245km (152 miles) NE of Santo Domingo

The town of Samaná lies on the southern coast, east of the airport at Arroyo Barril and opening onto the scenic Bahía de Samaná. Known for its safe harbor, it was the former stamping ground of some of the Caribbean's most notorious pirates, including such ne'er-do-wells as England's Jack Banister, whose men killed 125 British soldiers when they came to arrest him. Banister escaped, although 40 of his pirates were killed in the melee.

Samaná (more formally known as Santa Bárbara de Samaná) is the main town of the peninsula, fronting a bay of tiny islands, sometimes called Banister Cays in honor of that notorious pirate. Columbus arrived here on January 12, 1493. After battling the Ciguayos Indians, he named the bay Golfo de las Flechas, or "the Gulf of Arrows."

If you stand along the water looking south, the two islets you'll see in the bay are Cayos Linares and Vigia.

In an ill-conceived urban renewal plan under President Balaguer, much of the atmosphere of old Samaná, with its narrow streets and wrought-iron balconies, was destroyed, giving way to ugly concrete buildings and wide asphalt-paved boulevards.

As you arrive in town, expect to be overpowered by hard-to-shake English-speaking local hustlers who will try to sell you virtually anything from a hotel room to themselves. Hipsters from Santo Domingo are quick to tell journalists and casual visitors how boring Samaná is, utterly lacking in the flair and nightlife of the nation's capital. Nonetheless, it's the administrative capital of the region, and most of the peninsula's hotels lie within a 60-minute drive from its boundaries.

Most activity centers along the main road running along the bayfront, Avenida La Marina (most often called Malecón, or "sea wall").