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 Bahía Marina & 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 beachfront hotel. The latter is most readily accomplished in Las Terrenas, the peninsula's original tourist center, where you can find beachfront restaurants, accommodations of all types (from small hotels to full-service resorts to luxury condos), 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 now less than a two-hour drive. Small El Catey International Airport is near Las Terrenas and is now being served by twice-weekly JetBlue flights.
FODOR'S GO LIST 2016
The top 25 places we think should be on every traveler's radar this year.More