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Samaná Peninsula, Dominican Republic

At 250 miles/400 km by 150 miles/240 km, the Dominican Republic is larger than any other Caribbean nation except Cuba. It is also the most diverse territory in the region. The Dominican Republic boasts both the highest point in the Caribbean (Pico Duarte at 10,164 ft/3,151 m) and its lowest (Lago Enriquillo at 115 ft/36 m below sea level). Cacti stud the desert-dry southwest in the lee of mountains clad in cloud forest.

The lush agricultural valley of El Cibao lies within a one-hour drive of north coast beaches that abut mangrove-lined lagoons sheltering manatees. The bathtub-warm waters of the Bay of Samana attract thousands of humpback whales in winter, while nearby Los Haitises National Park is a rugged karst terrain pitted with caves. Drawing the lion's share of tourists, the talcum sands of the Coconut Coast shelve into waters of Maxfield Parrish hues stretching almost to the horizon.

Recreation in the Dominican Republic focuses, not surprisingly, on the outdoors. Beaches and all that comes with them—swimming, boating, scuba diving, surfing and fishing—are the top draw, but hiking, golf and bird-watching opportunities are also excellent.


clip_image002Until the late 19th century, the Samaná Peninsula was once its own island separated from the mainland by a very narrow channel. Over time, sediment filled the channel, joining it to the mainland to form a peninsula.

Although it was one of Columbus' stops in 1493, it was not 'officially' founded by Spain until the arrival of people from the Canary Islands in 1756. Since that time the area has undergone fighting pirates and some interesting wrangling for ownership.

Spain gave it to Napoleon Bonaparte in exchange for land he controlled in Spain. Bonaparte's grand plans for the island were interrupted by a revolution in Haiti, two invasions by Britain, and civil war among some of the French whom were operating from there.

The French finally took possession in 1802, but departed after being attacked by both Haitian and British forces. The 1820's saw the arrival of freed English-speaking African-Americans whose customs influence the area to this day. During the mid-1800's the U.S. government tried to acquire the area twice, but in the end was unsuccessful on both attempts.

The entire peninsula is incredibly gorgeous - definitely in the typical 'Caribbean' sense - with thick palm forests, kilometers of unspoiled white sand beaches, and clear turquoise waters. The middle of the peninsula is made up of high mountain passes that host magnificent views, lush tropical forests, and a number of waterfalls.

The largest city on the peninsula, located approximately 65 mi/105 km northeast of Santo Domingo or 210 km east of Puerto Plata, is called Santa Bárbara de Samaná, or Samana, for short, and is a port town that overlooks the country's largest bay, Bahia de Samana.

The town was destroyed by fire in 1946 but was rebuilt to include a few large resorts, hotels, bars and restaurants. The majority of Samana's visitors come for the amazing humpback whale-watching excursions. During January through March, about ten thousand of these amazing creatures return to this area from the North Atlantic, to nurse their young and mate. Boat excursions from the town's port take groups just outside the bay to witness these incredible creatures frolic in the sea.

National and international efforts have been undertaken to protect these incredible mammals in the warm waters of the Dominican Republic. Other excursions in Samana include walking the Bridge To Nowhere; a visit to Cayo Levantado, or 'Bacardi Island' - the island used in the famous 1970's Bacardi rum commercials; or to Playa Rincón, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the country.


clip_image004Las Terrenas, located approximately 245 km east of Puerto Plata, must be accessed by one of two mountain roads. If you are coming from the west, you would turn left after the town of Sánchez. If you are arriving from the east, you would drive through Samaná, and turn right on the road towards El Limón and El Portillo.

Once you're on either road it will take another 1/2 hour to 45 minutes to reach the town of Las Terrenas. The road from Sánchez is the most exciting route to take. This curvy, steep road takes you through the Cordillera Samaná mountain range. Go slowly and you'll see spectacular views of Samaná Bay and Parque Los Haitises on the south side, and the Atlantic coast on the north side. Along the way you'll see brightly painted Dominican homes, as well as the unique farming and vegetation of the area, including 60 varieties of palms.

Upon arrival in Las Terrenas, you'll be awed with the calmness of the area and the beautiful white sand beach lined with tall palms and pastel-colored wooden fishing boats. The next thing you may notice is its Mediterranean-influenced atmosphere. There are plenty of cafés and oceanfront restaurants where people can be found sipping wine, over long, leisurely lunches, or having a mid-day break over a café latte.

Shops there offer a variety of arts and crafts, many of them unique handmade items that can be difficult to find elsewhere in the Dominican Republic. Activity-wise, you can enjoy water sports like snorkeling, diving, windsurfing and kite boarding. The 4-wheel drive and horseback riding trips are also popular because they allow you to see otherwise non-accessible areas of beauty. If you just want to plant yourself on a beautiful beach you can also visit close by Playa Bonita or Playa Las Balleras.

Up until a few years ago, Las Galeras was yet another small fishing village with untouched natural beauty. Probably due to it's close proximity to Samaná, it was wealthy Dominicans who were first to discover this secret paradise as a vacation destination. Since then, the village has seen quite some growth, with new hotels, restaurants and shops. But because Las Galeras is not really located on the 'beaten path', and is a little more difficult to get to than many other tourism destinations, it has still managed to maintain its small village charm and laidback ambiance.

The key reason to visit Las Galeras is its tranquil horseshoe-shaped cove of powder white sand, clear Caribbean green waters and picturesque surroundings. Horseback riding, snorkeling and diving, are the activities of choice here. Some You can visit the beautiful beach, Playa Rincón, or are taking part in a whale-watching excursion done out of nearby Samaná. Another popular activity is to take a boat to Playa Rincón and a couple of other beaches, which would be virtually impossible to access otherwise. This excursion can't help but give you a 'Robinson Crusoe' feel.

clip_image006Cayo Levantado, this small island, sometimes referred to as Bacardi Island (due to the Bacardi Rum commercial shot there), is its own little piece of paradise just off the Samaná Peninsula. The soft white sand is like powder and the turquoise waters are absolutely crystal clear. You can lie on the beach and catch some sun, or snorkel and swim in the warm, calm Caribbean waters surrounding it. While this island is quite touristy, it has still managed to preserve its tropical charm.


clip_image008Los Haitises National Park, on the south side of Samana Bay, is known for its mangrove and swamp areas, and caves with pre-Columbian Amerindian rock paintings. The park has varied plant life and fabulous birdlife (including frigate bird and boobie rookeries), but is best known for its spectacular karst formations rising sheer from the bay. Guided tours of the park leave from Samana, Sanchez and Sabana de la Mar.


Other Beaches - also found in this area are various other beautiful beaches to explore. These include Playa Rincón to the east and Playa El Valle to the north of Samaná City, the beaches at Las Terrenas itself, plus the nearby beaches Playa Las Balleras, Playa Bonita and Playa Coson.

Waterfalls - the Samana Peninsula also has several waterfalls, such as the incredible El Limón waterfall, which can be accessed via Tour Operators in both Samaná and Las Terrenas, or through private guides offering their services close to the waterfall's location.


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