Latest posts by Jonathan Greenstein (see all)
If you have not heard about Las Terrenas, you are not alone. I hadn’t heard about it either before booking my trip. Beforehand, when I thought about holidays in the Dominican Republic, I would think about Punta Cana. After all, Punta Cana is probably the main resort town and certainly the main location travel agents will book for you. Las Terrenas is in the north east of the Dominican Republic, in an area called Samaná Province. With the white sand beaches and crystal clear water, Las Terrenas has quickly became one of the top beach destinations I have ever been to. In this article, you will find a brief guide to some of things you can do and see in and around Las Terrenas.
Las Terrenas Town
The town of Las Terrenas was a mix of opposites. The main tourist area was filled with bars, restaurants and hotels along a strip of road the ran along the beach. The other part of the town, to me at least, had far more character as it was the less touristy part. As we were in a house, we went to the local shopping centres and markets to buy food to cook. These areas were mostly frequented by locals with few other tourists around.
The fish market was a great experience. Local fishermen set up tables and sell their fish out of cold boxes right on the beach. You tell them what kind of fish you are after and they will skin and cut it for you right there on the beach. The scraps were given to the stray dogs that were numerous around the town. Stray dogs frequented most tourists locations.Everything from puppies to old dogs could be seen sitting on the beach and swimming in the shallow seas.
If you are a fan of cigars, there are some local shops that will hand roll cigars in-front of you whilst you wait. They also sell cigars from other countries in the region like Cuba and Venezuela. If you earn in Pound Sterling or Dollars, the cigars made locally are rather cheap. Additionally, the locally made alcohols (Ron Barcello and Brugal rum) were a bargain as well. We found bottles of Ron Barcello Gran Anejo for the equivalent of about £5. Another locally made drink you can make or buy ready made is Mama Juana. Mama Juana is a drink native to the Dominican Republic and is concocted by allowing rum, red wine, and honey to soak in a bottle with tree bark and herbs. The taste is similar to port wine and the colour is a deep red. As mentioned, some shops sold Mama Juana ready made whilst others sold bottles of tree bark and herbs so you can make your own. If you have the bottle of bark and herbs, this video gives a good bit of direction on how to make the drink.
Whilst staying in Las Terrenas, a car is not essential but it does help to explore the area. Quad bikes or mopeds can be rented cheaply. Having access to a vehicle makes getting to some destinations like Samaná far easier. Driving in Las Terrenas was a unique experience. There seems to be a distinct lack of rules when it comes to driving with motorcycle and other cars pulling into the road and turning with no indication. You have to be hyper aware of your surroundings when driving so as not to knock a rider off their motorbike. Most tour companies will provide transportation to the locations they are leading tours around.
My trip to Las Terrenas may have been my first time in the Caribbean but I had never seen beaches like this before. White sand, clear calm shallow water and emerald/turquoise parts further out made every beach we went to look like paradise. Its no wonder that the beaches around Las Terrenas are consistently voted as some of the best in the world. Everyday we managed to find a new beach to lounge on.– Playa Bonita. Playa Las Ballenas. Playa Coson. Playa Moron. Playa Las Canas. Playa Lanza del Norte.Playa Punta Popy. These are but a few of the beaches we could either walk or drive to. Each felt unique and were serviced by local bars and restaurants. Most the beaches also offer a variety of water sports including surfing, paddle boarding, kite surfing and snorkelling.
Hurricane season and Hurricane Irma
The Atlantic hurricane season start on the 1st of June and runs through to the 30th of November. We were fully aware of this when we decided to go to the Caribbean in September but thought we may get lucky. Unfortunately, the Caribbean was hit by a number of hurricanes in 2017, including Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Jose.
We watched Hurricane Irma on the news as it savaged the other Caribbean islands on its way to the Dominican Republic. When it hit, Las Terrenas was about 50km from the eye of the storm (or so I was told). As we had a car, we were advised to evacuate to Santo Domingo along with the other tourists in the region, but decided against it. Luckily, the house we rented was high up, we had no risk of flooding. On the flip side, we also had little to no protection from the 150 mph winds that battered our house. The region was fortunate as it was not hit anywhere as badly as some of the other islands before it. Some beach side bars and restaurants had fallen into the sea and some roads were swept away but other than that, it seemed alright. We even had electricity back within 12 hours.
Samaná and the Bridge To Nowhere
On the day after the hurricane, we decided to take a a drive to another nearby town, Samaná to visit the Bridge To Nowhere and see the old Spanish colonial church. Samaná was a beautiful town but it was in the midst of a clean up. The hurricane had hit the day before and debris was scattered around.
About 45 minute’s drive away from Las Terrenas, you will find El Limon. The almost 60 metre high waterfall will take you about an hour to hike to. The hike was amazing. We trekked through thick, lush jungle, through streams and down rocky paths to reach El Limon. It is worth noting that some tour companies do offer horse back tours to the waterfall along the hiking path but we found the hike to be great. Our guide for the hike pointed out the local vegetation and even picked fresh fruit straight from the trees for us to eat as we walked along.
Travel tip… try do this trip early in the morning. We aimed to get to the Limon Falls for 9:30/10:00. The heat of the day at this time is nowhere near as hot is it is in the afternoon (although it is still very hot) and the later you get to the waterfall, the more tourists will be there. When we arrived, we had the entire thing to ourselves and could freely swim in the pool beneath the falls.
Los Haitises National Park
As the Los Haitises National Park rose from the sea, it looked like the backdrop to Jurassic Park. Stoic stone pillars jutted out of the water with vegetation growing form them. It was on this excursion that we learnt that the trees and plants dig their roots directly into the rock itself.
Our tour guide went on to tell us about the vegetation in the park as well as the wild life (pelicans, frigate birds, turkey vultures and dolphins to name a few). The tour dropped us off at 3 different cave complexes for us to explore. It was within these caves that we learnt about the history of the native people who lived there before the Spanish arrived as well as the brutal dictatorship that ruled the country and the people who fled to the caves to escape. The pirate Blackbeard was said to have used the caves in this area as hideouts and numerous carvings from this time were still there to be seen.
The tour boat also made its way down a small fresh water river lined either-side with mangroves. Small crabs use the roots almost like a highway system, eating the plant sap and cleaning the parasites from the trees.
In the Dominican republic they use the Dominican Peso. It is worth noting that most main shops, restaurants and tour companies accept American Express but we found that cash was preferred. Some shops only accepted cash but these were not in the touristy areas.
Restaurants, Food and Drink
Restaurants are numerous in the tourist part of town. It is mostly Italian and American cuisine with a couple French places mixed in. We had a hard time finding an authentic Dominican restaurant but managed to find one eventually outside of the tourist areas. I’d highly recommend The Beach Restaurant. It was a fantastic meal set along side a picturesque beach.
All things considered, Las Terrenas was a perfect blend of relaxing by the beach and outdoor activities/excursions. I’d highly recommend that others experience this part of the Dominican Republic as well.