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Planning Your Trip To Samana + Las Terrenas in the Dominican Republic

Posted by Emily Cummings on 4/5/21 8:30 AM

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Samana is easily one of the dreamiest tropical getaways the Dominican Republic has to offer ... and gets more 5 star reviews than nearly any other vacay spot.

When we ask our ILP volunteers who are living in the DR for four-ish months where they recommend taking a vacation, Samana wins. More than a few times, it’s the number one highlight of their humanitarian trip out of all the other spots on the island. Which is saying a lot! Spending a semester abroad with ILP gives volunteers lots of free time, weekends off, and vacation days to really explore this country.

 


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Besides being beyond-pretty, one of the reasons why Samana is so popular is the Instaworthy treehouse you can stay in. So not only do you get a practically perfect place to stay, your days are full of secluded beaches, rad ocean adventures, dense jungles, and more than your fair share of sunshine. See why it’s a favorite?

Something To Know 

Samana is a little peninsula that juts out from the main island, on the eastern coast. Officially speaking, Samana is the province which covers the whole peninsula, but technically the city itself sits on the southern coast, right on Samana Bay. You’ll also want to get to know Las Terrenas, which is found on the northern rim of that peninsula.

Overall, the area is full of a thick and dense jungle, rimmed with really pristine beaches. That combo gives you all kinds of experiences like some of the best spots to snorkel and jungle hikes to hidden waterfalls.

And how does that impact your trip? It’s particularly applicable when you’re planning out where you want to stay and where you want to spend the bulk of your time. You can either choose to stay at the coolest Treehouse Village in Las Terrenas, which gives you access to the most tours (with the jungle right outside of your window), but you’ll be farther away from the beaches. Or, you can choose to stay on the coast of Las Terrenas which will mean you are within walking distance to those pretty beaches but will need to trek into the jungle. And if you want to stay near Samana Bay, you’ll need time to travel across the peninsula to visit Las Terrenas.

Knowing a bit about the topography of this part of the DR can help you choose what activities you’re interested in, and how to block out time to see both the jungle and the beach while you’re in Samana.

Alright, since that split between the rainforest and the beach is so stark, we’ve broken up our favorite things to do into these two halves:

Teaching English in the Dominican with ILP

ILP DR

Things To Do — At The Beach 

The Best Swimming Beaches

Since Samana is all housed on that little peninsula, you’re surrounded by more water than most vacation spots … but which beaches are the best? Our volunteers tend to stay up on the northern coast known as Las Terrenas. You can find a handful of picture-perfect beaches, there which are ideal swimming spots. But don’t worry, we also have some recommendations if you’d like to do some snorkeling down by Samana Bay. 

Playa Punta Popy — Las Terrenas 

This is the beach you’re picturing when you think of the Dominican Republic. Playa Punta Popy is a huge stretch of soft, golden sand all surrounded by Caribbean-blue water. The waves are calm and shallow, making this spot an ideal swimming beach, especially since you can find some shade in the rows and rows of coconut palm trees you can find along the shore. 

You’re set up to stay here for a day, with a string of restaurants and cafes where you can snag breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Visitors mention it can get a smidge crowded on weekends, and also mention it can get pretty windy (making it a top-choice for windsurfers), just as a heads up. It’s easily the most popular (and prettiest) beach in the area, that’s for sure. 

Coson — Las Terrenas 

Head west along that northern part of the peninsula and you’ll run into Coson. It’s considerably less popular than Playa Punta Popy but has a few things to brag about. For one thing, it’s just as pretty with turquoise waters and warm sand, but with fewer crowds. It’s slightly less developed but you’ll still find a handful of places to grab something to eat. It’s a good option for those who want swaying palm trees, a swim in warm, blue water, and a step back from some of the crowds that flock to other spots.  

Playa Escondida — Las Terrenas 

This beach feels more like a swimming pool in some spots, with pristine water that’s nearly waveless in some sections. Along the beach, there are sections where you can find soft sand and others that are lined to make a rocky shore. Similar to Coson, the water here is stunning but doesn’t pull the same number of crowds as Playa Punta Popy. 

Volunteer in the dominican republic

Playa Rincón and La Playita — Las Galeras

Home to a few fabulous beaches, such as Playa Rincón and La Playita, plus a couple of nice coves, Las Galeras is worth a day trip.

