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Puerto Plata, nestled near Mount Isabel de Torres on the Dominican Republic’s north coast, has recently become a key resort destination in the Caribbean. It’s the eighth-largest city in the Dominican Republic, and has gone through a revitalization period with improvements to its beaches and the downtown park area.
Travelers staying in all-inclusive resorts should not feel inclined to stay at the resort for their entire vacation. They should venture out into Puerto Plata to visit local businesses like exciting restaurants and wilderness excursions. The Malecon, Puerto Plata’s seaside boulevard, is lined with restaurants, bars and boutiques. It has a great view of the water and gives travelers an excellent opportunity to sit and be among the locals.
There are many museums and attractions for travelers looking to learn about the art and history of Puerto Plata. Near the Puerto de Puerto Plata is the Amber Museum. The building itself is a beautiful example of Victorian architecture. Inside, it houses a unique collection of valuable Dominican amber, thought of to be the most transparent amber in the world. Guided tours are available every day of the week except Sundays. Just a few blocks from the Amber Museum is the Museum of Taino Art. The museum works to preserve the culture and tradition of the Taino people, who were the first inhabitants of the island of Hispaniola. It showcases artifacts like statuettes and ceramic pieces.
Puerto Plata has some notable outdoor attractions. A large statue of Christ stands on Puerto Plata’s Mount Isabel de Torres. It closely resembles the statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Puerto Plata Lighthouse, located in what is now a national park, was once a beacon for ships sailing the Atlantic, but now serves as a world-renowned monument. It has been restored using grant money from the World Monuments Fund and is the only lighthouse of its kind in the Dominican Republic.
Mount Isabel de Torres forms the dramatic backdrop for the town of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, where it is the most important north-coast city and resort. A large statue of Christ stands on the mountain with arms stretched out into the clouds, resembling the statue that overlooks Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
With an impressive natural setting, Puerto Plata has rebounded as a key resort destination. The beaches are enhanced annually with millions of tons of new sand. Over the past five or so years, much work has been done to make the old city attractive to tourists, which has encouraged more of them to venture out from their all-inclusive complexes outside town at Playa Dorada. In the past, most travelers stayed on the resort properties, because trips to outside restaurants or other attractions raised security concerns and added to the cost of their vacations.
The resorts continue to work with local businesses to provide affordable options for shopping (especially for amber), sightseeing and dining, with many signs and directions now in English as well as Spanish. Several good restaurants line the Malecon (seaside boulevard), and others are located near the attractive downtown park area. Nonetheless, guided adventure excursions have blossomed, taking advantage of the rugged Cordillera Septentrional range, beautiful beaches and nearby wilderness regions.
Puerto Plata also is blessed with an abundance of beautiful Victorian architecture, though some of it is in need of maintenance. The aged appearance gives the place an authentic look that is undeniably quaint and warm. We think you'll find Puerto Plata an interesting mix—one worth experiencing.
Sights—The Gregorio Luperon Monument; the Municipal Market; the Puerto Plata Lighthouse; San Felipe Fort; Puerto Plata's Victorian houses; Playa Dorada.
Museums—The Amber Museum; the Museum of Taino Art; the House of Culture; Mundo King Art Museum in nearby Sosua.
Memorable Meals—Hearty Mexican scramble at Sam's Bar and Grill; the seviche at Casa Colonial's Lucia; garlic shrimp and other seafood at Chris and Mady's; American dishes at Hemingway's Cafe; the lobster fettuccine at Le Papillon.
Late Night—Casinos and clubs in all-inclusive resorts, especially those in Playa Dorada and Cofresi; checking out merengue and salsa music clubs in the Old City.
Walks—Exploring the Malecon and the Old City, including a stroll through Parque Central (Central Park); a hike in the gardens and forest reserve atop Mount Isabel de Torres.
Especially for Kids—Swimming with dolphins at Ocean World; go-karts and more at Fun City Action Park; splashing about at Columbus Aquaparque.
Puerto Plata is located on the Atlantic north coast of the Dominican Republic and occupies a narrow coastal plain at the base of the Cordillera Septentrional mountains. Tourist and commercial ports sit side by side in a large bay immediately northwest of the city center. The Malecon (seafront boulevard) runs along the Playa Long Beach on the north side of town. The city has an easily navigable north-south street grid, with Parque Central in its center.
The all-inclusive resorts are concentrated at Playa Dorada, about 5 mi/8 km east of downtown. Other hotels are located a similar distance west of Puerto Plata, at Playa Cofresi.
The name Puerto Plata originated with the arrival of Christopher Columbus on 11 January 1493. Supposedly, when he saw how the sea shined along the coast near sunset, Columbus called it the "Silver Port." However, it was Spain's colonial governor Nicolas de Ovando who officially named and founded the city in 1502.
The city expanded and briefly prospered as a major trading port for the Spanish crown until it was eclipsed by Santo Domingo and more favorable Spanish cities in other new lands. By 1520, Puerto Plata was broke. For the nearly 200 years that followed, smugglers and pirates used the port as a safe haven.
In 1863, fire and civil war ravaged much of what was left of the city. It quickly rebounded during the tobacco boom of the late 19th century, when merchants built many of the Victorian mansions that give the city its charm today.
Puerto Plata later survived on shipping and industry, and now lives largely for tourism. Its extended tourism zone includes a stretch of golden-sand beaches all along the north coast, called the Costa Ambar (Amber Coast). Ships and cruise liners dock regularly at the Atlantic port, and flights from all over the world arrive at Gregorio Luperon International Airport, 11 mi/17 km east of Puerto Plata.
In addition to tourism, Puerto Plata produces and exports coffee, cocoa, rum and tobacco, and has large sugarcane fields and cattle ranches in the hinterlands. It also produces liquor, dairy and pasta products, and leathers.
Tobacco, cotton, bananas and pineapples are all things the Europeans owe to the Taino population of Hispaniola. Words such as barbecue, hammock, hurricane and canoe come from the Taino language.
Tourist diarrhea is called Caonabo's Revenge in the Dominican Republic, named after a respected Taino chief, who put up resistance against Columbus and the Spaniards.
The Dominican Republic's mid-20th-century dictator, Rafael Trujillo, once ordered the important archaeological site of La Isabela—where Columbus' men established the first settlement in the New World—"cleaned up" before a visit. Overzealous workers proceeded to bulldoze many of the ruins into the ocean.
As many as 5,000 humpback whales gather to mate and give birth in the warm, shallow waters of the Silver Bank, about 50 mi/80 km northeast of Puerto Plata. It's the most important breeding site in the world for humpback whales.
Amber, the local "gemstone," is actually formed by fossilized hardened tree sap that oozed millions of years ago. Amber that contains insects or other "inclusions" are considered national treasures and cannot be exported without a license.
The only aerial tramway in all of the Caribbean is located in Puerto Plata.
Ocean World and Water Park is home to the world's largest dolphin lagoon and the world's first shark interaction pool.
Ships usually tie up at the commercial or tourist docks, just a few blocks from the town center. Downtown Puerto Plata is easily navigable on foot and best seen that way. Car rentals are expensive and impractical, given the short time ships are in port. Taxis are always available nearby, and internet cafes and restaurants are near the docks.
The state-of-the-art cruise port and recreational facility at Maimon Bay, west of Puerto Plata, is operated by Carnival Cruise Lines.
The nearest tourist information office is at Calle Jose del Carmen Ariza, at the corner of Avenida General Gregorio Luperon. Monday-Friday 9 am-5 pm. Phone 809-586-3676.
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