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.