Samaná Peninsula, Dominican Republic

Samaná Peninsula is a tropical utopia along Dominican Republic’s northeast coast. The headland is blanketed with palm trees and encircled with flawless beaches. The towns are small, easygoing and welcoming. This is an exceptional Caribbean destination.

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1 Samaná Peninsula in Dominican Republic

Samaná Peninsula is the quintessential destination for those dreaming of an unspoiled, uncrowded and unforgettable Caribbean experience. This exquisite headland is along the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic on Hispaniola Island. It is a tropical haven for a day or a week. There is a lot to love here. Among its attributes are rainforests, pristine beaches, aquamarine water, waterfalls, national parks and approximately six million coconut palms. The adventurous enjoy ziplining, scuba diving and horseback riding. The towns are charming, laidback and welcoming. The sunshine is plentiful. And the whale watching in season is spectacular.

Piedra Grapin, Samaná Bay, Dominican Republic
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2 Introduction to Samaná, Dominican Republic

The largest town on Samaná Peninsula is Santa Bárbara de Samaná. You can call it Samaná for short. Most of the 100,000 residents are spread across the base of a forested hill named Sierra de Samaná. The town’s limited tourist sites are parallel to the scenic Bay of Samaná. Samaná is primarily a launching point for exploring the rest of the peninsula. In the foreground is Cay Vigia, one of many picturesque islets dotting the bay.

Cayo Vigia, Samaná 32000, Dominican Republic
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3 Cruise Ship Docks in Samaná, Dominican Republic

Cruise ships anchor in Samaná Bay and then tender passengers to Embat Dock. If there are multiple ships in port, you may arrive at Dock Moto Marina Club. Do not expect a fancy terminal. Do expect to be greeted by local musicians. Their up-beat tunes will have you tapping your feet as you begin your short walk into town. Occasionally, your itinerary will only include Cayo Levantado. Then expect a pleasant day on a beach of this island near the mouth of Samaná Bay. An additional boat ride is needed to reach Samaná on the mainland.

Moto Marina Dock, Avenida La Marina, Samaná 32000, Dominican Republic
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4 Samaná Bay in Samaná, Dominican Republic

Samaná Bay is long and rectangular, making it a tranquil harbor for small watercraft. The deep, clear and turquoise water is further protected by Samaná’s location within a cove. This idyllic setting has been enjoyed for hundreds of years. The Pre-Columbian settlers were the Classic Taíno. There were five chiefdoms of these indigenous people across Hispaniola. Today, this bay is a major draw for tourists. Positioned on the point in the background is Grand Bahia Principle Cayacoa. The property is one of several, all-inclusive resorts on the peninsula.

Avenida La Marina, Samaná 32000, Dominican Republic
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5 Bayside Promenade in Samaná, Dominican Republic

There is a spectacular promenade leading from the tender dock to the center of town. The crescent-shaped walkway runs parallel to Avenida La Marina while hugging three sides of the cove in Samaná Bay. The Malecón ends at Playa Cayacoa, a public beach near the left side of this photo. This makes for a perfect and scenic stroll. If your day is filled with excursions, make sure you reserve enough time to enjoy this scenic highlight of Santa Bárbara de Samaná.

Avenida La Marina, Samaná 32000, Dominican Republic
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6 Lookout Tower in Samaná, Dominican Republic

You will encounter three lookout towers positioned along the shore as you walk into town. The climb up the spiral staircase is easy. The view at the top is sensational. Stand along the railing, feel the warmth of the Caribbean sunshine and the cooling breeze off of the water. Savor the moment.

Avenida La Marina, Samaná 32000, Dominican Republic
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7 Weather in Samaná, Dominican Republic

This street art in Samaná by an unknown muralist demonstrates the essential eyewear when visiting Samaná: sunglasses. The average high temperature during the peak tourism months of November through April is in the mid-80s° Fahrenheit. January through April have the lowest rainfalls with about five inches a month. During this timeframe, the water averages about 79°F.

