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Playa Carolina Portillo

Las Terrenas is a small city in Samaná Province on the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic, notable for its miles and miles of beautiful, golden sand public beaches, combining a modest but full-service tourist infrastructure with an authentic Dominican town. It's also a jumping-off point for the nearby Limón Waterfall, popular for hiking and as a freshwater swimming hole.

Understand[edit]

Located on the once-remote Samaná Peninsula in the Dominican Republic's far northeast, Las Terrenas doesn't is a bit of a latecomer to the country's beach tourism scene. Before the Santo Domingo-Samaná highway was completed in 2012, what's now a 2-hour drive from the capital used to take 6 hours, and in earlier Dominican history there was no way to get here by road at all. That said, Las Terrenas now has a booming tourism scene, with the high season running roughly from December to March. There's little an average tourist would find lacking in terms of shopping or services, but unlike the famous all-inclusive beach resort experiences of Punta Cana, the main draw here is mid-range hotels and cottages across the street from the beach, and plenty of opportunities to mix with the locals (as well as tourists from elsewhere in the Dominican Republic).

Most of the local people seem to be of Afro-Caribbean descent, and though just about everyone speaks fluent Spanish, it's not unusual to hear some Haitian Creole here and there. The vibe is quite relaxed (if spectacularly noisy along the downtown thoroughfares), most vendors are not out to scam you, and locals and visitors alike seem to feel pretty safe - this is considered one of the lowest-crime areas of the Dominican Republic.

Orientation[edit]

The town of Las Terrenas is oriented along a north-south strip along two main roads that stretch inland from the beach. Nearer to the beach end, these two roads are both one-way, with traffic on the western one running inland and traffic on the eastern one running seaward (as you would expect if they were the two sides of a divided highway). The tourist-oriented business district covers a triangle with its southern point at an "intersection" where these two roads touch each other before diverging again, and its other two points where they meet the coastal road. This is the area where you'll find most of the souvenir shopping and other tourist services, plus many of the restaurants and bars. The beach comes to a small point adjacent to the triangle, hosting the local fish market and on-the-beach fish restaurants just outside of the walled city cemetery (a major landmark for locals).

The coastal road stretching east and west beyond the triangle hosts most of the hotels and other accommodations, as well as many more restaurants and bars. The main beach of Las Terrenas occupies a cove between two headlands. The west, the coastal curves around a rounded point and eventually ends at Playa Las Ballenas, while to the east, most of the businesses end where the road pass the pointed beach of Punta Popy, then continues past miles of rural areas and less-crowded beaches to the El Portillo resort area.

Heading inland beyond the tourist triangle you start to enter the real downtown, where local people live, hang out, and go about their daily errands. Besides cheap food and a taste of the local culture, other things that might bring you to this area include full-service supermarkets and lowest-budget accommodations of the online rental, hostal, or bed-and-breakfast variety.

Though there are plenty of opportunities to relax on the beach right in town, some other local tourist icons (e.g. Playa Bonita and Limón Falls) are located a bit outside of town. See below for more information on reaching those.

Get in[edit]

By Air[edit]

International flights go directly to Samaná El Catey International Airport (AZS IATA), also known as Aeropuerto Internacional Presidente Juan Bosch (AISA). In the past, cab drivers would ask for $70 US dollars from the airport to Las Terrenas. Check with your hotel for to verify and to see if you can get a better deal. The ride used to be a bit rough and take 45 mins, though the road may have improved since then.

The El Portillo airport, much closer to Las Terrenas, has been closed since 2012, and served mostly private and charter flights.

By Bus[edit]

Guagua routes exist from Santo Domingo (express guagua), Sanchez, and Samana. If you feel adventurous, you can also take a pickup truck or a motoconcho (with trailer) from Samana over the mountains.

