Adventurers used to come to Samana bay in search of pirate treasure and shipwrecks. No doubt these attractions still exist, but they're no longer the great draw. Now, what brings in the visitors is the chance of sighting schools of humpback whales who travel half way across the planet to this Caribbean paradise for their courtship and mating rituals.
The beach at Coson provides a perfect amphitheatre from which to watch the leviathan lovers, but you may prefer to sign up for a half-day boat trip that will give you an even better chance to get up close and personal with these giants from the deep. Year after year, between January and March, drawn by the ideal local water conditions, around 3,000 whales from the waters off Iceland, Greenland, Canada and North America gather in Samana, forming the greatest gathering of humpback whales in the world.
You'll want to have your camera at the ready to capture that magic moment as the males - who weigh in at a hefty 40 tonnes or more – break from the water in a mighty jump intended to impress and attract the females. This display can be witnessed and appreciated by visitors to the area, but the mysterious and eerie whale song serenade can only be heard under water – though there it echoes across a radius of 30 kilometres calling to potential partners. Three or four months later, the baby whales are born and their mothers get ready to return to the colder waters of the Arctic.
The whale courtship ritual is not the only attraction of Samana, though. Mother Nature has been generous here, and lush green mountains rise behind endless unspoiled beaches; small fishing villages are bathed by the clean turquoise waters of the Caribbean and coral reefs await visiting divers. For the moment, too, there are surprisingly few tourists, so all this beauty can be enjoyed and appreciated in peace.
This north-eastern coast of the Dominican Republic is rich in history: it was here that Christopher Columbus stopped off en route to discover the New World; Napoleon governed here, and pirates found safe haven; American slaves made it their home, mixing with Europeans from France, Spain and Italy and giving rise to a mix of cultures unlike those found elsewhere in the region, with resultant variations in both cuisine and language.
If you're after the best beaches in Samana, you should head to Playa Bonita - literally 'beautiful beach'. This ten kilometre stretch of unspoiled sands is fringed with thousands of coconut palms and offers a perfect setting for relaxation. It's also an ideal place for water sports such as surfing and diving. Then there's the island of Cayo Levantado, at the entrance to the bay, with two idyllic beaches of fine white sand, tall palms and woody areas straight out of a movie.
The Haitises National Park is a vast rocky area with mangrove swamps and little islets known as mogotes, protected because of the fauna: the area is home to over a hundred species of birds, manatees, sea turtles, bats and large reptiles. And the same degree of exoticism and adventure awaits at the Limon waterfall and the Ecotopia Park, or maybe you'd enjoy an excursion along a tropical river...
Where to stay:
Most of the hotel complexes are located in the towns of Las Terrenas, Sanchez, Las Galeras and Samana. One of the most attractive is the Gran Bahia Principe in El Portillo, just a few kilometres from Las Terrenas; it offers a private beach as well as comprehensive sports and leisure facilities. The Playa Colibri - Hummingbird Beach – complex is also a good choice.
Dominican Republic Tourist Office