THE GREAT AMERICAN VACATION
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Samaná (pronounced sah-mah-NAH) is a dramatically beautiful peninsula, like an island unto itself, of coconut trees stretching into the sea. It's something of a microcosm of the Dominican Republic: here you'll see poverty and fancy resorts, brand-new highways as well as bad roads, verdant mountainsides, tropical forests, tiny villages lined with street-side fruit vendors, secluded beaches, and
the radiant warmth of the Dominican people. Samaná is the name of both the peninsula and its biggest town, as well as the bay to the south. It's worth noting that to locals, Samaná denotes only the largest town, Santa Bárbara de Samaná, which makes a great departure point for whale-watching or an excursion to Los Haitises Park across the bay. The bay is home to some of the world's best whale-watching from mid-January to late March. It is now the site of Puerto Bahia Marina and Residences and the Bannister Hotel, contemporary, luxurious yet moderately priced. This complex has brought an entirely new level of tourism to this area, and given yachts a full-service facility in what has always been a desirable cruising destination.A visit here is really about two things: exploring the preserved natural wonders and relaxing at a small beachfront hotel. The latter is most readily accomplished in Las Terrenas, the only true tourist center, where you can find picturesque restaurants, accommodations of all types (including the new oceanfront Sublime Samaná and the luxury condo-hotel, Balcones del Atlantico), and great beaches. At Las Terrenas you can enjoy peaceful playas, take advantage of the vibrant nightlife, and make all your plans for expeditions on the peninsula. The other pleasures are solitary—quiet beaches, the massive national park Los Haitises, and water sports and hiking. A relatively new toll road connects Santo Domingo to the peninsula; it's about a 2- to 2½-hour drive. Small El Catey International Airport is near Las Terrenas and is now being served by twice-weekly JetBlue flights (Wednesday and Saturday).
On the Dominican Republic's Samaná Peninsula, the green mountains teem with coconut trees and dramatic vistas of the ocean. The area is full of hidden beaches reachable only on foot or by sea, protected coves, and undeveloped bays. A visit to Samaná is really about two things: exploring its preserved natural wonders and relaxing on the beach. There are a number of all-inclusive resorts where you can hang your hat, quaint and low-key beachfront hotels, as well as new world-class properties, where you can find complete relaxation and tranquillity.