Samaná and Las Terrenas
Samaná and Las Terrenas
Image by Max Bosio
Samaná or Xamaná is a Taíno name whose meaning is unfortunately unknown although some believe it means "where the Taino Queen lives".
I would like to think this was really where the Taíno Queen lived, it has that feeling. The first time I arrived in Samaná it unveiled itself to be the greatest treasure, I couldn't get enough of it. Before the new highway was built it took about 4.5 hours to arrive to Samaná through the Sanchez highway which was not in the very best shape when I first went about a decade ago, but when I got there it was totally worth it.
The Samaná Peninsula is a fine stretch of land with the combination of picture perfect white sandy beaches and rolling hills possessing amazing vegetation, the town with all the Victorian houses bright with Caribbean colors. and the unique cosmopolite feel is definitely the cherry on top!
Christopher Columbus entered the Samaná Bay and had his first encounter with the Taínos at the Golfo de las Flechas or Gulf of Arrows which he named because he had never seen so many arrows flying through the sky.
For many years the Samaná area remained uninhabited, actually completely forgotten by the Colonial authorities during the XVII and XVIII centuries. Much like the history of the North Coast, the Spanish weren't about to let their enemies occupy the land, so in 1644 the governor of the Colony, Bitran de Viamonte, sent Rodrigo de Pimentel to evacuate the English settlers that had established in Samaná. There were also French settlers who came and had set up fields of corn, yucca, sweet potato, beans, plaintain and tobacco. In order to prevent these occupations, the Spanish crown sent engineers to find and evaluate where they would be able to establish and build a city to populate the Samaná Peninsula which represents still today a very strategic geopolitical position.
During the Haitian occupation (1922-1944), since there was a strong pro-hispanic ideology, Haitian President Boyer conceived a project where he would bring african-american ex-slaves as immigrants to the area, many which arrived by 1824 to receive lands for their dedication as agricultors. Most of them where methodists and they built their churches which the creoles called "chercha" which is a Dominican term for having good clean fun with friends. These very close families, industrious and very religious enriched the culture of Samaná becoming a melting pot of Afro-American, Canarians and Creoles.
Today, that cosmopolite feel still prevails with many expats from around the globe that have retired and opened up restaurants and resorts all throughout Samaná.
In Las Terrenas, I would not miss for anything in the world, dining at Mi Corazón restaurant, owned by a Swiss couple with exquisite taste and a magnificent German Chef. I mean that is a real culinary experience, you can ask for the menu and I'm sure anything on it is great but if you're the adventurous type ask your Maitre for the week's special, let them pamper you, it will most definitely be a pleasant surprise.
Of course there are many places to stay at Las Terrenas at all price ranges, but if you ask me where I would go my top choice would be The Peninsula House. It is family owned B&B, a Victorian house full of art and history sitting on top of a hill overlooking Cosón Beach. The Argentine Chef has many amazing culinary creations and most of those come from the house's organic gardens. Ranked among the Top 100 Hotels & Resorts in the Conde Nast Traveler and recommended also by Andrew Harper, please don't take my word for it, go and see for yourself.
If you go 28km northeast of Samaná, you'll find Las Galeras, this eclectic global village is a real treasure! You can go snorkelling at Playa Frontón, diving at Cabo Cabrón and you can stay at Casa Porqué No, it doesn't have many rooms available, but it is the actual home of a French Canadian couple who serves great breakfasts with freshly baked homemade bread in their gardens.
Los Haitises National Park is a protected virgin forest with little road access, it is a popular ecotourism destination although the number of tourists allowed is limited. Haitises means highland or mountain range in the Taíno language. There are many caverns, mangroves, and keys to visit.
Did I mention the whales? Samaná is renown for humpback whalewatching, from January 15th to March 20th 10,000 north atlantic humpback whales fill the bay with an amazing mating ritual. I just saved it for last because I wanted to share that there is so much more to Samaná than just whalewatching, its really a magical place...fit for a Taino Queen to have lived in.