Humpback Whale Tour in Samaná, Dominican Republic

Mrs. ItchyFeet in front of Samaná letters

Whale tour!!! And not just any whale tour, but a humpback-whale tour! Sign me up! Every year, these ridiculously massive creatures make the long journey from the cold and dark northern waters to the warm waters of the Caribbean. They don’t eat here (as there is not much to eat). They come here to make babies and have babies. The warmer and comparatively shallow waters of the bay allow their calves to learn how to swim and gain enough weight to survive in colder waters. Then they take those calves back up north where the food is. They are amazing and I want to see at least one. I actually picked the beach I’m living near because it’s called Whale Beach (Playa Ballenas) so I figured I’d see whales. Nope. It’s too shallow for whales and the name comes from some rocks poking out of the ocean that look like whales. Time for the real thing.

How to get there

First order of business is getting there. The very best day-tour, by far, in The Dominican Republic is with Kim Beddall at Whale Samaná in the city of Santa Bárbara de Samaná (usually just referred to as Samaná). Kim has been studying these whales for years – and it shows. Now I’m on the northwest side of the Samaná Peninsula, and the city of Samaná is about an hour away on the south side, kind of in the middle but more toward the eastern point.

Whale statue in Samaná
There were humpback whale statues all over Samaná. This is one of my favorites.

I don’t own a car and you do not want to drive around here if you don’t know all the unspoken rules of the road. People drive crazy aggressively, honk constantly, and pass at every opportunity, even if it’s not a good one. It’s scary enough walking, let alone driving. I could take a taxi for $70 each way. That’s spendy. I could take a shuttle for $50 each way. Getting better. Or I could take a guagua, a public van similar to colectivos in México but less comfortable, for $3.50. There are more stops (takes longer) and they pack you in like sardines but… yup. That’s my ride.

With the savings on the ride there, I could afford to rent an apartment for a couple of days to check out the area. If you don’t remember my adventures getting here with the doggo that has been staying on my deck, check that out. I ended up crammed into the very back of the guagua van with three big dudes. I had my arm around one and another was practically sitting in my lap. That young guy (I think from Germany?) kept falling asleep on me and apologizing. It was a hot, bumpy, uncomfortable ride… but it only cost me $3.50. Worth it!

Mrs. ItchyFeet on a lookout tower
Samaná has these lookout towers all along The Malecón!


The driver of the guagua was super nice and dropped us all off by The Malecón (around where we were all staying) instead of at the guagua stop in the center of town. Time to hunt down some lunch. If you Google restaurants in Samaná, there are like five, which is really not true. There are a ton. They just aren’t on any maps. I had to walk around and pick one that looked good from the outside and hope they had something I could eat.

My plan was to eat out for lunch and dinner and take all leftovers in the containers I brought back to the apartment for breakfast. Smart! What I didn’t count on was the fridge temp being off, no microwave, and no way of lighting the stove. Cold, but not quite cold enough, questionable leftovers for breakfast. Sigh. In addition, when I initially got to the apartment, there was no drinkable water. That’s a problem.

The apartment was gorgeous, with sweeping views of the marina and the bay. However, those views came with the price of a huge hill to climb up and lots of stairs. No way was I lugging 50 pounds of water up there. It took some back and forth, but I finally convinced the Airbnb hosts to get me some water. Sounds like someone at the store they usually use went into labor and they couldn’t get the water for a while. Things happen, but you can’t drink the tap water here, so it’s kind of important to have drinkable water on hand.

Whale tour boat departing the harbor
This is the boat I took for the whale tour as seen from my apartment deck. The walking bridge in the background lights up at night. Such a great view!

I’m on a boat!

After many years and many mishaps, I have learned to take Dramamine (or equivalent) before getting on a boat. Sometimes, I even take it both the night before and the day of if I think it will be a crazy ride. My stomach is sensitive and I want to enjoy myself. And enjoy myself, I did! The weather was absolutely perfect and the ride out into the bay to hunt down some whales was gorgeous.

Humpback whales are a lot easier to spot than whale-sharks because they are mammals, so they have to stop by the surface to breathe. You can spot their spouts from quite the distance. Then you just cruise over and hope they don’t go under for a 40 minute breath-hold. The first couple of whales we were lucky enough to lay eyes on were “logging” (slowly swimming on the surface with frequent breaths).

Humpback whale tail in all its glory
The humbback whales put on quite a show for us. This is tail-lobbing.

They only allow three boats at a time to follow the loggers, so we had to wait our turn and didn’t stay for too long. Next we spotted a large female with this younger male doing all kinds of breaching to try to get some sexy-time on. She was not interested. However, all the ruckus he made brought in this real big male, who promptly scared off the little guy. The female was very interested in the newcomer, and they went off to have some fun.

Let’s get it on

We were all so excited about all the whale activity we had seen thus far. We had even seen a pod of dolphins! Kim Beddall (who really is famous around here) was chatting us up with all kinds of useful info. She is so good at knowing when and where a whale will pop up so her guests can be ready to take photos and get a good view. We began to head back to the marina when she mentioned that we had seen just about every single whale behavior, except one…

Then, all of a sudden, we spot a large female humpback whale slapping its pectoral fin on the surface, over and over (“flippering”). So cool! This definitely got the attention of another large male, and the two swam off together for some private time. Make some babies!!! This trip we also saw breaching, tail-lobbing, and chin-slapping (“chinning”). Pretty much every surface-observable whale behavior. Top trip of the year, per our guide!

