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SAMANA: DR’S RISING STAR, PT. 1 OF 3
Guitze M. Messina   
 

Ahhhh Samana, definitely the most loved province of the Dominican Republic by locals and foreigners alike and for many reasons, its natural beauty is endless, from mountains to whales, from water falls to superb national parks, from great beaches to ageless caves.

The City of Samana provides visitors a grand walkway along the “Malecon,” overlooking its beautiful natural Harbor, and the view of Samana Bay is highlighted by the longest walking bridges in the world, joining the 3 island cays that border the front of the Bay. New and old churches and a great international flavor from its historic mix of visitors, all come together to produce a local palate unique to the Caribbean. Samana’s rich history and constant vibration are part of the daily life like no other in the Caribbean, in short Samana is magical!
 
 View of “El Limon” Samnana, picture courtesy of the author

THE HISTORY OF PEACE AND RELAXATION BECAME THE HISTORY OF “DESIRE”   

The history of Samana is one which provides both a place of relaxation for some, and a place to make a simple living for others. But it did not start this way, since in January 1493, the first blood of the local inhabitants was shed in a fight between Christopher Columbus and the native Tainos, in what is now called “the gulf of arrows” near Rincon Bay. The arrows of the locals filled up the sky trying to drive away the Spanish ships. Legend has it that this first blood pacified the land for eternity, and made Samana an important place for rest and quiet living for all its future guests.

In later years, many French pirates living on the island of Tortuga were always “running” from the Spanish, and these sailors found their peaceful oasis here.  After the first incidents of rebellion from Haiti, many French landowners also decided to move to Samana. Later, the Spanish crown, in an effort to assure that the “foreign” population of Samana was under control, “imported” many new citizens from the Canary Islands and officially founded the city of Santa Barbara de Samana in 1756, which also provides the current name of the Samana province covering the Samana peninsula. These Spanish islanders found a new home of peace and quiet, and together with the foreigners worked the land as they did back home.

In 1795 the French obtained the whole island of Hispaniola from Spain as part of the treaty of Basel, and many French citizens decided to make their residence on this eastern side of the island.  Among these new residents was the mother of Theodore Chaseraux, the famous French painter who was born in 1809 in “El Limon” Samana. His paintings are found in the Louvre and other great museums in France and Europe.
   Walking Bridge
View of the 3 walking bridges uniting the 3 keys in front of Samana Bay. Picture courtesy of reddominicana.com

To add still additional international flavor to the heritage mix, in 1822 Boyer, a Haitian dictator, invited U.S. slaves to the island, promoting freedom, land and opportunity to the slaves. Many took this opportunity, and descendents of these former slaves live successfully in Samana to this date, continuing to enrich Samana with their culinary traditions, religious practices and traditional hard working ethic.

After the war of independence with Haiti, the Peninsula of Samana became very desirable to foreign powers due to its great navigability, its natural beauty and perfect geographical location at the northeast corner of the Island of Hispanola. This desirability was frequently exploited by several Dominican presidents, who tried to negotiate sales transactions and payments for this strip of land from different powerful (and richer) countries. Luckily for us, the transactions never reached fruition, but we can safely say that both the long term and recent history of Samana has been one highlighted by its “desirability” to many!

Today we find Italian restaurants and delicatessens, French bakeries, wine shops and bistros, Spanish restaurants and small hotels all over the peninsula, especially in Las Terrenas, Las Galeras and the City of Samana. The magic of Samana has intensified with this “international flavor” that our new citizens have added to the local atmosphere. In time, more people kept finding their place for relaxation and peace in Galeras, Terrenas, Limon or other beautiful locations on the Peninsula. Investments naturally followed, and that is how we now find a European flavor mixed with Caribbean seasonings in the various markets, restaurants and shops of Samana.

This is most noticeable in Las Terrenas, a microcosm of Europe mixed with the casual Dominican “let it be” attitude, where you can even find a restaurant owned by former French President Francois Mitterrand’s private chef, among many other culinary stars. To a similar, but less crowded degree, you will find this same “flavor” in the small town of Las Galeras, at the very northeast corner of the Peninsula. So today, it appears that history has indeed given Samana a peaceful blessing, and the desire to “live” Samana is now stronger than ever.