The express route from Santo Domingo to Las Terrenas is now served by a full-sized coach bus with air conditioning. It takes 2.5 hours and costs 500 pesos as of September 2020. The buses are run by Transporte Las Terrenas and leave Santo Domingo from the ASOTRAPUSA bus garage a couple blocks west of Parque Enriquillo (walking distance from the Zona Colonial, though passing through a crowded shopping area where you should be careful about theft). The bus station in Las Terrenas is at the southwest end of town, 2.5km inland from the beach.

By Car[edit]

Las Terrenas is about a two-hour drive from Santo Domingo, along a fully-paved road that was in very good condition as of September 2020. Driving here from Punta Cana or anywhere in the country's west will take considerably longer, so do your research first.

A good price for a taxi to or from Santo Domingo airport is anything under US$150.

By Motorbike or Scooter[edit]

It's perfectly feasible to travel around Samana province - and probably much farther - on a motorbike or even a moped-style motor scooter (pasola in Dominican Spanish). If you're headed to Las Terrenas from Samana and prefer an easy ride, go via Limon rather than Sanchez, as there's a very steep, long hilly section of road just inland from Sanchez. Though since most of the rentals are in Las Terrenas, you're more likely to be doing this in the other direction (still worth avoiding riding your brakes for miles down the hill entering Sanchez). Otherwise, watch out for potholes, but the roads in this area are generally in pretty good condition.

By Boat[edit]

Traveling to Las Terrenas from Punta Cana by guaguas and ferry (Sábana del Mar-Samaná) will take about 8h, but is certainly possible within one day.

If you have a sailboat, it's possible to anchor off the main beach, but be aware that there's nowhere to land your dinghy except right on the sand, it's not very sheltered from waves, and there's a maze of shallow reefs (enter in good visibility or use Bing Maps aerial imagery - Google Maps satellite view doesn't show it well).

Get around[edit]

By foot[edit]

For many visitors, your own two feet will be all you need to get around most of the time. Many accommodations are directly across the street from the long, beautiful beach, and often also within easy walking distance of the central tourist triangle and even the inland downtown area. Most of the roads in town have sidewalks, and traffic moves slowly. But if you end up staying farther from town or the beach, aren't up for much walking, or occasionally want to go somewhere farther afield, you'll want to look into other transportation options as well.

Motorconchos (motorcycle taxis)[edit]

Motoconchos are everywhere and very convenient. As of April 2021, the standard price to go anywhere in or near town, including as far as Playa Bonita, is 100 pesos per person - still charged per person even if you put more than one on the same bike (any self-respecting motoconcho driver can take at least two passengers). All of the ones we used were honest, with no one trying to overcharge us. The regular drivers wear bright yellow-green vests and hang out on street corners and in front of bars, but can also be flagged down from the roadside. If fact, they will often honk to offer you a ride as they pass by.

Guagua or collective taxis[edit]

You can catch guaguas in town and they can go a greater distance, ex. to the waterfall in El Limon. For guaguas to Limon, try the three-way intersection at the entrance to the town cemetery.

Scooters or 4x4[edit]

You can rent a motor scooter for about $20 US per day (verified Sep. 2020) or a 4-wheeler for about $40-50 US. These modes of transportation seem most common for visitors. Locals use motorcycles or cars. Daily rates may be heavily discounted for longer periods. Rentals can be arranged in most hotels but there are also many rental locations in downtown Las Terranas, along the two roads stretching inland from the beach. These agencies operate with a minimum of red tape, but do be prepared to show your ID and present a credit card, as they may want put a hold on your card in case you destroy or lose the vehicle.

Drivers will have to pay special attention to potholes especially at night or after rain. You can go to the waterfall in El Limón on a scooter. It takes about 45 mins.

Rental car[edit]

Some of the rental agencies also have jeeps or small cars, starting from about US$55 per day. This is unnecessary for getting around town, but could be nice if you're planning to explore other parts of the Samaná peninsula.

Website[edit]

  • Las Terrenas (Las-T.com). Good new website about the town, full of useful resources like : News, Directory, Classifieds, Events, Pictures, Videos,, Currencies converter, Weather, Time, Forum and more.

