Christopher Columbus landed in the Dominican Republic in 1492 and it became the site of the first European settlement in the Americas and is the home to the first cathedral, castle, and monastery. The Republic occupies 7/8 of the island of Hispaniola, sharing the rest of the island with nation of Haiti. By both size and population the Dominican Republic is only second to Cuba with 18,705 square miles and approximately 10 million people, 1 million of which live in the capital city of Santa Domingo.
The bio-diversity of the Dominican Republic including having the Caribbean's highest mountain peak, Pico Duarte, and lowest elevation makes it an outstanding Eco-destination. A recent trip afforded us the opportunity to visit the Samana Peninsula to experience some of the many nature friendly experiences offered including a tour of the Los Haitises National Park, a boat ride to Playa Rincon, a horse back ride and hike to the magnificent El Limon Waterfall, and a whale watching excursion.
The Los Haitises National Park is one of the islands main watersheds, a nature preserve covering an area of 1,242 square miles. Boat tours allow visitors to explore the the picturesque tropical rain forest,mangroves, cays and caves. Most impressive is the opportunity to explore the expansive ancient caves used by the Tainos that peacefully occupied the area for hundreds of years before the arrival of the Europeans. Their pre-Colombian drawings and petroglyphs are well preserved for viewing. Some of the caves are also believed to have served as temporary homes for pirates.
For beach lovers we recommend the water taxi, $20 per person or $60 per boat, to Playa Rincon. Playa Rincon has been ranked among the top beaches in the world with gentle waters, soft sand, quiet and a beautiful view of lush mountains in the distance. If you arrive at lunchtime lobster and fresh fish is on the grill, $20, best enjoyed with a Presidente beer.
A visit to the The El Limon Waterfall, one of the most beautiful falls we've experienced in the world, is highly recommended on your visit as long as you are moderately fit for the combination horse ride and hike that takes 30-40 minutes each way. The waterfall drops 130 feet from the top of the Sierra Samana, 1,000 feet above sea level. Be sure to wear your bathing suit for a refreshing swim and bring your camera to capture the magnificent falls and jungle views. Also recommended are Teva-like footwear since the rocks can be slippy.
Every Winter numerous 35-40 ton Humpback Whales come to the sheltered Samana Bay for mating providing an amazing opportunity to observe the males jumping as part of their mating ritual and to see the mothers and calves swimming side-by-side. Yellow flagged boats authorized by the Ministry of Environment observing strict rules provide 3-4 hour educational tours from January 15th through March 30th twice a day, 9am and 3pm. There is also a land observatory at Punta Balandra on the road to Las Galeras, marked by whale ribs at the beginning of the trail. Expect a cost ranging from $65 for a half day to $80 for a full day including lunch in Cayo Levantado.
A visit to nearby Las Terrenas is also recommended. You'll have an opportunity to explore local shops,
enjoy and purchase local art and enjoy local fresh seafood including fresh oysters in the small fish market on
the waterfront. The beach in Las Terrenas runs 5 miles along the northeastern coastline and is known for its
calm waters that are suitable for swimming.
In Las Terrenas we had our best meal in Samana at Porto at the Balcones del Atlantico, the newest luxury resort in the Dominican Republic with spacious Villa Suites featuring gourmet kitchens with Viking and Cuisinart appliances. Recommended at Porto are their Fish Carpaccio with lemon pepper and olive oil and their grilled Certified Prime Angus Beef over grilled vegetables served with French fries, served with chimichurri sauce.
On our visit we stayed at the exceptional Bannister Hotel in the Puerto Bahia area of Samana, a member of the elite collection of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. It features 31 suites, along with kitchens, overlooking the beautiful Samana Bay. The property features a full array of restaurants, tennis courts, gym, swimming pools, and their Ni Spa. A water shuttle is provided for beach access. Their exceptional concierge services can arrange for all of your island excursions.
For more information about visiting the Dominican Republic please visit www.GoDominicanRepublic.com and for the Bannister Hotel, www.thebannisterhotel.com .