GETTING EXTREME: Kite Beach in Cabarete is one of the world's top spots for kiteboarding.
Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism

In a way, that’s been good for the northern coast because it allowed the region the freedom to grow and reinvent itself as an outdoor-adventure playground. And with the low-key sunseekers largely funneling east, Puerto Plata and the nearby towns of Sosúa and Cabarete are experiencing a renaissance, taking full advantage of the many miracles of geography that converge on them. The natural wonders are so great, in fact, that combined with the DR’s rich Spanish history and a burgeoning emphasis on sustainability, it’s a destination that feels more like Costa Rica than a Caribbean island.

The Details

Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Resort
(includes a number of different resort options)

Piergiorgio Palace Hotel
(809) 571-2626

Tubagua Plantation Eco Lodge
(809) 696-6932

Iguana Mama
(809) 571-0908

Northern Coast Diving
(809) 571-1028

Laurel Eastman Kiteboarding
(809) 571-0564

Monkey Jungle
(829) 649-4555

Mount Isabel de Torres Cable Car

Cabarete Coffee

The towns, especially Sosúa and Cabarete, hum with an international energy far larger than their physical sizes. Lively expat and surfer populations make for an eclectic, multilingual coast with a density and diversity of food and nightlife that outshines even the capital, Santo Domingo. Down on the beaches of Cabarete, the crash of surf and the snap of kites are a constant backdrop to one of the world’s hottest wind-sports meccas. Over on the soft sands of Sosúa, scuba divers and snorkelers can hop a boat to explore nearby shipwrecks and reefs within the protected bay. And I need only look over my shoulder to see the rugged mountains of the Cordillera Septentrional towering over the coast — peaks ringed by a frilly halo of clouds and flanks shrouded by rain forest and crisscrossed by rivers and endless trails that beckon me to get lost.

Of course, getting lost is only fun when you’ve got someone to show you the way back. So, when I decided to make the hike to the 27 waterfalls of Damajagua, ecotour company Iguana Mama was the obvious choice. The long-running Cabarete-based outfitter is the gold standard for true adventure-­seekers in the area. “This has long been a water-sports destination, but people are now realizing the vast variety of activities available away from the ocean,” says Iguana Mama’s owner, Michael Scates. “In particular, we have awesome cascading [which is, essentially, canoeing down a waterfall] and canyoneering, and more and more, people are looking for a combination of beach time and adventure.”

Looking at the expeditions available through Iguana Mama is like perusing a catalog for adrenaline junkies. “We’re all about the sport,” says Scates, who offers everything from waterfall rappelling to backcountry mountain biking through rural farmlands and rain-forest single track. For the really adventurous, he’ll even arrange gear and guides for a three-day trek to conquer the Caribbean’s tallest peak, the 10,000-plus-foot Pico Duarte.

The north coast is the kind of place where I could never do it all, even over a lifetime of vacations. It’s also the kind of place where the wealth of possibilities makes a former Caribbean dweller like myself drift into an “I could totally live here” mindset and start asking people about apartments. But given finite time, I have to settle for scratching the surface.

Michael Windle, though, the American owner of the Sosúa-based dive shop Northern Coast Diving, gave in to the dream. “I was in personal security, coming down here whenever I had a few months off,” he explains as I wriggle into my wet suit for a morning of scuba diving. “Eventually, the beautiful scenery, friendly people and affordable living lured me down here permanently.”