Near Sabana de la Mar, we find a quiet fishing village with colorful boats. We were expecting more development, but the peaceful scene is just what we need after the long ride.
Across the 10-mile-wide Bay of Samaná is the town of Samaná, where whale-watching tours originate. Our map shows a ferry route crossing the water from here. I show the symbol to a local, who manages a chuckle.
“No ferry here,” he says in Spanish. “But for 300 pesos [US$9] I could take you across.” We take him up on his offer, and when we arrive on the other side of the bay, I ask about the ballenas (humpback whales). We’re directed to Roberto, who operates his tour company from a small building. He tells us we’re about a week too early for the whales, who mate here from mid-January through March before migrating north to feed. Instead, we pay Roberto 1,500 pesos (US$42) each for a boat tour of the Parque Nacional los Haitises, an 83-square-mile nature preserve of mangroves reached only by water.
The D.R. boasts an impressive number of protected natural areas, including 19 national parks and six scientific reserves, and that number is growing. Some — such as the Santuario de Mamíferos Marinos, north of the Samaná Peninsula — are underwater sanctuaries that cater to divers. In all, several species of sea turtles, 303 types of birds, 33 land mammals, and 5,600 varieties of plants are found in the country, and that’s not to mention the sea life that abounds in the coral reefs. Gazing at the unspoiled waters of the Bay of Samaná, we can see the seeds of ecotourism germinate.