Whenever you think of beautiful beaches in the Dominican Republic, places like Punta Cana probably come to mind. That’s because Punta Cana is the hottest touristic destination in the Caribbean. But there’s another gem that hasn’t been exploited as much by tourism in the Dominican Republic, and also has pristine beaches with pale sands washed by turquoise water. These beaches are in the Province of Samaná. Samaná is a peninsula located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in the northeastern part of the Dominican Republic.
Even though I was born in the DR, I never got a chance to appreciate all the beautiful sites that the country has because I moved to the U.S. as a child. I only went back once, until I became an adult, and now I get to explore and see how beautiful the country is. We had Samaná on our bucket list for a while and I’m glad we were finally able to make it there for our honeymoon in 2014. We stayed on a small island, called Cayo Levantado, in the Bay of Samaná. It’s also known as the Bacardi Island, since this is where a well-known Bacardi rum commercial was filmed.
When planning the getaway, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that there is an international airport in Samaná and that JetBlue started flying there from New York City. We ended up flying from this airport on the way back only, and it was a smooth experience. On the way to the island though, since we were coming from our destination wedding at Iberostar, Puerto Plata, DR, we went to Samaná with a private cab driver. We had a smooth ride since we drove on a freshly paved road, and as it ran along the northern shore of the island, the views were spectacular. It took us about four hours to get to Samaná. To get to the island of Cayo Levantado, you need to take a water shuttle from the marina or main dock, Simi Baez. As soon as we got to the dock, we saw other tourists boarding and ran with our luggage. The water shuttle doesn’t run often and we hurried since we didn’t want to miss an afternoon of the beach. Fortunately, we made it and were on our way to our new paradise.
We stayed at the all-inclusive Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado Resort. This is not by any means an inexpensive resort, but we decided to splurge on this one, since we did extremely well with the rest of the wedding cost (broke even). And besides, we only get to have one honeymoon, and we could afford it without going into debt. We did a 5-night stay that came out to around $400 per night for both of us. These splurges are very rare for the Enchumbao household, and when they happen, we fully immerse ourselves in the experience.
After the five minute boat ride to the island, we got off and started the check-in process. We were unpleasantly surprised that we received no special treatment above the standard upon checking in. We made a note on the reservation that we were going to spend our honeymoon there. Many resorts usually do nice treats for newlyweds, or even upgrade you if there are better rooms available. Their system didn’t capture our special reservation requests properly and, as a result, we didn’t get any added-value treatments. Not a good start… After we were shown our room, we noticed that the window was overlooking the back of the staff quarters and bathrooms, and staff was constantly coming and in and out of them. Who pays that much money to view a public bath house? Well… and that was the drop the spilled the cup! We went back to the reception the next morning and requested to speak to a manager. I’m not sure what he was smoking, as he had the guts to ask us if we had our marriage certificate with us. What?! To make a long story short, once the manager realized they omitted the information about our honeymoon internally, he was very apologetic, and ended up upgrading us to an ocean front view villa! Things got a lot better from there… The photos below were our view from our second story balcony. A view like that and some booze can ease any bad experience away!
The local airport, Samaná El Catey International Airport, is about an hour away from the hotel. About three quarters of the island of Cayo Levantado is occupied by the resort and a quarter by a public beach called Playa Grande. Playa Grande has a snack bar and shops that sell Dominican souvenirs. Hundreds of tourists venture to the island daily on day trips. The island has two docks, one for the public sector and the other one for the hotel guests.
Humpback Whales Watching
We were lucky to coincide with the humpback whales breeding season. From January to March, thousands of humpback whales come to the coast off Samaná Bay. Humpback whales typically migrate in the winter, up to 16,000 miles each year, to tropical waters like the Samaná coast to breed and give birth. Do we sense love in the air, or in the water, perhaps? Nice to see the baby whales become Dominican citizens!
We were able to save some money on the humpback whale-watching tour by coordinating it ourselves with Kim Beddall, a Canadian, animal advocate and conservationist that runs her own business. It’s not promoted at the hotel’s site but you can book it online. We had to walk to the public side of the beach because they pick you up from the public dock. If you try to set up tours with the vendors that come to the resorts, always negotiate prices because tourists’ fares are always inflated, just like in many other touristic destinations.
The Resort’s Atmosphere
Although we had good service, we were missing the warmth of the Dominican people, when compared to other Dominican resorts. This is an upscale place and the clients seem more uptight and, therefore, the staff has a more cautious interaction with the clients. What we like about the resorts from Puerto Plata, especially Iberostar Costa Dorada, is that when you get there, it feels like coming home and seeing family. This resort is a great place to go relax, but if you’re looking for more fun and nightlife, the resorts in Las Terrenas, Samaná, might be a better option.
The relaxed atmosphere was perfect for us though, as we wanted to relax after the wedding and all the activities at the previous resort. The private upscale setting does feel nice as you are by the beach reading and listening to the waves without hearing any vendors calling you to sell you souvenirs, give you a massage or braid your hair, as if I need any. 😆 We can’t wait to come back to Samaná to explore Las Terrenas and the local flavor of the town.
What are some places on your bucket list?