Avenida La Marina, Samaná 32000, Dominican Republic
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8 Post-Columbian History of Samaná, Dominican Republic

On December 6, 1492, during the first voyage of Christopher Columbus, he set foot on an island called Ayti by the native Taino people. The explorer renamed it La Isla Españla (Hispaniola). On January 13, three days before returning to Spain, Columbus landed at Rincón Beach at the east end of Samaná Peninsula. His crew’s skirmish with the Cigüayos prompted them to name the cove the Bay of Arrows. Over 260 years would pass before the town of Samaná was founded in 1756. Then governor of Santo Domingo, Francisco Rubio y Peñaranda, invited people from the Canary Islands to settle along this bay. The colony was named Santa Bárbara de Samaná in honor of the wife of reigning King Ferdinand VI of Spain. From 1796 until 1822, the peninsula exchanged hands among the French, British and Spaniards. In 1824, after slaves were given their freedom in the United States, many migrated to Hispaniola. Their descendants are called Samaná Americans. All of these cultures have blended together to form the current population of Samanés.

Avenida La Marina, Samaná 32000, Dominican Republic
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9 Water Activities in Samaná, Dominican Republic

Water enthusiasts have plenty of options in Samaná. Consider taking a whale watching or sightseeing cruise around the bay. Try your luck at hooking a monster sailfish, blue marlin or yellow fin tuna aboard a half-day or all-day deep sea fishing charter. Sign up for scuba diving or snorkeling at one of the local dive centers. Hire a cab to take you to the best beaches. Or purchase a day pass at one of the resorts to enjoy their beach and pampering amenities.

Avenida La Marina, Samaná 32000, Dominican Republic
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10 Pastel Row Houses in Samaná, Dominican Republic

These pastel buildings near the Bay of Samaná along the Avenida la Marina look like a painter’s pallet. The colonial row houses have a quaint village appearance. Inside they are designed to attract tourists’ wallets. On the right is the Samaná Casino. It is small with about 50 slots and a couple card tables. The rest are part of Plaza Pueblo Principe, a center containing shops, restaurants and nightlife. This property is owned by Gran Bahia Principe Cayacoa, a resort located a short distance away.

Plaza Pueblo Principe, Avenida La Marina, Samaná 32000, Dominican Republic
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11 Shopping in Samaná, Dominican Republic

Shopping in Samaná is limited. Although there are three sections of town listed as a shopping mall, they will hardly match your expectations. Most merchandise consists of souvenirs, beach-related items plus arts and crafts. If you like jewelry, consider those made with Larimar. This pale-blue mineral – mined only in the Dominican Republic – is also called Stefilia’s Stone. It is typically crafted into a silver setting. You will also see lots of jewelry made from coral. Another popular purchase is Dominican Republic cigars. Many aficionados prefer these smokes over those made in Cuba. The local currency is the Dominican Republic peso. Often retailers will not take credit cards yet they will accept the United States dollar. But do not expect a good rate of exchange.

Avenida Francisco del Rosario Sánchez 32, Samaná 32000, Dominican Republic
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12 Humpback Whale Mural in Samaná, Dominican Republic

This mural of a full-size humpback whale celebrates their annual migration to Samaná Bay. After thousands of Atlantic humpback whales travel from as far away as Iceland and Greenland, they begin arriving in mid-December. Through the end of March, unattached whales will find a mate and breed. Simultaneously, because the gestation period is almost 12 months, pregnant females give birth to their single calf. These offspring weigh more than a ton. They nourish the newborn with up to 50 gallons of breast milk a day before the long swim back to their summer waters. Watching these giant sea mammals in the bay is incredible. You will also want to visit the Whale Museum of Samaná. Among the fascinating exhibits is the skeleton of a 40 foot whale.

Calle Adriano Horton, Samaná 32000, Dominican Republic
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13 Central Market in Samaná, Dominican Republic

During your stay in Samaná, you can have a wonderful time strolling along the bay, sunning at the beaches and enjoying the amenities of a resort. But if you want to really experience Samaná, then visit the central market. The displays are rustic yet brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables. Prominent among the offerings are pineapples, watermelons, papaya and bananas. The atmosphere bustles with activity as customers inspect the produce and bargain with the vendors.

Calle Adriano Horton, Samaná 32000, Dominican Republic
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14 Footbridges in Samaná, Dominican Republic

A delightful experience is strolling along two footbridges extending into Samaná Bay. Locals affectionately call Brug Samana Van Leona the Bridges to Nowhere. They connect the small, uninhabited islets of Cayo Linares and Cayo Vigia to the mainland. What they lack in practicality they make up with scenic views. The bridges start at Playa Cayoca, a public beach at the south end of town.

