Samaná, Dominican Republic
Hummingbirds and almond trees, kitesurfing Euro-hippies and humpback whales in placid bays – the mountainous Samaná Peninsula, on the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic, embodies the backwater Caribbean dream, with a twist. African-American families, fleeing slavery in the early 1800s, settled in this isolated outpost among Taíno Indians. Their descendants still speak a 19th-century creole among the brightly painted villas (Eva Luna, $220/night) and fish shacks that sell lobster and whole grilled snapper. Pre-Columbian art decorates limestone caves at Los Haitises National Park. Atlantic swell brings great kitesurfing to northern beaches like Playa Coson, and reefs outside Punta Popy, says kitesurfing instructor Yannick Bataller, "make the water like a warm lake, perfect for beginners" (and for scuba divers, snorkelers, and plain-old beachcombers). But the best part is how fast you can get there: As of 2012, JetBlue flies twice weekly direct from JFK to the Samaná El Catey International Airport.