Dominican Republic: The Samaná Peninsula

My first trip to the Dominican Republic was spent on one of the many all-inclusive resorts dotting Punta Cana’s turquoise beaches. It was 1998, and I was about to start law school. What better way to dive into the next chapter of my life than by relaxing in the sun and doing some actual diving? Except I wasn’t relaxed – I was bored. I snuck away from the group and made my way to Cabarete beach, finding much more to keep me entertained on the northern coast.  I quickly implemented a formula that I’ve stuck to ever since: less lounging, more adventure. (Full disclosure: I did spend 2 weeks doing nothing on the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia, but since I was waiting for 4 toenails to grow back after climbing Rinjani, I deserve a pass.)

During this press trip, I joked that the official DR slogan should be the Staples’ catchphrase “Yeah, we’ve got that.” Crystalline beaches? Yeah, they’ve got that. Lush, humid tropical forests? Yes, that too. As well as kite-surfing, waterfall-hopping, frenzied late night merengue dancing, amber-finding, cave-spelunking, mountain-biking, whale watching and baseball-cheering. For an island typically associated with beaches, rum and cigars, they’ve got a lot more going on than meets the eye.

We started our trip on The Samaná Peninsula. A thin slice of land jutting out into the Atlantic, with tropical forests and tiny beaches curled into hidden coves, Samaná is a different type of beach destination than the more open Punta Cana shoreline. Though we only skimmed the surface of what the peninsula has on offer, it quickly became somewhere I want to explore in more detail, especially the more laid-back Las Terrenas beach. In winter months (January through March), humpback whales drift into the Samaná bay and whalewatching has become a primary source of tourist dollars for the province, with thousands flocking to see the whales as they migrate through.

Our activities began with a trip to Salta El Limón, a thundering waterfall off the main highway that gathers in a (swimmable!) basin on the cliff’s edge. To get there, we took a 30-minute horseback ride (or, if you are me, a mule ride) with Parada Ramona y Basilio to the falls, followed by a delicious Bandera Dominicana (Dominican flag) lunch of rice, beans and stewed chicken. Happily the lunch also included my favourite snack from the DR: plantain and yuca fritters.

Horseback ride to the falls.

My mule, hungry as ever, did not want to take me there.

El Limon in all its frothy, thundering glory.

Following El Limon, we made our way to Los Haitises national park. The park’s name means the “land of the mountains”, and at close to 1400km2 of thick mangrove forests, colourful limestone caves (some with Taíno pictographs) and rolling hills, its name does not disappoint. Located near the southwest of the peninsula, the park is accessible by boat from Sabana del Mar or Samaná, and tours can be arranged from Las Terrenas Beach as well.

On our way to Los Haitises, a short boat ride from the Peninsula.

Inside one of the beautiful caves of Los Haitises, and situs of The BirdCrap Counter’s only bat crap.

The pictographs inside the Los Haitises caves were drawn by the Taíno tribe, pre-Colombus inhabitants of the Greater Antilles, including the island of Hispanola. Sadly, the Taíno were (of course) eradicated by the advent of colonization and its many new diseases, but some of their art remains. For an educational tour of the pictographs, please see Dr. Lynne Guitar’s site on Taíno caves in the Dominican Republic.

Mangrove forests in Las Haitises National Park.

If these pictures weren’t enough: check out the rest of my photos from the Samaná Peninsula and Los Haitises National Park.

Stay tuned for the last part of my DR coverage: waterfall climbing, snorkling and a raucous World Cup final viewed from Cabarete Beach.