A tour of iconic attractions in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
Beaches and resorts just outside the city are typically what draw tourists to Puerto Plata on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. Puerto Plata was one of the first settlements in the Americas and it has sites to see beyond the nearby beaches, as I discovered on an afternoon tour of city highlights.
The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two-thirds of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Haiti is on the western end. The island had been home to the Taino people since around 400 BC. The effects of colonization led to near-extinction for the Taino, although some academics and historians argue their ancestry continues to the present as the result of past inter-marriages.
Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1492 and established a colony he named La Isabela. Its ruins are thirty miles from present-day Puerto Plata. Puerto Plata was founded in the early 1500s was initially an important trading centre for the Spanish. They’d lost interest in the city by the early 1600s and abandoned it. It was later rebuilt in the 1740s by Spanish families from the Canary Islands.
Isabel de Torres Peak
Christopher Columbus’ brother named the city San Felipe de Puerto Plata. Puerto Plata means Silver Port. One of the explanations for the name is the silver appearance of the mist on the mountain behind the city. Cable cars now run to the Botanical Garden at the top of Isabel de Torres Park. Unfortunately, the cable car ride and garden were not part of my afternoon tour, but I did see the mist on the mountain.
Fort San Felipe
Fort San Felipe is one of the oldest Spanish forts in the New World. It was built in the mid-century. Today it is a museum. The museum is small and not particularly impressive, but the structure and its location are. For more about the fort, its history and the history of the Dominican Republic read my post New World Old Fort.
The Malecón is a seafront boulevard lined with restaurants, bars and boutiques. There are walking and biking paths and great views of the sea.
The Amber Museum
The Amber Museum is located in a NeoClassical building constructed in 1919 as a residence for the Bentz family. The museum contains information about amber and exhibits of rare amber and amber fossils.
Amber is a semi-precious stone which is actually tree sap hardened over millions of years. Dominican amber has a higher concentration of fossils than amber found elsewhere in the world.
Amber jewelry is available for purchase in the attached store. I do not wear or collect a lot of jewelry, but the pieces in the store were definitely tempting. The store also carried larimar jewelry. Larimar is a rare blue variety of silicate mineral pectolite found only in the Dominican Republic.
The store carried other items which might appeal to the tourist, such as premium cigars. Dominican Republic makes some of the best cigars in the world. A shelf in one corner contained Mama Juana herbs. Mama Juana (or mamajuana) is a drink of rum, red wine and honey soaked in a bottle with tree bark and herbs. The drink evolved from a Taino herbal tea. It is said to be an aphrodisiac and a cure-all. I had tasted the drink on a previous visit to the Caribbean and think it must be an acquired taste. I have no proof either of its purported effects.
Brugal Rum Factory
Brugal was founded in 1888 by Don Andres Brugal Montaner. It produced the first rum aged in the Dominican Republic. Brugal rum is still crafted by the Brugal family today. Rum is aged in American white oak barrels. Tours and tastings are available seven days a week. I don’t care much for rum, but even I could appreciate the smoothness of the premium rum we tasted.
Central Park is the city’s central square. The city was razed during the 1863 to 1865 Dominican Restoration War. It was subsequently rebuilt with Victorian style buildings. The streets around the Park have many of the remaining Victorian buildings.
Also in the square is Cathedral San Felipe. The church is not Victorian. It was completely rebuilt after being destroyed in 1998 by Hurricane George. Inside tour guides were eager to point out church highlights. Note that they expect tips.
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