Long Distance Relationships Always Kill Desire


Samana was never a major economical power in the DR, since sugar cane was not planted in abundant quantities; coconut and some cocoa were the main agricultural products. This lack of “industry”, together with its geographic isolation from the rest of the country, made the Samana area very “private and secluded.” In olden times it took several days to travel from the Dominican Republic’s capital city, Santo Domingo. Even as late as 2007, a traveler needed four to five hours to drive to Samana from Santo Domingo and although it was a beautiful ride through undeveloped countryside, the residents of Santo Domingo tended to wait for a long holiday weekend in order to justify the long journey.

The peninsula did not have an international airport, so it was also very difficult for a foreigner to come to the DR and take the time to visit “paradise.” For the natives, it was not much easier, and although Samana has two local airports, it was not economically practical for a Dominican to take the whole family by plane.

This isolation of Samana resulted in the earlier tourist development of places like Puerto Plata and Punta Cana. Perhaps this development in other locations turned out to be a blessing for Samana, as those foreigners who decided to “stay” in the DR, kept asking their local friends for their recommended favorite spot in the DR, and more and more of them recommended Samana, resulting in many new international “residents” for the peninsula.
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Recently one of the largest retail stores of the country launched a national campaign to show the best of our land to our people, and a company spokesman was quoted as saying: “we definitely had to start with Samana.” This campaign has been extremely successful, with thousands of Samana photo albums, DVDs, clothing and dishware literally selling like hot cakes. It is obvious that the love of the Samana Peninsula has always existed, and the new challenge in the new 21st Century became how to make this paradise closer and more accessible to both drive and capture the native DR, as well as international tourist and real estate markets.

THE CHANGES IN INFRASTRUCTURE MADE SAMANA’S “DREAM COME TRUE!”


In 2005 the government announced the construction of a new international airport in El Catey, at the geographic entrance to the Samana Peninsula. Of equal if not greater importance, the government also announced plans for the construction of a modern highway, running directly northward from Santo Domingo (starting less than two kilometers from the international airport exit) to Samana.  This highway was projected to cut the driving time in half, to less than two hours. This started an immediate “gold rush” of investors in new hotels, the purchase of raw land and the development of new luxury resorts.

The El Catey airport is open for business and has mostly charter flights from Europe and North America; weekly scheduled flights from numerous cities in both continents are being added, as most of the arriving tourists are from Europe and North America.

The toll road has been in operation for over a year, the cost of the toll is roughly US $10 each way, and one easily saves on fuel costs by driving 2 hours less. The scenery alongside the road is fabulous, changing throughout the journey through the undeveloped center of the country. Views and vistas include the “Los Haitises National Park” a breathtaking view for sure, as well as a length of the roadway bordered with palm trees that make one think of the Arabian Peninsula with grass instead of a desert; it is one of my favorite spots on the road. These changes in infrastructure made Samana’s “dream come true!”

New Investment Drives New Demand


The Pineiro group of Spain, is now one of the largest hotel investors in Samana with their Bahia Principe hotel chain. When the airport and the road where announced, the company bought every hotel in Samana having more than 50 rooms, and completely renovated and improved the facilities, rooms and, in some cases, even changed the architecture.

The most popular (and famous) of their four hotels is the one located on “Cayo Levantado” www.bahiaprincipeusa.com (look for Cayo Levantado in the website) with bungalows overlooking the bay on this small island key, where only the wind reminds you how private your “enjoyment” actually is. Cayo Levantado is one of the most beautiful islands in the world, with four different beaches surrounding it, where one can pick and choose for your choice of pleasure and privacy.

The natural setting and beauty of the key is so incredible that a large rum manufacturer (Bacardi) filmed a commercial here for broadcasting in Germany; it was so successful that people called their travel agents asking to go to “Bacardi Island,” and a new love affair with Samana was started.

 
View of the beautiful Key “Cayo Levantado” in Germany it is famous for a TV commercial and visitors always want to visit this paradise island since they saw the commercial on TV. Picture courtesy reddominicana.com

Similarly, owners of smaller hotels (5 to 30 rooms) renovated and improved their facilities, some opened new restaurant facilities next to their hotels, and others opened new bakeries, delicatessens and wine shops to provide better services for their guests.