See[edit]

Beaches[edit]

Playa Carolina Portillo
  • Playa Las Terrenas. The town's central beach is located right in the tourist downtown, with the most picturesque portion next to the river mouth and the boat-shaped shopping center. Located within a wide cove lined with a coastal road, mid-range resorts, beach restaurants, and local fishing boats, it stretches for many kilometers in either direction, wrapping around the points to merge into Playa las Ballenas in the west and Playa Punta Popy in the east.
  • Playa Bonita. Maybe the area's most talked-about beach, a long walk or a 10-minute motoconcho ride from town. Includes a long, almost straight stretch of beach popular for swimming and playing in the waves, as well as a calmer, prettier section stretching north from the east end with beautiful backdrops of jungle and rock formations.
  • Playa Escondida. This "hidden beach" is accessible via an unmarked, 5-minute hiking trail from the very northeastern tip of Playa Bonita. Less crowded, and with a wider sand area, but without much shade. Framed on two ends by pretty hills, through straight behind it is a meadow with a hotel in the distance.
  • Playa Las Ballenas. Around the corner to the west from Playa Las Terrenas, Playa Las Ballenas could arguably be called the prettiest of the beaches, with wide sandy shores, plenty of coconut trees, and a more relaxed, suburban vibe. Between this beach and the downtown are several beach bars of the type consisting of a hut and seating stuck right on the sand.

Limón Waterfall[edit]

A popular destination for visitors to Las Terrenas, foreign and Dominican alike, this waterfall (actually a group of several falls) is located about 20km east of Las Terrenas, nestled in the jungle near the hill village of Limón. Its official Spanish name is Salto El Limón, but its also commonly called Cascada Limón. The falls aren't accessible by car, but only by dirt trails which you can traverse either on foot or on horseback, accessible from several different trailheads. Expect the walk to take half an hour or so (very rough estimate), depending on where you start.

The local ecotourism cooperative charges a 50-100 peso entrance fee (someone else paid for us, so we aren't sure of the exact price), and at the major trailheads locals will try to talk you into hiring a horse at a considerably higher price. It's not necessary unless you can't do the walking, but it might be a fun experience. The trails are easy to follow and in good condition.

The highlight is a tall, misty waterfall near the middle of the area with sizeable swimming hole at the bottom. There are other smaller falls nearby too, including one downstream with a more concentrated waterflow for those who want to sit underneath and get blasted by cold water. That one's not deep enough to swim in though, with its pool mostly at wading depth.

Do[edit]

Hang Out at the Beach[edit]

See above.

Swimming[edit]

In general, the beaches of Las Terrenas are good for swimming and wading, with warm water, gently sloping sandy bottoms, and few currents, though of course you should always exercise caution when venturing into the ocean. Follow the lead of others to find the good spots, or if there's no one else in the water, pick one of the spots where the water is clear pale blue, meaning the bottom is sandy, and not one of the spots where the water looks brownish-green or purplish, which is where the rocky reefs are (sharp rocks and sea urchins). If the water is stirred up so much by the waves that you can't see the line between the sand and the reef, be very cautious - in this case it's best if you know the area to remember which spots are good.

If you're craving a dip in some cooler fresh water, there are options outside of town, such as Limón Waterfall (see above), the Limón Natural Pool (a cement wading pool fed by a mountain stream and full of small fish), and the small natural swimming hole in El Portillo (across the main road from the beach east of El Portillo Residences).

