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  • Returning to the surface, I stopped for a moment to gawk at the face of the cliff towering more than 140 feet above me. What a striking visage it made. Below the ocean’s limpid blue surface, this same vertical profile continued its journey for another 120 feet nearly straight down, changing from bare rock to an ornately-hued encrustation of sponges and corals, punctuated by numerous small, purple seafans. We had just finished exploring the Tower. This massive, vertical column of igneous rock, situated on the end of a long underwater ridge, rises skyward from a depth of 175 feet, stopping 20 feet short of the surface. With water clarity customarily better than 100 feet, the Tower’s adornment of large, deepwater seafans against the deep blue casts one hell of an impression.

    On a smaller scale, standing prominently among the carpeting of encrusting sponges and hydroids, are numerous, small semi-transparent soft corals in orange, yellow and soft pink. We recognized them as Alcyonacea, a true soft coral typically found in the Red Sea and the South Pacific, and considered extremely rare in this part of the Caribbean.

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    All-inclusive resort featuring 229 guest accommodations, including 10 air-conditioned, duplex, beachside cabanas with living room, kitchenette and porch. Guests get unlimited food and drinks (including all alcoholic beverages), along with outdoor activities (bicycling, tennis, kayaks, windsurfers and sailboats, snorkeling equipment and horseback riding), and nightly entertainment.

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    Piercing the Tower’s crown is an oval opening, large enough for a diver to easily swim through, as if threading the eye of a giant needle. Circling this colossal formation, schools of Horse-eye Jacks and assorted baitfish created the expectation that at any moment something large would appear out of the blue. On this day, only a medium-sized Hawksbill Turtle made a quick fly by.

    From mid January to the end of March, Humpback Whales make annual visits to the waters off the Dominican Republic. Underwater, the haunting melodies of their songs can be heard reverberating through the water column day or night.

    Beyond the small fishing community of Las Terrenas, the shoreline unfolds into a stretch of idyllic, cream-colored sand beaches shaded by thick groves of coconut palms. Parts of the beach turn inward, forming small, semi-circular lagoons tucked away in exquisite isolation. Diving along this stretch of coast reveals shallow reefs with lazy sloping contours (15 to 80 feet deep), deep undercuts, and cave and tunnel networks large enough to hold several divers.

    The Dominican Republic’s two ports of entry are Puerto Plata on the north coast and Santo Domingo on the south coast. Both are regularly handled by American, TWA, Air France, Lan Chile, and Dominair, providing direct, nonstop flights from the U.S. Reaching El Portillo requires either an over-land transfer or a short flight via Air Santo Domingo. U.S. citizens need only a valid passport or an original birth certificate accompanied with a valid photo ID.

    The most enticing collection of these cavern formations surrounds the small rock islands of Las Ballenas, meaning “the whales.” There is an eerie stillness to this area, interrupted only by the movements of Blackbar Soldierfish, Glassy Sweepers, Squirrelfish and Spotted Drums. The number of winding corridors was mind-boggling. As soon as we exited one formation, we were already dropping down into the next.

    The most intriguing diving in Samana, however, is toward the peninsula’s cape, near Cabo Cabron, near the Tower. West of the Tower, the abrupt, rocky shoreline turns inward to form the small, secluded Bay of Punta Tibisi. Inside, rock formations are overgrown with Elkhorn and fire corals, and many seafans. Deeper, the face of the reef turns inward in several places, forming giant overhangs. In their shadow, thick bushes of black coral, long, coiled strands of Wire Coral and assorted tube sponges in various shades of purple decorate the reef’s walls and floors.

    Later, kicking back on the porch at El Portillo, taking in the intoxicating ambiance of a gorgeous beach at our feet and the lush tropical landscape surrounding us, we popped a cerveza to toast another great day of diving. We could still remember the young turtle we had encountered earlier, and relished our discovery of the soft corals so rarely seen in the Caribbean. Watching the sun begin to sink behind the trees, we knew that tomorrow would bring another dive, another adventure.