Samana was developed relatively recently as a tourist destination — the first road to the town was built only a few decades ago. A highway now allows travel from Santo Domingo in as little as two hours, and the recent opening of Sanchez El Catey International Airport has further boosted the peninsula’s fortunes. With its low-key atmosphere and many budget-type accommodations, Samana is a popular spot with Europeans and whale-watchers.
Humpback whales inhabit Samana Bay from December through early March before heading north for the summer, and the bay is a protected wildlife refuge. The World Wildlife Fund has named Samana Bay as one of the best spots in the world for whale-watching. It lives up to the title, as the views are second to none, made easier by the opening of a whale-viewing platform at Punta Balandra. Boat excursions give travelers a close-up look at the huge mammals.
On the north side of the peninsula is Las Terrenas, perhaps the Dominican Republic’s most pleasant resort village. Its idyllic palm-fringed beaches are lined with some of the most pleasing boutique-hotels in the country (many, along with cosmopolitan but laid-back restaurants, run by European entrepreneurs), and the mood remains relaxed, despite the proliferation of noisy motorbikes, burgeoning development and the arrival of the first all-inclusive hotels. The drive over the mountains to reach Las Terrenas is one of the most breathtaking in the country. Travelers should be sure to stop at the Salto de Limon waterfalls when driving between Las Terrenas and Samana—horseback treks are offered from the village of Limon.
An even more laid-back spot on the Samana Peninsula is the seaside town of Las Galeras, 16 miles northeast of Samana. Las Galeras has several small hotels and an all-inclusive resort. Also nearby is Playa Rincon, a lovely secluded beach that can best be reached by four-wheel-drive vehicle or hired boat from Las Galeras.