I have to say, I was stoked when a local Dominican, one of my hosts at the hotel Balcones del Atlántico (rooms from $289, @balconesdr), said I was tigueraje. Basically, he was saying that I was like a tiger—an assured man who knows his way around the streets and the world. “Ultramacho,” he explained. I don’t know how justified the compliment was, but I said I’d take it.
In truth, it was easy for me to be tigueraje on the Dominican Republic’s Samaná Peninsula. On past trips to the DR, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, I found the country to be exotic and edgy. But this particular arm of land that juts out laterally from the island’s northeast won me over. I totally understood when a prosperous young couple—hotel owners from the Canary Islands—told me that they’d come to Samaná on holiday, and ended up buying a winter home here.
I’d met the pair in Las Terrenas, the town that features a row of seafront eateries called Pueblo de los Pescadores (Fishermen’s Village). Over plates of grilled lobster and tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms at Colonial Risto Lounge, Italian-born Marcello and native Venezuelan José Manuel explained to me that their sense of being safe and at home was immediate, and enduring. (Manuel: “Everything is here—the great people, the fresh fish, the hidden beaches.”)
Within a day, I felt at home, too. (I soon found myself scoping out the postings at a local real estate office.) Maybe my comfort level was due to the expat scene, evidenced not only by my new, easygoing jet-set friends, but also by storefronts such as Boulangerie Francaise and Le Sucrerie—and the proudly Peruvian chef Bruno Toso holding court at Porto, the restaurant at Balcones. Or maybe it was because the area looked so fresh and unspoiled (the road to the mainland is only 5 years old; the airport, 7). Or maybe it was the way a Vespa- and buggy-studded road named Francisco Alberto Caamaño Deñó lovingly hugged the coast, with shops and inns on one side and a golden sandy crescent on the other.
Certainly, I was drawn to the exclusive feel of Samaná, attached as it is to the rest of the country by an isthmus. There’s something magical about a peninsula in a tropical place. Samaná is wonderfully verdant, with gentle elevations and viewpoints, and scalloped with private coves. It’s the kind of paradise where unpaved roads lead to impossibly beautiful beaches, coconut groves and twisting streams. My favorite place was Playa Coson. Horses, standing amid the palm trees, squinted in the sunlight. When I was thirsty, I stuck a straw in a coconut provided by the bar. The beach grill had no menu—I just pointed to the local lobster, prawns and mahimahi of my choice, and eventually, after my swim, a buffet showed up at my table on the sand.
I spent other days close to home, mostly at the beachfront Porto, a very social indoor/outdoor venue, where a team of young men in aqua polo shirts plied me with food and drink. I snacked on chef Toso’s addictive Dominican johnnycakes and his signature pizza, made with goat cheese, shrimp, smoked wahoo and Spanish olive oil. Toso has moved away from fancy cuisine, toward tropical comfort food. Now, he offers Peruvian-influenced seafood dishes, much to this guest’s delight. “Simple luxury is having whatever you want, however you want it,” he told me.
Full from my meal, I wandered around. Balcones del Atlántico is located on either side of a coastal road; a friendly crossing guard was always there to halt what little traffic there was each time I crossed. So, after swimming the string of coves and getting a vigorous massage in a beachfront cabana, I strode, shoeless, to the interior side, where my third-floor villa overlooked a free-form pool. It was more than spacious, filled with local handicrafts and hand-carved furniture, and outfitted with a state-of-the-art kitchen (Viking appliances) and a vast outdoor living room. (The resort has one-, two- and three-bedroom suites on offer—great for fun-loving groups—with 35 units in total.) The standout amenity: the rooftop Jacuzzi, which I was sure to use each night. With so little development on the peninsula, and, therefore, so little light pollution, the stars seemed infinite—another plus in a Caribbean home I was trying on for size.