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“A Special Place...”
Review of Swell Surf Camp

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Swell Surf Camp
Certificate of Excellence
Reviewed 29 June 2017

This is a special place, unlike anywhere I have been before. It is not a hotel, and it is not a hostel. It is adventure camp for grownups. It’s not overly luxurious in the classic sense, but it is modern, clean, and beautiful, and the level of service and the communal arrangement gives you a sense that you are cared for in a way that classic luxury typically fails.

You come to Swell first and foremost to learn how to surf the great consistent break at Encuentro, but also to meet interesting people from all over the world and to explore Cabarete and surrounding areas while having a safe beautiful oasis to return to. You can feel confident coming alone. It is a communal gathering place so if you are looking for pure solitude or a “honeymoon” experience, it may not be the best fit. You can of course find a solo corner for relaxation, in a hammock, a lounge chair by the pool, or a bean bag under the fan, reading a book as you watch the pink frangipani flowers fall to the ground. But Swell really shines when you open yourself up to others and go with the flow of activity and energy that might “swell up” over a Presidente and a glorious Dominican group meal.

The people who work at Swell are the best part about it. Haudy is like a mama bear. She took care of so many small details. When I was there, one of the girls had a number of medical issues and she really stepped up to help her. On the last day I was so relaxed I forgot to arrange my taxi to the airport until the last minute. She had already arranged it on her own and reminded me when my flight was leaving and when the cab was arriving.

The ladies who cook and clean are amazing and kind and helpful. The whole common area and the rooms are kept spotless. And as so many other reviewers have said, the food is fabulous. You don’t have a lot of choices but that’s okay because what is done is done so well. If you are a picky eater or have to have things a certain way, again it might not be the best choice. But if you can go with the flow you will be very satisfied. Every morning after the first session, there is something hearty like burritos or omelets, with amazing fresh fruit and crepes and some delicious homemade juice and great bread for toast. They make homemade muesli with fresh shaved coconut that is to die for. I usually had a huge breakfast and could just go with an afternoon snack instead of lunch. Dinners vary every night (they don’t have them every night) but usually are Dominican in some way, fish, chicken, beef, with great salads and plenty of sides. The meals I had at camp were some of the best I had the whole trip.

I can’t say enough good things about our surf instructors, who also hung around and became our friends. Darby gave me so many great tips and inspired confidence. He really pushed me forward in my surfing without any judging. He is kind and grounded and has great taste in music! Neno was also a fabulous instructor and hang out buddy - and acro-yogi. He unknowingly inspired me to do the epic fail of a handstand on my board! Henrri did a fabulous job of taking care of us in the water and was also great company - he was always dancing! The instructors helped us plan some outside excursions and joined us on a few, and it made the trip so much better.

I had surfed quite a few times before coming to Swell, but never felt like I conquered it. Swell was perfect for me. If you are already an expert surfer, you could still have a lot of fun at Swell, but I think it really caters to people who are beginners or intermediate. A few of us ended up going out to the back and catching the bigger waves and I couldn’t be happier to be in that group, as it was the primary goal of my trip. Darby made it seem like no big deal, which really helped. A number of people had never surfed before and I think every one of them got up on the board on the inside break.

I saw that some reviewers thought it was expensive. I can’t speak to the private rooms, but I stayed in the dorm with a friend and found it very affordable, especially considering the value of the meals and the instruction and transportation to the beach, use of the boards and booties, etc. The dorm worked out perfectly. We had one other girl in there with us and it was fun to make friends. I've traveled all over the world and stayed in hostels so I am already prepared for the flexibility required. They have safes for each resident in the dorms and I felt very safe and comfortable there.

The yoga is sort of an add on – it is not the primary focus. But I have a fairly active practice and was really glad there were some classes. Molly is really sweet and does a really solid class.

Swell is not right on the beach, but it worked out great and I wouldn’t let that give you pause. You are close to everything in town and 5-10 minute drive to the main surf spot. I was always so happy to get back to our quiet little camp and fall into the pool after being at the beach. We easily walked down to the main beach in Cabarete where all the crazy action is.

The schedule they create for the surfing is perfect. 7:00 is early (especially after some late fun nights) but honestly I could even get up earlier to surf because the waves and the beach are so great in the early morning. You get plenty of surf time and I was always really exhausted after both sessions. Two of the days a group of us chose to skip the second session and go on excursions, but I could always get that first session in and feel like I still had a good day of surfing.

Wifi only works in the common areas, but worked well for me.

I’m sure that anyone staying here could come up with some little things they think should be done differently, but I won’t bother giving you my extremely short list. No place is perfect, but this comes damn close. Come with a flexible mind about food, culture and your schedule, a desire to learn how to surf, and an open heart to meeting diverse people, and you will have a blast!

