Food and Drink in Samana and Cayo Levantado
Authentic Dominican food is generally locally grown and produced. You'll find there's an emphasis on chicken and freshly caught fish, rice and beans, and fruits like coconuts and plantains. Many residents operate stands that offer homemade items like bread and empanadas. Drinks native to the area include fresh fruit juices, Dominican coffee and hot chocolate, Kola Real soda and -- for those looking for a bit of an alcoholic kick -- Mama Juana, Presidente beer and local rum. There also seems to be a surplus of Italian fare in the DR.
Cafesitio: Don't let this cafe's small size fool you; the menu is fairly extensive, and the food is amazing to boot. It's open all day, but its specialties are desserts and breakfast foods. Choose from sandwiches, pancakes and other standard fare. Of note are the milkshakes, fruit juices (especially pina/pineapple and chinola/passion fruit) and hot chocolate made fresh with local cocoa. Menus are available in Spanish and English. (Calle Colon; open daily 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
Bon: For those who only have eyes for dessert, check out Bon, an ice cream shop. You might have some trouble communicating with the employees if they don't speak English, as the menus are only in Spanish. It's worth the gesturing, though -- the end result sure is tasty. (Avenida La Marina/Malecon)
Le Royal Snack Bar & Restaurant: Craving a burger? Look no further than this little spot, situated next to Bon. (Avenida La Marina/Malecon; 829-994-2952)
Local Fare: On days when ships are in port, locals set up stands near Dock Moto Marina Club. Be sure to try the empanadas. Fried and filled with meat, they're very inexpensive, they're great for a quick meal on the go, and -- best of all -- they're delicious. If you book a tour in Samana, there's a chance an authentic Dominican lunch will be included, featuring items like chicken, fish, rice and beans, cabbage salad and plantains.
On Cayo Levantado: If you're venturing to the island, you'll have a few buffet options for lunch, but they all serve similar fare: chicken, fish, pasta salad, rice and beans, lots of fresh veggies (cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots), bread and fruit (orange, pineapple, papaya, coconut).
Best Cocktail in Samana and Cayo Levantado
While you're in town, be sure to try some Mama Juana. Made by combining red wine, rum and honey with the fermented roots of the Mama Juana tree, it gives off a strong red wine taste with a spicy cinnamon finish. If you're not a wine-lover, go for Barcelo or Brugal local rum with Kola Real cola, or Presidente beer, which is quite refreshing when the weather gets unbearably hot. (You'll also want to pick up some sugar cane juice, which is locally made and allegedly a great hangover remedy.)
Beaches in Samana and Cayo Levantado
Playa Cayacoa: This is the closest beach to where your ship will dock when calling on Samana -- about a 15- to 20-minute walk or a five-minute taxi ride. (Note: Many taxis won't traverse the pitted dirt road to get there, so you might have better luck walking or hiring one of a few rickshaws.) It doesn't have much in the way of amenities, but you will find a few small stands selling trinkets and souvenirs. It's also where you'll find access to the Bridge to Nowhere.
Playa Anadel: The private beach club here offers changing rooms, a restaurant, nice bathrooms and rental loungers. Visitors can buy boat transportation from the port to the beach or day passes that include transportation, a beach chair and drink vouchers.
Cayo Levantado: This island, just off the Samana peninsula, is reachable only by ship-sponsored tender boat, regardless of where your ship docks. It's made up of two sides: a private resort side and a public side to which cruise visitors have access. On the public half are bathrooms, activity areas (kayaking, sea lion encounters, etc.), places to eat and buy fancy drinks, and a clean beach with loungers and water sports equipment rentals. Beware: Locals will interrupt your otherwise serene sunbathing to tout painfully rough massages, hair-braiding and overpriced coconut drinks.
Don't Miss in Samana and Cayo Levantado
Whale-watching: January through March is prime whale-watching season in Samana. If you're lucky, you might be able to see humpbacks frolicking in the water from the deck of your ship, but the best bet if you really want to see these awesome creatures is to book a tour, either independently or through your cruise line.
Walk the Plank Zip Line: A trip to this 12-part zip line can only be had by booking a tour, but it's definitely worth it for the views -- or to conquer your fear of heights. It's rumored to be the safest zip line in the Americas, boasting an actual brake system (as opposed to the glove system used on most zip lines). At the conclusion of the run, you'll end up at the Lulu Waterfall, where you can cool down with a swim. It's generally partnered with a to-and-from tour via open-air bus; a trip to a local co-op, where you can taste-test everything from plantains to homemade local coffee and chocolate; and a delicious lunch on an old fishing beach. Rumor has it that plans are also in the works to add an eco-lodge, a monkey jungle and a chocolate-making facility onsite. (We recommend booking through Tour Samana With Terry.)
El Limon Waterfall: This breathtaking waterfall is a bit cumbersome to get to, but it's accessible on foot and on horseback. There's no admission fee, and it's open to the public for swimming, but you'll need a guide to get you there. Just behind the falls is a cave that makes for some fun exploration if you're game. (We recommend booking through Tour Samana With Terry.)
Ride an ATV: If you just want to be out and about for the day, look into renting an ATV. Whether you're on your own or carrying a passenger, it's a great way to get around to see some of Samana's most well-known sights, and the price of rental includes a guide so you won't get lost on the wooded trails.
Local Sights: Take Calle Colon to Calle Teadore Chasereaux, and check out the adorable La Churcha, an Evangelical church brought to the Dominican Republic from England in the 1800's. Across from it, you'll find a beautiful Catholic church that holds services on Sunday mornings, should you happen to be in port on a weekend. If you're in the mood for a walk, the Bridge to Nowhere offers an intriguing jaunt from the nearby Playa Cayacoa beach to an uninhabited island just off of the bay in Samana. Or, if you'd like to see an impressive piece of local infrastructure, along with stunning views, grab a taxi to the manmade lake that was recently constructed to supply about 80 percent of the peninsula's homes with water.