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Five mistakes I made on my kitesurfing trip to La Ventana
And why it's replaced Cabarete, DR, as my new favorite kiting destination
Nearly three years ago, I declared my love affair with Cabarete, DR all but over (I recorded a podcast about it). It was my fourth trip there in seven years, and many things had changed: more resorts, more noise, more local salespeople hassling you on the street to buy something, and the worst thing of all: no more kite beach.
The bottom line? I was in the market for a new kitesurfing destination. It had to be relatively accessible from the U.S. It had to be fairly cheap. It didn’t need to have the nightlife that Cabarete does (I’m no longer super interested in staying out all night drinking), but it did have to have a least some good local vibes—a few bars or restaurants or places to go where you could meet other travelers.
To be honest, when I first arrived in La Ventana I felt like this place wasn’t what I was looking for. But now? I’m almost certainly coming back next season, and for longer.
The problem wasn’t that La Ventana doesn’t fit the bill—it’s that I did La Ventana all wrong. I made some key mistakes, both big and small. And once I realized that it was my own mistakes that were the problem, and not the place itself, I began to recognize that actually there is something quite special about La Ventana.
I just needed to come back and do it right.
Mistake #1: I didn’t rent a car
On the map, La Ventana looks like it should be fairly walkable.
The destination as a whole is actually two small towns next to each other: La Ventana in the south and El Sargento to the north. From the south end of La Ventana to the north end of El Sargento is about five miles—but if you just go by the most densely packed parts of both towns, say from Baja Joe’s in the south up to Nomad Kite School in the north, it’s just three miles.
That may sound relatively compact, but in fact, no part of La Ventana or El Sargento is especially walkable. Yes, you can walk—but you wouldn’t really want to walk.
First of all, unlike in Cabarete, there are no motoconchos ready to take you up and down the main road at a moment’s notice. Second, the main road itself just isn’t that nice—it’s dusty and there are a ton of vehicles going up and down and not that much shoulder to walk on. I especially would not walk on it at night, for fear of a semi-drunken driver just not seeing you. Third, while there are several great, open sandy beaches to launch your kite from, actually walking between the beaches along the water is not as easy as you might expect: there are rocks and many areas where it’s not firm sand, making the beach route way more tiring than the distance would suggest.
Essentially, nearly everyone here either rents a car at the airport or drives down from the U.S. or Canada. Having a vehicle makes the time way better because there are actually a ton of restaurants and great food to try, and they are all spread out. There are also plenty of good day trips to explore for the rare off-wind days (hot springs, hiking, Todos Santos, La Paz, just to name a few), but of course, you need a car for all of them.
There is also nightlife in La Ventana, but it’s highly dependent on what day of the week it is: some nights one bar has a salsa night at the far north end of El Sargento; other nights it’s a bar in La Ventana completely on the other side of town that is throwing a full moon party or even screening local films.
Plus, as mentioned, there are several great beaches, including La Tuna in the north and Playa Central. The long stretch of coastline makes for great downwinders, but again—you kind of need a vehicle for that.
Can you hitchhike along the main road? Yes, you can and I did. But this is not really something you want to do at night or really rely on to get around town. Ultimately, if you go to La Ventana you will want to have a vehicle of some kind.
Mistake #2: I packed wrong for the weather
I should’ve known better, but La Ventana is a desert town and the high season for kiting here is November through March.
I’m from New Mexico originally, which is why I should’ve known better—the landscape in La Ventana is very similar to the New Mexico desert, with long, gorgeous vistas and mountains in the distance. The sunsets are beautiful and the sunrises even more so. It is warm and during the day, which makes it a good winter escape, but not too hot or humid (unlike many places at this time of year in the Yucatan, for example).
At night, however, the temperature plunges. I happened to have a reasonably warm rain jacket with me since it had been raining in the U.S. the day I left. But actually, I wish I had had my Patagonia poofy jacket, and maybe even one of my wool hats. It has warmed up toward the end of March, but when I first got here I was definitely underprepared for the cold as soon as the sun went down.
