Squeezed between a towering mountain and the ocean is this working port town, the oldest city on the north coast and possibly the prettiest in the country. Wander the Malecón or the downtown streets surrounding the Parque Central and you'll see that significant revitalization efforts, meant to impress an influx of Carnival cruise ship passengers, have replaced what was until recently a palpable feeling of neglect. Intermingled with run-of-the-mill shops are the once-opulent, often technicolor homes built by wealthy German tobacco merchants in the 1870s. Several restaurants are worth a visit, as are a few interesting museums, and one wonderful bed and breakfast. The cable car ride to the nearby bluff, if not clouded over, offers panoramic views.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Puerto Plata.
A cable car takes visitors to the top of the enormous flat-topped Pico Isabel de Torres. On clear days there are spectacular views of the city and coastline – go early, before the mountain clouds up. The botanical gardens at the top are good for an hour’s stroll. You'll also find a large statue of Christ the Redeemer (similar to but smaller than its counterpart in Rio de Janeiro), an overpriced restaurant and aggressive knickknack sellers. Cable-car tickets are cash only.
Located right on the bay, at the western end of the Malecón, the fort is the only remnant of Puerto Plata’s early colonial days. Built in the mid-16th century to prevent pirates from seizing one of the only protected bays on the entire north coast, San Felipe never saw any action. For much of its life its massive walls and interior moat were used as a prison.
The life and times of native-born son and independence leader Gregorio Luperón are impressively fleshed out inside this beautifully restored, pale-green, Victorian-era building. Photographs and period artifacts trace Luperón's life, from humble beginnings to his role as provisional president during the 'Restoration,' as well as the story of Puerto Plata during the late 19th century. Staff are knowledgeable and enthusiastic.
The colonial-era building houses a collection of amber exhibits. These exhibits include valuable pieces with such rare inclusions as a small 50-million-year-old lizard and a 30cm-long feather (the longest one found to date). Tours are offered in English and Spanish. A gift shop on the ground floor has a large selection of jewelry, rum, cigars, handicrafts and souvenirs.
The completely paved Malecón (also known as Av General Luperón and Av Circunvalación Norte) runs along the shore. There are a handful of restaurants, as well as a half-dozen beachside shacks selling food and drinks on Long Beach, the main city beach around 2km east of downtown. A few experienced kitesurfers launch themselves into the waves here on windy days.
The country's most famous rum distillery offers 30-minute tours from a 2nd-floor gangway, during which visitors learn the history and process of rum-making, from sugarcane farming to bottling. At the end, everybody gets to sample the goods, and of course bottles are available for purchase.
In addition to dance and music workshops, the center often showcases work by Dominican artists in its 1st-floor gallery.
Despite its unfortunate location, housed in a rundown office-like building, there are informative exhibits on the history of amber mining in the DR as well as on rum, sugar, tobacco and coffee. Multilingual guides are on hand to answer any questions. Of course, the main aim of the tour is the soft-sell pitch to buy the gallery’s proprietary cigar brand, as well as jewelry and other gifts in the ground-floor shop.
This twin-steepled church was completely renovated following a devastating hurricane in 1988. Check out the small but beautiful Italian stained-glass windows donated by local families during the renovation. It’s on the southern side of the refurbished Parque Central, which is distinguished by a large gazebo in the center.