Samana town may not get mentioned as much as Las Terrenas and Las Galeras when discussing places to see on the Samana Peninsula, but it is a pleasant small seafront town and it does achieve a kind of prominence at least for part of the year.
Samana is set about 3/5 of the way along the South cost of the Peninsula overlooking the eponymous Bahia de Samana (Bay of Samana) – it features typically local, brightly painted houses, and for some 9 months of the year it is generally peaceful with only a handful of tourists ambling around its streets.
The town, however, experiences an influx of visitors from mid-January to mid-March every year coincident with the arrival of the Hump-back whales. For this is one of the best spots in the world for whale-watching during this mating period, in the warm tropical waters that some 10,000 whales may visit on their annual pilgrimage from cold Northern climes. The huge marine mammals may be seen only meters from the shore, 'breaching' and 'lob-tailing' and providing a truly spectacular sight.
Around 3 times as many tourists as whales descend on Samaná during the whale-watching season and for a brief spell every year the town is booming. Several local operators run boat trips out into the bay from January to March to afford visitors a closer view of this natural phenomenon. Perhaps the best-known, and certainly appropriately eco-friendly, are the tours run by Victoria Marine. This operation was the first to offer whale watching trips over two decades ago. Victoria Marine's owner, a renowned marine-biologist, Kim Bedall, from Canada – helped not only to bring Samana to prominence as a center for whale-watching, but also developed the safe-practice guidelines that protect both the whales and the 'watchers' during this amazing annual occurrence.
But it is maybe the relatively sleepy major part of the year that also appealed to the numerous European settlers who now run businesses in the area. The Samana Peninsula has been popular particularly with French visitors for some years. Those French travellers who made Samaná their 'journey's end' and set up small enterprises on the Peninsula, have since been joined by Italian, German and Spanish 'small-entrepreneurs', amongst others, who also decided to make this verdant corner of the Dominican Republic their home.
Whales are, however, not the only thing that tourists can enjoy during a stay-over in Samaná. For example, almost mid-way on the road between Samana and Las Terrenas which crosses the Peninsula diagonally is the well-known Cascada el Limón – an impressive 50 meter high waterfall that is one of the other main visitor attractions of the area.
Samana is also well positioned for anyone who would like to explore the dense mangrove forests of Parque Nacional Los Haitises, and several local tours firms, including Victoria Marine, run trips out by boat for this purpose.
Follow the road out of Samana in an Easterly direction and it will turn North after maybe ten kilometers or so and lead to the hamlet of Las Galeras. This sleepy small town with access to numerous wonderful tropical beaches, which due to its remoteness has so far managed to retain its Caribbean character, even though some of the local tourist amenities are, as with Samana, run by European settlers.
If you are planning to travel on from Samana, having arrived there by ferry from Sabana de la Mar, there are also numerous bus/coach service connections either in the Town, for major operators, or on the outskirts to the west of the town for local 'guaguas'. For short local trips Samaná is a veritable 'beehive' during the whale-watching season, with the 'buzz' of motoconchos!
On an historical note – Samana and its Peninsula may be a quiet corner of the Dominican Republic that just about ekes a living out of the slightly more adventurous visitor for most of the year – but it narrowly escaped an entirely different fate. Back in the mid 1800's the US tried to purchase the whole area to develop a military base, Thankfully the proposed purchase was turned down. As a result – a part of Cuba, little known until recent times but latterly having garnered an unfortunate, and infamous reputation – was exploited for this purpose. Its name? Guantanamo!
For now though the Samana Peninsula, studded as it is with its own small jewels - Samana town, Las Terrenas and Las Galeras - remains a tropical haven. Verdant with dense forests, relatively quiet for most of the year, a peaceful place to escape to – without the presence of over-bearing development – it is an enticing 'backwater' for those who want to get away from the tourist crowds.
It must be hoped that the area will retain its character and charm in the years to come. With luck, and foresight, the only future development (especially after impending improvements in access in the form of a new highway across the Island, and a new Airport at El Catey are complete in 2007) will be the occasional quality, luxury Caribbean resort complex. Only the Government's continued insistence on such thoughtful and environmentally-appropriate 'exploitation' will help to preserve the elements that make Samana and it surrounds rather special – and still provide the needed boost to the country's economy that will ensure the both the Dominican Republic and its visitors get the 'best-of-both-worlds'.
See also a ahort articel we have include about getting from Santo Domingo to Samana.
And if you need one - you can now pick up a free Dominican Bus Timetable guide here, too.
Ruth & Alan