Don't miss scuba diving in the Caribbean Sea. // © 2016 iStock
Feature image (above): El Limon Falls in Samana, Dominican Republic // © 2016 iStock
Samana, Dominican Republic, is an emerging eco-destination filled with adventure and luxury. The Dominican Republic has long been one of the most unique environments in the Caribbean, with nine distinct ecological zones providing everything from lush rainforest to arid desert, all in one vacation spot. With accommodations ranging from treehouses to the grand Sublime Samana resort, delicious cuisine and activities such as horseback riding and ziplining, I found that a week was the perfect amount of time to enjoy it all. Here are my recommendations for the perfect Samana getaway.
I discovered Samana’s secret side in Las Galeras, a small district tucked between two nature reserves. Clients should check into Villa Serena and sign up for wellness classes while enjoying the fragrant ocean breeze. The resort offers daily yoga, Zumba, meditation, pranayama (breathing exercises) and water yoga classes, as well as scheduled yoga retreats. Guests can kayak in the bay or take advantage of the free scuba and snorkeling equipment to enjoy the beautiful Caribbean Sea.
Pro tip: Reserve in-room or beach massages in advance.
Rise early, rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle and roll to Rincon Beach. There are two sides to this beach as it is also on a bay, so visitors should take advantage of both playas. I lunched on lobster, fresh fish and plantains served by locals right on the sand. After swimming and sunbathing, travelers should head to the town of Las Terrenas and indulge in vintage plantation-style luxury at The Peninsula House. Dinner at the property’s on-site restaurant is delicious; it specializes in local seafood with fruit and produce gathered from the Dominican countryside.
I savored breakfast at the authentic Boulangerie Francaise in Las Terrenas, then went souvenir shopping and perused the charming town. I particularly enjoyed the art exhibited on the street. If it’s in season, head back to the beach for a surf lesson with Carolina Surf School or try kite-surfing.
Dry off afterward by heading into the treetops — literally. Pick a room and hoist on up at eco-lodge Dominican Tree House Village. The open-air cabins are made from local materials. If clients seek more treetop adventures, they can zipline on an exhilarating course right on property. I flew faster than I thought possible and felt secure in the hands of the kind professionals. I suggest a sunset dinner on the beach at nearby Josefina’s.
After a bird’s-eye view from the treetops, come back to land. I ventured to Sublime Samana for some restrained opulence. This resort is tastefully done, with rooms ranging from one-bedroom suites to large casitas replete with hot tubs on the roof. Secure a reservation for the evening at Bistro, led by award-winning chef Cristian Baez. I recommend the ceviche and piquillo peppers stuffed with lamb. For afternoon activities, guests can choose between horseback riding to El Limon Falls (I was lucky and caught a heated local game of dominos going on there) or whale watching, depending on the season.
Pro tip: Pack bathing suits and sunscreen for both of the above excursions.
After breakfast on the beach, travelers can decide between two unique excursions offered in Samana: a chocolate or coffee tour that visits local farms. These tours are offered through companies such as Nexus Tours and Runners Adventures. Lunch should be a picnic along the way. For the afternoon, detour to Coson Beach; I found it to be the most gorgeous beach in this area, and weather conditions are great for bodysurfing. Suggest clients dine at Mi Corazon in Las Terrenas, notable for its artistic dishes as well as its ambience.
Los Haitises National Park is a true highlight of this eco-rich area. To get as close as possible to the magnificent park, check into Paraiso Cano Hondo, a charming eco-lodge and winner of many green tourism awards. There are 28 rustic-yet-chic rooms in three buildings: Cano Hondo, Ceyba Jivales and Altos de Cano Hondo.
Take advantage of the hotel’s proximity to Los Haitises National Park and sail to the destination for cave pictographs and bird watching. I was overwhelmed by the beautiful avian clouds. After this nautical adventure, switch to some exploration by foot. On the resort’s Relaxation Trail excursions at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., guests can wander the park’s forests and swim along an exclusive beach. Dine at the resort’s restaurant afterward and relax while watching the Rio Jivales flow into stunning natural pools.
Pro tip: Books clients in the Altos de Cano Hondo building for breathtaking views of San Lorenzo and Samana bays.
On the final day, I surrendered to Samana’s waves, blue sky and rum. Suggest clients take a day trip to Cayo Levantado, an island in Samana Bay. There are plenty of food stalls with local grub and fresh seafood, plus makeshift bars to enjoy. I saw one fisherman reel in a huge fish and cook it right on the beach. I purchased a large pineapple filled with rum, an inexpensive bottle for topping it off and then sunbathed, strolled and swam the day away. Of note is a single hotel on the island, Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado, with private beaches, watersports and multiple restaurants.