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Secrets of Samana in the Dominican Republic

A wait for favourable weather in Samana on the east coast of the Dominican Republic gave us a chance to explore hidden parts of this beautiful island.

Samana itself is undeniably charming with little streets winding up the hillside, outdoor cafes and small parks. The town is centred around the malecón (water front) with numerous bars, cafes and shops that come alive at night with music and activity. The anchorage is a good size with fair holding but open to the east, however, large sturdy mooring buoys are available at a very reasonable price. The town has everything you might need from supermarket to laundry and at the time we were picking up WiFi on the boat. The local market is certainly an experience for your senses with a sundry of different fresh fruit, meat and vegetables available.

One of the main attractions here are the Humpback whales that use Samana Bay and the Silver Bank Marine Sanctuary as a nursery and breeding ground. From mid January to mid March more than 1200 whales move around the waters off the northeast coast. Whale watching tours are offered during the season, but why not take your own boat?

Waterfalls abound in Samana and you have a choice. We arranged a taxi with one of the friendly dock boys and a group of us traveled eight miles to El Limon, where the waterfalls are accessible on horseback through lush and hilly terrain. This waterfall is well worth a look with 150 feet of water falling into pools that you can swim in.

The most special place that we found was an 11 mile downwind sail to the west, deep into Samana Bay, to Bahia de San Lorenzo. Nacional Los Haitises is a national park covering a total of 800 square miles, spreading west from Sabana de la Mar and around the coastal area of Samana. Mostly mangrove swamp and tropical jungle, it conjures images of Pacific islands. With over 92 plant species and home to 112 bird species, along with a wide variety of marine life, this is an anchorage with a truly spectacular backdrop.

It's best to get permission in advance from the Comandancia of Samana to anchor in the National Park, and there is a small fee for using the park on a daily bases. The park has many caverns and caves that can be reached by dinghy. Some of the caves contain Taino petroglyphs and pictographs, while others hide pre Columbian drawings and etchings amongst their spectacular stalagmites and stalactites. The caves have great historical value and are there to be explored. Don't forget to bring a flashlight.

The main areas of interest are Cueva de la Linea, a large grotto with many Taino drawings of families, hunters, children, whales and sharks. The caves are set amongst the ruins of a 100 year old banana wharf, where pelicans perch on the remaining wooden supports intended to hold a railroad station built to transport the sugar cane that once grew in the area.

Cueva Arena is another large cave by the rangers' station that houses several different caves leading down to the waters edge. You can find detailed carvings of Tiano faces on the cave walls. Martins dart about inside the caves while hummingbirds nest and sing outside. From Cueva Arena you can view Cayo Willy Simons, a hideout for the notorious pirate, now noted for its circling birds including pelicans, herons, terns, frigates and even falcons.

There are many caves and grottos to be explored, some with such ornate stalagmites and stalactites that they are known as The Cathedral. A trail from one site leads you through jungle terrain out into open fields and meadows, with banana, coconut and avocado trees, and further still through fields with grazing cattle. At the end of the hike you will be rewarded with the sight of an eco lodge known as Paraíso de Cana Honda. Here you can relax in their restaurant or cool off in the natural pools and cascading waterfalls. If you are too tired to retrace your steps, you can always arrange with the friendly staff for a launch to take you back to your anchored boats for a reasonable fee. The eco lodge can also be reached by dinghy and a short walk past a vista of rice fields.

Samana had not been a destination on our cruise list, we had been keen to take the fast route to Puerto Rico and onwards east and south down the Caribbean chain. But Bahía de Samaná was a rewarding stop, quite unlike any place that we have been in the Caribbean.

Rosie Burr and her husband, both from the UK, have cruised the Caribbean and North America for the last six years on Alianna their Corbin 39. They are currently in Grenada for hurricane season.

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