Diving[edit]

There are some nice divesites around Las Terrenas with healthy coral reefs. Most of them can be reached by boat. The shallower divesites are also good places for snorkelling. It is possible to dive here all year round. The predominant species of corals are brain corals, seafans, sea rods. There is great profusion of surgeonfish and tangs, trumpetfish, stingrays, parrotfish and trumpetfish here. Name of the divesites Balena Rock The Holes Piedra Marcel Coson Reef 1 & 2 Creole Reef Portillo Wreck

Snorkeling[edit]

From the Beach[edit]

The Dominican Republic isn't known for great snorkeling off the beaches, but Las Terrenas is one of the more decent places for it (along with Sosúa). We bring our own gear, and aren't sure if anyone here rents it. Unless your hotel has it or you're on a tour, your only other choice for rentals might be the Dive Academy. If they don't have rentals, you can buy a snorkel set from them. There's not a lot here for jaded old-timers - live coral growth exists but is patchy, and there aren't a lot of the bigger, more exciting fish species - but for snorkelers who just like to check out what's there or see some small, colorful fish, there's plenty to look at (damselfish, blue tang, and wrasse are abundant - if you're a little lucky you might find moray eels, butterflyfish, scorpionfish, and pufferfish).

Conditions vary drastically based on the surf. When there are strong waves, it's so murky to be completely worthless going in. On other days, there's barely any surf and the water is beautiful and clear. Winter is surfing season on the north shore, so good snorkeling days are probably fewer in the winter, but more common in the summer. When we lived there, we found the Las Terrenas surf forecast from [Magic Seaweed https://magicseaweed.com/Las-Terrenas-Surf-Report/4879/] to be pretty accurate - for decent snorkeling, look for days with surf height 0.5m or less (swell height about 1m or less). When it's near the line, consider avoiding the rougher surf of the main city beach and heading west towards Playa Las Ballenas or east past Punta Popy. Those areas are a bit more sheltered by the outer reefs, and often have a bit better visibility.

To find spots to snorkel. Look from the shore or check Bing Maps Aerial imagery (Google Maps Satellite view doesn't show it clearly) to see where the reefs are (they'll look like brownish or purplish areas contrasting with the light blue of the sandy areas). You can usually see some fish over the shallow middle of any reef, though the edges are often better, with the living coral growth (about half alive, half dead) concentrated on the outer (seaward) edges. On the main city beach, the reef patch that extends right up to the little point by the fish market and cemetery is pretty good, and the next patch to the east is too (for whatever reason, both of these reefs are much more vibrant on their eastern sides, and relatively barren on the western sides).

The people at the dive shop recommend the area off of Eden Beach Bar near Playa las Ballenas, which has some nice shallow areas for beginners to see some fish (look for the rocky spots). Much farther out (about 200 meters), by the exposed coral pinnacle, is a more impressive coral garden, with interesting rock outcrops and large specimens of brain and elkhorn coral (it's possible to find these at the outer edges of the nearshore reefs on the main city beach too, but not in such a concentration). However, exercise caution if visiting here on your own - the outer reef is only for experienced snorkelers. We went there at high tide on a low-ish surf day and the surge was already pretty intense. We can only imagine what it would be like with higher surf and a lower tide.

On a Boat Tour[edit]

The Dive Academy dive shop (see above) has boat tours to spots that are supposed to have better snorkeling, starting at US$65 per person. There is one trip that leaves right from Las Terrenas, though the most-recommended one only costs a little more, but leaves from Samana town on the other side of the peninsula instead. As at their shop for details.

Coffee Route[edit]

There is apparently a short dirt road loop through the hills near Las Terrenas for visitors who want to learn about the local coffee and cacao (chocolate) growing industry, including some free samples and of course opportunities to buy directly from the farmers. You may need a 4-wheeler or jeep for this route. Ask locally for more details.

Buy[edit]

There's plenty of tourist-oriented shopping in the area near the beach, extending a few blocks inland. Clothing, souvenirs, necessities, etc. For the cheaper goods that serve for the locals, try heading farther inland to the busy non-tourist streets.

Most tourist-oriented establishments accept credit cards, but you may find some that don't. There are several ATMs located in the town, so you should be able to withdraw cash. The Scotiabank in Plaza Rosada by the Lindo supermarket (a bit outside the main tourist triangle) is probably the most reliable for foreign cards, but you can also try the banks closer to the beach, or the other ATM inside the Lindo. Our Debit MasterCard worked at the Banco de Santa Cruz, though the cash withdrawal limit was very low.

