The Dominican Republic, an all-inclusive paradise, hides a secret and biodiverse destination that has little to do with Punta Cana, Puerto Plata or La Romana, its best-known and most crowded all-inclusive resorts. It is Samaná, a quiet and cozy corner in which, in addition to its small hotels and postcard beaches, its almost virgin natural wealth stands out: a turquoise blue sea that combines with mountains and lush cliffs, humble and colorful houses with VIP luxury villas, coconut trees and the best piña colada, and very top hotels with a popular and lively boardwalk. We tell you what this little-known Dominican corner is like, a peninsula with the soul of an island east of Hispaniola, in case you feel like escaping on your next vacation to discover it (almost nine hours from Madrid, but with a direct flight).
Best things to do in Samaná
1. Tour Los Haitises National Park from the water.
What is it? This is not just a green space: it is the sanctuary of Caribbean biodiversity and one of the most important protected areas of the Dominican Republic. It is also a movie set: ‘The Island of the Severed Heads’ or some scenes from ‘Jurassic Park’ have been filmed in this primitive environment.
Why do you have to go? To get to know this forest paradise in the middle of the sea. This wonder of the natural world (declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO) occupies 1,600 square kilometers (twice the size of the entire province of Samaná!), and if you have little time to visit it, the ideal is to travel by boat to sail along its mogotes or islets (‘haitises’ in the indigenous language). The pier to navigate this marvel is located on the boardwalk of Santa Bárbara de Samaná, the main city of the province.
Don’t miss: The Bird Island (where thousands of pelicans, among other species, nest), the photogenic Shark Cave (due to the geological shape of its opening), the largest mangrove forest in the Caribbean (almost 300 square kilometers) or the island of the first Survivors (we are not talking about castaways, but the participants of the first editions of the TV show, recorded here until they took the filming set to Honduras).
2. Spending a day in Las Terrenas
What is it? The town with the most charm and dream villas per square meter of Samaná.
Why do you have to go? Until the 70’s it was a humble fishing village, but today the big fortunes (French above all) have invested in bricks here. The colorful little houses of its historic center by the sea recall that seafaring past (they are known as Pueblo de Pescadores), although today they live more from tourism. Its main street is a comings and goings of motorcycles (as in all Samaná, actually), there are plenty of craft stores and the coolest beach bars to take a Presidente (or whatever you can think of) under the palm trees of its beaches of fine white sand. Like Cosón beach, the paradisiacal sandy beach where you can score an Estefaníííííííííííííaaaaaa! (it is the beach where Christofer ran away after seeing compromising images of his girl during one of the bonfires), but only if you know what we are talking about.
Don’t miss: The wall of the local cemetery: its walls are a canvas for the urban artists that give life and color to the main avenue through which you enter the village.
3. Catch a free hammock in Cayo Levantado (Bacardi Island).
What is it? Possibly the most famous key in the Dominican Caribbean.
Why do you have to go? The Caribbean is synonymous with cays (those thousands of small, flat, sandy islands that dot the Antillean Sea), but this one is especially attractive, popular and photogenic. A paradise of palm trees, white sand and crystal-clear waters that is impossible to miss on a trip to Samaná (although it has a little tourist attraction: it can be visited as part of the same excursion to Haitises).
Don’t miss: The piña colada with a freshly prepared umbrella in the beach bars of this islet.
4. Sailing without fear in the Humpback Whale Sanctuary.
What is it? Samana Bay, one of the best places in the world to see humpback whales in their natural habitat.
Why do you have to go? It is known that more than 3,000 whales travel the 8,000 kilometers each year from the cold waters of the North Atlantic to the warm, crystalline and shallow waters of the Caribbean to mate and reproduce. And that happens during the months of January to March: only then (and taking the necessary precautions and only in official boats) you can sail alongside them to see them dance and sing live.
Don’t miss: The Whale Museum, an interpretation center open all year round. It is next to the bay of Santa Bárbara de Samaná and you can learn a little more about this species, its history and its eventful way of life.
5. Know the history of the Gulf of arrows.
What is it? A paradisiacal bay protected by a belt of coconut trees that plunge into the sea.
