Sticking out of the northeastern coast of the DR like an outstretched arm, the Samaná Peninsula is one big showcase of tropical splendor. Towering bluffs and lush green hills stand in contrast to the deep blue Atlantic Sea, which hugs them without mercy, while rustic and uncrowded diamond-white sand beaches dotted with coconut trees stretch out against the horizon.

This once-isolated coast is home to a handful of the country’s and the Caribbean region’s top-rated beaches—including Playa Rincón and Playa Frontón in Las Galeras, and the sponge-like sands of Playa Cosón in Las Terrenas—understandably making it a favorite seaside escape of Dominicans.

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Its melting pot of history, food, and cultures, as well as its hard-to-beat landscape of mountains and sea, attract independent, outdoorsy travelers, just as it once attracted explorer Christopher Columbus, on the tail end of his first voyage in 1492.

But beyond the beach haven and lively European beat offered in Las Terrenas—think boutique hotels, trendy cafés and French bakeries—it’s the peninsula’s rugged island landscape, found in Las Galeras, Los Haitises and El Valle, that makes this area such a hotspot for ecotourism and recreation. Throw a stone anywhere you go, and it will likely hit sand, water, a coconut tree, or a cliff.

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Excerpt from Moon Dominican Republic (Moon Travel Guides, 2016 edition).