Eat[edit]

At tourist restaurants along the beach, expect to pay 300-600 pesos for a meal. There's a strip of restaurants right on the beach just east of the river mouth, and another strip with beachview terraces to the west of there. One of the specialties is pescado con coco, a whole fish served up with a coconut-milk based sauce.

In the local part of town farther from the beach, there are cheaper options, such as barbecue stands where you can get a box of food for 200 pesos and 100-peso chimis/burgers. The in-town price for an empanada is 25 pesos, compared to 80-100 pesos near the beach.

Some of the small restaurants off the beach but still in the tourist zone may have deals such as a standard Dominican set lunch (plato del día - rice, beans, meat, and maybe a very simple salad) for 200 pesos.

  • Casa Azul Pizzeria. Comfortable, shaded dining area right on one of the more picturesque parts of the beach. Good thin-crust pizza and high-quality salads. 12-inch pizza OR meal-sized salad 300-500 pesos.
  • TOP Bar and Restaurant. Open-air dining with friendly Haitian owners and a touch of extra style, located a bit away from the beach on the eastern side of the tourist triangle. Set lunch 200 pesos.
  • 1 La Casa del Chimi (Just past Lindo Supermarket, on the left). Burger stand with pretty good hamburgers and pulled-pork sandwiches at a great price. Shares the space with a good barbecue stand. Outside of the main tourist area, but near the Lindo Supermarket and Scotiabank. Burger/sandwich stand opens at 5pm, barbecue at 3pm. Burger or sandwich 125 pesos.
  • 2 Cafeteria el Sol (Coming from the beach, turn left at the Pica Pollo after Lindo Supermarket), +1 809 866 8139. Another place in the real downtown for a cheap snack. Local mini-cafe with freshly-made fruit juice, fruit plates, and decent small sandwiches. Simple sandwich 50-100 pesos.

Drink[edit]

Tap water is not considered potable here. Your accommodations may or may not provide drinking water for you, so make sure to ask if you don't want to be buying your own bottled water. Local people mostly use giant 5-gallon water jugs in their homes, and shops mostly sell small personal bottles, but if you want something in between, the Lindo Supermarket in the inland part of town sells 5-liter bottles, and you may find a 1.5L bottle at a few smaller stores.

For alcohol, there are small bar/restaurants all along the coastal road and around the central tourist area, with the beach-hut style bars located just before Playa Las Ballenas. Various places in town also sell freshly-made fruit juice. Expect to pay at least 200 pesos for a cocktail at a bar, likely more. A beer from the convenience store starts at about 80 pesos.

  • Eden Beach Bar. The best known of the beach hut bars in Las Terrenas, located around the western point just before Playa la Ballenas. Has a bar, tables, and beach recliners, and the beach in front of it is a popular wading spot. Another similar bar is next door, so you can compare which atmosphere and menu you prefer.

Sleep[edit]

If you're looking for mid-range hotels and apartments near the beach, you'll be spoiled for choice in Las Terrenas. But if you're on a backpacker budget, it can be a little trickier. If at all possible, visit in person and ask what deal they can make you for the amount of time you want to stay - you might get a big discount from what you see listed online, especially during the May-October low season.

As in many tropical places, expect low-end accommodations to come without air-conditioning or hot water. Free Wifi should be available but isn't always fast or reliable. Be aware that parts of the town have frequent power and water outages, though most accommodations will have a backup generator and water tank. Drinking water may or may not be provided.

