Samaná: A Different Dominican Republic

HoneyTrek - Opener Haiteses National ParkAfter a night of salsa dancing in Santa Barbara de Samaná, two police officers on a motorcycle asked us if we needed a ride. In our mind, four things could come from this. 1. We get arrested. 2. Extorted for money. 3. Crash from the weight of four adults on a motorcycle. 4. Safely return to our hotel. We thought about the possible outcomes for a hot second, then hopped on the bike (basically spooning the officers), then we swerved to find our balance, chugged up the cliff road, and tried to keep from laughing at the ridiculousness of this situation. We reached the Bahia Principe, a fancy resort overlooking Samaná Bay, and were certain this would prompt a donation to the Policia Dominicana. We thanked them profusely and they just tipped their hat, with a smile and a “de nada.” This was just one of a dozen acts of kindness, comedy, and adventure we experienced during our seven days in Samaná.
Check out part one of Samaná journey or continue below.


Santa Barbara de Samaná - Santa Barbara Town Samana Dominican RepublicSanta Barbara is the heart of the Samaná pennisula, so much so, that everyone just calls this town “Samaná.” Dating back to 1756, the Spanish saw this protected bay, with its lush mountain backdrop, series of islets, and pocket beaches as a good place to settle. There are a number of interesting colonial buildings (don’t miss the corrugated iron church, La Chorcha), though the town’s architectural signature is the dramatic footbridge that extends across the bay to the islands. We popped in and out of Samaná throughout the week, strolling the seaside promenade, dining at the cafes, and best of all, taking a “bano del pueblo” at the open-air salsa clubs.(Love this expression “baño del pueblo,” or taking “a local bath” a more colorful way of saying, “do as the locals do.”)


Samaná Central Market - Market in Santa BarbaraMaybe our favorite part of Santa Barbara de Samaná was the local market…not for the food but for the people! I don’t think they get many gringos here and it prompted some of the friendliest encounters. An old guy introduced us to his horse, we chatted with a papaya vendor about waterfalls, had a malt beverage taste-off with a yucca farmer, and had two Dominican hipsters teach us about the construction of coconut graters—then we bought two!


The Bannister Hotel - Bannister HotelJust a short drive from the heart of town and on two private coves, the Bannister Hotel was our luxurious base for three nights. This Small Luxury Hotels of the World property has its own marina, a panoramic infinity pool over the ocean, and 28 ultra chic rooms. - Haiteses National ParkDeparting from the Bannister’s marina, we boarded a private catamaran and sailed off to Los Haitises National Park. After an hour of sunbathing, rocking out to our new favorite song “De Reversa Mami”, and sipping on Presidente beers, we became surrounded by tropical islets. The dramatic karst landscape and soaring birds of prey was straight out of a Bond movie. With 618-square miles of park, 58 islands, there is enough here to explore for weeks! (If you really want to dig into Los Haitises, stay at the incredible eco-lodge Paraíso Caño Hondo at the foot of the park.)


Los Haitises National Park - Los Haitises CavesThe parks interior is a system of brackish rivers, dense mangrove, and caves. We docked at Cueva de la Linea, which is not only stunning with its drip-castle rock formations but fascinating with ancient pictographs from the Taino indians.


Las Terrenas - Las TerrenasIn the northwest of the Samaná peninsula, Las Terrenas is a fishing village so charming it now sells more souvenirs than snapper. The colorful fisherman cabins have been transformed into bars, cafes, and shops, though the place retains its local character with families throwing Sunday parties in the square, kids playing tag on the sand, and wooden boats bobbing in the water. After a stroll on the main street, we had a fabulous dinner at the secluded and luxurious Sublime Samana hotel. If you are looking to vacation with a group of friends, their three-bedroom casitas are a steal for the locale and quality!


Cayo Levantado - Cayo levantado 2Imagine an islet with gold sand, swaying palm trees, and beach bars blending tropical drinks. Sounds like a Bacardi advertisement, right? Well this is where the rum brand shot a campaign in the 80s and Cayo Levantado has been dubbed Bacardi Island ever since. We took a 20-minute water taxi from the mainland and spent the day eating fresh seafood, shopping for Larimar (a blue stone unique to the Dominican Republic), and snorkeling with starfish.


