With more than 700 islands, islets, reefs and cays, the Caribbean is a natural paradise on earth. The turquoise waters that bathe its coasts and the miles of white sandy beaches make the region of the Americas a place of enjoyment for the eyes. But not only does it harbor incredible landscapes, its gastronomy, culture and history also make the Antilles worth exploring.
Its immensity and the twenty or so countries found in the Caribbean mean that many impressive corners go unnoticed by the traveler. One of the most unknown and impressive is Samaná, a paradise in the Dominican Republic that has yet to be discovered.
Entering the sea from the northeast coast of the country, the Samaná peninsula has been a refuge and the scene of corsair battles. Pirates used its lush palm forests, secluded beaches and hidden caves as hideouts, while European and Haitian troops fought over the deep waters of its bay.
Today, it is well connected by land and air – with direct flights from Madrid all summer long – yet it remains the paradisiacal and remote escape of wild beaches, coconut plantations and tropical rainforests that you can enjoy without having to suffer from tourist overcrowding.
Its rolling mountains and valleys form crystal-clear rivers that empty into the Atlantic as they rush toward glistening white sand beaches that stretch for hundreds of miles around the peninsula’s rocky coastline. It’s as if the approximately 1,500 humpback whales that visit Samana Bay each year appreciate this natural splendor as much as visitors do.
As you’re probably itching to travel to this unknown paradise, here are some of the major attractions of Samaná, which Soltour claims as “a different Caribbean”.
Los Haitises National Park
Los Haitises is one of the jewels of the Dominican Republic’s national parks. This mangrove swamp is one of the largest natural reserves in the Caribbean, teeming with birds and wild plants.
Los Haitises attracts many visitors who come here by boat not only to enjoy its impressive mangroves and wildlife, but also to see its magnificent rock formations, cays and caves, such as the famous San Gabriel.
Also known as Bacardi Island because of a Bacardi commercial filmed here in the 1970s, the small, picturesque island of Cayo Levantado is just five kilometers from Samana Bay, and boasts glistening white sand and palm-fringed beaches.
Every day, small cab boats leave from the port of Samaná, on Marina Avenue, to take visitors to this small island. Spend the day swimming, sunbathing, kayaking or paddle boarding, and enjoy fresh fish on the public side of Cayo Levantado. You can also spend the night at the soon-to-open Bahia Principe luxury hotel on the island. Please note that there may be restrictions on visitation on days when large cruise ships dock off the island.
Santa Barbara de Samana
The boardwalk in Santa Bárbara de Samaná – the main municipality of the peninsula – offers incredible views of its bay, mountains, cays and amazing bridges. Behind this boardwalk you can find several restaurants and bars where you can enjoy Dominican life.
But this is not the only worthwhile part of the town; a stroll through its central market or a visit to its churches of various faiths also helps to understand a little more about life in Samaná.
In the same town you can visit the Whale Museum, a space focused on the cetacean that arrives every year in the bay. An exhibition run by the nature conservation organization Cebse (Center for the Conservation and Ecodevelopment of the Bay of Samaná and its Environment) and supported by the Bahia Principe hotels.
Las Galeras and beaches
This remote fishing village, located on the northeastern tip of the Samana peninsula, is also home to a handful of the Dominican Republic’s most beautiful beaches, including the world-renowned Playa Rincon.
Daytime crowds flock here for a boat trip to Playa Rincon, Playa Madama and Playa Fronton, white-sand beaches that stretch along a striking, rocky Atlantic coastline and offer a world of snorkeling and diving. But there’s plenty more to do for nature lovers, including hiking, fishing, snorkeling, playing dominoes at the local bar or relaxing with lunch at La Playita.
Playa Rincón and the Caño Frío River
Playa Rincón deserves special mention for being one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. White sand, pristine and long, it borders a bay of calm turquoise waters, dotted with coconut palms, which captures the attention of all visitors.
At the west end of this beach is Caño Frío, an emerald-colored river that transforms into a popular natural pool where it meets the ocean. Residents and visitors love to cool off here, before or after enjoying fresh fish and lobster and away from the tourist crowds on the east side of the beach.
The most visited and developed part of Samana, Las Terrenas is the perfect blend of a dreamy beach town and a cosmopolitan city.
Its coastline boasts multiple stunning beaches, as well as a variety of small hotels, international bistros, clothing and handicraft boutiques, local restaurants and lively bars.
While the white sand beaches located in the center of town are good for swimming, nearby Playa Bonita and Playa Cosón will take your breath away, perhaps as much as the delicious fresh seafood served here. Evenings come alive in Las Terrenas with dancing, from bachata to R&B to the best hits, along the row of bars and restaurants in the Pueblo de los Pescadores, uniting the area’s diverse residents under the stars.
El Limon Waterfall
Reaching the El Limón waterfall is an adventure that will take you on a 1.5-mile trail through dense forest, on horseback or on foot, descending through lush hilly terrain, while discovering flora and fauna along the way.
El Valle Beach
The 42-kilometer road north of Santa Barbara leads you to this golden sand beach that stretches four kilometers surrounded by a lush valley, spectacular cliffs, decorated with fishing boats.
It is a little-visited beach, rustic and surrounded by shades of green and turquoise, the ideal place to escape the masses. Stay close to shore when swimming, as El Valle has strong currents, especially in the winter season. Even if you don’t swim, it’s a stunning place to enjoy the natural beauty of the Samana peninsula.