MONKEY BUSINESS: Thrill-seekers take the plunge at Damajagua Falls.
Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism
I climb into Windle’s boat from the beach and motor into the middle of placid Sosúa Bay, where I back-roll into glittering blue water over a dive site called the Coral Garden. As I kick to the bay’s floor, mushroom-shaped reefs rise from the sand. I swim through spur-and-groove formations as schools of snapper close ranks around me, and I watch parrot fish grazing among the corals like multicolored cows. At the fringe of the reef, I catch my first glimpse of the growing undercurrent of sustainability efforts that are also cropping up along the northern coast.

A coral nursery — frames made from ropes, rebar and wire mesh — is built right into the open waters of the bay. Volunteer divers and marine scientists work with local dive shops here (and in other parts of the country) to plant cuttings of fragile and endangered staghorn corals onto the frames. The newborn corals are washed by nutrient-rich water and invigorated by the bright sunlight, and once they’ve grown to a healthy size, they will be transplanted onto damaged sections of the reefs to improve the habitat.

Once I start looking, I see this ethos on land as well — efforts to turn popular tourist attractions into tangible benefits for the environment and the community. Such is the unique Monkey Jungle compound that ­Windle shows me after our dive. Built up in the mountains by a Tennessean couple named Charles and Candy Ritzen, the attraction is a 5-acre grotto where the Ritzens rehabilitate monkeys, including some two dozen squirrel monkeys and five capuchin monkeys that were rescued from often-­abusive captivity. Thrill-seekers also come by tour bus or taxi from the nearby hotels to try the expertly designed zip-line course found at the compound.

NOW YOU KNOW: Puerto Plata is nicknamed the Amber Coast for its rich amber deposits.
 But what really makes the ­Monkey Jungle stand out is that the whole operation exists to fund the Ritzens’ on-site clinic, which provides free medical and dental care to the surrounding community. Candy Ritzen takes me through the monkey habitat and past the open-air bar, where a semicircle of understated outbuildings conceals a collection of squeaky-clean, modern examination rooms and dentist chairs. She points to a trail stretching behind the ­buildings. “When we open the clinic on Saturdays, the line runs down the mountain,” she says.

On my last day, I head for the stretch of wind-buffeted sand on the western edge of Cabarete called Kite Beach. It’s the main drag for the DR’s kiteboarding scene and the home base of pro kiteboarder and American expat Laurel Eastman. She runs not only LEK, a world-class kiteboarding school, but also a building project called Kiters 4 Communities, which helps fund construction of a community center for a town of Haitian immigrants just outside Cabarete.

When I show up at LEK, the wind socks strung along the beach are fluttering halfheartedly in the decidedly light wind. I haven’t even started my class and I’m learning my first lesson: Don’t expect the wind to accommodate your schedule. No matter, though, as the first class is all about getting acquainted with the kite on the beach. “Most people need about 10 to 12 hours of lessons, usually a couple hours a day over a week,” explains manager ­Ricardo Gomez. “How much time do you have?”

I think of the time I have left on the northern coast and my growing mental list of things still yet to see. Scuba diving the freshwater-filled jungle caverns of Dudu Cave. Picking coffee and cacao on organic farms. Riding horses into the mountains along trails cut by indigenous Taino. “Not enough,” I reply. “Never enough.” 

TRAVIS MARSHALL is a reformed Caribbean expat turned adventure-travel writer with a particular penchant for cliff jumping, shark diving and “researching” island rums.