Paradise in the
The Samana Peninsula
The Samana Peninsula is one of the Dominican Republic's best-kept secrets. After several visits to this Caribbean island, we finally made our way to the Samana Peninsula and fell in love with its incredible beaches and lush tropical interior. This part of the country feels more Caribbean to me than any other, with brightly colored houses, and charming little villages. But what Samana is mainly famous for are the humpback whales who migrate to these waters each winter. It is estimated that 2000-3000 humpback whales find their way back to the warm waters of Samana Bay annually to deliver and nurse their young.
Where is the Samana Peninsula?
The Samana Peninsula is located on the north coast of the Dominican Republic and about a 2-hour drive from the capital. The Santo Domingo Airport, officially known as Las Américas International Airport (SDQ) is the closest airport that has regular flights from the U.S. and is an easy drive away. I've included a map below that shows the distance between Punta Cana and the Samana Peninsula, so you can see that it's quite a distance. While Punta Cana is a popular destination and airport, I don't recommend it. Do yourself a favor and skip it all together.
Where to Stay: Chalet Tropical
We prefer the small eco-friendly hotels over the large, sterile establishments and Samana Peninsula has a number of them. If you’re looking to stay at the tip of the peninsula in Las Galetas, I recommend Chalet Tropical. With a Swiss Family Robinson sort-of-feel, you will be delighted with the creative design of the bungalows, delicious tropical breakfast, and private plunge pools.
Where to Stay: Clave Verde Lodge
If you’re looking to stay in a more central part of the peninsula, I recommend Clave Verde. This eco-resort is a gem and although we only stayed one night, I would head back to the Samana Peninsula just to spend more time here. Truly luxurious, this mountain lodge is located near the El Limon waterfall, which is a very popular place to visit in this area.
We loved the pool with a mountain and ocean view as well as the luxurious bedding and tasteful décor. They have a game room (perfect for families) and an excellent restaurant. They serve breakfast (included in the rate) with homemade granola, loaves of bread, and made-to-order egg dishes. In the evening, the restaurant is open with traditional Dominican dishes, fresh seafood and more. The fresh ceviche was a personal favorite. Some menu items are sourced from their own garden. Even though you feel like you’re away from it all, it’s just a quick 5-minute drive to the nearest beach.
And speaking of favorite eco-friendly resorts, you must check out Natura Cabana on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. This area is approximately four hours away by car, and just might be a perfect add-on to your visit to the Samana Peninsula. This article has all our tips for the area surrounding Natura Cabana.
What to Do on the Samana Peninsula
This is a unique beach because it has a river that empties into a lagoon and then into the ocean. That means there are plenty of places to swim and relax. You can swim in the warm ocean and then enjoy a swim in the lagoon.
If you're feeling adventurous, join the locals and swim upriver where groups gather at rope swings. Boat vendors can be found on the shore of the lagoon and offer to take you on a boat ride up the river for a small fee. What a beautiful and peaceful way to spend an hour! Vendors line the beach with food and artisan jewelry.
Watching the fisherman bring in their catch
And then the cows came home...
Playa La Playita
Maybe one of the prettiest beaches we’ve ever seen, Playa La Playita is spectacular. This palm-tree-lined beach is located near the town of Las Galeras. It has gentle waves and a few little snack shacks. You can rent a pair of beach loungers for a small fee.
Playa Mandam and Playa Fronton
These beaches are unspoiled and remote. They are a little harder to get to, but you won’t be disappointed with the effort. Hire a boat driver from the beach at the end of the road leading into La Galetas. Experiencing the coastline from a boat provides a spectacular view. The other option to access Mandam and Fronton is to hike in. These hikes take upwards of 45 to 60 minutes. Inquire at your accommodations as to where to park and find the trail-head.
The water is really that amazing!
El Limon Waterfall
This is a beautiful waterfall and worth the time and effort it takes to visit. In fact, it's the most popular attraction on the Samana Peninsula. Keep reading to learn from our mistake on how to access the falls.
Be warned that locals will hassle you and try very hard to get your business. We were even chased down by motorcycles on two separate occasions, trying to catch up to us while we were driving by, to sell us their El Limon waterfall experience. It felt very aggressive. In the end, we were so annoyed by the intense sales attempt that we had our guest house, Clave Verde, make the arrangements for us through a reputable tour company. We probably paid more than we would have if we had just chosen someone from the side of the road, but we were so overwhelmed by the attention. Our Dominican guide was wonderful and we really enjoyed the experience.
Once you choose a guide, you will have the option to hike or travel by horseback. Each takes about an hour. We chose to hike and were glad we did because it allowed our guide plenty of opportunities to point out various plants and trees along the way. We even had the chance to sample almonds straight from an almond tree.
Bring along a towel and water shoes if you plan to go for a swim. In the end, I think we would have also had a great experience if we had originally chosen one of the aggressive guides trying to get our business. I hadn't done much research in advance and didn't know to expect this. But be prepared, so you aren't taken by surprise like we were.
Bridges to Nowhere
In the town of Samana, you’ll find this unusual little series of bridges leading to small islands with nothing on them. I wouldn’t call it a major attraction, but my family enjoyed walking from island to island. The views looking back toward the town of Samana are spectacular. And I have to wonder if we had been there during humpback season if we could have seen some activity. We all enjoyed the walk out to the very end and thought it was worth our time.
Also in Samana, there is a little whale museum that highlights the impressive migration of the humpback whales. If your family enjoys nature museums, give this spot a try.
There are two ziplines on the Samana peninsula and both utilize the same portion of the rain forest. We were told they are both equal in size and service, although we ran out of time and didn't do either. A quick Google search or TripAdvisor search will lead you to these companies and you can choose the one that's right for you.
Three Cautions on Driving
1. Once you arrive at the Samana Peninsula, you'll have the option to take the free road through Sanchez or the toll road that will take you north through Las Terrenas. Be advised that the toll is about $10 and they will only accept Dominican pesos. The driving experience is far superior to the drive through Sanchez, so if you'd had your fill of the typical Dominican roads by the time you get here, I would suggest paying the toll and accessing the peninsula that way.
2. Depending on where you are in the Dominican Republic, driving can be quite a challenge. Like many developing countries, there are a ton of motorcycles, poor signs and infrastructure and at times it will feel like there are no rules of the road. If you're not up for this, then just hire a shuttle from the airport. Although if you go opt for this, you will not be able to move about the Samana Peninsula at your own leisure. We have always driven ourselves in the D.R. and have been fine. We just move about as cautiously as possible and usually opt for the extra insurance with the rental car company.
3. Don't bother driving at night. Over our five trips to the D.R. we have always planned to be at our destination by sunset, but on several occasions we didn't time in right and ended up driving after dark. I don't say this because of foul play, theft or anything like that. It's just that after the sun goes down, it's much harder to see and many motorists don't even have lights on their cars or motorcycles.
Typical Caribbean hut
What have we missed? If you've spent time on the Samana Peninsula, please share your favorites!
To find out what we learned on ourEDventure in the Dominican Republic, check out the list of interesting facts from our North Coast of the D.R. post.