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Samana and Cayo Levantado (Photo:mandritoiu/Shutterstock)
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Samana and Cayo Levantado

The Dominican Republic lies on the eastern side of Hispaniola, an island it shares with Haiti. The D.R. (or Dom. Rep in the U.K.), as it's known, stretches over two-thirds of the island and is about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. It also claims the West Indies' highest mountain peak -- rising some 10,415 feet from the Valley of Cibao. Christopher Columbus founded the first permanent European settlement in the D.R. in 1493. Samana, a port on the Dominican Republic's northeastern peninsula, might not look like much at first, but it offers some pleasant surprises to those who venture beyond its shops and restaurants. Positioned near several fishing villages, the colorful town offers some amazing food that's both fresh and authentic, as well as opportunities for horseback-riding, ATV tours, beach breaks, waterfall visits and mingling with locals. In-town attractions are limited, so an organized tour is the best way to experience this region. You also won't want to miss local specialties like larimar jewelry, Kola Real soda and Dominican hot chocolate.

About Samana and Cayo Levantado


Pro

Excellent food, gorgeous waterfalls and friendly locals make for a fun time

Con

Samana is often misunderstood by visitors who don't comprehend the way of life

Bottom Line

Venture outside of town for a more authentic and memorable experience


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Trips to the nearby island of Cayo Levantado, visible from Samana and located about 10 minutes away by boat, are also available, but only through your cruise line's excursion offerings. (Private tour operators aren't allowed to transport cruise passengers to the island on days when ships are anchored.) Additionally, some ships call only on Cayo Levantado, half of which is a public beach that's available only to cruisers on days when ships are in port, and half of which is a private resort.

Where You're Docked

In Samana, your ship will anchor near one of two piers and tender you to the appropriate docks, both of which are located along Avenida La Marina/Malecon. (Note: If you're a dog-lover, be sure to pack some treats; there are lots of friendly strays near the docks.)

The main dock is known as Embat Dock, but if more than one ship is in port on a given day, a secondary dock, Dock Moto Marina Club, is used for tendering.

If you're taking an excursion to Cayo Levantado from Samana, or if your ship is calling directly on Cayo Levantado, you'll tender to the island's public dock.

Good to Know

The Dominican Republic has a reputation for crime. Although you'll find less of it in Samana than in other locations throughout the D.R., always be aware of your surroundings, stay in groups, and don't venture to places you don't know when not on an organized tour or with a reputable guide. As a general rule of thumb, leave all jewelry and valuables onboard in your cabin safe, and carry only as much cash as you think you'll need. We recommend a money belt to keep valuables safe while you're ashore.

Also be sure to pack bug spray; you won't have much of a problem outdoors, but you might use some restroom facilities (particularly if you're headed to the beach) that are not air-conditioned, making them perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes -- and the blood-suckers are vicious.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The official currency is the Dominican Republic Peso (check www.xe.com for current exchange rates), but it's rarely a problem to use American dollars. There are ATM's available at Banco Popular (Avenida La Marina/Malecon) and BHD Bank (green building at the corner of Avenida La Marina and Circunvalacion). ATM's will dispense money in pesos. (Note: Each bank's ATM will charge a $5 transaction fee in addition to any fees charged by your bank. BHD's ATM will allow you to withdraw up to the peso equivalent of $500 at one time, while the limit at Banco Popular is less.)

Language

Dominicans speak Spanish as their primary language. Some, particularly those who work in tourist areas, speak English. That said, communication can be a problem, so either carry a pocket dictionary, or bone up on basic phrases like hola (hello), buenos dias (good day), por favor (please), gracias (thank you), cuanto cuesta? (how much does it cost?) and donde esta el bano? (where is the bathroom?).

Shopping

The Dominican Republic is known for Larimar, a cloudy, pale-blue stone that's only mined on the island of Hispaniola. It's difficult to fake, so chances are good that you'll be snagging the real thing. Don't be afraid to bargain; sellers are used to it, and they often jack up prices with the expectation that haggling will occur. Amber and black coral are also popular, but they're easier to fabricate.

If jewelry isn't your thing, consider Dominican-made cigars, items made from coconut, and natural cocoa or chocolate, but do avoid purchasing woven palm hats. They're considered live plants, and they'll be confiscated when you return to your ship.

Best Cocktail

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 Coca-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.)