By Carla Marie Rupp
After months of bitter cold, I needed a tropical holiday. Samaná in the Dominican Republic came to my rescue.
After a direct flight from New York I arrived in Santo Domingo to find independence-day celebrations in the capital city of Santo Domingo in full swing. But I couldn’t stay to join in the festivities since my goal was to reach Samaná, an eco-tourism area in the eastern Dominican Republic, to enjoy a time of renewal.
I also wanted to experience the richness of quaint village culture and the magnificent beauty of the Samaná Peninsula where nature and a small-town, friendly island atmosphere predominate, and eco-tourism offerings are amazing and fun.
Rejuvenation Beyond Expectations
In an extra-long five-day weekend I found rejuvenation beyond my expectations. I went speed-boating through a national park, horseback riding to waterfalls, explored caves containing ancient pictographs, went whale-watching during the best time to see them (whale watching season runs Jan. 15-March 15, but tours operate as long as whales are seen in the area) and beachcombing, many things that would have astounded Christopher Columbus, the first tourist to arrive here centuries ago.
Our group guide, Carlos Batista, told us that like Columbus we were also lucky to be visiting here. “Samaná is the getaway place for Dominicans,” he said, “a very diverse place, so green and so beautiful, the only place where one can be with whales so close to a large number of natural attractions.” Those attractions included Rincón Beach, rated among the 10 finest beaches in the world, as well as several other unspoiled, hidden white-sand beaches.
Batista loves his fellow Dominicans, as well as the country’s sun and sand, its dances, music, food and festivities. His love of the place is infectious. You only need to be there a few days and you begin asking yourself “what’s not to love?”
A Hotel Oasis
I found that love soon after our mini-bus ride from the airport reached home base, the Bannister Hotel in Puerto Bahia.
It was a wonderful oasis, cozy yet sophisticated, featuring chic architecture and an open-air, spacious lobby in which to relax with friends. Being a musician, at night I enjoyed meeting members of the hotel’s Boogie Band who play classic rock (the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones) and Latin (Santana and Soda Stereo) on various Saturdays.
During the day I swam in the Bannister’s two infinity pools. I also ate in the hotel’s three restaurants, enjoying majestic sunset views of the sea at Cafe del Mar, and the delicious fish in coconut sauce at La Regatta.
I enjoyed another pleasant dining experience at Balcones del Atlantico’s Porto, an airy restaurant on a pristine beach in Las Terrenas, the most touristic of the nearby towns and perfect for picture-taking, during a stroll. In Samaná city, La Mata Rosada provides delicious food with local flavors, with salsa clubs nearby.
A satisfying, delicious reward at the end of excursions is the authentic Dominican food, and in addition to fine dining, you’ll find food made by locals all over Samaná. I enjoyed the all-you-can-eat lunch buffets featuring specialties such as fresh seafood caught by locals, rice and beans, fried plantains, the sweetest-ever pineapples, plus maybe mangoes, papayas, bananas, and always salads of various kinds. Coconut cake was a favorite from a local bakery.
A Variety of Excursions
Our excursions were always fun. One day we explored the maze of mangroves in lovely Los Haitises National Park (one of 11 in the small country), with its maze of vegetation, mangroves, and little islands and birds, before setting off to gorgeous Playa Rincón.
Another day for horseback riding I was paired with local guide Francisca Morel (“just call me Anna,” she said), who helped me every step of the way as we went through the little village of El Café and into the rolling tropical hills. It was paradise as Anna and I moved through shallow water and rocky terrain and I felt right at home atop my horse Relámpago.
Whale Watching and Massages on the Beach
When we reached a place to dismount to allow Relámpago and the other horses to rest, we found refreshments awaiting our group near beautiful little waterfalls. I walked down to the first one where I swam and found peace in each beautiful moment. Then Anna helped me with the climb to the next lever of falls, which were much larger and populated with other tourists enjoying their reward for the journey.
Another day, when we went humpback whale watching, we saw many playful whales close-up in the Marine Mammal Sanctuary. Everyone in our group took so many pictures that one of our group exclaimed “I feel like we’re whale paparazzi!” From land a good place to see the whales is at the Whale Lookout Post at Punta Balandra, which is well worth the climb.
After whale watching it was off to El Cayo Levantado, also known as Bacardi Island, where we found lounge chairs, strolling musicians, beach massages, crafts and more good food buffets. I had quite an appetite after my last dip in the sea.
A Fantastic Combination of Environments
In the Dominican Republic you’ll find a fantastic combination of environments to refresh one’s body and soul. With more than 25 percent of its lush land protected as national parks, reserves and sanctuaries, the country is the most bio-diverse country in the Caribbean. And its coconut palm-studded hills and turquoise waters and just everything else gave me new zest for life, a glowing radiance.
In Samaná you can have as much relaxation as you want…and as much enhanced activity. I chose both…as well as the very good local chocolate and excellent coffee, I might add. (Smile.)
The Samaná Peninsula is a good-value destination especially full of ecological bliss. I had a whale of a time (pun intended) and visions of pelicans, whales, the warmth and love for the great friendly people stay with me. Leaving the cold of winter I went looking for invigoration and a feeling of new life.
In Samaná I not only found it, I already want to go back.
If you go:
The Bannister Hotel at Puerto Bahia
Carretera Sanchez- Samaná KM 5
Samaná, Dominican Republic
Parada Basilio y Ramona’s horseback excursions to El Limón Waterfalls
El Café-Village, Samaná
Balcones Del Atlantico