Playa Cayacoa - Public Beach, Samaná 32000, Dominican Republic
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15 Town Square Gazebo in Samaná, Dominican Republic

Almost all of the shops, restaurants and scenery in Samaná are centered along Avenida La Marina and the bay. Walk a block or two off this promenade and the neighborhoods quickly change. A pleasant exception is this town square. The grounds are well manicured. Lighting is ample. In the center is an octagon-shaped gazebo crowned with a gorgeous religious painting. This is a quiet place to escape other tourists while being sheltered from the Caribbean sun.

Calle Sta. Bárbara, Samaná 32000, Dominican Republic
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16 Santa Bárbara Church in Samaná, Dominican Republic

More than 90% of the Dominican Republic’s population is Catholic. So it is not surprising Santa Bárbara Church has the most elaborate architecture in town other than shops and resorts.

Catedral De Samaná, Calle Sta. Bárbara, Samaná 32000, Dominican Republic
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17 La Churcha in Samaná, Dominican Republic

In 1824, Haiti’s president offered liberated African-American slaves from Philadelphia free transportation and land in Hispaniola in exchange for farming. Nearly 6,000 immigrants made the trip. About 200 of them arrived in Samaná aboard the Turtle Dove in 1825. By 1871, their numbers reached 600. A decade later, they built this humble wooden church. It was manufactured in England and served the Wesleyan (Anglican) faith. St. Peter’s Evangelical Church is known by Samaná Americans as La Churcha. This is the oldest structure in town. Estimates suggest about 8,000 descendants of these early colonists now live in Samaná.

San Pedro Evangelical Church, Calle Theodore Chasereaux, Samaná 32000, Dominican Republic
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18 Search for Beaches near Samaná, Dominican Republic

Samaná Peninsula is blessed with wonderful beaches. The best ones are near the towns of Las Terrenas and El Limón in the north. There is another cluster of playas at Las Galeras at the northeast corner. If time is limited during a day trip in Samaná, start your quest east of town where Avenida La Marina ends and turns into Highway 5 headed east. At that juncture, you get this lovely view of Cayo Vigia.

Avenida La Marina & Highway 5, Samaná 32000, Dominican Republic
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19 Playa Anadel near Samaná, Dominican Republic

A short 2.5 miles from Samaná is Playa Anadel. This is a great alternative if you want to escape the crowd in town yet also want amenities with your sunshine. There are several restaurants in the area. Cruise ship passengers enjoy the day pass option at Cayenas del Mar Beach Club. They offer everything you need for a wonderful experience including American food, drinks, music, beach chairs, spa services and changing rooms.

Playa Anadel, 5, 32000, Dominican Republic
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20 Scenic Drive on Highway 5 near Samaná, Dominican Republic

The southwestern coast of Samaná Peninsula is gorgeous. There is a long list of picturesque reasons why many top resorts are located along the shores of Samaná Bay. If you enjoy scenic drives yet are short on time, then follow Highway 5 from Samaná to Punta Balandra. The distance is less than ten miles. This means you can stop often to explore the coves, walk several beaches, view the islets offshore, grab a casual lunch and explore some shops. After reaching the western end of the peninsula, the return trip to Santa Bárbara de Samaná is less than a half hour.

Highway 5, Samaná 32000, Dominican Republic
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21 Playa Los Cacaos near Samaná, Dominican Republic

Tucked between a small town and the rolling surf is Playa Los Cacaos. Locals and vacationers blend together while swimming and sunning in the shadows of royal palms. As idyllic as this looks – and it is – beach connoisseurs should consider taking a short boat ride from here to Cayo Laveantado. The two-square-mile wedge of Caribbean utopia is nicknamed Bacardi Island. Many rate its stretch of white sand among the best in the Dominican Republic. The only word of caution is Cayo Laveantado gets very crowded when cruise ships are in port.

