The Dominican Republic's Samana Peninsula has become a magnet for expatriates drawn to its classic Caribbean ambience and for hospitality entrepreneurs looking for the next great place.
The Samana Peninsula is the northeasternmost tip of the island of Hispaniola, jutting into the Atlantic and forming the great sweep of Bahia Samaná. The drive from the town of Sanchez in the west to the village of Las Galeras in the east covers a mere 40 miles; the distance from the bay shore to the Atlantic coastline is only 10 miles at the peninsula's widest point.
Given the hills, indentations and ambushing potholes, however, the usual miles-per-hour calculations become the motoring equivalent of island time. Not that you'd want to drive fast anyway; the scenery is too beguiling for that. Samana is noted for its cocoteros, or coconut palms. Millions of them. Groves of cocoteros line the beaches and cloak the hillsides, and in the sharp afternoon sunlight they fill the landscape with a green so vivid and brilliant it seems to have been digitally enhanced.
Unlike the long stretches of strand at, say, Punta Cana to the south, the beaches of Samana are mostly cozy coves embraced by hills or cliffs, like playas Fronton and Rincon near Las Galeras, or Limon, Moron and Karisma near El Limon. Many of them can be reached only by boat or scraggly footpath (and it wouldn't surprise if some of them have never known a human footprint).
Despite all this natural beauty, the peninsula has often been overlooked by even the most popular travel guides and overshadowed by major tourist destinations such as Puerto Plata and Punta Cana - until now. Like any Edenic getaway, the Samana Peninsula is not immune from insinuating progress. Cruise ships - biggies, alas - now make frequent calls at the town of Santa Bárbara de Samana (the regional capital, commonly referred to as Samana); a brand-new airport, El Catey, capable of handling international flights. The government opened a new highway that cuts the driving time from the Dominican Republic's capital city of Santo Domingo to Sanchez to two-and-a-half hours.