This small, laid-back fishing village is kinda remote on the northeastern tip of Samana, but it is home to some of the DR's most beautiful beaches. In fact, Playa Rincón is world-ranked and just as beautiful as the more well-known Cayo Levantado. It is a great getaway that is actually perfect for backpackers as well, with great hiking available. 

You can also find a couple of really good restaurants, some decent accomodation options, and boat trips to Cayo Levantado.

Cayo Levantado

Off the southeastern coast of Samana, if you are up to a boat trip, is the gorgeous island of Cayo Levantado. The beaches there are out of this world. 

Also known as Bacardi Island because of a Bacardi commercial filmed here in the 1970s, the small, picturesque island of Cayo Levantado sits just three miles from Samaná Bay, and boasts brilliant white sand and palm-fringed beaches.

Because it is so famous, it is one of the more expensive options ... good to know if you are watching your budget. But, if the beautiful beaches are a draw, check out some of the Haites National Park tours that also include Cayo Levantado, such as Moto Marina for only $70 or Colonial Tours for about $140.

ILpadventure

All About Snorkeling 

While the water is very clear around Las Terrenas, the best snorkeling spots are reached by boat, all along Samana Bay. Snorkeling in Samana is best done via tour where catamarans will take you out to explore sunken ferries and gems like Cayo Levantado Island, Playa Madame, or Playa Rincón. Snorkelers often see schools of colorful fish, starfish dotting the ocean floor, and have even spotted a sea turtle on occasion. 

There are more than a few tour vendors who can take you out for the day — most packages pick you up at Samana bay to explore the reef and Sunken Ferry (found at Cayo Farola), and stop for lunch on the Cayo Levantado Island. Typically you have swimming time, snorkel gear is included, etc. Here’s a tour option (and another company that has a few different packages), but just know that there are many others. Typically snorkeling packages are anywhere from around $40 - $120 for the day. 

ILP DR

For Whale Watching 

Each year, humpback whales are rather common in the Samana Bay, and there are plenty of tours available that will take you out to see these incredible sea giants up close! Just be mindful of the dates — Whale watching tours are only available during the right season, from January-March.

If you book a tour outside of these dates, chances are you may be going on a simple (but beautiful) boat ride in the bay. One tour that seems to be reasonable is Whale Samana, about $65, but you’ll find others if you’d like to hunt around.  

 

 

Things To Do — In The Rainforest 

Waterfalls, Horseback Rides, Zip Line Treks, and More 

In the middle of this peninsula, you’ll be surrounded by lush forests. For travelers who want a jungle experience in Samana which will give you access to all kinds of things to do, we have a place we highly recommend. Think zipline treks, hikes to waterfalls, horseback rides through the jungle, and other high adventure activities. 

If you stay at the Treehouse Village (more on that below) your stay will include bicycle rentals, which you can use to ride down to a beach. You can also get hooked up with a zip lining course for about $60 USD through your hotel, which is something our volunteers really recommend doing. If you aren't staying at the Treehouse Village, you can also check out this awesome zipline tour for about $75.

Another popular swimming option? Horseback rides through the jungle to the El Limon waterfall and a beach are about $160 for the day ($210 if you book as a couple) — we love love love El Limon waterfall, and think you will too. It’s a cascade down limestone rocks that pool at the bottom and provide a refreshing place to take a dip (and more than a few pictures).  We have more options and info on this post about the EL Limon waterfall.

You can do a boat tour, and whale watching, too. This place really sets you up with quite a few connections for all the tours and excursions on your list! See more activities to do through the Treehouse Village here and some packages they offer, especially great for couples

ILP DR

ILP

Visit Los Haitises National Park 

Hey film lovers — Parts of Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed here, which gives you a decent idea of what this park is like. Think dense jungles, rocky outcrops, a maze of mangroves and unexplored caves, and a section that hugs the coastline. The National Park is about a 45-minute boat ride across from Samana Bay (which is on the south side). Around Samana Bay, you’ll be able to find tour guides that can take you to the National Park and guide you through the caves and forest (keep an eye out for cave paintings from the indigenous Tainos people made hundreds and hundreds of years ago). 

Getting Here: best reached via Samaná, and Sabana de la Mar. You’ll need to go via a tour, which won’t be hard to find. Several companies run speed boat or catamaran tours around the park’s bay (spot the gorgeous rocky islands, mangrove groves, and visit a couple of caves) — check out places like Book with Locals or Tour Samana with Terry for tour options. 

