Santa Barbara de Samana

The official name of the city is Santa Bárbara de Samaná; but these days it's just called "Samaná." An authentic port town, it's getting its bearings as a tourist zone, and still is not a magnet like Las Galeras and Las Terrenas. It has a typical malecón (seaside promenade) that's ideal for strolling and watching the boats in the harbor. Lookout "towers" have been built; ascend the stairs and see the whales in season or just look out to the horizon. Strong night lighting has been added, too, so you will see Dominicans and tourists alike taking walks after dinner. A small but bustling town, Samaná is filled with friendly residents, skilled local craftsmen selling their wares, and a handful of outdoor, sea-view, and courtyard restaurants.

A big all-inclusive resort, the Bahía Príncipe Cayacoa, is on one end of the bay road up on a hill. Day passes are available (and the resort has the only beach in town). The hotel also operates a block of colorful gift shops and a small casino. This group was the town's first attempt to capture cruise-ship-passenger money. It's the string of buildings called Pueblo Príncipe, which replicates small Victorian buildings painted in Caribbean colors and trimmed in white gingerbread. Along Avenida del Malecón, across from the waterside, is the office of Whale Samaná, ground zero for boat excursions shoving off to see whales from January until late March.

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