NORTH EAST COAST
The Dominican Republic really does offer something for everyone. For those who dream of a one-on-one with Mother Nature, a visit to the Samana peninsula on the Northeast Coast is like pulling up a chair on her front porch.
Samana's beauty lies in her simplicity. Here, unspoiled beaches serve as a threshold to vibrant coral reefs while mountain waterfalls intersect lush rain forests. But while Samana is a top destination for eco-tourists and naturalists, some come to this off the beaten path peninsula to interact with humpback whales. After all, Samana is home to one of the largest and best breeding grounds in the world for this elusive mammal.
But while Samana's beauty is the stuff of legends, its history is fodder fit for a fairytale. Columbus stopped here on his discovery of the New World but the area didn't become populated until late in 1756 when people began migrating from the Canary Islands. Soon Samana became a lair for pirates who pillaged passing ships. What followed was a short ownership by Napolean Bonaparte and later, settlement by freed American slaves.
All this history and meshing of cultures has left Samana as one of the most impressive melting pots in the Dominican Republic. Americanos, descendents of the African-American inhabitants, mix with Europeans from France, Spain and Italy. Not only do people here look different from their Dominican brethren, but the food and even the language has a twist all its own.
The town of Samana is located on the southern side of the peninsula along Samana Bay. It's a popular base for tourists who plan to participate in whale watching excursions or day trips to Cayo Levantado, both of which leave from the town's port. Samana's Malecon, or beachfront strip, is the center of activity and features outdoor cafes and small shops.
Samana is heavily populated by Americanos, descendents of freed American slaves. Because of this the town holds a series of annual harvest festivals, a tradition dating back to the Yam and Rice festivals of West Africa. These lively events are held on Fridays from late August through the end of October at Samana churches.
At the tip of Samana peninsula, close to world-famous Playa Rincon, lies the town of Las Galeras. This small fishing village has experienced a boom in the past few years with the addition of a large all-inclusive resort (Casa Marina Bay) and several smaller hotels. However, because of its remote location, Las Galeras has been able to maintain its serene nature. So idyllic is this town that it is a popular honeymoon destination for those couples who want a true escape to paradise.
The main attraction in Las Galeras is the beach found at the end of the town's main road. Here visitors can meet locals who gather at the beach's food kiosks.
Hotels can give information on catching the ferry to Playa Rincon or beachfront horseback riding, a particular favorite of tourists to the area.
Perhaps the most popular destination on the peninsula is the resort town of Las Terrenas. Run primarily by French expats, Las Terrenas offers good variety of accommodations, ranging from all-inclusives to comfortable boutiques.
Visitors to Las Terrenas have no shortage of things to do. The town features several small malls, a wide variety of restaurants and even discos. Despite this, the highlight of a visit to Las Terrenas is the beach.
NORTH EAST BEACHES
Playa Las Flechas
Cayo Levantado is a small island located a few miles offshore from the town of Samana. Because it gets busy, it is recommended that visitors take the ferry early. It departs from the main port in Samana. On the opposite side of the island, smaller beaches are less frequented.
Located on the north coast of the Samana peninsula, Las Terrenas beach stretches one mile on either side of the town. Speckled with coconut palms, it's the perfect destination in which to enjoy a mix of sand, surf and shade. Casual restaurants are plentiful here, many of which are owned by expats from Europe (especially France) and North America.
A quiet eight mile beach located on the north side of Samana peninsula, Playa Bonita looks like something out of a movie set. Featuring white sand beach and clear turquoise waters (see a pattern here?), the area is framed by a few beach houses that only add to its charm.
Playa Las Flechas
Continuing the Spanish lesson, Playa Las Flechas translates to Beach of the Arrows. Legend has it this beach, located on the southeast tip of Samana peninsula, is named after a battle between Christopher Columbus and the Taino Indians, who occupied the land. A fairly quiet destination, Playa Las Flechas looks out onto Cayo Levantado.
Conde Nast Traveler ranked this beach as one of the world's 10 best. It's so splendid, in fact, that many Dominicans refer to it as the most beautiful on the island. Over three miles long, Playa Rincon is surrounded by coconut palms and almond trees, not to mention a 2,000 foot mountain on one end. Again, the best way to get to this isolated beach is by boat; a ride that is definitely worth it. (Boat rides are available from Las Galeras.)
NORTH EAST COAST DIVING & SNORKELING
Off the peninsula of Samana, visitors can take advantage of what has been called some of the region's best dive spots. A wealth of caves, tunnels, walls and remarkable reef fronts make up the 23 named sites of the area. From mid-January to the end of March, thousands of Samana's well-known humpback whales return to the waters.
NORTH COAST REGION GOLF
Fees outlined are for peak season (November through April) and are subject to change. Course lengths are provided from the most challenging tee.
Loma de Chivo Country Club
Nine-hole course designed by Enrique Serrano
Samana's only golf course opened in 1993 and has been described as a fun course to play for those who enjoy tough holes. The small course is challenging with rolling hillsides, water and sand traps and steep climbs. The Samana area is rapidly growing in popularity and the country has extensive plans for its development.
Length of course: 693 yards
Green fees: $10/18; $7/9
Cart: Information not available
Club rental: $7/9
*From the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism