Samana

Destination Location

Samana
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Overview

The peninsula of Samana is a unique destination in the Dominican Republic – one far different from the all-inclusive resort areas of Punta Cana and Puerto Plata. You’ll feel its authenticity as soon as you arrive. The slender peninsula on the northeastern tip of the country is favoured by independent travellers, European expatriates and locals seeking unspoiled golden sand beaches.

Numerous rivers and streams run down the Sierra de Samana mountain range. Tropical trees, dense green foliage and flowers grow in abundance. Many Dominicans say this is the prettiest area of their country and with good reason. Much of the land is wild and undeveloped, with tiny, colourful villages dotted along the rough roads and small fishing outposts by the coast.

The three main towns here are Santa Barbara de Samana, Sanchez and Las Terrenas. Each has its own distinct character, as genuine as the people who live there.

Las Terrenas is the busiest town with the most variety for accommodations, restaurants, nightlife and beaches. Santa Barbara de Samana, generally referred to as just Samana, is the provincial capital and a port town. It’s also the starting point for whale-watching tours and visits to Cayo Levantado and Los Haitises National Park.

Sanchez is the gateway to the peninsula, a former seaport, railway station and commercial centre. Its lack of attractive beaches has kept tourists and investors away and it’s currently sustained by agriculture and fishing. Tours to Los Haitises National Park often depart from Sanchez.

Accommodations on the peninsula range from small, independent hotels to a few all-inclusive resorts. Local life is unaffected and laid-back. You’ll feel as though time has slowed, allowing you to connect with nature, the land and the locals.

Samana is a fantastic destination for:

  • beach
  • outdoor adventure
  • snorkeling and diving

Airport served by: AZS

Destination basics

The temperature in Samana is typical of the semi-tropical weather enjoyed throughout the Dominican Republic. But it has more precipitation than most of the country. Tropical showers can occur at any time here but are usually brief. Warm sunshine soon returns, even during the rainiest time of year.

The best weather in Samana is found in winter between December and May. Winter weather is a few degrees cooler than summer and there is less humidity.

Keep in mind that temperatures are considerably cooler if you take an excursion to the region’s mountainous interior, especially in the winter. In other words, come prepared with a sweater or light jacket.

Average monthly temperature and average monthly rainfall diagrams for Samana

On very old maps, the Samana peninsula is sometimes shown as an island. There was once a channel here that reached all the way up to the north coast from Samana Bay (Bahia de Samana), creating a marshy waterway across the neck of the peninsula. Pirates used this channel as an escape route from the Spanish. Hundreds of years later, this marshy area is now fertile land near the town of Sanchez.

Yet even today, Samana still seems cut off from the rest of the Dominican Republic. Its culture is a unique blend of various ethnic groups. The Taino, Ciguayos and other natives were the first occupants. Only their caves and artifacts remain today.

From 1600 to 1800, the governments of Spain, France and England fought for control of the peninsula. This instability encouraged pirates, French and English buccaneers, slaves and rebel natives to use the zone as a centre for their activities. It was a wild two centuries. At one point in the early 1600s, small English and French urban centres were established along with coconut, coffee and sugarcane farms. Control of the region continued to change hands numerous times.

In the early to mid 19th century while under Haitian rule, thousands of freed American slaves were invited to immigrate to the island – the majority of whom settled down in Samana.

These former slaves belonged to the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Their beloved church, La Churcha, still stands as an heirloom of the era. The new immigrants also brought their own distinctive cuisine and culture to the peninsula. Fish in coconut sauce, still a popular dish today, and Johnny cakes are just two of their culinary contributions. Their dances, such as bambula and olí-olí, can also be found at Samana’s festivals.

In the 1980s, the region opened to international tourism. English, French, French-Canadian, German and Italian retirees purchased properties here, adding even more rich culture to this diverse area. Many of the local restaurant owners, chefs and bakers here are from abroad. In fact, in Los Terrenas, you can easily find a perfect croissant, dense German pumpernickel bread, fresh-made pasta or a hot cup of British tea.

The official currency of the Dominican Republic is the Dominican Peso. Most hotels, restaurants and businesses accept major credit cards. If you would prefer to have cash on hand, both Canadian and U.S. money can be exchanged for the peso during your stay at both banks and exchange booths (called casas de cambio). Most hotels and resorts also offer currency exchange services.

If you need to withdraw funds, you’ll find bank machines at many resorts and popular shopping areas. Please note that local ATMs only dispense funds in pesos and fees vary by machine.

To avoid carrying a large amount of cash, a mix of payment options is recommended.

Nestled between Samana Bay and the Sierra de Samana mountain range, this city is steeped in natural beauty. Each of its neighborhoods is visually captivating, home to thriving foliage and striking architecture. Explore the Samana harbor and beyond under sunny blue skies.

El Centro
El Centro is the heart of Samana where scenic lookouts, local eateries, and cultural attractions line the lively waterfront. Meander quaint streets, snapping photos in front of historic churches and under lush palm trees. Stop for fresh seafood on the picturesque Malecon de Samana. Several adventure-tour companies also operate here, making it a hotspot for visiting outdoor enthusiasts. By far the liveliest neighborhood in the city, El Centro will keep you busy.

Barrio New York
This neighborhood is adjacent to El Centro, bordering the Municipio Del Limon, where you’ll find a striking white-sand cove. Barrio New York boasts various eateries and places to visit, like a community church and local art school. You’ll even find a nightclub here. You’ll enjoy exploring this quintessential Samana neighborhood.

Villa Salma
Some of the best views of Samana can be found in Villa Salma. Take in vistas of the bay from a lush hillside lookout or find a charming park and relax. While it isn’t a bustling neighborhood, Villa Salma offers a few shops and two churches alongside stunning scenery.

El Millon
El Millon is filled with bright buildings, small shops, and a rich Dominican spirit. Explore this area and you’ll get a sense of the local pace, all the while surrounded by verdant features of the stunning natural landscape. There are a handful of places to eat out in El Millon, as well as a number of practical businesses.

There are a variety of ways to entertain yourself in Samana. Be it a cultural excursion or outdoor adventure, you’ll find ways to stay busy.

Museums
Whale watching is perhaps the biggest draw in Samana. Located near Playa Anadel, the Whale Museum of Samana is dedicated to teaching visitors about the fascinating creatures and the place they hold in the global ecosystem. A forty-foot whale skeleton is displayed in the museum, which also features exhibits on migration patterns and general information. The Whale Museum of Samana is open daily and costs around 95 DOP. Head here for an enriching and educational activity.

Nature & Wildlife
There are several beaches in the Samana area. Playa el Valle is a nearly hidden beach that often offers a secluded experience a bit outside the city. Snorkel through turquoise water and bring a picnic lunch to enjoy in the sand. You’ll also find two small beachside eateries at Playa el Valle if you’re looking for something local. For a more luxurious experience, head to Playa Anadel, where an onsite beach club promises amenities like a massage center and bar-restaurant. Also in Samana is Playa Cayacoa, a charming slice of coast worth visiting for a quick dip.

One of the best water attractions in the Samana province is situated just north of the city itself. At El Salto del Limon, you’ll be astounded by a breathtaking, cascading waterfall. You can hike through the lush surrounding forest or explore on horseback. You can even take a dip in a refreshing natural pool. Take a break from the beach and head to the El Salto del Limon waterfall for an unforgettable adventure around Samana.

A trip to Samana means the chance dine out on tasty Caribbean fare, particularly delicacies from the sea. Immerse yourself in traditional Dominican Republic menus or take advantage of the international options in town. Pair any meal with a refreshing cocktail and enjoy the island vibe.

El Centro
Most of the dining options in Samana can be found in El Centro, offering lots of opportunities to enjoy vistas of the bay from restaurants off the Malecon de Samana. La Mata Rosada serves succulent seafood and authentic Caribbean dishes while nearby Le Royal Snack Bar & Restaurant offers quick bites and cold beer. If you’re looking for something international, try Taberna Mediterranea, which serves tasty tapas and a carefully curated wine selection. You’ll find a few bars in central Samana, as well as cafes and pizzas shops for more casual meals.

Barrio New York
The most popular restaurant in Barrio New York is at the Chino Restaurant & Hotel. It sits on a hill, making the best of its location with balcony seating overlooking the seaside Malecon de Samana. The restaurant serves local cuisine as well as a variety of international treats.