The toll road has also made Samana a great investment for real estate development, as access to see a play, opera or musical remain important for residents and visitors alike. Not everyone in the family will want to play golf or swim all day long; some will want to go to a nice mall or expensive beauty parlor. The DR is large enough to accommodate many of the shows and personal amenities that only a large city of 3,000,000 people such as Santo Domingo may provide. The toll road now brings Samana close enough for those side trips; with this proximity, Samana and the DR truly have it all.

THE INGREDIENTS: NATURAL BEAUTY AND NATURAL DIVERSITY, MIXED WITH RELAXATION, TAKE THE LUXURY MARKET BY STORM

As mentioned in previous articles, the luxury tourism and real estate markets not only require safety, beauty and relaxation, it also seeks a unique local flavor, “an experience” different from other tourist areas. Samana offers the best in every regard!  The ingredients: Natural beauty and natural diversity mixed with relaxation take the luxury market by storm.

For examples, let’s take a look at some famous Samana “must see and dos”:

1 - Samana is famous for its annual whale watching season, (centuries-old paintings  of mother and baby whales are visible even today on the cave walls of Los Haitises!), as folks from around the world come to the warm and calm waters of  Samana Bay to see the magnificent Humpback Whales give birth to their calves and perform their mating rituals. It is an awesome show that makes one’s heart pound harder and faster, and leaves a lifetime image in one’s memory for those fortunate to witness one of the true miracles of nature.  Samana Bay is now a sanctuary protected by national and international laws, a policy in harmony with the eco-tourism policies now being implemented throughout the Samana peninsula.

2 - The aforementioned “Los Haitisies National Park” is a unique natural archipelago of small islands that meet the mainland on the south side of Samana Bay. Los HaitisesMost of these islands have small beach areas, and if one boats close to land, one finds numerous river corridors with caves. Some of these caves contain pictographs (drawings) and petro glyphs (rock carvings) left by the indigenous people, who once inhabited this unique area.
 
Los Haitises is one of only 2 such formations in the world, today a beautiful national park for all to enjoy. Picture courtesy of reddominicana.com

3 - The unique (and increasing rare!) feeling of being in an “unexplored” place is one of the secrets of the Samana region. There are innumerable secluded beaches and locations that may make you feel that only you “know of its existence.” This is always true at “Rincon Bay,” where the sea and the mountains meet in white sands flanked by a small pond of crystalline underground water purified by the rocks for thousands of years. Always on any Worldwide “Top Ten” list of beaches, in addition to a jaw-dropping vista of magnificent scenery, here one can find the famous “pan de coco” bread.  Made with coconut milk instead of water, it looks like pita bread, but is thicker, and has only a touch of sweetness from the coconut. To eat it, with a grilled lobster, at the small tent at the end of the beach will make you want to stay forever.

4 - When (if!) one tires of so much sun and salt water, then you do not have to go far to find paradise once again, in the town on Limon (birthplace of the famous painter Chaseraux).  Limon Waterfalls

There you find the amazing “El Limon” Waterfalls. Unlike most cascades, where you enjoy watching from afar the beauty of a natural forest and falling waters, at El Limon we find a large natural pool that invites you to watch from the inside and become a player in the game of life!

The waters will remind you that Samana is not meant to be only viewed from afar, but also to be lived and experienced fully.

 
Complete view of the “Limon Waterfall” with its natural pool at the end, picture courtesy of reddominicana.com


5 - You may also want the experiences of the great culinary offerings in Las Terrenas,  Samana and Las Galeras, the ecotourism and mountain trekking locations, the more out-of-the-way beaches of El Valle and Escondida (great for snorkeling and solitude), or just decide to “do nothing.”

Any of these choices will lead you to understand why Samana has attracted so many people by its unique magnetism and combination of beauty, nature, culture and varied experiences!!!


There is much more to share with you, so stay tuned for parts two and three of this article in the next two Caribbean Property and Lifestyles Magazine issues.
Author : Guitze M. Messina. Born in the Dominican Republic, Guitze is an industrial engineer by vocation and has worked in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic in that capacity. In 1996 Mr. Messina became a management consultant for various Dominican companies. In 2005 he joined Diesco Group, a new manufacturing facility that produces and markets plastics for the construction industry. These products save time, energy and money for builders and clients of large buildings and hotels. His work in this area has given Guitze the first-hand opportunity to work with the exploding luxury development real estate industry in the Dominican Republic.

Caribbean Property and Lifestyles Magazine Email :  Guitze M. Messina
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