Whale Watching in Samaná: A Weekend Getaway

By Moraima Capellán Pichardo

samaná - humpback whales - the yoga loft cabarete

A recap of a weekend getaway to Samaná and watching humpback whales.

Recently, while teaching the morning class at the Yoga Loft, a student jumped up in joy. “Did you see that?!” she asked pointing at the ocean in front, “a giant fish just jumped up.”

“It’s a humpback whale,” said another student. Evidently, over the break, a whale continued to jump up from the water. Even watching them from a distance filled us all with awe. And I knew immediately that I wanted to go on an official whale watching tour in Samaná.

From January to March, thousands of humpback whales make an annual trip to Samaná bay for their mating season. It is a popular time for the peninsula because it is an ideal time to watch these majestic animals in their natural habitat. Thankfully, it is a protected endeavor, only a few companies are allowed to run whale watching tours and it is highly monitored.

While it certainly helps that I am fluent in Spanish and aware of all the Dominican customs and traditions, I still believe that traveling around the island is fairly easy for any traveler. A mixture of modern technology and old-school interpersonal relations will get you the information you need to travel to even the most remote parts of the country. Tip: The eXtreme Hotel blog has many local guides— their Samaná travel blog was a great starting point in my original research. The Yoga Loft is located on the eXtreme Hotels grounds and it is where you would stay if you join us for a retreat.   

I decided to spend a weekend in Samaná but you can always chose to make this a one-day trip. The friendly staff at eXtreme Hotel would be happy to help you arrange this.

samaná - humpback whales - cabarete to samaná - the yoga loft

Below is how I traveled from Cabarete to Samaná:

Alejate Con Ale

As a Dominican-American, it is important to me to use the local public transportation and support local Dominican businesses. As a photographer, this gives me more options to shoot locations that are not saturated with images.

Whale watching can be quite a tourist hub and I was not interested in that kind of vibe. I understand that some tourists feel safer using large tour companies. But most of those companies overcharge and create an environment that is not welcoming to Dominicans living on the island. The latter is not worth a faux environment of safety.

This is where, Alejate Con Ale came in. A friend recommended her and I had been following her even since. Oh how I desperately wished to leave the winters of New York to go on one of her excursions. Her group, Los Alejados, run excursions to “lugares pocos conocidos” or little known places in the Dominican Republic. While her Samaná whale watching trip is one of her more “touristy” tours, the tone of the excursion still felt Dominican.

Everything was under $80 USD (I saw prices up to $200USD online). It included the boat tour, transportation to and from Cayo Levantado and food. Ale’s staff speak English but because the group was made up of Dominican locals and visitors, everything was run in Spanish.

Cabarete to Samaná

I chose to meet up with the Alejados in Samaná which meant I had to travel on my own from Cabarete.

The easiest route was to take the Transporte Papagayo which leaves from Puerto Plata and goes through the north coast. I called the driver the day before to confirm his schedule and waited for him at the bus stop a few meters from the eXtreme Hotel. The motoconcho drivers were very sweet, they waited with me and even assisted me to wave the bus driver over.

On the way to the Samaná City, the bus makes several stops in case you want to head to Las Terrenas or any other town in the providence. Transporte Papagayo was ideal for me because it is a family-run business and felt safe. They dropped me off on the Malecon, which is also where the port for the boats is.

The contact number for the driver is (809) 749-6415 and the price was $350 DOP. You can use the same service from Samaná to Cabarete on your return trip but in Samaná there are many more options. The bus stop, called Santo Domingo, (any motoconcho driver will know where to take you) has many destination options and is close to the Malecon.


I stayed at the Sunhouse Bed & Breakfast.  I highly recommend it for anyone needing basic accommodations for a few nights. The host, Richard, is helpful, there is hot water in the showers and the breakfast included was a sweet addition. There are many other hotel options in Samaná and of course, some giant resort chains.

side crow yoga - the yoga loft - cayo levantado - Moraima Capellán Pichardo

Humpback Whales & Cayo Levantado

The morning of the tour, I woke up early and met up with another lovely Dominican-American family at the port. The joke for the rest of the day was that they adopted me into their family. Once we met up with the Alejados (who arrived from Santo Domingo), we were off the see some whales.

As a precaution, they recommended and distributed nausea medicine since the boats encounter big waves and can move a lot. I did not take this medicine but I know my body quite well and I knew that I was not going to have a problem with sea sickness.

The experience of watching humpback whales in their habitat is humbling beyond words. These massive animals are graceful and exude a sense of calm. The tour included a local scientist who gave us many fascinating details and information about mating season. My favorite fact: the Humpback whales that migrate to Samaná and manage to mate in these waters, come back the following year. Their calfs (baby whales) are Dominican!

Tip for photographers: In the boat there is some splashing of sea water, so make sure you are using a camera that is weather resistant. I also recommend using a UV filter on your lens to not only protect against the sun but any incoming elements. Aside from that, the whales actually move slow, so when they manage to come off the water, it is not difficult to get a few good shots. The tricky part is getting a clear view without human heads or cell phones. Patience is required.

After about three hours on the boat, we headed to Cayo Levantado, a stunning island off Samaná Bay. This place is paradise. After lunch service (vegetarian options included), I headed to the beach for some yoga, of course.

The view of Cayo Levantado filled me with joy. Since it was a Sunday, many local families were enjoying the sun and beach. Children tousled around the turquoise waters overlooking Samaná city at a distance.

Yogis and Yoginis: the soft white sand is a great challenge for your bandhas! Make sure to scoop your low belly in, and breathe in the fresh air when attempting any arm balances.