Mistake #3: Not upgrading my gear in basically 10 years
What are the wind conditions like in La Ventana? They are absolutely fantastic. The best of anywhere I have kited, although to be fair I have never kited in some of the most iconic spots like Tarifa or Cape Town. There is wind here, tons of it—and the kiting area is easily 20-times the size of the bay in Cabarete.
The natural wonder that is the La Ventana wind machine is caused in part by being surrounded by mountains and the venturi effect. Rather than me explaining, though, I thought I’d ping MasViento, a local Facebook page run by a retired meteorologist who posts a wind forecast every morning.
Here’s how MasViento explained it:
1. La Ventana and the nearby plains are surrounded by mountains on the west, south, and southeast (see google earth). As the plains heat up, the warm, relatively light air rises and creates a partial vacuum. Air will rush in to fill the partial vacuum from either the east or north (open sea).
2. The prevailing large-scale wind direction from November through March is from the north.
3. If the background north wind is strong enough (around 10 mph), then that will be the likely direction that air will rush in from to fill the partial vacuum. The thermal effect will be added to the background wind. I usually add 8-12 mph depending on factors such as cloud cover. [Then] when the air rushes in from the north, it is also constricted between the Cacachilas mountains to our west and Cerralvo Island to our east.
During my trip in March, this wind machine delivered a long, nearly uninterrupted string of 18 - 20 knot wind days. On my 9 meter, which is the first kite I ever bought (ten years ago), I was consistently on the edge of being so overpowered that I nearly marched over to one of the kite shops to buy a smaller kite.
The point is: La Ventana has awesome wind. Just make sure your gear is up to it—one day I crashed the 9 meter, and one of the very old tubes connecting the center strut to the leading edge blew off on impact. The kite deflated, the bladder partially filled with water, and I had to do an epic, hour-long self-rescue back to shore.
Thankfully, like all great kite spots, the wind here is side-on-shore. Just make sure to bring a kite that’s actually up to you getting a little beat up because you will progress in your skills.
Mistake #4: I booked accommodation too late
I could blame this on pandemic-era uncertainty, but the truth is that I was procrastinating about where I wanted to go. I had gone back and forth between a Yucatan destination, or here, or maybe even the north coast of Colombia. Ultimately, I waited until just a few weeks before the trip to make a decision, buy my ticket, and book accommodation. By the time I did there just were not that many super affordable options left.
Consequently, I stayed at the Susu’z Village Hostel. It is a perfectly reasonable place to spend a few weeks (see my last piece, “The old guy at the hostel”), but would I recommend it to others? Not exactly. There are better places to stay for roughly the same price, you just have to get to them earlier.
Also, consider that if you take my advice and get a vehicle, that dramatically opens up the number of locations you can book.
One thing you don’t notice looking at La Ventana on Google Maps is that the town rises up from the water the further back from the beach you go. A lot of the places that look far from the beach on the map actually have gorgeous panoramic views of the entire bay. And trust me, the view across Bahia de la Ventana with Isla Ceralvo in the distance is part of what makes this location truly special.
So: I recommend discounting the importance of being near the beach. Being right on the water is great, but also consider booking a place up the hill if you want to save some money, especially if it has one of those nice rooftop decks. They’re worth it to drink a beer and admire the view at the end of a nice day out on the water.
Mistake #5: I didn’t bring friends or family
Look, I usually love traveling alone. I did it in the DR, in Ecuador, in Portugal, and many other places. Is La Ventana a place you can go alone? Sure. But it’s better with friends.
Yes, everyone is social and friendly and there is a very communal vibe. And yes I have had plenty of people to share a drink or a dinner with, or gab on about how the wind was, or the big air I got (I did get some big air), or the epic crash I had, or what the forecast says tomorrow. And this is despite my being pretty introverted.
But ultimately, I’m missing my close kiting buddies. I’d rather have them here with me to have that aforementioned beer on the rooftop in the evenings. And even though she is not particularly a beach/wind/sand/sun kind of girl, I am also missing my partner and wish she were here as well.
You remember the famous note scribbled by Chris McCandless at the end of Into the Wild? “Happiness only real if shared.” So yea, my last recommendation for a trip to La Ventana: invite your friends and family.
P.S. If you want to listen to the podcast where I broke up with the Cabarete in the Dominican Republic, it’s here: