Puerto Plata Travel Guide

Overview

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.

Note: The Puerto Plata area sustained some damage from Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Travelers should investigate current conditions prior to planning a visit.

Geography

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.

History

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.

Sightseeing

The primary attraction of Puerto Plata is the town's historic core. You'll find most of the city's best Victorian buildings lining the narrow streets around the town square, Parque Central, with a Victorian bandstand at its heart. They date from the time when European merchants made their fortunes in Puerto Plata with the export of tobacco and cocoa. Many of these wooden houses have been renovated into shops and restaurants. On the park's south side, the Catedral San Felipe has been restored.

In particular, check out the Hotel Victoriano at the corner of Calle Restauracion and San Felipe, the Palacio de Fede Lithgow in Calle Beller 37 and the Casa Dubus Arzeno (dating from 1865) on Calle Beller 32. The Casa Jean-Dumezil in Calle Beller 124, built in 1909, is a great example of French Empire style, and the house at Calle Beller 41 shows the pretty Gingerbread style of 1905. Also, don't miss the Casa del General Luperon of 1875 built in West Indies style.

It's that eclectic mix of styles that makes the old town of Puerto Plata such a nice place to wander through.

Nightlife

If you venture outside the major resorts, there are plenty of small nondescript bars to choose from in Puerto Plata. Most play the Euro-dance music popular with tourists, but you'll also hear some bachata (think of it as Dominican blues) and merengue.

Start your club-hopping on the Malecon and work your way slowly into the city, possibly trying two or three different places in a night. There is enough variety within walking distance that you shouldn't be disappointed, no matter what your mood.

You will find that Dominicans are highly accommodating to foreigners when they go out and really give of themselves to make everyone feel at home. However, travelers going to bars and clubs outside of the resort and tourist areas should watch their behavior a little more. Men should be sure not to approach women who already have boyfriends, as sometimes Latino machismo can lead to aggression.

Women travelers, in particular, should be on guard and only go out in groups. As in many Latino societies, Dominican men are a little more open with their advances to single women; this should not be taken too personally, as it is all part of the Dominican males' seduction game. If you start to feel uncomfortable, do not stand your ground or show anger: Get a taxi and leave.

Dining

Because the area is geared primarily toward tourists, restaurants offer a variety of local and Continental food. Seafood is probably the best value, and you'll find it on most menus at various prices. Given the city's small size and easy navigation, we suggest checking out several restaurants along the Malecon before making a choice.

Many restaurants in the downtown are also located in renovated Victorian buildings a few blocks in from the Malecon. These tend to be quieter and a bit more upscale. Away from downtown, there are very few options other than small restaurants that cater almost exclusively to locals. The prices may be cheap in these spots, but make certain you know what you're eating: hygiene in many of these roadside eateries leaves much to be desired.

In the resorts, the meals tend to be more lavish and in sync with travelers' accustomed tastes. As a rule of thumb, the all-inclusive resorts offer more culinary options, but the cooking is geared toward feeding large groups, not individual diners. With that in mind, a smaller hotel or even a beachfront cafe may be the best course of action, especially if you're willing to go for a mix of local and "back home" tastes.

Expect to pay within these guidelines for a meal for one, not including drinks, tax and tip: $ = less than RD$500; $$ = RD$500-$1,000; $$$ = more than RD$1,000.

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