Explore the Natural Paradise of Cayo Levantado, Samaná

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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 the DR has another gem, with pristine beaches with pale sands washed by turquoise water, that hasn’t been exploited as much by tourism. These beaches are in the Province of Samaná. Samaná is a peninsula on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in the northeastern part of the Dominican Republic.

I moved out of the DR as a child and never got a chance to appreciate all the beautiful sites that the country has to offer. 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 they filmed a well-known Bacardi rum commercial.

Getting there

While planning, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that there is an international airport in Samaná. JetBlue also started flying there from New York City. We had a great experience flying back home from this airport. 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 that 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.

Checking in

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 started the check-in process. As honeymooners, 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 in the DR usually do nice treats for newlyweds, or even upgrade you if there are better rooms available.

Not a great system…

Their system didn’t capture our special reservation requests properly. As a result, we didn’t get any added-value treatments. Not a good start… After they showed us our room, we noticed that the window was overlooking the back of the staff quarters and bathrooms. 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!

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The villa was uphill. Aside from a nice work out, we had a great balcony view from the top.

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The view from our balcony

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The balcony was cozy and nicely designed to keep the rain away.

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Perfect spot for a morning coffee, FI planning and afternoon siestas.

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The front of our villa

Location

The local airport, Samaná El Catey International Airport, is about an hour away from the hotel. The resort occupies about three quarters of the island of Cayo Levantado and the rest 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.

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Provide Mr. Enchumbao with warm weather and he’s a happy camper!

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Samaná has some of the most beautiful beaches we’ve seen in the Dominican Republic.

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Mrs. Enchumbao is feeling right at home after getting married in the DR.

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We wonder what she’s admiring!

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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. They don’t promote it 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.

Tip: If you book with the vendors onsite, always negotiate better prices because their tourists’ fare are usually inflated. This is the norm in many touristic destinations.

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Since it was the beginning of the season, only a few whales had arrived and the entertaining responsibilities fell on them. We give them a B for effort.

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Cayo Levantado is also known as Bacardi Island because of an advertising campaign that Bacardi Rum filmed in the 80’s.

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The resort had a great selection of food. Portion control is hard to accomplish while on vacation.

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The resort’s atmosphere

Although we had good service, we were missing the warmth of the Dominican people. This is an upscale place. The clients seem more uptight and, therefore, the staff interacts very cautiously with the guests.

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.

However, the relaxed atmosphere was perfect for us. We wanted to relax after the wedding and all the activities we did at the previous resort. The private upscale setting does feel nice when you are by the beach reading and listening to the waves. There are no vendors interrupting to sell you souvenirs, give you a massage or braid your hair, (as if I need any). 🙂

As we continue to explore the DR, 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?

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Mr. Enchumbao

I work for a large investment management company helping people save for traditional retirement. During my spare time, I help others save for financial independence and early retirement by writing for Enchumbao. My journey to FI began in 2012. I was in a lot of debt back then, but I turned things around and became debt free a few years later. My wife and I reached financial independence in 2017 and are preparing to retire by 2020.

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