The Dominican Republic vacations are synonymous with beaches and resorts, but the country also boasts a variety of natural attractions. On my most recent trip, I took advantage of the opportunity to visit the El Limon waterfall, which is located on the Samana peninsula. The 160 foot waterfall is accessible only by foot, so we went on a guided hike. My sister and I went on a tour and were accompanied by a local woman guide, and it was a beautiful experience we will never forget.
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I N T H I S P O S T :
- Getting to the Samana Peninsula
- Where to Stay in Las Terrenas
- What to Wear and Bring on the Hike
- How to Book a Tour to El Limon Waterfall
- Hiking to the Waterfall
Getting to the Samana Peninsula
El Limon Waterfall, or, Cascada el Limon, in Spanish, is a natural park near the town of El Limon on the northeastern peninsula of Samana.
It is possible to book a day trip to El Limon from the most popular luxury tourist destination of Punta Cana, which is across Samana Bay to the south.
However, it is much closer and, in my opinion, much more fun, to stay in nearby Las Terrenas! (more about Las Terrenas below!)
Planes and Buses to Samana
The most direct way to get to the Samana peninsula, is to fly in to the El Catey Airport (AZS), also known as the Juan Bosch International Airport. This airport is just 25 minutes from the town of Samana, or 45 minutes from the Las Terrenas area. Most flights arriving at El Catey are from Canada.
You can also fly into Las Americas International Airport (SDQ). Las Americas is near Santo Domingo, the capital and largest city of the Dominican Republic. From there you have a few options for getting to Las Terrenas. The quickest route is by taxi or bus. Here are my recommendations:
- Private Transfer from Santo Domingo Airport to Las Terrenas – This service provides an air-conditioned ride straight from the airport to your accommodation in Las Terrenas, for $140 US. This price beats other local taxi services and gets good reviews on Viator.com.
- Bus ride from bus station in Santo Domingo. This is my personal choice, as it’s much cheaper and the buses are really nice! They’re big air-conditioned coaches, some with bathrooms, wifi and usb connections to charge your devices. However, knowing a small bit of Spanish is helpful. If it’s your first time in the Dominican Republic or overseas, you might feel more comfortable in the first taxi option.
How to Catch the Bus to Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic
These are not the jam-packed, frequently stopping, hot metal “chicken buses” you may have heard of in developing countries. These are really nice, very comfortable rides!
We each paid $500 pesos, which is about $9 US, for the one-way trip. The Reservabus.com website says $375 pesos, but that may be what the locals pay. They often charge more for the tourists. I know, it seems unfair at first. But then you realize how little income the typical Dominican earns. It’s still cheap, and I feel better about supporting the locals with a higher fare.
To ride this bus, you need to get a taxi ride or a “gua-gua” (yes, one of those “chicken buses”!) to transport you to one of their bus stations:
- Parada Samana, about 20 minutes from Las Americas airport. Just tell your taxi driver, “Parada Samana”. It is at the crossroads of Las Americas with Juan Pablo II. The bus arriving at Parada Samana is the same bus from Zona Colonial, departing about 30 minutes later.
Departures: 9am – 10am – 2:10pm – 3:30pm – 6:30pm
- Asotrapusa Bus Station in Santo Domingo . This station (parada) is just north of Zona Colonial, (the Colonial zone), on Calle Barahona #29. There is a small waiting area with restrooms and snacks to purchase. We spent our first night in the colonial zone of Santo Domingo, then caught a taxi to the bus station in the morning. It was a great plan for getting acclimated and enjoying the historic city right away.
Departures: 8:30am – 9:30am – 11am – 1:40pm – 3pm – 6:30 pm
You will enjoy a smooth and scenic ride, about 2 hours long, from Santo Domingo to Las Terrenas. It’s a fairly new highway, a toll road, but don’t worry, the bus driver takes care of all the tolls. The last stretch is the most beautiful as you wind up into the tropical hills, looking down on the miles of white sand beach encircling the entire Samana peninsula.
The destination of the bus is a station at the beginning of town, near an Esso gas station. You will be quickly surrounded by concho drivers offering you a ride to your hotel or villa.
Keep in mind, concho drivers are the cheaper rides. They may pack a slightly uncomfortable amount of people in their small sedan or pickup truck, but for the short ride it’s worth it.
(Also note: Regular concho rides are in a sedan or pickup, not to be confused with mototaxis which are also often called “conchos” for short. While mototaxis are fun and economical for short errands around town, they aren’t the best choice when you first arrive with all your luggage!)
Private taxis are also available, if you prefer, though they’re more expensive.
Welcome to Las Terrenas
Las Terrenas is a bustling hub of an eclectic blend of tourists, European and North American expats, and Dominican locals. It is located in the middle of the northern coast, about equal distance to its many attractions.
The main road of the town lies along miles and miles of golden sand beaches, much of it with sidewalks for romantic beachside strolls.
Finding a Hotel in Las Terrenas
While the popular tourist destination of Punta Cana is known for its mass of lavish all-inclusive resorts, Las Terrenas has a smaller, more local vibe. While there are a couple of all-inclusives, most accommodations are smaller hotels or private villas rented through airbnb or vrbo.
There are hundreds of choices for places to stay in Las Terrenas, so decide on your budget and your non-negotiables as you set the filters on sites like hotels.com, airbnb.com, expedia.com or vrbo.com.
Consider what type of transportation you will use when deciding on a location. Many hotels and villas in Las Terrenas are within walking distance of stores, restaurants and local beaches. If you’re staying further out in more remote areas, you may want to rent a car.
