What to Know
Tourist Information: 888- 374-6361; godominican republic.com
Documents: Passport required
Getting There: Las Americas International Airport (SDQ) is the major airport for Santo Domingo and the most viable gateway to the Samana peninsula. Daily nonstop flights are available from American (Miami, New York), Continental (New York), Delta (Atlanta, New York), JetBlue (Boston, Fort Lauderdale, New York, Orlando), Spirit (Fort Lauderdale) and US Airways (Philadelphia).
Las Terrenas does have a small airstrip, El Portillo (EPS), which is generally served by AeroDomca (aerodomca.com) from La Isabela International (JBQ), in Higuero, a northern suburb of Santo Domingo about an hour’s drive from Las Americas. However, flights are limited and may be canceled if there are not enough passengers, so it’s best to make reservations through a full-service transportation company such as Dominican Shuttles (dominicanshuttles.com), which can assist with alternate ground or air transportation if it becomes necessary.
Currency: Dominican peso (U.S.$1 = 38 DOP)
Dialing: 1 + 809 + seven-digit number
Getting Around: Renting a car is most convenient for independent exploration, but making the challenging (to say the least) three-hour drive from Santo Domingo to Las Terrenas is not recommended; it’s best to arrange for a car or shuttle service. Once in town, you can rent a car from one of the local agencies or rely on taxis, which are relatively expensive. Motoconchos (motorcycle taxis) are cheaper, but it’s best to stick to short hops and choose only drivers wearing their license around their neck or a yellow vest reading motoconcho.
Where to stay
Acaya: New owner Jean-Marc Nicolas brings a French sensibility to this intimate hotel offering 16 simple but comfortable rooms. There are coconut palms and loungers studding the lawn fronting the beach and an open-air restaurant looking out on the sea. From $115.
Balcones del Atlantico, A RockResort: The brand-new resort has 86 one-, two- and three-bedroom villas, plus several penthouse villas coming in at just under 4,000 square feet. All have private terraces, Viking-equipped kitchens, living and laundry rooms, flat-screen TVs and Internet access. Two pools, a half-mile of stunning beach and Porto restaurant round out the amenities. From $399.
CasaCoson: Set directly on Playa Coson, this lushly landscaped charmer offers four hotel rooms, two suites and three stand-alone casitas. Italian owners Yvan and Marzia Magnien are known for their friendliness and her cooking. From $140.
Hotel Alisei: Each of the hotel’s 54 beachfront apartments is furnished simply but stylishly; all have a terrace and most have a kitchen. Options range from one- and two-bedrooms to a loft villa and a honeymoon suite. There’s a curving pool lined with chaises and a full-service spa with a Turkish hammam, or bath. From $123.
The Peninsula House: This extraordinary, small guesthouse, set on a cliff overlooking the sea, has just six rooms arrayed around a light-filled courtyard filled with plants. The decor is exquisite; the expansive grounds and ocean views are drop-dead gorgeous. The inn’s acclaimed Beach Restaurant sits on the shore below and is open only to hotel guests for dinner. From $580.
Where to eat & Drink
Acaya Hotel Restaurant: This French-owned Playa Bonita hot spot offers Caribbean fare with a Mediterranean twist against a backdrop of pulsing Latin music and lovely views of the water.
The Beach Restaurant: No ordinary beach shack, this casually elegant spot is the Peninsula House’s restaurant. The menu trends toward seafood with an inventive touch and incorporates a variety of locally sourced ingredients. Open to the public for lunch only.
El Mambo: This popular tapas bar boasts tasty Spanish cuisine (think shrimp with aioli and bacalao salad), an eclectic flamenco-inspired ambience and lively Friday-night fiestas every other week. Open for dinner only. 809-917-6639
El Mosquito Art Bar: Pueblo de los Pescadores’ popular hangout is known for its sophisticated club atmosphere, late-night scene and larger-than-life persona of its owner, Spanish expat Alex Rodriguez. Try the Mosquito chupito (shooter) — that dash of grenadine in the bottom represents the sangre (blood) of the mosquito bite. 809-877-2844
Paco Cabana: The place to go for a meal in Las Terrenas, this sophisticated eatery with democratic prices sits smack on the beach and fairly drips with French elan, from its emphasis on presentation to its pillowed couches and beds. Owner Michel Mari offers a menu heavy on local seafood served with a little Caribbean creativity.
Porto The restaurant at Balcones del Atlantico: offers all the elegance and gourmet flair you’d expect of this upscale resort. Flowing ocean breezes and impeccable decor complement the innovative dishes; the Peruvian-born chef’s ceviche is a standout.
What to Do
Los Haitises National Park A foray into this untamed treasure offers an opportunity to commune with nature on a large scale, thanks to the massive geological rock formations that gave rise to the park’s name (haiti is a Taino word that roughly translates to mountainous). The park is accessible only by boat, so you’ll want to arrange a trip through a reputable tour operator, such as Flora Tours.
Plying the pristine waters in a small fishing boat, winding around the keys and islets, is a tantalizing prelude to exploring the park proper. The best guides will offer a fascinating spiel about the native flora and fauna during the forest hike; bird watchers should keep their eyes peeled for such feathered friends as blue herons, frigate birds, pelicans and bright-green Hispaniolan parakeets. Look for operators that also offer kayaking in the mangrove swamps; it’s one of the best ways to get up close and personal with this distinctly Caribbean ecosystem.
A highlight of a day trip to Los Haitises is a trek through the limestone cave system. Caves were sacred places for the island’s original inhabitants, the Taino Indians, whose creation story centered around the belief that human beings sprang from caves. Their legacy is evident in the mysterious pictographs (paintings) and petroglyphs (carvings) marked on the cavern walls.
To truly immerse yourself in the experience, stay the night at the adjacent eco-lodge, Paraiso Cano Hondo, where you’ll be lulled to sleep by the sound of the river cascading over stone. The comfortable rooms are appointed in rustic style, while the on-site restaurant and bar offers refreshment with a focus on regional Dominican cuisine. The lodge also arranges excursions into Los Haitises with English-speaking guides.
Whale Watching: The Samana Peninsula is known as a whale-watching hot spot, and rightly so: The spectacle of scores of humpbacks making their seasonal migration through the offshore waters to their breeding grounds is absolutely awe-inspiring. It’s a limited-time deal, however, as the whales are in town only from January through March. There are a number of outfitters offering boat excursions; Whale Samana, owned by Canadian-born conservationist Kim Bedall, is the best-known. There’s also a landlubber’s option: the newly constructed whale observatory in Punta Balandra, near the city of Samana. It’s a bit of a trek across the peninsula, so check with your hotel for a reputable tour operator to take you there.