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Published: March 11th 2013
I found Las Galeras on the Samana Peninsula of the Dominican Republic to be a great location to land for a week and de-stress during our spring break. The beaches there are amazing and not crowded and you can get around the area without needing a car. In fact, most of your transportation will be by boat if you are going mostly for the beaches. Having never been to the Caribbean I didn’t know exactly what to expect, however I found many similarities (and some interesting differences) from my other travels in Latin America. After doing a bit of homework and talking with a friend who had spent some time in the DR I think I made the right choice of where to go. During my first full day in the country I met a couple of Americans who were working for a non-profit organization in the DR and they said that this was the most beautiful area in the country that they had visited.
My trip started with a delayed flight from Philadelphia, a canceled car reservation, and one of my credit cards being eaten by an ATM. The price for a car more than doubled with insurance and
because it was nearing dark I paid a taxi driver to drive me all the way to Las Galeras for $175 (after negotiating down from $250). I wasn’t too happy about this at the time but it actually turned out to be a good thing – and saved me money in the process. I made the return trip much cheaper as I took a taxi to the bus station in Samana (1200DP) where I bought a ticket (less than 500DP) for a two-hour ride on a nice bus. The bus then dropped people going to the airport off on the highway where taxi drivers (600DP) were waiting to shuttle people to the airport (so about $58 total). The total time to return was a very efficient three hours and twenty minutes.
The landscape on the sunset drive to Las Galeras the first night was nice but the socioeconomic level of the people was somewhat of a stark realization. I was glad that I had canceled my car reservation as driving at night presented all sorts of hazards that would have been challenging. These included but were not limited to motorbikes driving with no lights, unexpected speed bumps that you
don’t see until you are on top of them, and people, cars, and animals in the road. I was quite relieved and tired when arriving at El Marinique (my hotel) and after a bit of confusion over how to pay my driver that Nicole (hotel owner) luckily presided over, it was off to my cottage. It was a welcome respite of peace (and just one small gecko) after a long day of traveling.
I would highly recommend El Marinique (www.elmarinique.com) as a place to stay in Las Galeras. Nicole has been there for 26 years and knows the place quite well. She and her assistant Ruth keep the place running very efficiently and are great to get to know. They both went out of their way to help me while there and that really made the trip more enjoyable. There were two options for housing – either a cottage or the two-level apartments. I stayed for two nights in the cottage and then “moved up” to the apartment after that. The cottage was nice but I really enjoyed the view from the second level of the apartment that overlooked the beautiful Bay of Galeras along with the hot showers,
fridge, and kitchenette. Also, the rooms are well ventilated with high ceilings, ceiling fans, and lots of windows. So, I would definitely take that option on my next visit. Every morning I started the day with breakfast at the El Marinique bar with either toast and jelly or pancakes while looking out over the bay. At El Marinique you are right on the bay so everything is within walking distance.
My first full day started great and just kept going. After breakfast Nicole suggested a guy who could take me to Playa Fronton, the beach I had most looked forward to visiting. So I did and I combined with some other French tourists and Christina and Allegre two Americans living in the DR and working at an NGO near Esperanza. They are working there to help improve the literacy of a small population of Haitians who speak Creole. We took off in our small boat and, as we were heading to Playa Fronton, spotted some humpback whales in the distance. So, off we went to catch up with them. There were a number of whales in the area and couple times we were able to see multiple whales breaching
very near our boat. I have seen humpbacks before but each time it is pretty awe inspiring. This seems like a great place (and time of the year) to see whales if you are interested. And, whale watching here is done in a small boat and is a much less expensive option than the tour companies in Samana from what I understand.
After about an hour with the whales we headed over to Playa Fronton. This beach is one of those places that simply make your mouth drop as you approach. The water is clear and turquoise in color and the beach has soft tan sand with a huge cliff backdrop. We were able to spend about four hours at Fronton that day and I liked it so much that I decided to go back again on my last day. The water is great and if you enjoy snorkeling this is the place to do it at Las Galeras. You will have great visibility to see the fish and I would recommend swimming out a ways from the shore to see a great variety. The beach becomes shadowed from the cliffs in the afternoon but the snorkeling is still
great at that time, however you should realize that you will lose your sun on the beach at that time. Also, they prepare fresh fish that they catch for lunch (approx. $10US) right there on the beach – not an organized restaurant but more of a makeshift operation. In fact, you might even see the fisherman walking back through the water to the beach with fish to throw on the grill. On the way back to Las Galeras our boat driver went screaming around the cliffs and crashing us sideways into waves to give us a bit of a thrill in the boat. The cliffs here are beautiful and a sight in and of themselves. We did a quick float in and around Playa Madama and then also went by the El Cabito restaurant cliffside entrance. This entrance is something to behold as it is a ladder scaling the side of the cliff to the restaurant that is perched above a prime whale viewing/sunset watching location. The daytrip to Fronton cost 1500DP (approx. $27US). Unfortunately, I did not get to spend any time at Playa Madame but I believe it would be another great location to spend a day. It
is popular with the locals and there is also a small cliff there where people dive into the bay.
