Beginning in January, the Atlantic Ocean’s largest population of humpback whales, will make their pilgrimage to the waters of the Dominican Republic (DR). An estimated 2,000 to 5,000 males and females will ake the pilgrimage.
Established in 1986 by the DR government, the “Sanctuary for the Marine Mammals of the Dominican Republic” is the winter home for nearly a third of the Atlantic Ocean’s humpback whale population and encompasses the Northern and Eastern coasts of the Dominican Republic (DR), two of the most popular tourism regions in the country.
The colossal 50-foot long humpbacks use the three-month period of January through March in the DR as their breeding haven. Cave drawings throughout Samana indicate that humpbacks have been visiting the area for centuries and continue to be attracted to its warm, shallow, calm waters that provide natural protection during their mating rituals.
A spectacular sight, this is the time when the whales are most acrobatic with photogenic displays of breeching, twirling and an activity called “spyhopping” in which the whale lifts its head out of the water for up to 30 seconds for a look around.
While whale watching excursions are available from energetic Puerto Plata and Cabarete on the north coast and popular Punta Cana on the east coast, a stay in Samana provides a more rustic, less traveled experience for families, nature and adventure lovers or those looking for a unique retreat to a land pristine with powdery white sand beaches.
The cost of a whale watching tour to the Sanctuary can vary depending on an individual’s expectations, needs and departure location.
Tour operators can provide a tailored trip to suit serious nature enthusiasts while a package tour may be more appealing to families or those on a budget.
Determinants include the transportation mode to the dock, whether it be by car, bus or air; the type of boat used during the trip; the number of people on a tour; and the length of the excursion.
Typically, tours consist of a morning departure with several hours of whale watching and a Caribbean lunch served upon the postcard-quality beaches of Cayo Levantado.
When looking for a tour company, visitors should only book with operators that carry whale watching permits from the DR government. In order to protect the whale populations, the DR has developed strict guidelines for whale watching activities and requires mandatory workshops for all tour operators and tender drivers applying for a permit to the Sanctuary.
These companies are trained in regulations, feeding zones, natural history, whale behaviors and other topics beneficial to the whale seeker.
Regardless of the operator, it is unlawful for visitors to swim or snorkel with the whales and vessels must stay at least 165 feet from adult whales and 270 feet from a group if it includes a calf. Companies carrying permits include Victoria Marine ( http://www.whalesamana.com/ ), Prieto Tours ( http://www.prieto-tours.com/ ) and VIP Travel Services ( http://www.viptravelservices.com/ ).
In addition to whale watching, Samana hosts an array of other activities to keep every age group entertained. Day-trips include an archeological outing to Los Haitises National Park where centuries-old caves display petroglyphs by Taino Indians, a ferry ride to the distinctive island of Cayo Levantado, or a horseback excursion to breathtaking Salto de Limon waterfall. When looking for a hotel or resort, tourists can find many options in Samana and its surrounding towns of Las Terrenas, Las Galeras and the Playa Bonita.