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.

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