Budget[edit]

  • Las Palmeras, +1 809 240 6231. The cheapest accommodation we found within the tourist zone, separated from the beach by the (beautifully-painted) cemetery wall but just a two-minute walk from the water. Small ground-level rooms in outbuildings tucked into a cute garden behind restaurant. Our room was quite small and a little dark with a hilariously tilted floor, but most things worked, and it got the job done. 1,000 pesos for a double room with fan (low-season).
  • Hotel Guayacan. Another lower-end option along the cemetery-wall strip, but a good value for the money. The second-floor room we stayed in had a slight sea view, was reasonably spacious, and had lots of natural light as well as air-conditioning. Nothing was broken. Very friendly owner. 1300 pesos for a double room with AC (low season).
  • Afreeka Beach Hostel (Coastal road just before Punta Popy). Seems to be the only place near the beach with dorm-style hostel accomodations, though still not as cheap as the cheapest hotels. We didn't end up staying here, but open-air hangout area looked pretty nice. Right across the street from the Punta Popy beach, but a bit of a walk from the tourist shopping district. US$20 for a dorm bed, more for private rooms.
  • Hotel Casa Robinson (Calle Emilio Prudhomme, behind Pizza Coco). Good quality studio apartment-style rooms (4 to a cottage) within a very pleasant garden. Slightly off the main coastal road but within a 2-minute walk to the beach. Also not far from the tourist center, easily walkable. Our room had a kitchen and hot water. There was no air-conditioning, but we rarely missed it because the room was very breezy (windows with screens on three sides) and had a good ceiling fan. Very chill and helpful staff. 1,700 pesos for a mini-apartment that sleeps 2-3 people (might be low-season price).
  • Dan and Manty's Guesthouse, Calle del Carmen, 105, +1 849-873-5742. $19 (American dollars).

More[edit]

  • Casa Grande Beach Hotel, Playa Bonita, +1 809-350-9875. Simple rooms. Really good food. Pleasant environment.
  • El Rincon de Abi, Calle Emilio Prudhomme 5, +1 809-240-6639. Located about 20m to the beach, in the less touristic part of the town. Rooms are clean, spacious, and functional. The estate is a beautiful oasis of plants and flowers. The staff is nice and helpful. Safes for storage of valuable items are available in the rooms free of cost.

Connect[edit]

Most accommodations and some of the restaurants have free WiFi for customers. There is cell phone signal in the town.

Cope[edit]

Many hotels are in quieter areas, but the town of Las Terrenas can be incredibly noisy. The main downtown streets, especially farther inland from the tourist triangle, are characterized by the intermittent piercing roar of a hundred young men with nothing better to do but ride up and down the road on un-muffled motor bikes, added to the general din of narrow streets crowded with two-wheeled vehicles. If you're sensitive to noise and need to frequently walk the main streets, consider bringing ear plugs with you. Don't expect to be completely safe from the sound of loud motors even on smaller side roads, though it's likely to be more of an occasional interruption than a constant bother there.

The other source of noise is neighbors playing surprisingly loud music (most bachata, raggaeton, and merengue). In hotel areas, don't be surprised if this happens on some weekends when domestic tourists come down to party. In low-income residential neighborhoods, don't be surprised if it happens all the time. Try to just enjoy it - it's a cultural experience.

Stay Safe[edit]

Las Terrenas is reputed to be one of the safest places in the Dominican Republic, and it does seem to have very little petty crime. We lived there for two months, only taking only minimal safety precautions, and never saw any sign that there was any danger of armed robbery or even pickpocketing. There's the occasional smooth-talking panhandler/small-time con-man, but they're easy to spot. You'll even see locals sometime leave their valuables on the beach while going for a swim, though we don't necessarily recommend pushing your luck that far.

Traffic is generally fairly slow-moving, thanks in part to the many speed-bumps, and most major streets have sidewalks. Be careful if walking home from beach bars at night though, since some parts of the coastal road are narrow and badly-lit, so vehicles might not see you until the last minute.

Avoid swimming on the parts of the beach with rocky reefs just off the shore (see "swimming" above), unless you're snorkeling and prepared not to stand up in the water. The rocks are very sharp, and there are lots of sea urchins among the crevices. We even saw a venomous scorpionfish there once. Just stay in the sandy areas and you'll be fine.

Go next[edit]

  • Samaná town, the provincial capital and a cute harbor town offering whale-watching tours
  • Las Galeras, a much smaller and more laid-back beach town for low-key travelers
This city travel guide to Las Terrenas is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.