El Millon
Walk around this area and you’ll find neighborhood joints filled with locals enjoying traditional snacks. A great neighborhood for cheap eats, El Millon is home to several streetside eateries where you can find everything from twice-fried plantains to seven-meat stew. Aromatic flavors waft up and down the street in this busy neighborhood, making it a great place to experience no-frills Samana dining.

Outside Samana
You’ll find a few beachfront restaurants and bars worth visiting just beyond Samana’s bounds. For a memorable time, try the Cayenas del Mar Beach Club on Playa Anadel, where fresh seafood and refreshing cocktails are always available. On a different day, head toward Las Galeras and chow down on Italian at Roma, where a friendly staff complements a classic menu.

Samana

Province: Samana

Country: Dominican Republic

Samana by the Numbers
Population: 108,179
Elevation: 5 meters / 16 feet
Average Annual Precipitation: 18 centimeters / 7 inches
Average January Temperature: 26°C / 77°F
Average July Temperature: 28°C / 83°F

Quick Facts
Electricity: 110 volts, 60 cycles, AC

Time Zone: UTC-4; Atlantic Standard Time (AST)

Country Dialing Code: 1

Area Code: 809

Did You Know?
Those that hail from this sunny city, officially named Santa Barbara de Samana, are referred to as Samanense.

Orientation
Samana sits on the northern end of Samana Bay in the northeastern Dominican Republic. It is about 104 kilometers (65 miles) northeast of Santa Domingo.

The Samana peninsula is located in the northeastern part of the Dominican Republic, between Samana Bay (Bahia de Samana) and Scottish Bay (Bahia Escocesa). It extends 58 km west to east. A slender peninsula, its minimum width is 7.5 km, from the gateway town of Sanchez to the north shore. Its widest point is 18.5 km, from Los Cacaos in the south to Las Tres Puntas in the north.

With a land mass of 850 sq. km., it’s a comfortable size and easy to explore in a week. Its topography is similar to an upside-down egg carton with low, rugged mountains covering much of the peninsula.

The mountains in the western extreme are separated from the Cordillera Septentrional mountain range by an extension of swampy, flat land called El Gran Estero. Hundreds of years ago, Samana peninsula was an island and this area was underwater. Deposits from the Yuna River have now filled in the land.

The mountainous interior forming the spine of the peninsula is composed of three sierras, none of them very steep. The highest mountains are La Meseta or Monte Mesa, at about 605 metres above ocean level. Numerous streams and rivers run down these mountains, some in spectacular waterfalls. Much of the interior land is farmed for coconut, rubber, coffee and cocoa, as well as seasonal crops such as yucca.

With the exception of the island of Cayo Levantado to the south, the best beaches are mostly found on the north side of the peninsula.

Christopher Columbus discovered Samana in 1493, making it the last stop on his historic first voyage to the New World. He landed northeast of what is today Samana City at Rincon Beach, then home to an indigenous group called the Ciguayos. Unlike most native inhabitants in the Americas, the Ciguayos retaliated violently against Columbus after refusing to trade with the newly arrived Spaniards. This conflict earned the Rincon Beach inlet an early nickname: the Bay of Arrows.

No permanent settlements were established in the Samana province over the next few centuries, despite it being the height of colonialism. Now-capital of the province, Santa Barbara de Samana was not officially founded until 1756, when families from the Canary Islands flocked to the area under orders from Spanish governor Francisco Rubio y Penaranda. The village established there took its name from Queen Barbara de Braganza of Spain, wife of King Ferdinand VI, beginning the modern history of this extraordinary destination.

Samana switched hands a few times in the coming years, briefly belonging to the French in 1796 before being returned to Spanish creoles in 1807. Perhaps the last defining historical movement before it was officially declared a city was the influx of African Americans to Samana in 1824 at the invitation of Haitian President Jean-Pierre Boyer. Descendants of these inhabitants are today known as Samana Americans.

Rental cars are available at the airport as well around your resort. However, please proceed with caution if you do decide to rent a car in Samana. Driving conditions here are unlike North America. The roads are narrow and rough, especially around the peninsula, and not lit. Driving at night time is not recommended due to poor visibility.

Overall, the best way to travel throughout Samana and surrounding areas is by taxi. The drivers here know the area extremely well and will help you get to and from destinations with ease.

Arrival

During your flight into Samaná El Catey International Airport you will be given a blue customs declaration form and a Dominican tourist card. Please fill out both of these forms before you get to the immigration desk at the airport.

