A lush peninsula on the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic, awash with mountains, jungles, beaches and islands, Samaná is somehow just under the tourist radar. The region has always marched to its own bongo drummer–from fiercely fending off invaders in the Columbus days, to unique cultural celebrations like their three-month harvest festival and own spin on Carnival, to their evangelical beliefs that leave room for sexy salsa dancing. The 15,000 people that live here are proud of the region’s beauty and are making efforts to develop it slowly and sustainably. To help spread the word on the new eco-tourism initiatives, the Dominican Republic tourism board invited us and five other journalists on a seven-day adventure. Ziplining, island hopping, bachata dancing, horseback riding, sleeping in exquisite hotels and dining on hand-caught seafood, they pulled out all the stops from luxury to local experiences and made us fall in love with seductive Samaná.
After our four days of solo city exploration in Santo Domingo, we went back to the airport to meet our crew: Jeana of Surf and Sunshine, Steph of Travel Break, Neil of A&H Magazine, Taylor of TaylorBurk.com, Natalie of Traveler’s Bookcase, our hosts Annie & AJ, and expert guide Carlos Batista. Carlos is the go-to guy when National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and most major media outlets need unfettered access and local savvy. He was a not only knowledgeable about all things Dominican Republic, he made everything more fun…including the few rough-patches. The best laid plans went awry in the first 24 hours of the trip: A flat tire, an impassable hill that resulted in a muddy hike in the dark to our hotel, torrential rain, a lightening strike knocking out the power, and a jungle spider invasion. Once we had all that out of the way, we had enough fodder for a trip full of laughs and smooth sailing.
Ecocampo La Sangria
We arrived to Ecocampo La Sangria late at night covered in mud and weathered from the storm, but the family-run lodge whipped up an incredible feast of grilled swordfish, sauteed vegetables, and a dulce de coco desert that revived us. After a night in our charming cabanas, the owner Maria Corporan gave us a tour of her sustainable property. They are 100% solar powered, grow 70% of the food on the premises, and all the resources are local. Her grandmother grew up in La Sangria and Maria always wanted to give back to the area and share its beauty with the world.
Driving from the jungle of La Sangria, we wound our way along the coast and into the valley of Samana for some ziplining. Set at the top of the highest mountain in the region, with 12 ziplines zigzagging through the canopy (some as high as 450 feet off the ground), Samana Ziplining was the best course we’ve ever experienced. We had never done tandem ziplining or tried flips, twirls, and upside-down kisses, but that made it that much more fun. Between squeals and spins, we’d take in the incredible views of the valley, jungle, and beach beyond.
Dominican Tree House Village
The success of Samana Ziplining prompted the owners to expand their vision for eco-tourism in El Valle with the Dominican Tree House Village. Twenty open-air cabins are perched in the trees, connected by bridges and canopy-covered pathways. It’s a total fantasy land—like the tree houses you dreamed of as kid, but with stylish décor, a yoga dome, a fully stocked bar, and a delightful restaurant. We got the chance to chat with the co-founder, Tomás, and he was so passionate about the property and its future projects–mountain biking trails, rum making, scuba trips, cooking classes, and a sister hotel on the beach–it made us want to come back.
El Valle Beach
Descending from the treetops, we followed the winding road out to our favorite beach in the DR. Playa El Valle is a cove surrounded by mountains dotted with palm trees, rugged cliffs, golden sand, and an endearing local’s scene. Fisherman pushing their boats ashore, boys throwing the baseball around, and a beach shack serving the day’s catch, pushed it our kind of paradise.
El Limón Waterfall
One of Samaná’s most famous natural attractions is El Limón waterfall. It drops 130 feet into a pool perfect for swimming and a little deep water solo climbing, and the 1.5 mile trip up the mountain is just as impressive. We rode horses up through winding rivers, tropical jungles, and along mountain ridges with panoramic views. The locals were saying the waterfall was a trickle compared to its usual pounding cascade but to us it was gorgeous nonetheless.
At the point where you hop off your horse and hike down the final stretch to the falls, there is a small gift stand and food stall. It’s made for tourists but doubles as a local’s hangout for dominoes and cervezas with a view. Dominoes is a Dominican pastime that we’d seen everywhere around the country from parks to street corners to cafes…it was time we learned a thing our two about the game. We bellied up to the table and followed the Dominicanos lead–slamming down the tiles with each move, cajoling your partner to go faster, and high fiving with each win.
Next Up in Samaná, Dominican Republic Part 2
And this was just the beginning of our seven days in Samaná province. Next up on the blog, we’ll be exploring the bayside capital of Santa Barbara, taking a “local bath” at the salsa clubs, sailing to the stunning Haitises National Park, snorkeling “Bacardi Island,” and hitting up more spots you won’t want to miss.