Las Terrenas: Best Excursions and Day Trips
With all its attractions, Samana peninsula was one of the biggest highlights of Bunny’s ten-week tour of the Dominican Republic. She stayed in a number of places on the peninsula but found Las Terrenas the best, and most convenient, base for an active holiday in Samana.
Las Terrenas is a cosmopolitan village surrounded by beautiful beaches. In a country mostly known for its all-inclusive holiday havens, Las Terrenas is particularly well suited for independent travel. It has affordable accommodation and amenities, as well as excellent day trip and excursion options.
Check out Bunny’s favourite excursions from Las Terrenas below.
El Limon Waterfall Tour
El Limon, famous for its 52-meter waterfall Cascada El Limon, is just a half hour’s drive from Las Terrenas. A number of companies organise tours to the falls, including transportation there and back, horseback riding and lunch.
Bunny was of two minds about doing the tour because she had read some negative reviews about the treatment of horses in and around El Limon. She did not want to support any activity involving animal cruelty. After some research, she finally decided to go, choosing a responsible tour agency, Flora Tours, for her trip. Luckily, she had no regrets about her trip.
The Bunnies were picked up in Las Terrenas at 8am and transported to the Parada la Manzana ranch in El Limon. This is where they met their guides and set off for the 40-minute journey by horse to the waterfalls. Bunny rode a lovely horse that looked well taken care of and Mr. Bunny was given a donkey for some reason. An ass for an ass perhaps? Go figure.
The Bunnies were lucky to be the only ones on their tour that morning, so they rode through the rainforest in blissful solitude.
The trail was quite steep, going up and down on the rocky terrain with some slippery and muddy patches along the way. The going was not very fast and the terrain was hair-raising at times, particularly for inexperienced riders.
But it was all worth it as the lush landscape was very beautiful and tranquil. The guides pointed out a plethora of tropical plants and fruit trees along the way, including coconut, soursop, avocado, coffee, passion fruit, papaya…
After about half an hour of riding, the Bunnies parked the horses and completed the rest of the trail by foot to the waterfalls. There was a gift shop at the start of the foot trail, with polite vendors selling drinks and trinkets after which a very steep 5-minute descent led to the waterfalls.
When the Bunnies arrived at the stunning waterfall display, there was nobody there. Magical! The Bunnies jumped right into the fresh, cool water and splashed around for quite a while, including swimming behind the waterfall and taking plenty of photos.
After about half an hour, other people did start arriving. Even though it was not (yet) crowded, Bunny could see how different the atmosphere would be with throngs of people around. She also disapproved of the local guys who now appeared with captive parrots, using them to make money from tourists wanting to be photographed with the colorful birds. Shame on tourists posing with captive animals, Bunny says.
Returning by the same route to Parada la Manzana, the Bunnies saw a lot more tourists starting to arrive. It really does pay off to have an early start for this excursion.
Back at the ranch, the Bunnies enjoyed a delicious Dominican style buffet lunch, with plenty of vegetarian options, before being transported back to Las Terrenas. It had been a near-perfect day trip with Flora Tours.
Take some apples or carrots with you to give to the horses at the end of your tour. They deserve it after having worked very hard on the difficult trail.
Whale Watching in Samana
If you happen to visit the Dominican Republic between mid-January to mid-March, whale-watching in Samana Bay should be one of your top priorities in the country.
Thousands of humpback whales migrate south to the Dominican Republic every winter. It is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. Tours leave directly from the provincial capital of Santa Barbara de Samana, which is about a one-hour drive from Las Terrenas.
A number of tour operators offer whale watching trips but none are better than Whale Samana. The company is owned and operated by a Canadian marine mammal specialist, Kim Beddall. You can be assured that Whale Samana’s professional guides respect and protect wildlife as their primary concern, along with passenger safety of course.
Unfortunately, Whale Samana does not provide transportation to their door as part of their tours. This means you will have to organise your own transportation to Santa Barbara de Samana. But this is not a big inconvenience as there are plenty of good taxi companies available to transport you at a reasonable cost.
Bunny had a great time on her whale watching tour! The first whale sightings were a mere 15 minutes into the boat ride and there was never more than 10 minutes between sightings. Samana Bay was practically bursting with whales.
The whales engaged in plenty of breaching, tail slashing, fin slapping, spy hopping and sleeping postures for everyone to enjoy. Whale Samana’s boat was very comfortable and Bunny also benefitted from Kim Beddall’s running commentary on the whales’ behaviour throughout the trip. Besides enjoying the impressive display of aquatic acrobatics, Bunny also learned a lot about whale behaviour during the day. The trip also offered plenty of wonderful photo and video opportunities of the whales (Bunny was too slow to capture the surprise appearance of a dolphin). In fact, the vessel’s captain went to pains to give both sides of the boat a good view of all the action.
Bunny was very happy at the end of her 4-hour tour. Whale watching in Samana was such a pleasant and easy way to see some of the world’s most majestic creatures in the wild.
Cayo Levantado Beach
Cayo Levantado is a tiny paradise island located only four miles from Santa Barbara de Samana. It is a mere three square kilometers in size which boasts a beautiful beach, with pure white sand and crystal-clear turquoise water. It is very easy to get to Cayo Levantado by boat from the main dock in Santa Barbara de Samana.
