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Samana, Dominican Republic

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Did You Know … ?

  • Eighty percent of the world’s Atlantic humpback whales mate and give birth in Dominican Republic waters.
  • Silver Banks, a marine sanctuary, was named for the coins recovered from a 17th century galleon wreck.
  • One in five Major League baseball players is Dominican.
  • Playa las Flechas (Arrows Beach) was named to commemorate a battle between the indigenous Taino and Christopher Columbus.
  • Napoleon had plans for a capital for his New World empire, located at Samana but called Napoleon City.

For a whale of a vacation

Samana is more than a town in the Dominican Republic. It is the name of the peninsula, province and bay where the town is located. And the town name is more than Samana: To be precise, it is Santa Barbara de Samana.

The city is prettily situated with rugged mountains at its back and the placid bay in the foreground. This is the south side of the peninsula. The north side faces the Atlantic and hosts the developing resort town of Las Terrenas.

The Samanas — town, peninsula, province and bay — are relatively small places, but they have a lollapalooza of an attraction, i.e., Atlantic humpback whales, lots of them. Thousands come to the area’s warm waters each winter to give birth and mate for the next year. The World Wildlife Fund deems Samana one of the world’s top viewing spots for the humpbacks.

In turn, tourists in their thousands have, in effect, heard the whales’ song and come to bear witness. They stay at resorts on Samana Bay or on the peninsula’s Atlantic side, or they arrive on the increasing numbers of cruise ships making calls at Samana.

A goodly share of visitors stay long enough to enjoy attractions and activities associated with the Caribbean — beaches, deep-sea fishing, dive sites, rain forests and lush tropical scenery.

And they discover a cultural wrinkle found nowhere else in the Caribbean, a subgroup of Dominicans who descend from escaped American slaves. Called Americanos almost 200 years after their arrival, they are Protestant in a Catholic country and bilingual in a Spanish-speaking country. English is the first language for some.

The hybridization of American and Spanish cultures becomes apparent during Holy Week, the week before Easter, and during festivities honoring the patron saint, Santa Barbara, in early December. Locals from town and country busy the Malecon with processions, dances, games and contests. The activities are conducted in English, Spanish or even the patois of Haiti. Also, the Americanos stage Friday harvest festivals in their churches from late August through October.

Samana is living proof Caribbean vacations don’t have to be cookie-cutter affairs.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Head out of Samana on a live-aboard dive vessel to spend several days around the breeding grounds of humpback whales, mid-January to mid-March.
  • Do your bird-watching in the Gri-Gri Lagoon, a protected bird sanctuary.
  • Get the necessary permissions and spend time camping on Cayo Levantado.
  • From Las Terrenas on Samana Peninsula, take a so-called truck tour, which stops at local plantations.
  • From El Limon, trek to the El Limon Waterfall. There is an easier way, too, traveling by horseback. The latter still involves a final steep walk down to the base of the falls. In either case, conclude with a cooling swim, and watch the guides do a cliff diving routine off the sides of the falls.
  • Dive in Samana Bay, which has many reefs plus caves and tunnels to explore.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Samana hosts a particularly notable patron saint festival in early December. It is marked by processions, outdoor music events, dancing, stalls with food and crafts for sale, and prayers. Plan to attend. Try your skills at the bambula, a traditional African-inspired dance.
  • The reefs provide prime opportunities for snorkeling. Take advantage.
  • Saddle up for a riding experience. It’s a Dominican tradition.
  • Take a boat tour to see caves that contain pre-Columbian Taino artwork, in Los Haitises National Park, on Samana Bay.
  • Spend a few hours on a whale watching cruise in Samana Bay and the Silver Bank marine sanctuaries. With hydrophones, hear the sounds of the male humpback whales.
  • Fish for sailfish, tarpon and other big ones over the 1,700-foot-deep Puerto Rico Trench (an oceanic trench on the boundary between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean).

Things to do for Authentics

  • Take the ferry from Samana to Cayo de Levantado for one of the area’s prettiest beaches.
  • Take a look at artifacts recovered in Samana Bay at the Shipwreck Museum in Samana.
  • Watch the experts roll cigars at Puro Mundo in downtown Las Terrenas. Buy a box of the cigars — considered among the world’s finest — to take home.
  • Observe and photograph whales from the Land Whale Observatory near Samana at Punta Balandra.
  • Drive between Samana and Las Terrenas, for one of the most stunning drives in the country.
  • Relax in the outdoor cafes that line Samana’s Malecon, meaning the beachfront strip. Make appropriate use of the shops there. On your shopping rounds, look for amber. Some of the world’s best comes from the Dominican Republic.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism at www.godominicanrepublic.com