Why do you have to go there? It is the first thing Columbus saw when he arrived in the Americas, and the crush was instantaneous (literally), because that’s how they received the conqueror when they saw him disembark in January 1493 (it was his second trip to the Americas). That is why today that area, located in front of the famous Cayo Levantado (or Bacardi Island), is known as ‘the gulf of arrows’ (although the latest theories maintain that the place where the Ciguayos Indians received the Spaniards with arrows is actually to the north of the peninsula, on the beach of Las Galeras). What there is no doubt about is that this is a historic event that makes the province of Samaná the natural and historic gateway to the Dominican Republic.
Don’t miss: The Bahía Príncipe Grand Cayacoa Hotel, one of the four great hotels that the Spanish chain has in Samaná (this one in a privileged location next to the Samaná Bridge) and which is expected to reopen its doors in October.
6. Search for starfish from the Cayos Bridge.
What is it? One of the proudest urban constructions around here.
Why do you have to go? This pedestrian bridge, divided into several sections, connects the bay of Samaná with the two nearest keys (Linares, 90 meters from the seashore, and Vigía, 550) which can be reached on foot: that’s why they are also known as the ‘Samaná walking bridges’.
Don’t miss: If it’s not humpback whale season, throughout the year you can see starfish (many of them) diving peacefully in its crystal clear waters.
7. Snorkeling in Santa Bárbara de Samaná
What is it? The nerve center of the most important city of Samaná and the area with the best atmosphere day and night.
Why do you have to go there? Santa Bárbara de Samaná holds the title of being the first European city founded by the Spaniards. Canaries, to be more precise. And the first thing you come across upon arriving in the city is Pueblo Príncipe, a group of colorful houses and colonial aesthetics with more ‘shopping’ than history (despite its historical link to the Discovery by Columbus during his second voyage to the Americas). If you dare to walk through the old town (a few streets further into Pueblo Príncipe) ask for the ‘churcha’, its oldest building (a wooden church of the eighteenth century) declared a cultural heritage site.
Don’t miss: Rumbear on the boardwalk overlooking the bay when night falls. There you will find a whole succession of locals with decibels above its possibilities in which it is inevitable not to move your hips or that some local will make you dance glued (and we do not refer precisely to the Eurovisivo success of Sergio Delma).
8. Take a swim at Playa Rincón
What is it? One of the ten most beautiful beaches in the world according to Condé Nast Traveler.
Why do you have to go there? All the beaches here are postcard-perfect, and this one in particular. Fine white sand in a bay of calm and crystalline waters, surrounded by a tropical landscape of manual. In addition, the practice of water sports is more than common: from bodysurfing (its waves on the left side allow it) to snorkeling (for the tranquility of its waters on the right side of the bay). Or just enjoy the views and have a picnic in front of the sea (it has several beach bars or local huts where they serve typical dishes).
Don’t miss: Caño frío, a natural (and freshwater) pool formed right at the mouth of the river in front of the sea at the left end of the beach. A very frequented area by the locals on Sundays.
9. Locating La Playita, the secret of Las Galeras
What is it? It is another postcard beach, but so little known that it almost doesn’t even have a name.
Why do you have to go? It is out of the usual tourist circuit. Its name suggests that it is not a very large beach, but it is a paradisiacal alternative to the main beach of this remote village devoted to backpacking and where you will find a good handful of the most beautiful beaches in the Dominican Republic.
Don’t miss: This town concentrates a good handful of cabins, huts, chalets and lodges of the most tropical for lovers of ecotourism.
10. Sleeping at the Bahia Principe Luxury Samana Hotel
What is it? One of the adults only hotels of the Spanish chain in the province of Samana.
Why do you have to go? To experience a vacation with a wristband and mini-golf lessons by the pool. This five-star resort is located on the bay of Samaná, just a 15-minute drive from the province’s main town, Santa Bárbara de Samaná. A stately hotel with a distinctive façade of pink-toned colonial terraces that seems to plunge into the Caribbean. In addition to swimming pool and Jacuzzi, access to the beach is direct.
Don’t miss: In addition to their massages with mamajuana (a root native to the area to which aphrodisiac properties are attributed), the piña colada and the passion fruit margarita from their cocktail bar at any time.