On the Dominican Republic’s northeast Samaná Peninsula, you can thrill yourselves silly, go exploring, feel warmly welcomed, or simply rest beside a gorgeous view — all in a single day.
The thick palm jungles and white-sand beaches of the Samaná offer a chance to see, hear and feel Dominican culture in action, to tackle some backcountry eco-adventures, and to sip Mama Juanas by an Atlantic sunset…but the two of you might not be alone for long.
A sexy new road from Santo Domingo, an established community of Western European expats and more recently, an influx of Russian tourists and hotel developers, means that sooner than later is the best time to find your own corner of the Samaná.
What to see and do on the Samaná Peninsula:
Los Haitises National Park
Haitis are mountains in the indigenous Taíno language, though this mysterious landscape has more dense tropical forest, tangled mangroves, estuaries, vegetation-topped islets and jagged cliffs than mountains. There are over 100 species of birds here, as well as limestone caves full of red and ancient pictographs. My first thought when I saw Los Haitises? Avatar‘s Pandora.
Rather than try to tackle this watery labyrinth by yourselves, book a $50 US (per person) half-day boat excursion, lunch and guided tour from Paraíso Caño Hondo, an outfitter located in the scruffy, adjacent town of Sabana de la Mar. The company’s website is in Spanish, but tours are not; to book, I’d suggest using Google Translate to compose/translate an email correspondence. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
27 Waterfalls of Damajagua
In Puerto Plata, there’s a difference of opinion over the actual number of waterfalls on the Río Damajagua, but suffice it to say there are many — and most involve great heights, rushing cascades and narrow crevasses. Since hurling myself off anything isn’t my cup of tea, I was happy to wander dirt-packed paths through the surrounding jungle and sparkle-clear rivers, then dip my feet in the cool water, watching tiny fish flit below and sunlight dapple the ferns above. However, let me not keep you all from a few hours of daredevil, helmeted adventure here, followed by a drink at the visitor center’s palapa bar.
Let dependable, affable expat Brits (and married couple) Michael and Sarah Scates of Iguana Mama guide your way (lest either of you break something…like, say, yourselves) for $79 US per person (10% discount for online booking).
Snorkeling in Sosua Bay
Okay, so Sosua Bay is known as much for prostitution and its lovely azure waters, but you can always consider a visit here a comprehensive biological learning experience. Above ground, you’re bound to see young, scantily-clad women walking through town with older white guys, as well as a lot of vendor stalls selling tacky souvenirs.
Underwater, though, you’ll see a lot more beauty: the water is deep, warm, clear and lapis lazuli blue; the fan corals are purple and yellow; and ballyhoos, rockhinds, princess parrotfish, yellowtail, snapper and tiny little blue chromis swarm, dart and come curiously close.
Book a respectful, conservation-minded excursion with Northern Coast Aqua Sports for $29-85 US apiece…then feel free to get the heck out of town. My snorkeling experience here was really special, and I would have been sad to miss it.
Horseback riding to Salta El Limón
The roadside just east of Samaná town is lined with paradas, organized horseback-riding operations that will escort you to the popular waterfall (salta) in the heart of the Peninsula’s lemon-growing district (El Limón). Paradas are generally family-owned and based out of a modest private home where you’re given a lunch of yucca root, plantain tostones, rice, chicken, veggies and more after your hot, sweaty and gorgeous journey.
For about a half-hour coming and going, your horses will be led by nice young locals through a sleepy village, up steep and rocky paths, through dense forest and across a milky teal river. (My own trusty steed, Palo Fino, stumbled a few times, but his sometimes disconcerting footing had more to do with his need for new shoes than uneven terrain.)
Past a green and undulating valley of hills and palms, you leave your horses in the shade, your guides take a load off at a table-slapping game of dominoes, and it’s a loooong walk down to the huge, stunning falls. You won’t be alone at this popular local hangout, but bring a bathing suit so you can swim behind them (taking care on the slippery rocks) and share a kiss away from prying eyes.
Journeying to the salta with Parada Basilio y Ramona, I saw a friendly, laid-back farm-shack village unlike anything else I’d see on the Peninsula, followed by authentic local cuisine. Email to email@example.com for scheduling and prices.
When to visit the Samaná: Between mid-November and late May (that is to say, not hurricane season in the Eastern Caribbean). Late November is the jazz festival on Cabarete Beach; mid-January to mid-March is whale watching season in Samaná Bay and off the coast of Puerto Plata, out in the Atlantic.
Where to stay: For a quiet little beach town full of European and North American expats, laid-back guesthouses, beachside bars and restaurants, and Haitian artists selling their wares, my choice would be Las Terrenas.
For more luxury and infrastructure (e.g., concierge, spa, on-site restaurants, etc.) try one of two all-inclusive resorts from the same chain: the clifftop Hotel Gran Bahia Principe Cayacoa, high above Samaná Bay, where the property is lush and the beach reachable by elevator; or the Hotel Gran Bahia Principe El Portillo, situated right on the powder-soft sand near touristy El Portillo.
How to get here: Most international flights will get you to Lás Americas Airport (SDQ) in the capital city of Santa Domingo, in the south; however, see if you can book directly or take a small plane (like those flown by Aerdomca) to the airports at Puerto Plata, Portillo-Las Terrenas or Samaná. If you’d rather see a little more of the country on the ground, the super-smooth DR-8, or Samaná Highway, makes a drive north to the peninsula a two-hour affair.
My journey along the Samaná Peninsula was sponsored by the
Dominican Republic Tourism Ministry
but all opinions and observations are my own