Next up was a quick pineapple smoothie in town (50DP) and then a great 4.5 mile run around the coast and up to El Cabito. I would highly recommend this run as you can follow the coast out of Las Galeras for about a mile and a half and then head inland on a dirt road that eventually takes you up to the grand views near El Cabito. The route is soft surface all the way. I enjoyed running this direction on all of my runs. Another day I went running in search of Playa Madame but didn’t have a lot of luck. But, the road going out of town towards both Fronton and Madame (the same direction as the route above but this road splits off to the right) offers a great view over Las Galeras once you get up a massive hill. On the way towards the beaches on this road you will probably see many machete-wielding guys working in the fields and forests. After two miles you will come to a sign that denotes the first turn
in to Playa Madame. A couple of workers told me to take the jungle trail going off to the right and I followed it through the thick vegetation for about 11 minutes while still running and didn’t get to Madame but I’m guessing you would get there eventually. I ended up running 9 miles that day and didn’t get to the beach but I still enjoyed the run and seeing the rural area with lush vegetation.
My first night ended with a great dinner with Allegra and Christina at Le Tainos. This restaurant is priced virtually the same as all of the others on the street (meals ranging from about 300 – 700DP) but has a little nicer setting as you get to see the cook preparing the food in the back, the presentation of the food is unique on large white platters, and the food itself is pretty good. I ended up going three times having the grilled fish, honey oregano pork, and a chicken dish. I had dinner two nights across the street at Il nodo del Pirata that is part of the Hotel Lusitania and I think I might recommend their food even over Le Tainos.
The pasta and pizza are good and their ice cream is very good (try chocolate or coconut)! I ate pizza one night at C L’Aventura de John’s and wasn’t at all impressed. Also, if you are staying at El Marinique Nicole and Ruth will cook you food upon request – so I had pizza there once and a couple sandwiches for lunch. I really appreciated this as an option and also enjoyed the food!
Probably the best food I had on the entire trip was the grilled fish (400DP) that I got at Playa Rincon at the little place under the blue tarp on the “Dominican side” (west side). This was on my second visit to Rincon after arriving by road. Going by road from Las Galeras takes about an hour over roads that aren’t so great but I really enjoyed getting a chance to see Dominican life and the outstanding scenery along the way. Also, the little turquoise colored river on the Dominican side of Rincon is very picturesque and worth seeing or, if you wish, you can hire a guy to take you down it in a canoe. On my first trip to Playa Rincon I went
by boat along with a Canadian family. After arriving on the “tourist side” (east side) at around 10am we decided with the boat driver that the Canadian family would come back at 1pm and I would return at 4pm. At 1pm one of the boat drivers came to me on the beach and made up a story about El Marinique calling for me to return at 1pm. So, I returned with the Canadian family and fell for their plan to only have to make one trip to come get us. So, if you go with the boats down at Las Galeras bay don’t pay until after your trip and do not let the drivers take advantage of you. I am not normally naive about these types of scams but didn’t want to take the chance at the time of something actually being wrong. Nevertheless, Playa Rincon was beautiful. Long stretches of beach with few people. You can go and have a whole section of the beach to yourself. The water was beautiful shades of blue and turquoise lined with palm trees at the back edges of the beach. The sand was tan and powdery soft. The water was clear and
great for swimming however, there were few fish so snorkeling was not a good option.
So, if it is beaches that you are after spend lots of time at Rincon and Fronton. I also went to La Playita a couple times. Playita is a smaller beach that is walking distance (1/2 hour) from Las Galeras. It has a nice beach, good water for swimming, and a restaurant where you can get food or, more importantly, something cold to drink. There are some other good beaches in the area that I didn’t get to so I will have something to look forward to on my next visit. Also, I was told that the waterfall at El Limon is very nice but I didn’t get there either. As far as Las Galeras is concerned it is mostly one road that empties onto the beach. There are a couple roads off of the main road (like Avenida Jimi Hendrix) but most of the activity takes place within about the final ½ mile of road that spills onto the beach. Here you will find the primary restaurants that people visit, a few souvenir shops, guys waiting to give people motoconcho rides on their
motorcyles, and a couple of small markets. I found the food choices in the markets to be limited but was good with food from my hotel and dinner in the restaurants at night. Other than a few characters on the main road and down at the entrance to the beach who were trying to sell you something I found the locals to be very kind and patient with my aspiring grasp of the Spanish language (in other words, poor). If you do plan to buy something at one of the shops remember that negotiating for a decent price is simply par for the territory.
I really enjoyed this visit and would definitely consider a return visit. It is a great place to go to relax. And it is amazing how you can enjoy world-class beaches in a beautiful setting that aren’t at all crowded. Just pack your beach towel, shorts, sandals, and possibly a good book and you are ready to go!
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