We were always a bit weary of the DR for its package-tourist and all-inclusive reputation, but we were just looking in the wrong place. Samaná is nothing like super-developed Punta Cana, it’s rich in natural beauty, full of local character, and so safe the police double as a complimentary taxi service.


Samana Slideshow


34 thoughts on “Samaná: A Different Dominican Republic

  • January 14, 2016 at 7:50 pm

    I’m glad all went well with the cops. Did you actually have time to have a conversation with them? They may have told some good stories.

    • January 15, 2016 at 9:52 am

      We chatted for a bit (in my best Spanish) because we wanted to feel them out in case there was some funny business going on. Once we realized they were nice guys and upstanding cops, we hopped on but it was pretty windy from there 😉

  • January 17, 2016 at 5:56 am

    I would love to visit the Dominican Republic one day, it really looks beautiful. The Bannister Hotel looks gorgeous too.

    • January 17, 2016 at 7:28 pm

      We were so pleasantly surprised by the DR. The Bannister is an excellent hotel and so was Sublime Samana if you are looking for great options!

  • January 17, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    I would find it funny to ride on the back of a cop’s bike too, but at least you have a great story to tell from it. Los Haitises National park looks beautiful. I’d love to visit there.

  • January 17, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    What a fun and beautiful place to visit! Breathtaking natural landscape!

  • January 17, 2016 at 9:27 pm

    This looks like a great place to go on vacation. I would love to go to Los Haitises National Park and explore the caves.

  • January 17, 2016 at 10:32 pm

    I am in awe over the spectacular beauty here. I have definitely got to make it there sooner rather than later.

  • January 17, 2016 at 10:34 pm

    That infinity pool is absolutely amazing! And the market produce looks delicious – I would love to get my hands on some of that fresh fruit.

    • January 17, 2016 at 11:59 pm

      We love local markets and this one in Samana was particularly colorful, fun, and delicious! I’m not even a papaya fan but in the DR, they were so sweet they became my new favorite fruit!

  • January 17, 2016 at 11:32 pm

    Gorgeous pictures! Loved the pool and everything looked so pretty!

  • January 18, 2016 at 12:02 am

    What a lovely place, great photos!! Thank you for sharing. I havent been to de samana, I would love to travel there someday 🙂 Cayo Levantado looks amazing, what a lovely paradise!!! 🙂

    • January 21, 2016 at 11:05 am

      Cayo Levantado is pretty picture perfect. Though El Valle was our favorite and without a single tourist. Hope you get to the DR, Janet!

  • January 18, 2016 at 2:40 am

    Beautiful awesome place to visit! Lovely photos. Great for travel enthusiasts around the globe.

  • January 18, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    Ughhh wayyy to make me crave a vacation!!! It’s like a freakn blizzard here in NY right now lol…. I need the beach 😉

  • January 19, 2016 at 8:26 am

    Oh wow – this looks such a beautiful place! That hotel is stunning. I am craving some sunshine – all we have had is rain. Kaz x

    • January 21, 2016 at 11:07 am

      We visited a bunch of great hotels. In addition to the Bannister, Sublime Samana, La Sangria Eco Campo, and Dominican Tree House Village were all fabulous! Go get that sunshine!

  • January 19, 2016 at 9:17 am

    Adding this to the list of places that we need to go and visit! We looked at going to the Dominican a few years ago but it never panned out. I should start planning for next year and make this dream a reality.

    • January 21, 2016 at 11:03 am

      Fantastic! Be sure to fly into Santo Domingo–there is so much history there!

  • January 20, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    My husband and I been planning to go on vacation to DR. I do a lot of research about the place and this post just make our decision easy. Thank you!

    • January 21, 2016 at 11:02 am

      Oh good, we are so glad! Be sure you see the other post we did on Samana and Santo Domingo…lots of great tips in there!

  • February 2, 2016 at 1:36 am

    What an amazing time you must of had!! I’m adding this to my list of places to go! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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  • May 3, 2016 at 2:42 am

    Love the Samana peninsula. Stayed there a week a while back, staying in Las Terrenas, and rented a motorcycle which I drove over the mountains to Sanchez (on the ‘Mainland”) and back across all the way to Las Galleras as the tip (gorgeous tiny town). For me it’s without a doubt the most beautiful spot in the DR.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • May 3, 2016 at 11:53 am

      Very cool you went to Las Terrenas (what a charming place) and all the way to Las Galleras, we really wanted to see that village…guess we’ll have to go back!

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