Mark Rogers, Special to USA TODAY, Sept. 14, 2018

Most first-time visitors to the Dominican Republic flock to the all-inclusive beach resorts of Punta Cana, where packaged tourism has been polished, shined and sandpapered into a formidable product. While a beach, buffet and booze vacation will have appeal for many, there are some visitors who will pine for a more authentic Dominican experience. One option is to vacation in the less-visited Samaná Peninsula, on the Dominican Republic’s northeastern shore.

Reaching Samaná takes a bit more effort. Direct international flights to the region’s Samaná El Catey International Airport are in short supply. Most visitors bound for Samaná will utilize connecting flights from Punta Cana or opt for a two-hour drive from the capital city of Santo Domingo, along a new and modern highway.

So why make this greater effort? Because on arrival, visitors will find a region that has its own remarkable history, superb eco-attractions and noncookie-cutter hotels and restaurants. All of this is set down in a jungle-lush natural setting of rainforests and coconut plantations. During my visit, my guide noted that Samaná Peninsula had 110,000 residents and 6 million palm trees.

Samaná’s tourism center is Las Terrenas, a town of roughly 14,000 people. Over the years, Samaná has attracted more European vacationers than those from the U.S. Europeans are attracted to the rustic restaurants serving local fare and the option to bed down in either luxury resorts or funky eco- and budget-friendly hotels.

Samaná’s main appeal is its natural attractions. These range from stunning white-sand beaches such as Rincon and Coson, as well as what could be described as Samaná’s iconic site, the trio of waterfalls that make up El Limon Falls. A favorite activity is riding on horseback to reach the falls. Those timing their visit between January and March can indulge in whale watching via boat excursions on Samaná Bay. During these winter months, approximately 2,500 humpback whales migrate to the bay. Another eco-excursion is hiking, caving and birdwatching in Los Haitises National Park, an expansive protected area covering an impressive 319 square miles. (…)

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