Hotels in Las Terrenas by Budget or Style
Here are a few examples of accommodations in Las Terrenas, arranged from higher end, all-inclusive hotels, to more budget-friendly and even more rustic/frugal stays.
Budget Friendly Hotels
Bargain Price (but oh so nice!!) Hotels
Booking A Tour to the El Limon Waterfall
This excursion to El Limon waterfall is best arranged with a trusted tour company, in my opinion. My sister and I used Emmanuel Tours, a company from Las Terrenas that provides a variety of exciting trips throughout the Samana peninsula.
The price for this waterfall tour was reasonable, ($40) and we were given a receipt upon payment the day before the trip. This price included transportation to the site, a private guide, a generous lunch, and a ride back to our hotels. We also tipped our guide, as she did a wonderful job.
What to Wear and Bring on the Hike
You’ll want to dress appropriately for a hike in a tropical jungle. Since the Dominican Republic is a tropical island, you’ll most likely be comfortable in hiking shorts or pants, and a lightweight, moisture-wicking top, either sleeveless or with sleeves.
Most importantly, you’ll want to wear a sturdy pair of sport sandals or other footwear you don’t mind getting muddy and very wet! During rainy seasons, there may be streams to cross.
In a small backpack, (day pack style, not heavy duty travel pack) you could pack the following:
- bug repellent (mosquitoes may be worse in the rainy season or summer. We were fine in February.)
- water bottle(s) (*or get this hydration backpack for sipping without stopping!)
- swim suit (or wear it beneath your clothes on the way down; there’s a changing house near the falls where you can change into dry clothes afterwards. That is, if you choose to swim.)
- small snack (I was happy to munch on a banana before heading back up the trail; it was a long hike before lunch!)
- camera or phone camera, for the beautiful scenery!
- cash: $1 US for park entrance, plus extra for tipping your guide and souvenirs from the gift shop, optional.
Transportation to El Limon Waterfall
The morning of our tour, a comfortable air-conditioned van picked us up at our hotel and transported us and a few other tourists to the park in El Limon. It was a 30 minute drive east of Las Terrenas, along the beach road and into the rural hills and tropical forests.
We arrived at Parada Manzana, just one of the many horseback riding operations settled at the El Limon park entrance. They all typically feature a restaurant, restrooms, and a gift shop.
The other tourists in our group took the horseback riding option, which most people do, but we wanted to hike the trail. So they set us up with a guide, and off we went.
Hiking to the Waterfall
The trail is very steep at times, and also very muddy, so good footwear for hiking is a must. They tried to rent us tall rubber boots, but our sport sandals worked fine. Our guide, a sweet Dominican woman, wore simple white sneakers as she deftly guided us up and down the muddy terrain.
We were grateful to have taken the hike. Since it was just the three of us, we could stop more often to rest, take a drink of water, or admire the fruit trees. Jackie (our guide) pointed out the cacao tree, the mango and coconut trees, and other fruits growing wild or in nearby farms.
At one point, our guide broke off a bamboo branch, fashioning it into walking sticks for us. This was very helpful as we traversed the muddy hills, sometimes precariously perched over a steep wall of tropical vegetation.
The hike to the El Limon waterfall is about a mile and a half, and takes just over an hour to reach the falls entrance. A fee of $1 US dollar allows you to descend the 250-step staircase down to the thundering waters.
Arriving at the El Limon Waterfall
We followed the sound of crashing waters to the scene of the waterfall. It was a gorgeous sight, those streams of pounding water cascading over the moss-covered rock wall into the emerald green and turquoise swimming hole at the bottom.
There were a few other tourist groups at the falls when we arrived, though on the way we had only occasionally passed a few on the return trip.
Some tourists were swimming in the frigid blue pool at the bottom of the falls. We stuck our feet in but it wasn’t hot enough outside to justify a dip in its chilly depths.
Two Dominican young men were climbing up the cascading white waters along the mossy wall, preparing to jump down, much to everyone’s amazement.
(This is something we were explicitly warned NOT to try, as only these seasoned locals know where to avoid the rocks in the changing depths of the water.)
Hiking Out of the Waterfall
We took a few minutes to take pictures, have a snack and water break, and generally stand in awe of the beautiful Cascada El Limon (Waterfall). Then we started back, breathing heavily as we climbed back up those steep, 250 steps to the park entrance.
At the waterfalls entrance was a small restaurant, gift shop and bathrooms which also served as changing rooms for those choosing to swim and then change clothes.
When we finally returned to the “parada”, our guide, Jackie led us to a shoe-cleaning area with large metal wash tubs, sponges and a hose. We proceeded to wash our own shoes and feet, though our humble guide quickly jumped in to wash our shoes for us.
We tipped our guide well, as she had done a wonderful job for us that day, and we knew she lived off those tips to support her and her single mom family.
Lunch and Ride Home
Upon arrival at the base facilities, we were greeted by the wonderful aromas of a Dominican buffet lunch. Whether it was the homestyle cooking or the hiking to the waterfalls that whetted my appetite, I don’t know, but this food was my favorite meal of our trip!
The buffet offered the traditional fare of rice and beans, stewed meat or chicken, boiled potatoes and vegetables, and fries. (papas fritas) The visit to the salad table procured me some fresh tropical fruit and a salad mixture of diced papaya and pineapple with sugar and cinnamon, which was surprisingly delicious!
After lunch, the hosts at this pavillion style restaurant served us wonderful Dominican coffee, bringing it to our table along with the warmed milk and sugar.
It was a perfect ending to a perfect day, before our van took us back to our hotels and villas.
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