- Mar 3, 2012
We would reach our destination in less time, we wouldn't get lost in Monte plata and Majagual, we wouldn't try to negotiate with the locals which way to go, there are street signs now. We wouldn't be driving up and down dirt roads on hills, we wouldn't cross rivers, and even though the places the highway crosses are picturesque and beautiful, we wouldn't be seeing those amazing landscapes I saw back then..
Just before Las Terrenas we stopped at Mirador Mi Paraiso, a spot where everyone stops to take pictures.
From up here you can see part of the coastline of the peninsula, up to the 'tip' of Punta Bonita, the beautiful Coson beach and the playa Bonita with the lush nature surrounding them.The view point was built on the new Bulevar Turístico del Atlántico road and from above you can see the endless vegetation of coconut trees while the sea changes dozens of shades of blue. They say that the Samana Peninsula has as many coconut trees as the rest of the Dominican Republic and from up here you can see that they are not exaggerating.
After several hours from our morning start, we arrived at the place where we were going to stay in Samana, the cosmopolitan, quiet fishing village, the bustling and noisy, with dozens of motoconchos honking non-stop, with a calm and relaxed lifestyle, with big all inclusive resorts, with small traditional style hotels....with a perfect mix of all the above, Las Terrenas.
I had chosen to stay at the wonderful playa Las Ballenas, which I remembered as the most beautiful spot. A dirt road back then that could barely fit one car, it's paved now and can fit two cars, but I remembered correctly!
And I booked the whole of Villa Colette which consists of two 'huts', bbq, a large swimming pool - unnecessary with such a beach at 50 metres - all for our group!
Villa Colette is gorgeous, costs 100e per night, we were 5 friends from 20e each. We cooked here a few times, it even has a bbq, an outdoor shower to rinse off after the sea, and a big stone corner sofa with cushions where we hung out in the evenings and drank our rums! The beach was right next to us, and we would walk down the beautiful trail with a cup of Dominicano coffee that we made every morning.
A wide, majestic white sand beach, with its coconut trees, clear waters and three rocky islets off the coast that resemble humpback whales sticking out of the water, hence the name "the whales' beach" (las ballenas).
The area is just 10 minutes very pleasant walking from the centre of Las Terrenas. It has small hotels and villas like ours, bars and restaurants with tables on the sand.
The water is crystal clear and relatively calm, plenty of shade from the palm trees, so wherever we went during the day, we started and ended with a swim here.....
The beach started in the east with the fishermen's village (Pueblo de los pescadores), a series of casitas used by local fishermen as a base for daily fishing and became the beginning of the village. Over the years, as fishing declined and tourism increased, the houses were painted pastel, became charming bars and eateries with their wooden terraces over the water, and the Pueblo de los pescadores was transformed into one of the most popular places to eat and drink. All this until last September when I booked my flights. The village burned to the ground, for the second time..It was one of the things that made me sad on this trip, seeing the place burnt down and remembering how it was like in 2003..
While I was there in March, I read that it was decided to give Las Terrenas back its historic town symbol, and they will rebuild the village with some changes in safety measures to prevent a similar accident from happening again. I hope it's true..
The further west you go, the softer, silkier the sand becomes, and because you end up in a sheltered cove, the waters are calm, almost still, and the same quietness prevails on the road. There are fewer buildings in the forest and more jungle. Rows of tall coconut trees end at the beach and adorn the shoreline.
At its western end the beach ends in a small river, the Rio Marico, which falls into the sea and because of this the beach used to be called playa Marico. Locals and visitors started calling it Ballenas because of the rocky islets. I walked up there to see again the places I had been years ago.
I remember we drove the dirt road and up at the turn we came across the small river that you crossed over a wooden bridge made of 8 rough logs that looked crumbling.
Today the road is paved and the bridge is no longer logs, it's concrete. The road continues to Loma Cercada, the jungle hotel where I was staying at the time, and Laguna Marico where the little river starts.
Back then, the mouth of the river was where kids swam and played every day, and outside there were palapas and sunbeds.
Today the river is not exactly dirty, but it has standing water, there is no flow to the sea, but maybe the season plays a role, then I had come in October when there is more rain.
Somewhere here the road ends, it just branches off to some few hotels in the jungle, like the uphill road here leading to Loma Bonita, a complex that can also be seen from the beach.
The beach is about 2 kilometres long and as you get closer to the centre of Las Terrenas the hotels, bars, motorbikes and atvs multiply, therefore the noise grows. As you go towards the end of the beach, and the river there is very little traffic on this part of playa las ballenas.
It is the ideal place for walking either on the sandy beach or on the paved road, walking under an arch of trees and gazing at the few beach shops and the beautiful houses in the gardens.
The sunsets are fantastic on the beach and the evenings are magical with the stars shining brighter than the lights of the beach bars inviting you for a drink on the sand!
Inside the town of Las Terrenas it's from quite a bit to a lot of traffic, but luckily they've made one-way streets in and out and the madness is mitigated.
I don't know how many times we walked around the village. And I don't call it a town because it may be the most developed tourist spot on the peninsula, but it still has a sense of relaxed, seaside village. The promenade is dotted with tall coconut trees that provided refreshing shade on our endless walks.
No matter where you stay in Las Terrenas, a beautiful beach will be right next to you, with white, cream or golden sand. A very pretty beach is Punta Popy, a 10-15 minute walk from the village centre, basically it's an extension of the beach. As expected it gets crowded especially on weekends since Terreneros and many tourists prefer it.
But the sea is beautiful, calm and just behind it there is a forest of cocopalms and tropical trees. Along it, local shops and bars serve cool cocktails on your sun lounger. . If you want less crowds, just head a little further out, the old familiar playa Bonita and playa Coson are just a stone's throw away.
The capital of the Santa Bárbara De Samaná peninsula has spread out much further than I remembered. At the western end of Avenida de la Marina, Plaza Pueblo Príncipe, a series of elegant casitas in Victorian style and Caribbean colours, has now been built. It's a tourist village with shops, clothing, souvenirs, it caters to cruise ship passengers. Because many cruises in the Caribbean include the port of Samana in their itineraries. If one wants to go to Bacardi Island, it is advisable to go on a day when there is no cruise ship. Also there are no more boats to pass by wherever you want bargaining the price...the boaters are clustered in punta Carenero an area opposite Bacardi's island, and of course in malecon you are still hounded by locals to book tours. In Los Cacaos, where I used to cross to the island from back in the day, there are no boats anymore..
One of the most beautiful places on the peninsula remains Las Galeras where we stopped on our way back from Rincon and which I also did not recognize. The village is known for its secluded location and for the beautiful beaches around it that are accessible by boat. At the entrance to Playa Grande as they call the village beach, there are many shacks-cookshops gathered together.
Fortunately, the landscape and paths in the surrounding area have changed very little, and the white sand beaches are breathtaking. Crystal clear turquoise waters, a crescent-shaped sandy beach and the mini island with 4-5 palm trees - a trademark of Las Galeras - in the middle of the bay.