After passing immigration, you will pick up your luggage and pass through to customs. There, an official will take the blue customs declaration form.

If you have booked tours or transfers with WestJet Vacations, you will need to look for the WestJet Vacations / Hola Tours representatives outside the airport. Identify yourself as a WestJet guest and you’ll soon be on your way to your hotel or resort.

The town of Samana is 40 km away – approximately a one hour drive. Las Terrenas is one hour and 45 minutes away and Las Galeras is about two hours from the airport.

Departures

If you have booked transfers with WestJet Vacations, a Hola Tours representative will confirm your pick-up time which can also be found in the Westjet Vacations/Hola Tours info books at the tour desk of your hotel.

When you arrive back at Samaná El Catey International Airport, you will head to the WestJet Vacations counter and provide your passport to the agent at the desk. They will allocate your seats and provide you with a boarding pass. You can also check in online using WestJet’s convenient Web check-in service.

Before you pass through to the departures hall, you will need to fill out another blue immigration form and white customs declaration form (the same as you did on your flight in). After you go through security, an immigration officer will take your blue immigration form and stamp your passport.

Inside the airport you will find a variety of restaurants and concessions that can keep you busy while you wait to board for your flight.

Vaccinations

Be sure your routine vaccinations are up to date. Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, malaria, typhoid and tetanus are commonly recommended by the Public Health Agency of Canada. Check with your local healthcare provider for additional information.

Electricity in the Dominican Republic is 110 volts, and can fit most (two-pronged) North American plugs. However, some hotels may operate using Swiss outlets - which are round pins instead of flat pins. If you are bringing an electrical appliance, it is recommended that you verify prior to departure if a converter and/or adaptor is required.

The Samana peninsula region has the largest concentration of coconut palm trees in the world. The beautiful coral beaches of fine golden sand are generously sprinkled with them. The turquoise waters stay warm year-round, always beckoning you to jump in for a swim. All you have to do is put on your swimwear and pick a beach.

Bonita Beach is ideal for learning how to surf, while the six-km-long Playa Coson beach has something for everyone – a bay of calm waters, river mouths, strong winds for kite enthusiasts and waves for surfing. El Portillo Beach offers calm, shallow waters that are attractive for family outings. And the remote Playa Rincon beach was voted second best in the world by Conde Nast Traveler.

The Samana Bay (Bahia de Samana) is also one of the top places in the world to see humpback whales in action. Every year, from January to mid-March, thousands of these huge mammals come from faraway waters. It’s here where female humpback whales are courted by the males, mating and a year later, giving birth to their babies. The balmy, shallow waters of the bay provide the perfect conditions for delivering the baby humpbacks.

But there are many reasons to visit beyond the whale-watching and gorgeous beaches. Samana is filled with authentic culture and history. The area has been home to many different ethnic groups and their influence remains strong here. You’ll see menus in French at local restaurants and hear people conversing en francais in Las Terrenas. In El Limon, the Anglo-Saxon surnames of King, Kelly and Jones are commonplace. And in Santa Barbara de Samana, you may hear gospel psalms in an English/Spanish blend – a fascinating experience.

There are also plenty of activities for active vacationers to enjoy. A visit to Los Haitises National Park and a horseback ride to the El Limon Falls are sure to create memories of a lifetime. Surfers and kitesurfers will find challenges in the perfect combination of winds and currents off-shore of Samana. If you opt for snorkelling and scuba, you’ll find bliss in the seabed teeming with marine life and colourful coral.

This is also a place where you can mingle with locals. Go to the open-air produce market at Santa Barbara de Samana and hear pleasant greetings with friendly smiles. Rub shoulders with locals on the bustling streets of Las Terrenas. Bargain for a boat ride with the fishermen at Las Galeras. You’ll soon fall into the rhythm of the land and be accepted as part of it.

During your flight into Samaná El Catey International Airport you will be given a blue customs declaration form and a Dominican tourist card.

The official currency of the Dominican Republic is the Dominican Peso.

Rental cars are available at the airport as well around your resort.

Departing from:

^Total price one-way per guest. See terms and conditions.

*Prices are per guest, based on double occupancy and are limited; may not reflect real-time pricing or availability. See terms and conditions.

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