If you join a whale-watching trip with Whale Samana, you have the option at the end of your tour to add a couple of indulgent hours on Cayo Levantado’s gorgeous beach. This side trip option is offered for a small fee (5 USD) and is one of the best ways to visit the island. That’s because doing a separate day trip from Las Terrenas to Cayo Levantado is probably not worth it, Bunny says. There are better beaches elsewhere in Samana.
That said, Cayo Levantado is perfect for an afternoon of fun and sun on the dazzling white sand beach. Delicious cocktails and cold beers are readily available and there are even some restaurants steps away from the public beach, although Bunny didn’t try any.
Snorkelling is, as elsewhere in the Dominican Republic, a bit underwhelming but the water is certainly clear and refreshing.
Just make sure your visit does not coincide with a cruise ship’s visit. Bunny can imagine the small island being completely overwhelmed and ruined by swarms of people out on a shore excursion from a big ship.
There are, in fact, two gorgeous beaches on Cayo Levantado. One of them is reserved for the exclusive use of guests at the Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado hotel on the island. All day trips are to the public beach only. You can only stare at the other beach in envy as you arrive and depart the island.
Los Haitises National Park
Los Haitises National Park is one of the largest protected areas in the Dominican Republic. It includes sinkholes, caves, a series of high rock formations rising from the sea, and an extensive mangrove forest. It is also home to a great variety of flora and fauna. Its bird colonies, including pelicans, herons and frigates, are particularly famous.
Los Haitises National Park is easy to visit from Las Terrenas, with a number of tour agencies organising trips there. Bunny picked Flora Tours based on Lonely Planet’s recommendation and was very happy with her choice. Flora Tours make the trip to Los Haitises only twice a week, so it is a good idea to reserve your tour in advance.
The tour includes transportation to the park, entrance fees, an English-language tour guide as well as lunch and refreshments. The main part of the tour is done on the water by boat. This lets you take in the spectacular limestone scenery and small islands up close while observing various species of birds that inhabit the park. The boat also slowly drifts its way through an impressive mangrove forest in the park.
Apart from the boating excursion, the tour visits three different caves which served as hiding places in the past and contain interesting native cave drawings. One of the caves is located near a pretty beach where Bunny and her fellow travellers were treated to some rum refreshments. Good call, Flora Tours!
The Flora tour guide on Bunny’s trip was excellent, providing lots of information about the park, the animals and the Dominican Republic in general. The size of the tour group was manageable at 12 (divided into two separate groups of English and French speakers) and the Dominican-style buffet lunch that was provided at the end of the tour was excellent.
Bunny very much enjoyed this eco adventure, which felt unhurried and authentic compared to many other, more action-packed and touristic offers available in Samana.
Playa Rincon Beach
Las Terrenas is surrounded by amazing beaches, with miles and miles of gorgeous sands. But to experience the best beach on the peninsula, you will have to make a day trip to Playa Rincon, Bunny says.
Playa Rincon is situated at the end of Samana peninsula, approximately a two-hour drive from Las Terrenas. A number of tour companies and taxi services offer day trips from Las Terrenas and it is well worth the effort, despite the lengthy transfer.
Playa Rincon spans more than three miles and offers an amazingly beautiful, white sand beach that is still unspoiled thanks to very little development. There are no hotels or massive tourist groups in sight. Just rows of coconut trees lining the peaceful beach… The water is clear and appropriately turquoise. Gorgeous mountain scenery can be seen further afield.
Simply put, Playa Rincon is one of the most beautiful beaches Bunny has ever visited - and she has seen more than her fair share of stunning beaches around the world…
Swimming at Playa Rincon is delightful. The water is mostly calm and amazingly clear. You can also snorkel directly off the beach and hope to catch sight of a variety of colourful fish. Mr Bunny wasn’t too impressed with the snorkeling, but he is a bit of a snorkeling snob.
A couple of beachside restaurants serve barbecue food (bring your own grub if you’re vegetarian). Occasionally, local women walk up and down the beach selling delicious coconut bread, in both salty and sweet varieties. The salty one goes exceptionally well with an ice cold Presidente beer, Bunny observed.
At the busy (relatively speaking) end of the beach, you can also rent beach chairs and umbrellas for the day. Alternatively, you can walk a few hundred meters further and organise your own private picnic on the soft sand in the shade of coconut trees.
Too bad that it is apparently dangerous to venture too far from the popular beach area. Bunny was warned by a number of people about “banditos” operating on isolated stretches of the beach. Bunny heeded the warnings (for once) so she isn’t able to confirm or deny the persistent rumours.
But one thing is for sure: Playa Rincon is an absolutely gorgeous, quiet and delightful beach to visit.
Las Terrenas is a perfect base for an active holiday on Samana peninsula. You will have easy access to a number of local attractions and there are some good tour companies ready to take you further afield.
Whether it is whale watching, horse-riding or snorkelling you are interested in, basing yourself in Las Terrenas is a good decision, Bunny says.
No need to stay in Santa Barbara de Samana, as it pales in comparison to Las Terrenas and its much richer variety of dining options, amenities and night life. Enjoy the best of both worlds and stay in Las Terrenas without missing out on all the Samana-based excursions and day trips you desire.