I never do repeat vacations - and I mean never. But I WILL come back to Swell.

  • Stayed: June 2017, travelled with friends
    • Location
    • Sleep Quality
    • Service
Thank Paige M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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13 - 17 of 241 reviews

Reviewed 11 June 2017

I stayed at Swell a few weeks ago. For me it was the most expensive place I've ever stayed/ the most expensive holiday I've been on so I was really expecting something amazing. I was quite disappointed though with a few things, mostly surf/lesson related.
The main thing that was very disappointing was that we weren't allowed to surf wherever we wanted. In the early morning there was an official lesson so obviously, we were to stay in the one spot where the instructor was. Later in the mornings though there was an open session where often I was the only person from Swell out surfing. I didn't have as swell rashvest on and there was nobody from Swell with me but I was yelled at several times by the Swell staff for surfing on the main break, a "locals only" area. I met some really nice locals out there, I had a great time surfing and often that's where the best waves were. Sometimes the best waves were elsewhere and so I'd surf at Bobo's or another area instead and that was fine. I wasn't trying to be difficult but I really felt like I should be able to surf wherever I wanted to and that the staff from Swell had no right to tell me when and where I could surf. They were quite aggressive about it and I was even threatened to be kicked out of Swell and I wasn't made to feel very welcome. I would never have stayed there if I knew that would be the case.
I am an intermediate surfer and I've surfed quite a lot around the world. It was significantly more expensive to have the lessons included in the package but I was assured that the instructors would cater to my ability. It turned out though that really there were just two groups each day, one with total beginners (1st/2nd/3rd timers) and then one with everyone else (just past beginners). So I usually ended up in a group of really mixed ability levels and the others required a lot more help so the lessons weren't as valuable to me. The instructors really did try hard to help me though and I know it would have been tough for them to run those lessons. I definitely got some good tips that I can apply to surfing in the future. There were two instances though where the instructors were hungover and either didn't get in the water or didn't show up at all. I thought that was really unprofessional for a place that charges so much.
A few good things, the food was really good, you'll never be hungry there and often I didn't need to eat lunch because the breakfast was so filling. They had lots of vegies for dinner which was great for me. The pool is also really nice. The rooms were big and clean with good showers.
Overall though I wouldn't stay there again. I actually stayed elsewhere in Cabarete afterward and even with board hire, food and transport to the beach it was less than 1/2 the price of Swell. I'd probably really only recommend it for beginners although even so it's a reef break there and so it's a bit tough for beginners. If you're used to being an independent surfer it's not the place for you.

Room Tip: Dorm rooms would be the best value
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  • Stayed: May 2017, travelled with friends
    • Sleep Quality
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
1  Thank 15maz
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
GoGapSport, Owner at Swell Surf Camp, responded to this reviewResponded 12 June 2017

These two women came to stay with us in May.

Within two days of their arrival, I was receiving emails from two other guests at Swell complaining about their behaviour (one of whom was a guest who had stayed with us twice already). Their complaints were that this reviewer and her friend were constantly rude and insulting to our staff, and even worse, to other guests, who were just trying to enjoy their vacation with us. At the same time, Haudy, Swell's manageress, had received 'phone calls from locals at Encuentro who complained, particularly about the reviewer, and her attitude in the water, surfing dangerously and generally being a real nuisance: This is the first time, in 7 years, that locals at Encuentro have ever contacted Haudy to ask us to contain the behaviour of one of our guests. At that point, I wrote to Marion and Candace and warned them that unless they began to treat other Swell guests with respect and heed the warnings of our surf coaches to stop putting themselves and other surfers into danger, we would ask them to leave Swell. After my email to them, I was told by the other guests and our staff, that their behaviour had improved somewhat, but nevertheless, everyone at Swell, both guests and staff, were all mightily relieved when they left at the end of their reservation with us and moved to a cheap hostel a few days later.

It is extremely rare for Haudy, notoriously patient and lovely, to speak badly of any of our guests, but in this case, she was beside herself with these two. We have never taken our guest's safety lightly and that is exactly why we have not had an injury to a guest in 7 years. My only regret in this case is that I didn't insist on them leaving when we received all the complaints, instead of just warning them; I personally cannot bear it when two sour and unpleasant people threaten to ruin the holidays of our other, valued guests and I'm sorry that their presence might have caused our other fantastic visitors to enjoy their stay any less than they otherwise would. Clare

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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 9 June 2017

This is one of the only vacations I've been on where I was looking for dates for my next trip before I even left the airport. It was my first solo-trip and I had no idea what to expect. I read reviews (just like you're probably doing right now) and while reassuring, words can't explain how much fun you'll have and how at home you'll feel.

