Samana

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.

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.

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.

Departing from:

ˆTotal 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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