered with large pebbles, not so easy to walk on. We were happy that we approached via a dive boat.

There were ship excursions inland to view the spectacular scenery, replete with deep gorges and waterfalls. A couple at our dinner table took a tubing trip down a river. They said it was wonderful but a little chilly because it was raining in the mountains most of the day.

First a French colony and then British Dominica is off the beaten path, with no large resorts, attracting few tourists. This remoteness is part of the island’s charm. In the capital, Rouseau, there is a long row of brightly painted small hotels built in the plantation style with big verandas that overlook the ocean-very inviting to those who want to get away from the spa-hustle of big hotels. After our snorkel, we took a hike through town up into the Botanical Gardens which gave us a view of the rainforest.

The next two days the ship visited the Dutch Antilles Islands, Aruba and Curacao. Both are known for their colorful buildings, making the beachfront seem like an artist’s palette. As would be expected of the Dutch, both islands are very clean; everything is kept up and people seem well off. First thing in Curacao, we hired a cab to Baai Beach, a popular spot for divers and snorkelers. A big attraction here is a sunken tug boat several feet off shore, amidst some of the Caribbean’s most beautiful corals.
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That afternoon we strolled through the port town, Willemstad, with its array of buildings in a variety of pastel colors. We had fun walking along the harbor checking out the smalls boats tied to the dock, heaped with a colorful variety of produce. Since little is grown on the sparse land, vegetables are imported from Venezuela ,15 miles away. We also visited the Mikeve Israel Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere and one of the area’s finest surviving examples of colonial Dutch architecture.

In Aruba, there are many natural sites to visit which we had previously seen on another trip. We decided to take our snorkel gear and go out our on our own. Taking a local beach bus, we passed a stream of casinos and large resorts-Hyatt, Westin, Marriott, to name a few of many. There are miles of nice beaches on Aruba with countless sunbathers and swimmers-no lack of tourists here.

As recommended, we got off at the end of the line for some wonderful snorkeling. On the reef, we observed a group of squid up close as they seemed to be resting. Usually we only see them in larger groups in deeper water hurrying by. Up close, we could see their fascinating bodies and colors as they slowly swam back and forth. (They can go in both directions). Suddenly, it was time to go, and they launched off like rockets.

We finished our voyage with two sea days, giving us a chance to finish our books and re-acclimate ourselves for the return to work. The Maasdam, itself, will leave the Caribbean in May and sail north where it will settle into New England and Canadian routes.

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 sport 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 kiteborders who are often found entangled in their ropes and washed up on shore), the cobalt blue waters are active with windsurfers, surfers, boogey boards, catamarans and sea kayaks. From sun rise to sun set 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 daylong 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. 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.”

 

 

Adventure by Sea

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. A person straps a board to his feet, harnesses a giant parachute-like kite to the waist, and lets the wind carry him flipping and spinning over the waves.
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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.”

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. 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.
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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, boogey 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 its 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 Cabarate.”

 

 

Adventure by Land

Iguana Mama is the founder of adventure travel in Cabarate. 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 land owners, 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 by 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?”
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This philosophy of taking the path less followed is what separates Iguana Mamma 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 River Falls,” Leon laughs. “This is rappelling down a rock wall while water is constantly hurled at you. It’s a real trip.”
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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 pedaling 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 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 to 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 Cabarate.”
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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 a 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.