The Dominican Republic is perhaps most famous for its party-hard all-inclusive stalwart Punta Cana. But the island nation has so much more to offer visitors in the way of nature, culture, and different types of hotels. One of the most underrated destinations in the D.R. is the quiet peninsula of Samana, located on the northern coast. Yes, it’s a bit tricky to reach -- the area’s airport doesn’t have direct flights from the U.S., so you’ll have to make the two-and-a-half to three-hour drive from Santo Domingo or a four-hour drive from Punta Cana -- but that’s part of the appeal. You won’t find resort after resort here, and the area never feels overwhelmed with crowds. Instead, you’ll discover quiet beaches nestled between cliffs, stunning natural landscapes, and an overall relaxed vibe. Here, we name some of the best activities in Samana, as well as break down what the hotel scene is like.
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1. See the humpback whales.
From January to March, several thousand humpback whales swim into the Samana Bay to give birth and mate. The annual event draws thousands of tourists. Tour operators offer boat rides out into the bay, and some even provide swimming and snorkeling experiences.
2. Take a boat ride to Parque Nacional Los Haitises and explore the caves.
Located across the bay from Samana, this national park is filled with extraordinary flora and fauna. Part of “Jurassic Park” was even filmed here. A boat ride across the bay takes about an hour, and tours will bring you to some of the top sites, like the caves with ancient drawings by the Taino tribe.
3. Enjoy a day and night out on the town in Las Terrenas.
What was once a tiny finishing village has blossomed into an expat haven, where local Dominicans mingle with the Spanish and French. The town is known for its vibrant nightlife, while the beach is dotted with restaurants and bars serving the freshest pina coladas. If you wander the streets, you may come across great artist and artisan shops.
4. Get away from it all at Playa Rincon.
Pretty much as far out on the peninsula as one could go, Playa Rincon is a secluded stretch of beach near the town of Las Galeras. The approximately two-mile beach is nearly uninterrupted, save for a few restaurants. While the entire peninsula is relatively untouristed, Playa Rincon is even less so.
5. Go horseback riding to the El Salto del Limón waterfall.
The dense jungle in the middle of the peninsula is full of waterfalls — the most spectacular of which is El Salto del Limón. Accessible by hiking or via horseback (book through an official tour operator and don’t forget to tip your guide!), the 130-foot waterfall has a teal-blue swimming hole at the bottom of it. Just be sure to wear sturdy shoes, as there’s quite a massive staircase to climb down to the falls and back up to the trail.
6. Try zip-lining.
Looking for more action? Visitors to Samana can head to one of the zip-line operators for a fun afternoon gliding through the jungle.
7. Relax at Cayo Levantado.
This little island just offshore from Samana is a popular stop for cruise ship tourists — and for good reason. The clear waters and sandy beaches are perfect for water sports and sunbathing. If you’re only here for the day, you can consider purchasing a day pass from the only hotel on the island, Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado, to indulge in its all-inclusive amenities, like its restaurants, bars, and pools.
Where to Stay
Resorts aren’t the norm here, but if you’re looking for a classic all-inclusive property, you’ll want to stay at one of the four Bahia Principe properties spread across the peninsula. For a luxe beach vacation, we recommend Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado, a 268-room property only accessible by ferry from the mainland. For a more bustling all-inclusive experience, we recommend the 606-room Grand Bahia Principe El Portillo. While activities are aplenty at both resorts, the vibe is decidedly less party-oriented than what you’d find in Punta Cana — and that could be a good thing, especially if you’re traveling with kids (or if you simply want to avoid the raucous spring break crowd.)
If you’re looking for an outdoorsy experience, consider staying at the Dominican Tree House Village, which, as you might expect, has tree houses for accommodations. The property is rustic — you won’t find Wi-Fi, cell service, or TVs here — but it’s perfect for those wanting to get close to nature.
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