On a holiday to Samana, you’ll see what happens when a region takes a softly-softly approach to tourism. The beaches, rainforests and tropical islands here are all the way nature intended.
The Dominican Republic’s north-east coast
The Dominican Republic is in mint condition in Samana. While mass tourism has built up the neighbouring resorts of Punta Cana and Puerto Plata, this swathe of the country’s north-east coast is comparatively untouched. The capital of the region is Santa Barbara de Samana, often referred to as Samana Town. It, too, has managed to retain much of its traditional charm.
It’s the region’s rainforests that have been left to their own devices the most. Wild coconut groves and tropical woodland streaked with waterfalls have spread like wildfire through the interior, not far from the coast. Most of the area’s beaches have been left at the grass roots level, too. Palm trees are more prolific than sunloungers or jet-skis on strips of sand like La Bonita and La Playita.
Then there’s the isle of Cayo Levantado. Haloed by immaculate white sands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, it’s the dictionary definition of a tropical island. You can visit the island on a day trip, but if you want to escape the crowds, you’re best bet is to book into one of Cayo Levantado’s hotels – they offer private slices of the island’s sought-after sands.
Things to See and Do in Samana
The Samana peninsula is encased on 3 sides by the sea, so its beaches go almost full circle. The frills on the stretches of sand in this part of the Dominican Republic are mostly natural. Palm trees, coral reefs and driftwood top the sand, rather than sunloungers and watersports shacks.
The big beach
Las Terrenas is one of the most animated beaches on the Samana peninsula. Crayon-coloured fishing boats come and go from the sea throughout the day, and sunbathers ricochet between their loungers and the cafes by the side of the sand.
The secret beach
Every guidebook worth its salt name drops Playa Rincon, half an hour’s drive north of Samana Town. But, because it’s not very easy to access, it remains un-crowded. Most people take the boat here from Las Galeras and their efforts are rewarded with a palm-lined curve of sand that’s so soft it feels freshly-laundered.
Jewellery shopping in Samana has a long way to go until it rivals Tiffany’s, but there are opportunities to buy a few statement pieces of amber or larimar jewellery. There are a few shops on Avenida La Marina 4 in Samana Town that sell the gems.
Samana doesn’t know the meaning of the word mall. Most of the shops along this peninsula are colmados, which are corner shop-style outfits selling essentials. The price of a bottle of rum is usually cheaper in these shops than it is in tourist mini markets. Plus, because the colmados double up as bars, you can often try before you buy.
Loose change can be spent at a couple of locations in Samana. The market in Samana Town is set up on the Malecon every time a cruise ship pulls into town, and stall holders flog art work and handcrafted jewellery. The second market takes place 25 minutes’ drive away in Las Galeras on a Saturday morning. Here you can snap up tropical jams and artwork made from driftwood.
Nightlife in Samana revolves around good food and sea views. To get your bearings, start with the Malecon in Samana Town. The restaurants here serve everything from fresh fish to tapas. Over on Cayo Levantado, the nightlife is taken care of in-house at the hotels. Meals are served à la carte, and singers and instrumentalists take to the stage after dinner.
Samana is a little dry on nightclubs, but it’s not a total draught. Head to Calle Rosa Duarte in Samana Town and you’ll find a couple of places with DJ decks and dance floors. Las Terrenas is another good choice – there are some live music bars on the beachfront. For something more traditional, make your way to the merengue and piano bars on Av 27 de Febrero.
This dish is an identity crisis in a bowl. At first glance, you’d think it was soup. But, when look more closely, you’ll find rice in the dish, too – a little like a saucy paella. It’s made with rice, chicken, seafood, spices and lots of stock, and you eat it with a spoon.
Pescada con coco
This is made by frying fresh fish, like snapper or grouper, in a pan with garlic and peppers, then adding coconut milk and cilantro. It’s fairly healthy, but its calorie content can be corrupted by adding a side of fried plantains.
Chicharrón de pollo
Samanans were eating fried chicken a long time before the colonel came onto the scene. This dish is made by marinating thin strips of chicken in lime juice before deep frying them into crispy cracklings. They can be eaten as snacks on their own or with rice and beans as a main meal.
Dulce de leche
You need more than one sweet tooth to appreciate this dish. It’s made by simmering milk and sugar until it turns into a gooey caramel. Some chefs keep cooking it until it turns into a fudge, and others add coconut and candied fruit to the mixture.
Samana hasn’t exactly got the patent to coconuts cracked open with a knife and probed with a straw, but this refreshing drink is served at beachside stalls all over the peninsula. The best bit is it’s really good for you, because it’s packed with electrolytes, which you lose when you sweat.
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All your tropical fantasies come true at Cayo Levantado. This tiny, private island in Samana Bay lines up pale sands washed by turquoise water, rolling hills covered in emerald palm groves, and just one hotel – the 5-star Gran Bahia Principe. It’s been the location for some fairly major TV commercials, which is how it got its nickname, Bacardi Island.
Accessed via mountain roads, Las Terrenas occupies a teeny corner of the Dominican Republic’s north-east coast. Little by little, it has transformed itself from a tumbledown fishing village in to a place for discerning travellers. But it’s managed to stay tucked away from the tanned and tested. You can expect a quiet-as-a-mouse beach adorned with lofty palms and pastel-painted fishing boats, plus coral reefs at low tide.
Samana Peninsula, on the Dominican Republic’s north-east coast, is one of the most untouched regions of the Caribbean. It’s covered in virgin rainforests, creeks, and some of the best beaches you’re ever likely to find. Its capital, Samana Town, is a charming jump-off point to explore the area. Overlooking the Bay of Samana, it has a throng of candy-coloured houses, al fresco cafés, and lively streets that ring to the rhythm of merengue.
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