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Thanks to the pioneering work of Canadian whale preservationist and marine mammal specialist Kim Beddall, Samaná Bay has been designated a national marine mammal sanctuary. “We don’t know why the whales come here to reproduce,” Beddall explains as we sail out to sea, gems of light sparkling on the wave tips around us. “But this is where they’re conceived and born, so this is their true home.”

Looking for whales in their winter breeding areas off the coast.Looking for whales in their winter breeding areas off the coast.

During the course of our humpback safari, we spot two particularly frisky specimens. “Teenagers!” Beddall exclaims. They’re adolescent whales in love, doing the megapterine version of holding hands and making out at the beach. They put on an acrobatic performance, everything from tail lobs to spy hops. Watching them, I can see why Melville considered them “the most gamesome and light-hearted of all the whales.” 

Beddall, outfitted in a yellow raincoat, a blue baseball cap and whale-fluke earrings, keeps checking her stopwatch in order to track their descents. Toward the end of the day, one of the creatures leaps out of the waves just metres away from the boat in a magnificent full-bodied breach, spraying us onlookers. “You’ll remember that for the rest of your life,” Beddall enthuses.

Marine mammal specialist Kim Beddall Marine mammal specialist Kim Beddall has a whale of a time in Samaná Bay, a sanctuary for Atlantic humpbacks.

On my last day, I follow the advice a friendly couple gave me at the mineral pool in El Limón and make the requisite pilgrimage to Playa Rincón, a beach at the tip of the peninsula. The roller coaster of a road there is cursed with so many potholes that I stop in the village of Las Galeras to order a motorboat. The ride is choppy, even on a blazingly sunny day like this, and our skiff thumps over the waves like a rowdy swordfish. A silver flying fish propels itself in the air over the whitecaps like a weird anchovy/hummingbird hybrid while I bounce off my seat. But the journey ends at a beach that must be among the most glorious stretches of white sand in the world.

Playa RincónA roller coaster of a road leads to sand, shade and sea at Playa Rincón, on the tip of the peninsula.

After a couple of hours reading Moby-Dick in the shade and splashing around in the bottle-green sea, I make my way to one end of the beach, where a river empties into the Atlantic. A vendor sells pillowy pan de coco (coconut bread) straight from a pot. Cooks at a couple of driftwood huts serve freshly caught seafood; I point at a large-clawed, grouchy orange crab, which they proceed to boil in a pot of saltwater straight from the ocean. As I wait, a piña colada arrives inside a hollowed-out pineapple. The crab is salty and sweet, oceanic perfection. A fisherman tells me that the singer Shakira bought land nearby. Hips don’t lie. Wait, isn’t she Colombian? “Yes, but look around, chulo,” he says. “There’s nowhere in the world like this.”

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Getting There

Air Canada Vacations® operates non-stop flights to Samaná from Toronto and Montreal, as well as seasonal service from Halifax that begins February 14.

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