Set midway along the peninsula’s northern coast, LAS TERRENAS has grown into one of the country’s tourist hotspots, especially since the arrival of the international airport at El Catey in 2006 and the new highway from Santo Domingo that has made Las Terrenas an easy weekend retreat for wealthy Dominicans from the capital.
There are two distinct areas to the town: the beachside glitz and glamour of the hotels, bars and restaurants and the inland Dominican barrio, which has been built up into a warren of rough dirt roads with dirt-cheap housing to accommodate the masses of workers needed to sustain the tourism. There is some resentment between the Dominican and foreign communities, centred on the well-founded perception that the expats are making all of the money off the booming tourist business.
Las Terrenas sees its busiest time in the summer when, during July and August in particular, it’s swamped with Europeans. The larger hotels and resorts catch most of the traffic but there are enough independent travellers and backpackers to keep the smaller bars and restaurants busy, and everybody tends to come together later in the evening to crowd out the livelier bars and discos to the early hours.
The town makes a pleasant base-camp from which to explore the northern part of the Samaná Peninsula, including the less-developed beaches on either side, such as Playa Bonita and El Portillo – home to the vast Bahía Principe El Portillo resort (w www.bahia-principe.com) – that hold even more appeal than the one in town. Aside from exploring these, a day-trip to the El Limón waterfall is highly recommended both for the journey there on horseback and the view of the fall itself.Read More
Visiting El Salto de Limón
Visiting El Salto de Limón
If you want to avoid the tour-bus crowds, arrange an early morning or late afternoon visit from El Limón. The 52m waterfall is accessible by horse from any of the operators below (as well as several outfits in Las Terrenas) and takes roughly three hours round-trip. You can also walk but that‘s only advisable when it‘s very dry. The path cuts across a broad river before climbing into the palm-thick mountains. As the waterfall comes into sight, the horses are tethered at a small way-station where you can have a drink before making the steep descent to the fall. The walk is well worth the effort to see the torrent of whitewater dropping precipitously off a sheer cliff in the middle of the wilderness forming a natural pool at its base, where you can swim. You need to be in decent shape and well shod, especially after a lot of rain when the boggy route can be treacherous. You‘ll also need to wear long trousers for the ride.
The local community-based ecotourism association now has its own excellent website (w www.saltolimon.com), which gives details in English, including phone numbers, of the dozen legitimate operators in the area and where they’re located. However, tour quality and the rates charged do vary among the providers, as does what is included. Whether you come on a tour bus, or as an independent traveller, you should establish beforehand whether the price covers: transport to the parada (in the case of an organized tour); the park entry fee (RD$50); drinks and/or a meal, generally a combination of chicken, rice, fried plantain and a smidgen of salad; and the guide – who walks alongside you and informs you about the surrounding countryside, probably in Spanish. If the guide’s tip is not included, find out from the operator (again before you sign up) what the norm is.
The pick of the bunch, and so preferred by a lot of the larger tour operators, is the combined ranch-restaurant Santi Rancho, just south of the intersection on the road to Samaná. Their waterfall trip currently costs RD$750 per person, which includes the horse, guide and park fee and they now also offer canyoning down Río El Limón.
Also highly recommended is Parada La Manzana (t 916-0892, e [email protected]), located a few kilometres south of El Limón and run by Antonia and Martín, who, in addition to organizing a good trip, also prepare an excellent traditional lunch. Consider also Parada Ramona and Basilio (t 956-5526), where you can also learn about their home-grown cocoa.