A real offbeat destination where prices are still affordable, Samaná is an undeveloped 50km-long (30-mile) peninsula located in the northeastern corner of the country. It's about as Casablanca as the Caribbean gets. Hiding out here is an international expatriate enclave of rampant individualists. It also has some of the finest white-sand beaches in the Dominican Republic.
But change is coming quickly to this remote area of the D.R., mainly because of an airport, El Catey, thereby eliminating the need for costly, bone-jolting trips from more distant airports within the D.R. for the hundreds of tour groups winging in aboard chartered flights from Canada, France, and the U.S. The location of the airport is a 45-minute drive from the center of Samaná. The opening of a modern highway from Santo Domingo to the Samaná Peninsula has cut driving time from the capital to this remote outpost to around 90 minutes.
Unless the new and easier access to the region changes things significantly, don't expect nightlife in this remote area, or even many semblances of urban life. The focus here is on calm, sedate days in the sun beside beautiful beaches, underwater snorkeling and scuba, verdant terrain, and recovery from stress.
The region attracts a denser concentration of visitors from France than virtually any other region of the D.R., and the hamlet of Las Terrenas boasts a thriving colony of French expatriates, the most visible French-speaking community in the country. Las Terrenas, on the peninsula's north coast, is the site of one of the region's most popular beaches. Although the strand strip is narrow, it is filled with white sand set against a backdrop of palms. The beach is never crowded. About the only visitors you'll encounter are at sea: the several thousand humpback whales who swim in from the North Atlantic to birth their calves from late December through March. The main town, Samaná, lies on the southern side of the peninsula, overlooking a bay. The north coast of the peninsula is more accessible by boat. The roads are a bit of a joke, better suited for donkeys than cars.
In 1824, the Turtle Dove, a sailing vessel, was blown ashore at Samaná. Dozens of American slaves from the Freeman Sisters' underground railroad escaped to these shores. They settled in Samaná, and today, their descendants still live on the island. Although Spanish is the major language, you can still hear some form of 19th-century English, and you'll see villages with names such as Philadelphia or Bethesda.
Samaná Peninsula is one of the fastest-developing tourist regions of the Dominican Republic, but so far the government has yet to open any visitor-information offices here.
As in most places in the D.R., there is confusion over which place accepts which currency. All the hotels, except the small ones, quote prices in U.S. dollars. Nearly all businesses dealing with tourists also quote rates in U.S. dollars. However, some of the tours and transportation costs, even a meal in a local restaurant, might quote you a tab in pesos.