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Many people these days think of the Dominican Republic in terms of its gorgeous beaches – well, maybe with a couple of key exceptions, most notably bustling Santo Domingo and its colonial zone. Up on the DR’s northwest coast, however, “Silver Port” offers a felicitous mix of both nearby playa and a city with an appealing menu of culture, history, dining, shopping, and architecture.
Founded in 1502 from a settlement established several years earlier, Puerto Plata is today the north coast’s largest city, with nearly 300,000 residents. Most visitors, though, stay a short drive away in the beach-hotel zone of Playa Dorada, a mix of various resorts from budget-oriented to rather luxurious.
Lovely as the Playa Dorada resorts and beaches are, the authentic local scene, of course, is found over in town, and the most quaint, historic architecture at the centre of Puerto Plata, on and around Parque Central, with its double-decker, gingerbread gazebo and surrounding 19th-century Victorian buildings, including galleries, restaurants, and a handsome neoclassical number typical of the Spanish Caribbean of that era, housing the Museo del Ámbar, a multimedia museum devoted to one of this area’s signature products, amber. But perhaps the pre-eminent historic landmark in the city is its fairly impressive 16th-century fortress, the Fortaleza San Felipe, where you can visit a small colonial museum, ramparts, barracks, cells, and other fort-y stuff.
Other local highlights include the Brugal Rum Factory, a kilometre (just over a half-mile) east of town, which offers a tour and tastings; Demajagua Falls, a huge, high canyon featuring 27 waterfalls; and the Pico Isabel de Torres, a mountain accessible via cable car, offering a sweeping view over the region from 2,555 feet/855 metres up (there’s also an interesting botanical garden up here). There are also a couple of “canned attractions”, as well, such as Ocean World, where you can rub codos with Dominican families.
Then of course you can move farther east along the coast to other cool spots (reachable in a day trip) such as Sosúa, Cabarete, and Samaná, the last known especially for whale watching, especially in winter (but all these will get their own attention on this blog soon in the future).
By the way, a great time to visit Puerto Plata is February and March, for the festivities, parades, and parties surrounding the pre-Lenten Carnaval held throughout the Catholic Caribbean.
Puerto Plata has more than 280,000 inhabitants
Puerto Plata’s climate, like that of the rest of the country, is tropical, with warm, wet winters and hot, also wet summers.
The currency is the Dominican peso.