The Península de Samaná, a narrow strip of sun-baked nirvana off the north coast, is the antithesis of the tourism juggernaut in the southeast of the Dominican Republic. Astounding whale-watching, postcard-perfect secluded beaches and sophisticated beachside hamlets soaked in European flair are the rule on the peninsula. Here’s your Samaná seven.
1. North Atlantic humpback whale-watching
The number one activity on the Península de Samaná – and the only time it could be considered remotely crowded – is from 15 January to 20 March, when some 10,000 North Atlantic humpback whales fill the bay in a magnificent mating ritual that leaves visitors awed. Trips leave from Samaná town, where Whale Samana and veteran Canadian marine-mammal specialist Kim Beddall runs the most stunning trips. Avoid the overcrowded 27 February Dominican Independence Day holiday, and opt for an afternoon trip (when there are fewer boats in the bay).
2. A meal at El Cabito
The rustic and astonishing El Cabito restaurant clings spectacularly and quite literally to the edge of the country, hidden away outside the lovely village of Las Galeras. Go at sunset, when the cliffs frame a kaleidoscope of hues melting into the sea and the sound is of crashing waves and nearby blowholes. There’s excellent seafood and Belgian beers on offer but, really, food is incidental to the unforgettable setting. Call ahead for free transfers to/from town. In season you may even see migrating whales!
3. Digging into the sands at Playa Rincon
You’ll find one of the most beautiful beaches in the Dominican Republic, and indeed the world, outside Las Galeras in Playa Rincon, an uninterrupted, picture-perfect 3km stretch of sand bound by a thick backdrop of palm forest. Access by car is difficult but not impossible. Most folks opt to arrive by boat though, which keeps a lid on the crowds.
4. A weekend at Peninsula House
The exclusive no-stone-left-unturned Peninsula House is one of the most exquisite B&Bs in the Caribbean. It sits stunningly perched in all its Victorian glory atop a hilltop overlooking Playa Cosón, 60km northwest of Samaná town. There are only six rooms so rest assured that service is as personal and private as it gets. Much of the culinary offerings, courtesy of the Argentine chef, are sourced from the B&B’s own organic gardens. It’s the kind of getaway reserved for special occasions where self-spoiling is the top priority.
5. Parque Nacional Los Haitises
Another Samaná secret, this coastal marine park protects 1375 sq km of subtropical humid forest, 100 species of birds and numerous mangroves and limestone caves. Its striking landscape, centered on dramatic lush knolls jutting 30m to 50m out of the water, was formed one to two million years ago when tectonic drift buckled the thick underwater limestone shelf. Though technically part of the mainland, Los Haitises can easily be accessed via kayak trips from Samaná, a memorable way to explore.
6. Sophisticated sipping in Las Terrenas
One of the most delightful spots in Samaná is the sophisticated hamlet of Las Terrenas, located 38km northwest of Samaná town. With a distinctly European feel – Italians expats sipping espresso, French immigrants carrying loaves of fresh-baked baguettes on their backs as they bike through town – Las Terrenas is a little bundle of international charm wrapped in a easily navigable Latin package. We love dining at wave-smacked La Terrasse (Pueblo de los Pescadores; 809-240-6730), a delightful whitewashed bistro practically on the water, and sipping afternoons away on the patio at Boulangerie Française (Plaza Taína; 809-874-4709). Perfect.
7. A few days in Las Galeras
Tiny and tranquil, Las Galeras, 28km northeast of Samana, is the most pleasant end-of-the-road you’re likely to ever stumble upon. Little more than a few restaurants and B&Bs leading to a shack on a beach, this eclectic global village is an excellent base for a wealth of natural attractions: snorkelling at nearby Playa Frontón, diving at Cabo Cabrón and hiking to the spectacular lookout at El Punto. Our favorite place to call it a night here is the small French Canadian–run B&B Casa Por Qué No?, where the very meaning of hospitality is defined by your gracious and accommodating hosts Pierre and Monick.