1. Where to Stay
Las Terrenas is about two hours from Santo Domingo–Las Americas airport on a new highway. Takeoff Destination Service offers a shuttle van from the airport to Las Terrenas for $95 per person each way; Domincan Airport Transfers offers a similar, if pricier, service ($225 per couple per way).
Two hundred meters back from Playa Las Ballenas, Eva Luna’s (from $100 per night for two people) five Mexican-style villas are a tantalizing value. Upon arrival, consult with the on-site French chef about dinner: You have to order one day in advance if you want something français (like leg of lamb) or if you’d like lobster, so the chef can coordinate with local fishermen. Eat breakfast every day on your private terrace.
About a ten-minute stroll from the village’s action, the hospitable, Italian-owned Kari Beach Hotel (doubles from $60, includes breakfast) sits across the street from its own beach. Request a room with a water-view terrace, then inquire after the day’s catch. It’s served at the thatched-roof beer bar, paired with a cold Presidente.
More luxurious are the modern new apartments—and on-site day spa—at Hotel Alisei (apartments from $147 in high season), situated around a pretty bean-shaped pool. If you don’t plan on cooking, save pesos by reserving a smaller penthouse room ($117), sans kitchen. Bringing the family? Snag a two-bedroom villa, and take the kids to the all-you-can-eat beach parrillada (barbecue) for fresh seafood and meat on weekend nights (about $25 per person).
2. Where to Eat
Las Terrenas’ considerable European expat community has injected international flavor into the local dining scene over the last two decades. The Pueblo de los Pescadores (Fishermen’s Village), a row of casitas that once housed fishermen, is now a cluster of charming restaurants and bars a stone’s throw from the water’s edge; most boast beachfront open-air decks. Here, try the Spanish-influenced seafood, including paella and garlic shrimp, at El Cayuco (809-240-6885); the fish-heavy French fare, like squid à la provençale, at romantic La Terrasse (809-240-6730); or the excellent thin-crust pizza at Pizza Playa (809-240-6399).
Another testament to the expat scene is French-owned bakery El Pan de Antes (Plaza Kanesh on Calle Carmen; 809-994-3282), near the center of town. Stop by for breakfast and choose from such goodies as fresh croissants, pain au chocolat, and ham-and-cheese quiche, chased down with Dominican coffee.
One of the Dominican dishes for which the Samaná Peninsula is known is seafood prepared con coco, in a flavorful sauce of tomato, garlic, and coconut milk. You’ll find it on some of the European menus, but the same fish will be much cheaper (say, $7 rather than $11) at more bare-bones local restaurants, like Comedor los Chichos (Calle Carmen, no phone).
3. What to Do
No matter where you’re staying, a beach of the palm-trees-dripping-over-clear-shallow waters variety is nearby. Playa Las Terrenas is the beach in town, but if you’re willing to travel, you’ll find a less crowded, less developed, more Eden-esque strip of sand.
From Playa Las Terrenas, walk west along the shore. In less than ten minutes, you’ll find the wider white sands of Playa Las Ballenas. Give it twenty minutes and a walk along a junglelike inland path and you’ll reach the long, quiet Playa Bonita. The more impatient should rent a quad, or ATV, from Auceen Raid Aventure and Fun Rental (a.k.a. Safari-Quads; $50 for the day), and ride it all the way west and south to the next, more isolated and gorgeous beach, Playa Cosón.
Between mid-January and mid-March, abandon the sands for whale watching, as the Atlantic’s humpback population comes to the warm waters off the Samaná Peninsula for mating and calving. Book a half-day trip with Whale Samaná/Victoria Marine through Bahia Tours ($55; 809-240-6088), who’ll arrange the hour-long drive through the peninsula’s pretty, hilly interior to Samaná town.
4. Insider’s Tip
For lunch on Playa Bonita, avoid the “proper” beach shacks. Round Bonita’s first long curve and look for a couple of guys and a grill (they’re mobile, so you may have to walk a bit farther). Ask after the coolers’ contents (en español), order up, and then soak in the still, luminous water while your meal’s prepared. Around $35 (prepare to negotiate) can get you a whole grilled fish—probably chillo (red snapper) or mero (grouper)—a fresh lobster (if available), brown rice, baked potatoes, and some cold Presidentes. Plus a glorious tropical setting you’re likely to have to yourself.
5. Oddball Day
If you need a break from the beach, you’re only a short bus ride away from a spot worthy of National Geographic. In town, walk to the cemetery near the junction of Calles El Portillo and Principal. The guaguas, or shuttle buses, gathered there are headed farther afield. Ask for the next bus to El Limón (every 20 to 30 minutes throughout day; $1.50; 30-minute ride). Tell the driver to take you to Santi’s Parada, a tour operator in El Limón who can guide you on horseback to Salto El Limón, a thundering 170-foot-high waterfall located just to the south (about $32, includes a local lunch). It takes around 100 minutes each way and is well worth the journey, especially since you can cool off in the large pool at the falls’ base. Back in Las Terrenas, unwind over a Cuba libre—or, better, a shot of smooth Barbancourt rum, from Haiti—on the breezy outdoor deck of El Mosquito Art Bar (Fishermen’s Village).
For updates, listings, maps, and weather news for all of the Samaná Peninsula, check out Samana.net.
Got a Las Terrenas travel question? Post it on DR1.com/forum and a local expert or expat will likely help you out.
The friendly folks at nonprofit Fundación Mahatma Gandhi are working to make Las Terrenas a better, more sustainable, and literate place. Stop by their school (Calle Salome Urena #8) to donate Spanish-language books, sports equipment, or crafts materials, or visit their Website for volunteer opportunities.