Humpback whale breaching
This small humpback whale is breaching to get some attention. What a show!

We actually stayed out late because of all the excitement. It was a really great tour. Back on land, I headed to this really wonderful hole-in-the-wall restaurant with amazing Dominican fair. Noms! Way better than the cold leftovers this morning. Plus, I finally got some coffee. Needs me some coffee!

The bridges!

Samaná has a lot going on, but one of its principal attractions is its walking bridges, Brug Samaná van Leona (which locals often refer to as the Bridges to Nowhere). Right after dealing with the lack of water situation at the apartment when I got in, before the whale tour, I headed straight for those bridges. I walked over to this gorgeous beach on the west side of town and then made my way up all these stairs to the first bridge. The bridges connect the main island to two tiny islands in the bay (Los Cayos).

The bridges are just amazing. They’re made even better because they are exclusively for walkers, but you need to be dedicated for the hike. Lots of stairs, long walk, and it is hot and humid. I think it’s hotter here than in Las Terrenas because you don’t get the lovely cooling sea breezes. The sun is setting, which helps a bit. Still so worth it. On the second island, you can go down to the beach or up about a million stairs to some overlooks.

Samaná walking bridge looking toward the main island.
This shot is from the first cayo looking back toward the main island. Well worth the hike!

It was getting late, so I headed down to the beach. There’s this old broken dock that some kids are running and jumping off of. Their dog is swimming around them, trying to save them. Fun! Time to head back, but I’m determined to go check out the overlooks the next day. I’ll bring more water for that adventure!

So many stairs

The next day, the day of the whale-watching boat tour, and after some lunch, I head back to the bridges for all the overlooks. It’s a really fun hike with loads to see and gorgeous views. The water below the bridges is crystal clear. It’s a long way down, but shallow enough I spotted some fish and a few sea-stars. Love those critters.

Walking bridge from the main island
The walking bridge is a long hike with a lot of stairs. This is just the beginning!

There were also a ton of birds, including giant pelicans, which I haven’t seen in a while. There weren’t too many people around, as not many people were up for a midweek hike with a ton of stairs. I saw a couple of people skipping the hike and renting kayaks to check out the islands from sea level. That would be fun, but you miss out on the amazing views of the harbor.

Time to head back to my Airbnb to watch the sunset from that amazing deck. Glass of wine. Life is good. The plan for the next day initially was to eat leftovers for breakfast (I bought a lighter so I could use the stove, go me, and left it for the next guest), check-out, walk around town, have lunch, and then head back to Las Terrenas on a guagua. Not as much fun to walk around town with a large pack on, so I opted to sit on the beach instead, having early brunch, and heading back sooner than expected.

Guagua adventures!

I only had a vague idea of where the guagua vans picked up in the center of town, so I left early and got there way earlier than expected. After chatting with some drivers in my broken Spanish, it became clear that any one of the vans would take me immediately for extra money. I wasn’t in any hurry and totally willing to people watch as I waited for the scheduled van. People are so nice and helpful. Once the correct van showed up, they grabbed me and directed me onto it (there were like 12 vans at any given time going to all different places, often with incorrect destinations displayed in the window… organized chaos).

Church in Samaná, DR
I love walking around town, checking out the cool architecture.

Funny story. I’m on the guagua with some other peeps, waiting for the exact time for the van to leave. A couple of older ladies are commenting on a driver’s lunch that he is actively eating right next to their window, asking what’s in it and all. He excitedly talks about all the spices on the meat and then, after a couple comments to the effect that he didn’t need all that food anyway, he hands them a piece through the window. They were pretty happy about the whole thing and said it really was excellent cooking. How nice is that!!!

The drive back was fun with people getting on and off at various places. I enjoyed the amazing views as we crossed the mountains that make up the Samaná Peninsula. And then I ended the journey with the van dropping me off in front of the cemetery in Las Terrenas. As I mentioned in my last blog, on my long walk from town to my apartment, I met back up with that doggo that has been sleeping on my deck. We were both pretty excited… with at least one of us getting a belly rub!

Walking bridge to a tiny island
The walking bridges in Samaná are so amazing! This is at the end of the line.

Down with the sickness

The next day, my knee was hurting for no reason, and I was having some stomach pain. The following day, the pain had spread from my knee up to my hip and the stomach pain was worse. Then came full body aches, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, headache, and I was so very tired. I spent about a week on the couch (with quick trips to the bathroom).

I probably should have skipped the suspect leftovers in Samaná, but maybe it was just some virus (definitely not COVID per a couple at-home-tests). Either way, it was absolutely no fun. At least I was sick here and not before the whale-watching tour because that entire trip was way worth it. I had a really great time in Samaná. I’m feeling better and eating all the things to make up for a week of eating nothing. It’s an Adventure!

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