As your plane descends toward the Samana airport, you’ll see postcard-perfect views of a natural paradise: rolling hills of lush, green forests pressed against countless kilometres of pristine beaches. The Samana Peninsula, which juts from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, is about a four-hour direct flight from Toronto or Montreal, but a worlds-away tropical escape for the entire family.
Partly because of its geographical positioning, Samana has retained a unique identity from its resort-packed sister cities. Up until the Samana Highway was finished in 2009, the five-hour drive from Santo Domingo kept the province isolated even from other Dominicans.
Now a 2½ hour drive from its capital and with increasing flight access to Canada, Samana is ready to welcome tourism to its unique topography and cultural history.
First stop: Los Haitises National Park. Imagine a series of uninhabited islands so wild with vegetation that it was used as a location for the Jurassic Park film. Embark on a guided cruise through ruggedly forested keys jutting from crystalline waters. While being bombarded by the extreme beauty of your surroundings, you’ll learn Los Haitises means “hilly land” in the language of the native Taino people; you’ll see unique animals and endangered birds who call the park home, and you’ll understand why travel truly is the best teacher. Once on dry land, you’ll have an opportunity to hike trails along mangrove swamps, descending into limestone caves that are home to bats and ancient tribal sketches. It’s a perfect day of adventure for any curious kid (even those of the parent-aged variety)!
After your day of exploration and immersive learning, you’ve earned a relaxing afternoon. Hop on a ferry to Cayo Levantado, an exclusive beach accessible only by boat. Should you crave more activity, kayaks and water sports are available; or you can simply lay on the white sand beach with a fruity rum drink in hand, enjoying the setting sun. If you’re travelling January to March, you might spot a humpback whale as it winters in the Samana Bay.
Another day, another adventure. No trip to Samana is complete without a visit to Salto El Limon Waterfall. The guides at Runners Adventures will arrange hotel pick-up and drive you through the rolling countryside to the base camp. Here you’ll suit up with the provided boots and helmet (safety first!) and hop on the horse that will take you on the 20-minute trek to the waterfall. Each horse has a guide on foot shepherding your way, so no equestrian skills are needed (but given the rocky terrain and a series of steep stairs, the tour is recommended for age 10 and above). As if the journey wasn’t enough, the photo-op payoff is a 40-metre waterfall gushing into a gorgeous natural dipping pool. Bring your bathing suit to cool off before heading back to camp on your four-legged friend.
With your action-packed days, you’ll want a worry-free stay. The all-inclusive Grand Bahia Principe El Portillo Resort has made it their mission to elevate the family vacation for each member of the family.
The 606-room resort has two pools, six restaurants and eight bars for the parents to enjoy. The kids have their own water park, disco and the Bahia Scouts program, with organised activities all day for children 4-16 years old. Take advantage of the resort’s location on a massive stretch of secluded beach and enjoy paddle surfing, kayaking and snorkelling. Sporty families can serve, shoot or even dunk, with access to volleyball, archery, tennis, table tennis and basketball.
In the evening, the entertainment ranges from local dance troupes to circus performers. And there’s always music—this is, after all, the Dominican Republic, where salsa, merengue and bachata are the daily soundtracks. Your family can enjoy a completely diverse vacation and never even leave the resort. Of course, should you crave a night on the town, Las Terrenas, the Samana Peninsula’s most popular tourist town, has local restaurants, bars and nightclubs a few minutes away. And if you need some adult time, the Grand Bahia Principe El Portillo has you covered, with nighttime babysitting services at your disposal.
There’s an island pulsing with Latin beats, exotic scenery and some of the best beaches on the planet, just a short plane ride away. With all major Canadian cities connecting to direct flights from Toronto and Montreal on Air Canada Rogue, Westjet and Air Transat, the once-remote region has never been more accessible. Pack your swimsuits in the suitcase and your curiosity in the carry-on, and prepare for a combination of adventure and relaxation that will please each member of your family.
By: Ivan Quintanilla
Ivan Quintanilla is an actor and travel writer living in New York City. His articles have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Out Traveler, and Travel Squire, as well as on his own website, TravelingIQ.com. Follow Ivan on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.