Like many devoted naturists, I’ve been watching the story of (New) Cambium unfold for years, with ever-growing interest as other Caribbean clothing-optional destinations have either closed their doors, or as in the case of Club Orient, have been literally blown off the map. I have a vague recollection of reading about the plans for this nude Utopia in the Dominican Republic, likely dating back to sometime around 2010, when the property was first purchased and subdivided by a visionary English fellow who had vivid dreams of creating a clothing-optional haven near the sea, tucked away in a mountainous ravine far from the madding crowds.
It’s a jungle out there!
As is so often the case for dreamers, (as I most certainly am one, myself,) reality can be a good bit more complicated than one’s imagination. Sure enough, roads were carved out of the lush tropical landscape, homes were built, and people came from all over the world to claim a small slice of heaven where the locals are friendly, labor is cheap, and sunshine is plentiful. But over time, it seems the vision became a bit unwieldy, which brought about a massive reorganization that sought to create a cooperative agreement among the owners and shareholders on just what the future of New Cambium might be. What is the future, you ask? Well… at this writing, that seems to be a work in progress.
The underlying principle of the original dream was that this would become a self-sustaining naturist community, where banana trees and cacao plants are plentiful, grazing cattle keep the wild grasses at bay, and solar panels provide electricity to turn on the lights and run the essential electrical appliances. A reservoir up the hill supplies the water for washing and bathing, while potable drinking water arrives in five-gallon jugs, as is common in the region. Liquid propane canisters make it possible to enjoy the full array of modern conveniences like washing machines, gas ranges, and hot water heaters – and as long as you have enough solar panels, and suffice it to say, enough sun!
My little casita
I spent several days in a little casita near the center of the estate known as Palm Gardens, adjoining a small pool just big enough for a quick afternoon dip. My modest one-bedroom abode turned out to be way more spacious than anticipated, with folding doors that opened to the pool area, making the main living space into a patio of sorts. No air-conditioning or microwaves, since those are both electricity intensive, but if you’re go into the game thinking your essentially “glamping” in a space with a toilet en suite, a nice hot shower, and a good bed, your expectations should be just about on point. I was fortunate enough to visit several other residences on the property, including one of the very first – a simple one-room cottage with an amazing view of the entire property – to larger, more luxurious homes, some with their own pools. All but one or two remain completely off the grid to this day.
So, have I finally conquered my search for Naturist Nirvana? Have I arrived? Should I have left a deposit on a plot before boarding the plane for home? Well… that’s where the story gets interesting!
Morning cardio walk
I thought it might be worthwhile to throw out a few caveats for those seeking a nakation destination in the Caribbean sun, or maybe even a home away from home where you can get your 10,000 steps in every day without ever having to put on your gym shorts. To that end, I offer my list of things I wish I had known before I got there, some pertaining specifically to New Cambium; others intended to provide a few tips for finding one’s way off the beaten track on a Caribbean island.
Like most Caribbean destinations, this is a third world country that truly embraces the concept of Island Time. Traveling in the midst of COVID, the only time during the entire trip that I really felt uneasy was waiting in the immigration line (upon arrival at Santiago, D.R.) for nearly an hour, where social distancing was essentially impossible. I came with enough PPE to look like a spaceman, but getting through passport control made for a nerve-wracking start to my trip, further disoriented by a chaotic baggage retrieval area where signage was sparse and bathrooms were non-existent. Once clear of all that, I began the awkward transactional business with the car rental guy through a plexiglass wall in a noisy, reverberant terminal. Apparently, he told me to “go wait at that curb for a half-hour where somebody will eventually bring me a car” – at least, that’s how things played out in the last place. But don’t expect the illuminated marquee from Hertz Gold Service for a speedy non-stop getaway.
