Text and Photos: Javier A. Pinzón
During his first voyage in 1493, Christopher Columbus came ashore in the province of Samaná —home to the Ciguayo people— in what is now the Dominican Republic. In the 524 years that have elapsed since then, the region has been inhabited by Cimarrons, the French, the English, and the Spanish. Its wealth of natural beauty has been preserved virtually intact: virgin beaches of white sand shaded by palm trees are set against a turquoise sea.
This secluded corner of the Dominican Republic has a great deal to offer visitors: pleasant days spent lounging on idyllic beaches; guided tours to learn about the local people; diving; and watching the sublime ritual of whales mating. We present a brief look at some of the most glorious attractions.
El Salto del Limón
A nearly two-hour trek on foot or horseback through a dense, humid tropical forest will take you to the Salto del Limón waterfall. Several paths lead to the falls, but they all converge at the same point, where you must leave your horse, if that’s how you came, and finish the trek with a short walk. Once you reach the falls, stay awhile, sit down, close your eyes, meditate. The sound of water will ease your city stress and put you in the right frame of mind for relaxing in Samaná. If you’re feeling daring, leap into the chilly water and the rough and tumble falls will give you a natural hydro massage. Before leaving, take some time to admire the offerings of local handicrafts.
This nearly 10-mile strip of protected coastline features virgin beaches of white sand and a large variety of international restaurants that will delight your palate here in paradise. This is an ideal location for sports like diving, snorkeling, tennis, or golf. A short distance from these beaches lies the wondrous island of Cayo Levantado, measuring less than a third of a square mile, where you can relax surrounded by the turquoise blue so characteristic of Samaná.
This has been one of the most visited areas in recent years. Here you can enjoy beaches like Madame, Colorado, and Rincón; the almost two miles of fine, white sand in Rincón have earned it a place on a list of the world’s ten most beautiful beaches. This is a beach for unwinding, whether it’s lying on the sand in the shade of a palm tree, lounging in a rented beach chair, or floating in the warm water. The most audacious visitors will appreciate the Caño Frío delta, which forms a natural lake. The crystalline waters rush down the mountain under the dense canopy of trees, reaching the seashore without having been warmed by the sun, leaving them not just cold, but freezing. Adventurous souls can imitate the local inhabitants by climbing the mangroves and jumping into the water from on high.
Although it is part of Las Galeras, Playa Frontón is actually an hour away by boat and merits special mention. The first sight to greet you at this edenic spot is the huge rock wall that frames the beach. You will also be mesmerized by the clarity of the water: you can see the coral reefs and the many local fish from the boat, making this a perfect place for snorkeling. After disembarking, feel free to play on the beach or ascend a small path up the cliff face. You might find some shade in one of the caves, along with the remains of what was intended to be a restaurant, but was never finished. The contrast of the rocky cliff against the dense vegetation and the white sand against the turquoise water mark a delightful, unique, and memorable spot.
Every year, from December to April, some three thousand whales migrate to Samaná Bay from the seas around Iceland, Greenland, Canada, and the United States, creating an extraordinary spectacle. In the first months, the curtain rises on act one: 40-ton males leap out of the sea to attract females. Not being satisfied with that, the males also sing a long, repetitive song that can be heard by the females from almost twenty miles away. It’s all about mating and passing on their genes.
After mating, act two begins: the arrival of whale calves, which measure eleven to sixteen feet long and weigh one ton at birth. They consume about 53 gallons of their mothers’ milk to give them strength and build the protective layer of blubber needed for the long return trip. Several tour operators in Samaná offer whale-watching excursions; it is very important to follow their guidelines in order to safely observe these majestic mammals.
Los Haitises National Park
Located on Samaná Bay, this park covers approximately eighty square miles of humid tropical forest, with terrain ranging from the lovely mangrove swamps to the highlands. It is a veritable catalog of the wonders of Samaná: gorgeous beaches, rivers, and mountains, along with a dash of history. The name “Haitises” means “land of mountains,” with the mountains concealing underground rivers, islets, and caves that preserve history in petroglyphs and pictographs. You will need a permit from the National Park Service to visit this park, which is accessible only from Sabana de la Mar or Samaná. The most popular places are Bahía de San Lorenzo and Cayo de los Pájaros, which is home to an enormous flock of pelicans.
How to Get There
Copa Airlines offers four flights a day every Tuesday and Sunday, and five flights a day during the rest of the week, from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean through its Hub of the Americas in Panama City. Samaná is located 112 highway miles from Santo Domingo.