Playa Los Cacao, Samana 32000, Dominican Republic
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22 Trail to El Limón Waterfall near Town of El Limón, Dominican Republic

There are several waterfalls within driving distance of Samaná. Without question, the best one is in the center of Samaná Peninsula about 15 miles from Santa Bárbara de Samaná. Most people call it El Limón Waterfall. Others refer to it as Salto del Limón or Cascada Limón. Everyone agrees it is spectacular. Getting there is the easy part. Just book an excursion or hire a taxi. After arriving, you must walk a 1.5 mile trail to reach the waterfall. The path is forested, often muddy and sometimes hilly. Crossing the river by hopping on slippery stones can be tricky. An alternative is to arrange for a horseback ride from a nearby ranch. Walk or ride, the journey is as memorable as the destination.

Cascada Limón, El Limón 32000, Dominican Republic
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23 El Limón Waterfall Trail Flora near Town of El Limón, Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic produces more than half of the organic bananas in the world. You will see bunches along the trail leading to El Limón Waterfall. Other fruit growing wild in this subtropical forest are pineapple, mangoes and breadruit. Also abundant are coconut and royal palms and orchids. This trek is also a favorite among bird watchers.

Cascada Limón, El Limón 32000, Dominican Republic
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24 El Limón Waterfall near Town of El Limón, Dominican Republic

The Arroyo Chico river forms in the Sierra de Samaná before plunging 130 feet down a rockface at El Limón. There is a wooden platform so you can admire the action and beauty of this fan waterfall. The silver and white ribbons of water tumble into a round, shaded pool. Bring your bathing suit. You will want to take a refreshing dip before your 1.5 mile return trip through the forest.

Cascada Limón, El Limón 32000, Dominican Republic
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25 Introduction to Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

Las Terrenas is a small town of 14,000 people on the northwest coast of Samaná Peninsula. It was founded as a fishing village in the mid-20th century. As fishing declined and vacationers from Santo Domingo began arriving for the beaches, the town’s focus shifted toward tourism. Soon the quaint old cabins morphed into bars, restaurants and stores. This transition was appealing to Europeans. Many decided to stay. Improved infrastructure followed, including a highway and airport. These spawned further development. Now Las Terrenas is a wonderful blend of Caribbean scenery, small town charm and endless sand. It also has unexpected European undertones evident in people’s accents and the cuisine served in restaurants.

Playa El Portillo, Las Terrenas 32000, Dominican Republic
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26 Playa Portillo in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

There are eight miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline in Las Terrenas. Depending on who is doing the counting, there are five or six named beaches along this stretch with the town in the center. The borders of the beaches are defined by separate coves. Yet they blend together into a single ribbon of pristine sand. This is Playa Portillo, the easternmost beach. It is popular for swimming and scuba diving on the coral reef.

Playa El Portillo, Las Terrenas 32000, Dominican Republic
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27 Playa Punta Popy in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

The energy level picks up at Playa Punta Popy near Las Terrenas. This is the center for water activities. Windsurfers and kitesurfers compete for the waves, along with occasional paddle boarders. Sailboats float along the horizon. Beneath the water are plenty of scuba divers and snorkelers. Then there are contrarians who come to relax. His formula was: buy a hammock, find the perfect tree, hang backpack, remove sandals and curl up in tropical solitude.

Playa Punta Popy, Las Terrenas 32000, Dominican Republic
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28 Playa Bonita in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

There are two beaches flanking the core of Las Terrenas. The first is Playa Las Ballenas. It hosts plenty of hotels, restaurants and bars. Consequently, it can be crowded. The neighbor on the west side of town is Playa Bonita. You still have access to all of the amenities. Yet at the west end is a sheltered, palm-lined cove with superb sand. Soaking in the shallow, motionless water is a joy of self-indulgence.

Playa Bonita, Las Terrenas 32000, Dominican Republic
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29 Playa Cosón in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

Playa Cosón is the furthest beach from the center of Las Terrenas but also the best. The atmosphere is relaxed, rustic and unspoiled. The white sand is flawless, wide and stretches for about a mile. The surface is hard enough for easy walking yet comfortable enough for hours of sunning. Rows of tall palm trees accent the coastline. Come find yours.

Playa Cosón, Las Terrenas 32000, Dominican Republic
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Returning to Cruise Ship in Samaná, Dominican Republic

All good things must come to an end. If you arrived on Samaná Peninsula by cruise ship, your one-day excursion will be over in a flash. Hopefully, your fond memories will prompt you to return for a week or two. Even with that much time, you will be challenged to explore everything Samaná Peninsula has to offer.

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