The New Cambium website strongly recommends renting a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, given the steep hills, especially during the all but certain sporadic periods of rain. A 4×4 during my visit was at least three or four times the cost of a typical rental car, though weather was such during my stay that I could have easily made it through my journey with a common sedan. There’s a bit of risk management there, while drawing attention to the fact that there’s a stream that dissects the New Cambium property, crossing the road that leads to many of the residences, including a few of those in the rental pool. It would be particularly foolish to think that you’d be able to cross that stream in a low-slung Toyota. I’m pretty sure there’s a bridge on the drawing board, but when might that happen? Who knows? In the meantime, rent a 4×4 or stay on the near side of the river and pray for dry weather!
Alternatively, New Cambium will provide, for a fee, car service to and from the airport, (including a grocery stop en route should you so desire) but I wasn’t sure if I would need the car during my stay. I thought I might do some exploring, but with interesting naked people to meet under brilliant blue skies, those plans fell away and the car sat parked next to my house for most of the weekend. One couple I met had a standing arrangement with a local driver who would even avail himself to do a food or beer run, which I suspect was more cost effective in the last place than renting a car. Regardless, I did take the opportunity to walk down to the beach one evening – not too bad going down the hill, but the climb back up would have been all but insurmountable had it not been for the late day shadows of dusk. As the locals had foretold, several enterprising guys on motorbikes stopped to offer me a cheap ride, but that didn’t seem very “social-distancing” friendly, and I was hell-bent on hoofing it up the hill! By the end, I was elated to get past the New Cambium gatehouse where I could remove my clothing, now drenched in sweat.
The procedure of renting accommodations at New Cambium most definitely falls under the banner of a “work in progress” as well, run largely by an enthusiastic resident named Deb who volunteers her time to match prospective guests with just the right space, essentially managing sublets for part-time residents willing to let out their vacation homes. I booked about six weeks in advance, to which Deb suggested that in a non-COVID year would have been impossible, as people often book a year in advance and stay for several weeks (or months!) at a time. As the website is a bit spartan, with smallish images of the rental units, and there’s little or no conformity from one unit to the next, this resulted in my asking an inordinate number of questions prior to my arrival in an effort to figure out what I would need to purchase at the grocery store located a solid 30-minute drive away. Just to mix things up, a few owners also list their units on AirBNB, which seems to me a bit of a conflict of interest in regard to the fiscal longevity of the New Cambium community, particularly when it comes to preserving the naturist atmosphere. It will be interesting to see how that all gets sorted out going forward.
Alas, my kitchen scarcely has a wall!
There was apparently a smallish restaurant and bar erected when Cambium first opened, which has literally collapsed into a pile of rubble and debris, and the limited meal service once offered near the pool (as denoted on the website) has been suspended since COVID set in. Translation: If you show up without food, you’ll be hangry by the first nightfall. The village of Magante, just down the hill (on the way to the beach) has several offerings, including a small grocery store with amenities you might find at a 7-Eleven, along with several excellent food kiosks on the beach that you should plan on trying out just to soak up the local flavor. But here again, COVID restrictions have incurred a 6:00 pm curfew where everything is locked down well before sunset, including the mini-marts, bars and restaurants. Back on the grounds of New Cambium, I believe there are dreams of a new pool complex with a watering hole for beverages, food, and conviviality, but that also seems a good distance off into the future. Our personal experiences at other naturist centers around the world have largely been defined by what we experienced in what the French call the centre ville, where all the locals gather at the end of the day. No question – New Cambium would benefit from such a communal watering hole.
Would I consider buying a home at New Cambium? Well, remember… I am the Meandering Naturist, and as such, we’re not likely to set down roots in any single place anytime soon. But on the other hand, Deb estimates that building costs here can run about half of what you might expect to pay in the US. It’s even a better deal if you’re seeking out a location where you could make clothing an option in a climate amenable for doing so, like Florida or California, where constructions costs are likely three or four times what you’d pay in the D.R. Amazingly, unlike the stories I’ve heard about similar building projects on other Caribbean islands, (or even in France!) it seems architectural drawings actually come to fruition here! Over the past ten years or so, those devoted to the community have developed a pipeline to assist new and prospective owners plow through the bureaucracy of permits, procuring architects, and locating contractors and builders for a reasonable fee and within a reasonable time frame. That, alone, seems a precious commodity to me!