There's something here for everyone, whether it's hanging by the pool, surfing/ kitesurfing, or going on a canyoning adventure (fun fact - if you're deathly afraid of heights like I am, maybe skip that one). Rooms and common areas were all cleaned every day and the food was incredible. I can't say enough about the staff there who really create the environment that everyone raves about. Cabarete was also a really cool area - lots of shops, restaurants, bars.. and a trapeze school right next door to Swell (thought that was as awesome as it was bizarre!).

Oh, last thing! I have one of those jobs that allows me to work from anywhere as long as there's an internet connect. While yes, this was supposed to be a vacation, a couple "emergencies" did occur that I couldn't avoid. If that's of any importance to you, internet in the common area was really reliable and I was able to do everything I needed to.

Ok, back to planning my next visit. Hope to see ya there :)

Room Tip: The dorms were great. I had 2 others for half my stay & was alone for the rest. Very spacious &a...
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  • Stayed: May 2017, travelled solo
    • Value
    • Sleep Quality
    • Service
Thank Shannon G
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 5 June 2017

Really awesome holiday, the camp is great with homely rooms and really comfortable beds and very clean (rooms cleaned everyday just like a hotel). As you will read on other reviews the food really is amazing and you eat a lot of it but you will come home in better shape than when you went away! I wasn't sure if i would get a bit bored staying in one place on my own for two weeks but there was no chance of that, after two morning surf sessions chilling in the Swell garden by the pool or down by the beach is a pretty welcome activity. I did do a couple of really good excursions though and there is plenty on offer. The staff at Swell are amazing and really make you feel at home and the instructors build a really good sociable environment. If you like animals then they even have a cat and the best behaved dog i have ever encountered. Cabarete is a cool place, plenty to offer and some really good places to eat and drink on the beach and the Surf Instructors make a big effort to organize evening meals with the group on nights that food isn't provided at camp which is a nice touch. Highly recommended!

  • Stayed: May 2017, travelled solo
    • Value
    • Rooms
    • Service
Thank Stu2302
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 14 May 2017

It is rare that I return to place I visited even if I loved it, but after first visiting Swell in October 2016 there was no question as to whether I would return. I didn't just have a great vacation and improved on my surfing, but I also found a second home in the DR- so I returned at the end of April 2017 and after being home one week I am already planning my next trip back. The staff is amazing, friendly and helpful. When you arrive at Swell, plan on feeling welcomed from the start with Houdy, the manager showing you around the camp and introducing you to the surf instructions, staff, and other guests and from there you are part of this wonderful family. Since, the place is so engaging the guests cannot help but also engage with each other and the "Swell Surf Family" is born.

After the 7am daily surf lesson, the best part, after catching some waves, is you come back "home" to enjoy a beautifully prepared breakfast from the chefs. The large communal table fosters an engaging meal with your instructions and other guests, Also, there is a family dinners 4x's a week and more friendships are made. With your new friends and family you also can enjoy the beautiful grounds and pool, yoga, day-trips, some crazy nights out...and most importantly some unforgettable memories.

Swell is perfectly situated in Cabarete and a stone's throw to Gordito's - my personal favorite restaurant. The food will get you there but the Sangria and smiles is what keeps me going back. It's my own personal mission to bring every new guest there for a Sangria or Margarita. Swell is also located within a short walking distance to beautiful beaches, shopping, and great nightlife.

So as you can see this place really does has everything. It can accommodate all different age ranges and social-economic stages. As a 43 year old and financially secure person, I have left my back-packing/hostel days behind me as a fond memory, which was my initial reason for choosing Swell, as they have brilliantly planned the property to accommodate all budgets and life stages.

See you there soon!!!

  • Stayed: April 2017, travelled solo
    • Sleep Quality
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
2  Thank Tricia C
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Additional Information about Swell Surf Camp

Address: Calle Las Palmeras, Cabarete, Dominican Republic
Region: Caribbean > Dominican Republic > Puerto Plata Province > Cabarete
Amenities:
Free High Speed Internet ( WiFi ) Free Parking Shuttle Bus service Swimming Pool
Hotel Style:
Ranked #2 of 50 Speciality Lodging in Cabarete
Price Range: RM 156 - RM 390 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)
Number of rooms: 8
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
Swell is a brand new purpose built hotel for surfers in the center of Cabarete. All rooms have en-suites with AC optional. Swimming pool with LED and fibre optic lighting and a large communal area with pool table, fussball and ping ping table as well as a video library and other games.We cater for active people that want quality accommodation in a social setting. ... more   less 
Also Known As:
Swell Surf Camp Hotel Cabarete

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