Cabarete offers something for everyone
If I say the word "Caribbean" to you, I'll bet the first image that comes to your mind involves ribbons of coral sand beach, brilliant-blue tropical seas, and swaying palm trees. The Caribbean's sultry charms are familiar to many. Equally familiar is the feeling that the Caribbean is no longer affordable...that it slipped out of the price range of mere mortals more than twenty years back.
You expect to pay a premium for that Caribbean combination of sun, sea and sand...right?
That's what I set out to investigate on a recent scouting trip to the Dominican Republic. This small island is just a short 2 hour flight from Miami...with sun, sand, Caribbean Sea...and a friendly, good-natured charm.
I wanted to find good properties, in good areas, that wouldn't break the bank...properties that would appeal to a broad cross-section of readers.
On this trip, I focused on three locations: Cabarete, Bavaro, and Las Terrenas. And, in case you're wondering, I did find affordable properties...
Today, we'll look at Cabarete.
Cabarete is a town of sharp contrasts. Old hippies ambling round town rub shoulders with a younger crowd looking for adventure sports. Hotels past their prime sit beside gleaming-new residential blocks. Beer and billiards joints (ringing to the sound of dominoes slapping on hotly-contested boards), fill with crowds of locals, while tourists head for hip nightclubs and restaurants specializing in world cuisine. Properties range from super-cheap lots...to multimillion dollar homes in exclusive communities.
Located on the north coast of the island, Cabarete started as a resort destination back in the 1980s. A half moon of golden sand curves around a wide bay, with year-round Atlantic breezes. Over the years, the town's seen its fair share of ups and downs. The resort scene declined, with those fickle tourists heading to the more glamorous Punta Cana and Bavaro in the south of the island.
Today, you'll see older hotels, their glory days firmly in the past, sitting alongside sites earmarked for luxury residential development. Those developments have set their sights firmly on the new breed of tourist in town: independent, not interested in the bland-vanilla all-inclusive experience, and obsessed with adventure sports.
And when I say obsessed, I'm not joking. The afternoon skies over Cabarete fill with kite surfers (almost 200 on the day I counted), and the seas with windsurfers (75, on the same day). These adventure sports fanatics don't want an all-inclusive resort, or even a hotel. They prefer short-term rental apartments as close to the beach--and the action--as possible. They mostly come from Europe (the Nordic countries in particular) and Russia.
Kite Beach--rather obviously--is the focal point. If you're not an expert in this particular type of sport, don't worry; plenty of local schools offer training and equipment rental.
Other attractions include deep sea fishing, diving, mountain biking (excursions range from a relaxed couple of miles to a grueling 50km course), white water rafting, and horseback riding. The Master of the Skies competition takes place here. You surf, wind surf and kite surf, and whoever gets the highest average score in all three sports, wins the competition. It's a tough challenge...
The town's already buzzing nightlife scene just got better, with the recent opening of the Nikki Beach nightclub. The club sums up the new flavor of Cabarete, with curtained "opium" beds on the beach, champagne, guest DJs, and partying until dawn under the starry skies. It's all aimed at the younger adventure crowd set, well-heeled and sophisticated, that comes to Cabarete today.
The town's restaurants vary from little Italian places and pizza parlors, to the Asian-fusion Miro, and the trendy Casanova. I enjoyed the atmosphere in Casanova. Right on the beach, the Eastern decor of carved wood, gilded slim Buddhas, gentle background music and mood lighting blended harmoniously with the swoosh of the waves, creating a magical atmosphere.
The town's storekeepers are somewhat less relaxed than the atmosphere at Casanova, however. Seasoned when it comes to tourists, they don't hang back. Passersby are charmed, cajoled, and wheedled in to their stores with promises of discounts, superior wares and shameless flattery. But it all feels friendly, and a refusal is met with a simple smile or a wave.
Properties vary enormously, reflecting the town's checkered fortunes. On the outskirts (east and west), you'll find small new residential developments and mini-malls clustering close to the beach.
Further out, you'll come across Sea Horse Ranch with its $750,000+ homes, super-private setting, a beach club, equestrian center, tennis courts and helicopter pad. Off-beach, no-view, lots run from $150-350 a meter in Sea Horse. One house on the market has a list price of $9 million. For the added touch of celebrity, Glenn Close reputedly owns here.
In the lush hills close to Sea Horse overlooking the ocean, small private developments offer non-view lots from $15-20 a meter. These communities don't offer fancy social areas, or cobblestone streets. Roads are packed gravel, and beyond a security gate, you don't get any communal areas...just large private home sites for a fraction of the price of those beachside or in high-end communities.
One impressive new development caught my eye. The beachfront units had the nicest finish quality I saw in the Dominican Republic, with sleek, clean, modern lines. Studios started from $175,000 for 58 square meters. These studios should rent for at least $45-55 a night, with a higher rate in holiday season. Opening the large windows or terrace doors allows the fresh sea breeze in, and the soothing noise of the waves. Larger units are also available.
On the other side of the highway, linked to the beach side via a concrete bridge, the developer had a hotel, which was leased to the Barceló group in the 1980s. In 2006, Barceló pulled out. The newest hotel building, ten years old, is being refurbished--new plumbing, wiring, windows and doors--with the same high-end interior finishes as the beach units described above.
These refurbished units proved popular despite the lack of a beach view, probably due to the price (38 square meter studios started at $55,000, 83 square meters condos for $116,500). Again, larger units are also available. Most buyers opted for a back view, which will look over newly-landscaped gardens. The developer plans on building new units on this side of the property, as well as continuing the beachside development. Rental management, and furniture packs, will make these units easy for owner-renters. The target market for owners and renters...hardly surprisingly...is those kite and wind surfers.
Cabarete has definitely got potential--the adventure sport market is a growing one, and that should keep tourists coming here. And if you're an outdoor or water sport enthusiast, you'll think you're in heaven. The town's contrasts should gradually become less marked, as new developments spring up, offering second homes and rental apartments to those tourists. Prices remain affordable, outside of the Sea Horse level of development.
One issue is lack of developer financing. Only a few developers offer limited financing, but not many, meaning that for most overseas buyers, a purchase here is a cash purchase. That limits the market somewhat. North American buyers prefer developer financing, and I think some local developers will see the wisdom in offering that in the future.
If you enjoy spending time here, Cabarete is a good place for a second home, which should provide a modest income when you're not there.
If you want more details on properties in Cabarete,
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