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Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

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Did You Know … ?

  • The Dominican Republic is North America’s main source of amber.
  • Puerto Plata got its name a decade after Christopher Columbus called it a puerto plata (i.e., silver port).
  • The words barbecue, hammock and hurricane originated with the Taino, the first Dominican inhabitants.
  • Nearby La Isabela was the New World’s first European settlement (1494), predating the first city.
  • The city’s cable car to Mount Isabel de Torres is the Caribbean’s only aerial tramway.

On the Amber Coast

Puerto Plata on the north shore of the Dominican Republic has touristic attractions and diversions worthy of a visitor’s interest. However, from the standpoint of many, the city is the gateway to a vacationer’s playground of beaches, blue sea and even — somewhat atypically for the Caribbean — mountains.

The city is the urban centerpiece on a coast lined with beaches and villages plus the hotel complexes created to support tourism, the area’s biggest industry. The mountains of the Northern Cordillera are at its back (meaning to the south), and one — Mount Isabel de Torres — is linked to the city by cable car.

Although dating from 1502, Puerto Plata has been less lucky than the Dominican Republic’s capital, Santo Domingo, which has preserved its Colonial Zone. Puerto Plata has almost nothing to show for its connections to the earliest history of New World colonialism other than the San Felipe Fort, completed in 1577. The fort was meant for protection from pirates in a time when the rapscallions used this coast as a safe haven.

About 300 years later, a tobacco boom injected new life into the battered city. In the late 19th century, rich merchants built the Victorian mansions that distinguish the city center today. Puerto Plata still exports tobacco, as well as cocoa, coffee and rum. The area has large cattle ranches, too, and, farther inland, amber mines. Thus, the coast is dubbed the Amber Coast.

The area’s miles and miles of sand lure the beachcombers among us while the waters are good for activities ranging from the Australian crawl to scuba diving and surfing. The deep blue sea harbors treasures of all kinds, including reefs and sea life, plus shipwrecks and, purportedly, unrecovered treasures of the kind pirates like. The mountains are accessible for biking and trekking and, farther inland, for more adventure.

The Amber Coast is well supplied with modern inclusive resorts, not always beneficial to Puerto Plata because tourists can virtually ignore the city. Crime is a concern, although tourists, using common sense, can venture out for safe sightseeing and entertainment downtown.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Scuba dive to the east or west of Puerto Plata. Head to La Isabela, to the west, to see the best of the living coral reefs. You may have the option of a diving trip to Laguna Estero Hondo to see manatees.
  • Taste local specialties. Eat mangu, which is boiled green plantain, or pasteles en hojas, which are wrapped turnovers cooked in banana leaves.
  • For the country’s best surfing, try the waves at Playa Encuentro, near Cabarete, about 90 minutes east of Puerto Plata. Or, go windsurfing or kiteboarding at Cabarete.
  • Plan a self-guided walking tour of Puerto Plata to check out the Victorian buildings that are clustered in the historic part of town. Stroll the Malecon, the city’s seaside esplanade, too, or make the Malecon the starting point for your nighttime clubbing.
  • Hike in the Isabel de Torres Scientific Reserve. Climb to the top of Mount Isabel de Torres. (There also is a cable car in Puerto Plata to the peak.)
  • Take a mountain biking tour into the mountains south of Puerto Plata.

Things to do for Centrics

  • If a jazz lover, schedule a visit to coincide with the city’s early October Jazz Festival.
  • Sample the agua de coco (coconut water) sold by street vendors.
  • Nearby ranches offer options for horseback riding on beaches or in the mountains.
  • Any time during the first six months of the year, charter a boat and go fishing for dorado, marlin and wahoo.
  • Rent a bicycle at your resort and pedal your way along the beach.
  • Swim with dolphins and sea lions, even sharks, at the Ocean World marine adventure park. Swimming with sea lions and sharks is more cost effective!

Things to do for Authentics

  • Allow yourself to be captivated by Dominican amber at the Amber Museum, then shop for amber jewelry to take home. (Test the amber, before buying, to be sure it is not fake.)
  • Between sessions at the beach, play tennis. Golf is an option, too.
  • Join a guided tour of the Leon Jimenes Cigar Factory.
  • Also, tour the bottling operation at the Brugal Rum Distillery, then sample some of the local rum before leaving the facility.
  • See a Vegas-style show at your inclusive resort or at an off-premises casino.
  • Buy local handicrafts at El Mercado Nuevo. Also, during shopping excursions, look for CDs of merengue music to take home as a memento.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism at www.godominicanrepublic.com