Samaná was founded in the early 1800s by American slaves who had run to freedom via the Underground Railroad and made it to Pennsylvania. They were joined by English-speaking freed slaves from the British islands in the Caribbean. In the past, rich Dominicans from all over the country hired nannies from Samaná so that their children could learn English.
Even today, many of the residents speak both Spanish and English—English that they learned from their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents—and the most common last names are Green and Miller. The AME Church (African Methodist Evangelical) has more members in its congregation than the Catholic churches, and the area has unique dance traditions like the “Bambulá,” unique foods like fish in coconut sauce and a fabulous bread flavored with bacon grease and coconut milk called “johnnycake,” unique forms of art and artisanry, as well as unique healing methods and magico-religious rituals and beliefs.
Samaná is the most popular jumping off spot for boat tours of Los Haitises National Park across the bay, and for whale watching from mid-January to mid-March, when the humpbacks come to Samaná Bay’s warm waters to mate.
Take one of the boat tours that ends up at beautiful Cayo Levantado for lunch and a swim at its white sand beaches.
Rincón beach, tucked away in a little bay on the northeastern tip of the peninsula, is hard to get to, but well worth the effort—most beach guides list it among the top ten most beautiful beaches in the entire world! Another favorite is Las Terrenas, on the north coast.
Midway when crossing the central mountains to get from Samaná to Las Terrenas you’ll see signs advertising horse or muleback rides to Salto del Limón, the largest and most impressive waterfall on the island. Take the “other route” back, the one that runs from Las Terrenas to Sánchez, a route with breaktaking vistas.
Sánchez was the shipping center for Dole’s pineapple operations, which provided the region’s main income until Dole abandoned them in the 1950s.
Sánchez is the first town found on the north highway and is characterized by its small, Victorian houses. It was formerly an important commercial port connected to La Vega through a railroad. Currently, it is a fishing town that wakens with the movements of net-aided shrimp fishing.
Las Terrenas is the first beach to be found towards the north of Sánchez, passing through the mountainous peninsula of Samana. It is through here that access is gained to Portillo and El Limon, famous for its impressive cliff.
Portillo has a local airport. A very particular European-based tourism has developed here, where one can find very comfortable small hotels, villas and summer cabins, as well as restaurants almost within the waters, a tradition in the old coastal towns.