Northeast of the all-inclusive hub of Punta Cana is the Dominican Republic’s Samana Peninsula. While there’s a mix here of gated resorts and smaller hotels, the big draw is a less-developed and diverse landscape said to be among the most beautiful in the country. Discover mountains, mangroves, fishing villages and quiet beaches.
Every winter, from mid-January to mid-March, about 1,500 North Atlantic humpback whales migrate from cold northern waters to the warm Dominican region for breeding and calving. And all that courtship can lead to a lot of cool displays: flippering, tail lobbing, breaching and the squeaks and moans of the males’ wooing picked up through underwater hydrophones. “Imagine this area as one of the largest singles bars in the world,” says Kim Beddall, owner of Whale Samana, one of many whale-watching excursion companies to choose from. It’s also possible to experience the magnificent and threatened creatures from dry land at the Land Whale Observatory in Punta Balandra, where a viewing platform offers a spectacular view of the bay. The small Whale Museum and Nature Center in Samana also features whale music recordings and a 40-foot humpback skeleton.
If waterfalls are more your kids’ thing, consider a horseback journey (or 45-minute hike) through orchards of coconut, coffee and mango to the stunning El Limon Falls.
Best for older kids and teens, as whale-watching waters can be rough.
The Beach Restaurant in Las Terrenas, a colourful Dominican town favoured by expats, offers Mediterranean fare during the day. At night, Casa Azul is known for its margherita pizza on the beach.
A day trip via speedboat will take you to lush mangrove swamps and limestone caves in Los Haitises National Park, where you’ll find prehistoric art credited to Taino natives.