A larger home… with a view!
So back to the leading question: What’s the deal with New Cambium? Should you pay a visit? What if you’re simply looking for a new nakation destination?
I would stand on a tropical mountain and holler a resounding YES! In fact, I’m quite eager to return with my wife for at least a two week stay, thinking we should book now for next winter given the 70° temperature difference (as I write this) between the north shore of the Dominican Republic and my homeland Philadelphia! But before you call Deb and initiate your booking, you should know a few more things about what you’re looking for to assure your efforts in reaching this warm weather refuge are worth the time and expense.
The pool at Palm Gardens
You’ll certainly meet kind and interesting people, with an interesting mix of nationalities, but you’re not likely to find anything that resembles nightlife here, unless COVID restrictions lift and you want to go party – in Spanish – with the locals, near the beach. This is a quiet sanctuary well positioned for long walks (naked or not), reading by the pool, and soaking up the sun in the midst of an overdose of tropical splendor. I consider that a major amenity, but others might be serenity adverse.
While some of the homes are very nice, this is not a luxury resort, nor is there a hospitality team at the front gate to cater to your every whim. (Deb is lovely and helpful, but she’s a volunteer helping out, the same way you might expect of a kind neighbor.) If you are wanting the Westin Maui, you should probably go there, instead. In my case, a guard from the front gate jumped on his motorbike to escort me to my villa in a ride that felt a bit like Indiana Jones! Fun, but not quite typical.
There are no golf-carts here, and if there were, they’d likely be overturned in the ditches along the rough gravel roads. We personally love this as we adore walking – especially naked walking – but if you’re not physically fit, navigating the hilly terrain could be a challenge. You can be naked anywhere on the property, but good walking shoes are a must.
Evening walk on the beach
The nude beach is only a ten-minute drive away, but it’s not really a nude beach, but a secluded beach, subject to change without notice given the appearance of locals who are hard-wired to be skeptical of naked Gringos picnicking next door. Seems there’s not much danger of legal repercussion, but you do want to respect the locals, and you simply shouldn’t expect to stumble into a nude volleyball tournament while strolling through the surf.
In a more recent development, a Dominican local has set up a roadside bar essentially across the road from the gatehouse of New Cambium. As I happened to visit during a holiday weekend, it seems there were revelers gathering at said club into the wee hours of the morning with music blaring in the Dominican tradition. (LOUD!) Amazing how that can echo down the steep ravines of New Cambium, but I’m told that’s very much an exception, not the norm. Do yourself a favor. PACK. EAR. PLUGS! It seems the New Cambium residents are not the only ones perturbed about all this, suggesting there may be some major compromises in the works, but it still doesn’t hurt to pack ear plugs – just in case.
Speaking personally, we love finding a naturist haven where we can read and snooze on the veranda with a bottle of wine and a plate of cheese, away from the incessant noise and frenzy of our daily lives. For that, New Cambium truly is Naturist Nirvana, and I would be happy hanging out on that veranda for weeks at a time. And you will meet people of a worldly nature there. They’ll have fascinating stories to tell, but it’s quite a different atmosphere than what we’ve experienced at any nudist club or resort in the United States. This is a place that holds allure for those eager to absorb as much of the world as possible given our limited time on the planet. Come for the naked, stay for the peaceful escape from clothes and reality, or sharing of tales about life in India or Kazakstan, while immersing yourself in the unique haven of an international naturist community.
My search for Zen… actualized!
I’m hoping the current efforts by the New Cambium team to reorganize and revitalize turn out to be fruitful and forward-looking, as naturists are much in need of a year-round destination like this. If I’ve piqued your interest, and you have more questions before you call up and book your next Nakation, click here to drop me a note. Or reach out to my friend Deb directly, as she and I are both happy to help, simply in a concerted effort to see this Utopian dream come to full fruition. Outside of mid-summer in Europe, I can scarcely imagine a place more well-suited to a genuine, international naturist escape.