ILP DR

Places To Stay 

One thing to think about before booking your trip — do you want to stay near the beach or stay in the treehouse? Our vote is the Dominican Treehouse, but if you want to be right on the beach, you need to book an AirBnB. Don’t worry, we have info for both options. 

Dominican Treehouse Village 

If you didn’t guess, we’re big fans of the Dominican Treehouse Village. It’s not directly on the beach, but this hotel has everything else you’re looking for and comes highly recommended for anyone in the mood to stay in a treehouse village, tucked away in the rainforest with waterfalls, zip lines, and yoga studios just outside their window. It’s also nice because the hotel provides tours to a bunch of activities you might be interested in and meals are included. 

Get more info about the Treehouse Village here. Honestly, it’s one of the main reasons people come to Samana in the first place and a big part of the overall experience. We love it! 

Volunteer in the Caribbean

AirBnBs 

With AirBnBs, you have a few options for where you’d like to stay. Our suggestion is staying right in Samana so you have access to Samana Bay (best for snorkeling or a trip out to Los Haitises National Park), or going to the northern coast to access all of those pretty swimming beaches in Las Terrenas. 

AirBnB’s are nice because you can have the whole place to yourself and they aren’t too bad a price if you split the rate with everyone in your group. Volunteers also recommend getting a place with a pool to really have that perfect Samana experience. 

Looking for a few recommendations? We have a few for the Las Terrenas area: this one is a good pick and volunteers have loved this one, too. Los Cocos at Playa Bonita is another popular option but you’re welcome to find others. 

How Long Should I Stay? 

3-4 full days seems ample time to explore what this region has to offer. All ILP volunteers get vacation time on their semester so a 4-day weekend would be a prime time to explore Samana. Other groups have also stopped in Samana for a day (or two) before jumping off to some nearby vacation spots … but we think Samana deserves 3-4 days if you have the time!

ILP Adventure in the Dominican Republic

 

Nearby Adventures

It’s fairly easy to navigate the island of the DR, which means you can easily hop  from a few days in Samana over to a few other favorite vacation spots. All of these places are around 3-4 hours away, so it's fun to tag one or two of these spots on after you've had your fun in Samana. 

As with all things DR, we love booking buses on Caribe. You can get more info about traveling around the Dominican Republic on this post (which has a big section on how to book tickets on these inter-country buses). 

Santo Domingo

Just 3ish hours away is the colonial historic capital city, Santo Domingo. Be sure to visit the turquoise blue water of Los Tres Ojos, or photograph a few buildings that have been around since Christopher Columbus. 

La Romana 

Head south, stop in Santo Domingo then keep going east to hit the La Romana Coast. This place is our favorite spot to go island hopping and see places like Catalina Island or Starfish Island. 

Punta Cana 

Not exactly close to Samana, but still on the eastern side of the island is another favorite vacation spot. Punta Cana is known for high rise resorts, all-inclusive packages, amazing beaches,  and about a dozen adventures (think dune buggies, snorkeling, island tours, zip lining, horseback riding and more. 

Getting To Samana  

We love taking the bus here! From Puerto Plata, Caribe Tours has a route that can get you to Samana in about 4 hours. And if you’re wondering how to book tickets or more info on bus routes, we have a whole guide about getting around the DR.

There is an airport and you can easily find flights from Santo Domingo or Puerto Plata into the Samaná El Catey International Airport. Flights are regular but very expensive, which is why bus routes are the most common option for our volunteers. 

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Come to the Caribbean with us!

On your ILP adventure in the Caribbean, your days will be spent making a difference in the classroom by teaching English — but you'll also have loads of free time and vacation time to see places like Paradise Island, the blue Dudu Lagoon, and more during this humanitarian program.

Discover the D.R.

 

 

Topics: Caribbean

 


*Because of the worldwide pandemic, travel options are limited and frequently changing. You'll need to do additional research as resources + activities shared in this post may or may not be available at the time of your trip.

ILP volunteers — work closely with your Program Manager who can help you understand current country entrance requirements which will determine what countries you can visit during your semester. 


 

 

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We are ILP, a Utah-based non-profit org that has service abroad opportunities for college-age volunteers. We love travel so we're sharing all our tips for making the most of your time living abroad + seeing the world, and how to do it all on the tiniest budget.

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