Looking for a great escape? Tempted by those brochures promising endless beaches and sparkling sand?
The reality is that there aren't many places left in the Caribbean where you can really get away. That's what makes Puerto Plata all the more special.
Tucked away on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, the 'Silver Port' region packs in all those Caribbean dreams. Think beach nightlife in lively towns, spectacular hiking and mountain biking, and - of course - miles and miles of that famous Caribbean sand.
Best of all, Puerto Plata is one of the few places where you can escape the tourist hordes while still enjoying world-class tourism infrastructure - all for a price that's significantly lower than you think.
Sound tempted? We certainly are. Here are seven reasons we love Puerto Plata - and why we're sure you will.
1. The beaches
It almost goes without saying, but this coastal region is blessed with some of the longest stretches of unspoiled beaches in the Caribbean. The best known of these is probably Playa Grande, just 15km east of the town of Río San Juan. This is undoubtedly one of the country's most beautiful beaches - long, broad and tawny, with the aquamarine sea on one side and a thick fringe of palm trees on the other. Stark white cliffs jut out in the distance. It's the perfect setting for swimming, surfing or lazing.
If you don't get out to Playa Grande, you can still catch some world-class sunshine at Playa Dorada, just outside the city of Puerto Plata. Or be adventurous and discover your own sand-covered coastal paradise - the area begs for exploration.
2. The watersports
Just plain old 'surfing' doesn't begin to tell the story. Puerto Plata's breezes and gentle swells have made it world renowned for kitesurfing, wakeboarding and windsurfing - as well as the plain-vanilla variety. One of the region's most attractive towns, Cabarete, began life as a humble farming hamlet until it was discovered by a windsurfing pioneer less than 30 years ago. The rest is history: the entire area is now a prime drawcard for surfers of all stripes and types.
3. The outdoors
Once you're adequately bronzed, it's time to turn your attention inland. Puerto Plata's interior offers spectacular scenery and activities for all skill levels. Mountain-biking tours range from beginner level to insanely difficult. Guided hikes introduce you to the region's native flora and fauna. And, for an extra adrenaline kick, try out exploring such attractions as the 27 waterfalls of Damajagua. Often described as 'the coolest thing in the DR', the waterfalls are a splashy playground where you can leap from rock walls into crystalline pools. (Guides and safety equipment are provided.)
4. The nightlife
Puerto Plata's bar and entertainment scene is enough to keep you buzzing for weeks. All the resorts have their own bars and discos, which are open to guests or those who have purchased day passes. The beachside nightlife kicks on well into the wee hours. If you're willing to explore, you'll discover such gems as Sosúa's Ruby Lounge (featuring live music and karaoke - it's a party that spills out into the streets most nights) and Lax, Cabarete's nightlife hub.
5. The culture
Puerto Plata's towns provide a rich, diverse blend of cultures to explore. The regional capital (also called 'Puerto Plata') heats up in June's third week with the weeklong cultural festival, which features merengue, blues, jazz and folk concerts at the historic Fuerte de San Felipe (San Felipe Fort). Troupes from Santo Domingo also perform traditional dances to African spirituals and sexy salsa tunes. While in town, don't miss the impressive Museo de Ambar (Amber Museum), a temple to the DR's prized resin that inspired the movie Jurassic Park.
Sophisticated Cabarete, a centre for adventure tourism, also boasts a slew of cultural events. If you're around in November, you'll get to experience the Dominican Jazz Festival, which attracts top international talent. February sees a great festival for kids: the International Sand Castle Competition.
6. The luxury
Without a doubt, one reason that visitors return to Puerto Plata is the opportunity to indulge at a discount. Staying in all-inclusive five-star resorts which might cost thousands of dollars in other destinations can run as low as around $200. Gourmet food is plentiful, delicious and eminently affordable. And all those little extras that make a vacation just that bit more enjoyable - such as relaxing spa treatments - are available for a fraction of what they might cost at home.
7. The high life
One of Puerto Plata's little-known secrets is that, if you close your eyes, you can actually go back in time. If you ever wished that you could go bouncing around the Caribbean with the likes of Sinatra and Sammy, you can relive those days in Puerto Plata. You can spend indulgent days on the greens of golf courses such as the Dorada Golf Club on Playa Dorado or the Grande Golf Course on Playa Grande (which offers marvelous ocean views from almost every hole).
Once the sun goes down, you can retire to a hotel bar to sip sherry and plan out the evening's activities. Of course, you'll need an impressive cigar to chomp on to complete the picture - and that's where you're in luck. The Dominican Republic produces some of the world's finest cigars, and almost every hotel can arrange a cigar-factory tour for you. You'll be able to sample some classy smokes and purchase cigars for supremely reasonable prices.
Lonely Planet wrote this content for our partner, the Dominican Republic Tourism Board.
Sound tantalizing? Several airlines fly directly to Puerto Plata's international airport from various US East Coast cities. Roundtrip flights start around $250.