The Dominican Republic's northeastern peninsula is quickly becoming a hot spot for fabulous boutique hotels and raw, natural beauty (never mind the twisty, bumpy roads).
Writer: Elizabeth Woodson
1 of 7Photographer: Michael Hanson
The road to paradise is fraught with bumps...literally. While the peninsula has almost a glut of natural beauty—remote beaches, forest waterfalls, coconut trees, and a blue-blue bay regarded as among the world's best places to see humpback whales, which come to breed here—it was still very much off the beaten tourist path. In fact, it was downright inaccessible to those who weren't determined.
Samaná is only 60 or so miles from the capital of Santo Domingo as the crow flies, but until recently the far reaches of the Cordillera Septentrional mountain range had blocked any straight shot to the destination. Thanks to a new road that bisects the mountain range, the total driving time from Santo Domingo down was cut to just around two hours.
2 of 7Photographer: Michael Hanson
A two-story Victorian-style plantation home, The Peninsula House is undoubtedly one of the finest small hotels in these Caribbean parts. Owners Cary Guy and Marie-Claude Thiebault kitted out the interiors with a cosmopolitan mix of treasures: Surrounding an inner courtyard downstairs, the library, billiards rooms, and salons are decorated with Turkish carpets and French settees; upstairs, you'll find rooms filled with wardrobes made from hand-carved doors from India, antique nesting tables from France, and framed Tibetan prayer book pages and 19th-century Balinese puppets hanging on walls.
A 10-minute drive away from The Peninsula House (potholes notwithstanding) is the beachfront town of Las Terrenas, the peninsula's cultural hub, where transplants to Samaná have enthusiastically mixed with resident Dominicans. They've kept the walls down and embraced the amalgamation of different cultures, and together they've opened up restaurants, tiny hotels, and boutiques. Now, Las Terrenas offers a heady mix of contrasts that is equal parts raw (stray dogs wandering the streets and buildings covered in a fine layer of grit) and refined (high-design hotels and Pueblo de los Pescadores, a group of former fisherman's homes along the waterfront that has been turned into a collection of restaurants and bars).
Unique beach bars (left) are just steps from the water in Las Terrenas.
4 of 7Photographer: Michael Hanson
Balcones del Atlantico was the area’s first international luxury hotel development. The property was constructed using local materials, and the staff members work with a number of community organizations on projects such as coral reef regenesis. "I wanted something that was the absolute antithesis of what you find in other parts of the Dominican Republic, something that's rooted in the place that it's in," says Dominican developer Máximo Bisonó, the property's owner. Spread out across 100 acres on a half-mile of beach are the 86 two- and three-bedroom villas (the property operates as a condo hotel) surrounded by manicured tropical gardens and pools with swim-up bars.
Balcones' beachfront restaurant, Porto (left), is firmly grounded in Samaná, with a fresh menu of grilled fish, ceviche, and other delicacies from the sea. It also has one of the top wine lists in the Dominican Republic; balconesdelatlantico.rockresorts.com.
Another option: Mi Corazón in Las Terrenas, a highbrow fusion restaurant; micorazon.com.
6 of 7Photographer: Michael Hanson
Exploring the Area
As if you actually need an excuse to go out and explore, technology isn't always all that much help in the country's Samaná Peninsula, a mountainous stretch of land that juts into the Atlantic like a finger from Hispaniola's northeast end. Go view the 170-foot El Limón Waterfall (left) is one of the D.R.'s most spectacular; floratours.net. Los Haitises National Park is one of the Caribbean's largest estuaries, with freshwater caves for swimming; bavarorunners.com. Boating is also a favorite pastime in Samaná.
7 of 7Photographer: Michael Hanson
From the turquoise-bordered shores of Balcones to the bright, verdant grounds of The Peninsula House, it only takes one look to discover what makes this part of the globe so special: the cove beaches with soft, golden sand and the lush interior full of waterfalls, mountains, and tropical rain forests. And the roads—well, we'll just say they're a work in progress. But we'll still take Samaná, bumps and all.