New York is freezing cold right now, and the cheapest place to fly outside of the US and Canada is the Dominican Republic.
With tickets ranging starting at $250 , I figured why not get away for the long President’s Day weekend?
In search of a quiet escape from the busy city, I chose to visit the D.R.’s lowkey Northern peninsula state of Samana — away from the mainstream all-inclusive resort and party areas in the Southeast (Punta Cana, etc.).
Samana is full of charm and natural beauty, know for its humpback whales, waterfalls, scuba diving, and tranquil beaches.
Playa Grande and Playlita have soft ivory-colored sand, and a few small beach bars, and not much else, making these beaches perfect for a quiet day in the sun.
One of the D.R.’s most famous beaches, Playa Rincon remains largely empty and undeveloped, partially due to its semi-remote location, more than 3 hours away from the capital Santo Domingo.
I hopped on the back of a local’s motorcycle and paid $10 for him to take me from Las Galeras, and then pick me up 5 hours later. It’s about a 20-minute ride, so I thought it was a fair price. The ride is scenic as well, through the town of Los Tocones, and the surrounding hillsides which overlook the beach.
At one far end of the beach, there is a single bar/restaurant. I’d suggest stocking up on snacks in town, you’ll want to stay here all day.
Scuba Diving: Cabo Cabron National Park
Diving in Cabo Cabron national park is a relaxing experience, with warm waters and a slight current. Many of the dives sights are coral walls or deeper reefs. Diving in the humpback whale reserve is prohibited, but if you’re lucky you may still see one.
I didn’t see any whales, but I did see a massive loggerhead sea turtle, groups of majestic white lionfish, various kinds of shrimp, angelfish and more.
The reefs are full of glowing hard corals, and fields of soft corals waving in the gentle current.
A day of diving and full equipment rental (2 dives) costs $100, two days of diving $175.
El Salto del Limon
Turquoise waters swirl under this massive waterfall and swimming hole near Samana. Visiting the cascadas is a great way to break up some of the beach monotony, while still beating the heat.
Locals may be climbing the waterfall and diving from quite some height, but I wouldn’t recommend trying it unless you really know what you’re doing!
Be sure to check out the smaller waterfall as well, you may get it all to yourself as I did. It is often skipped, but I actually preferred it since it was peaceful and climbable.
The large waterfall of Salto el Limon is located 45 minutes to 1 hour away from Las Galeras. For $30, I was able to arrange a private guide to take me from Las Galeras to the waterfall, and back which took roughly 4 hours. Entry fee to the park is 50 pesos ($1), cash only.
Los Haitises National Park
“Los Haitises” means “hilly land” or “highlands” in the Taino language.
While this excursion is a little more touristy, it’s one of the few insights into Taino culture you’ll find in the Dominican Republic.
The Taino people were one of four indigenous tribes to the island before the arrival of the Spanish in the 1400s. Within 50 years of the Spanish arrival, the Taino community was systematically exterminated.
Remnants of the Taino can be found in several caves inside Los Haitises. Cave paintings, or pictograms, depicting birds, sea life, and people decorated the inner walls.
home to thousands of plant species and hundreds of birds and reptiles. Four different kinds of mangrove trees grow in the brackish water separate the park from the sea, providing homes for oysters and a variety of fish-eating birds.
The excursion is $50-100 depending on the size of the group and is a really lovely boat ride from Samana through the park’s islands, mangroves, and then to Cabo Levantado, a resort island nearby, before returning to Santa Barbara de Samana. There are private half-day tours from Las Galeras or Santa Barbara de Samana as well.
The park is also accessible by land or on your own, however, it is apparently ‘difficult’, as the public ferry from Santa Barbara does not go the park directly, but to a small town on the opposite side of the bay that is not exactly close to the sites of the park. If you aren’t pressed for time, perhaps try visiting it on your own.
Prices in the Samana area
It’s important to note that the Dominican Republic is not as inexpensive as traveling in Asia or Eastern Europe. Because it is an island, certain things such as gas a relatively expensive, ($4-5/gallon), which then pump up import and shipping costs.
A simple meal of beans and rice will cost $4-5, a single entree and drink in a mediocre restaurant may cost $15. Cocktails are $5, and fruity drinks on the beach $7-8. Considering the view, however, this is a fair price to pay.
Coming from Santo Domingo, you’ll arrive in Santa Barbara de Saman, or simply ‘Samana’ (which can be confusing, as the state and peninsula are also called Samana).
Samana is a busy, loud, port city, without a beach, and not ideal for your weekend away. The nearby Cabo Levantado is a short 15 minute ferry ride away though, and has a small but gorgeous beach.
The one-street town of Las Galeras is a humble place to relax for the weekend. A room is a no-frills guesthouse (no AC, no hot water, patchy WiFi) is roughly $30/night, and nicer places are $50+. Don’t worry about the wifi though, you’re here to relax!
While there is a small all-inclusive resort on the Eastern outskirts of Las Galeras, I preferred to stay on the Western edge of town, where the beaches are nearly empty, and there are many local restaurants to choose from.
The beach resort is small, therefore crowded– the whole point of coming up North is to get away from the crowds!
Las Galeras is small but full of charm and quirks. There is a barber shop that becomes a bar at night, a few local handicraft shops and family-owned liquor stores, plus a handful of casual open-air restaurants.
Santa Barbara de Samana is accessible from Santo Domingo by taxi or Caribe Tours bus. The Caribe bus leaves from a station near the Las Americas airport 3 or 4 times a day and goes directly to Samana town. The bus takes roughly 2.5 hours and costs $9 (400 pesos), while a private taxi or Uber will cost $100-150 (5000-7500 pesos).
To get to Las Galeras or Las Ballenas, one can take a guagua, a shared taxi-truck, or private taxi. Private taxis are $10-20 (500-1000 pesos), while guaguas are $2-5. The ride is roughly 30 minutes and is a gorgeous drive along the coast.
Buses leave from Las Galeras going to Santo Domingo at 5:45 or 1pm. Buses from Samana to Santo Domingo leave at 8, 10, 3, and 4pm. There are no buses after the sunsets, plan accordingly — Taxis can charge ridiculous prices since they know they’re your only option, especially if you need to get to Santo Domingo to catch a flight!
If you have a 3-day weekend (or an entire week for Spring Break), the Dominican Republic is an easily accessible and gorgeous getaway. If you wanted to ‘see it all’, I’d recommend at least 10-14 days, as there are incredible national parks in the far southwestern part of the country as well.
Samana’s beach towns offer a quieter more private beach experience than the popular resort towns of Punta Cana and La Romana. Next time though, I’ll definitely check out the nightlife in Punta Cana and Santo Domingo!