Puerto Plata Highlights
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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Very pretty locations. I’ve only been to St Maarten in the Caribbean, so have very limited knowledge of the area. Definitely looks like a place to visit and spend time. I love the architecture and history.
RoseMary, I’ve been to St. Maarten once and loved it. Beaches and warm weather are what draw many people to the Caribbean, but it is nice to leave the beach for a bit and explore architecture and history.
Looks great. I don’t like to go to places where you never get beyond the resort. That’s the case in some Caribbean destinations, but Puerto Plata looks really interesting.
Ken, in the middle of a cold Canadian winter I can appreciate the allure of a resort by the beach, but I too like to get beyond the resort, at least for part of the time.
I haven’t spent much time in the Caribbean but I’ve loved what I’ve seen. Puerto Plata looks interesting – perhaps I’ll get to the Domenican Republic one day…
Karen, the Carribbean is a popular destination in winter for many Canadians looking for a short respite from the cold. The Dominican Republic is an interesting and beautiful country.
What a pretty place. I love all of the different architecture. Like you, I’m not much of a rum drinker, but I wouldn’t refuse a sample!
Nancie, even a non-rum drinker like me could appreciate the quality of the rum we tasted.
This looks like an interesting place to get away from the beach (me being not a ‘beach person’). I’d be interested to learn when the fort was built – this isn’t really clear from your writing. It’s astonishing that there are so many historic buildings left considering that the Caribbean islands seem to get hit by several hurricanes each season.
Juergen, the fort started construction in 1564 and was completed in 1577. It is interesting that so many historical buildings have remained in a land subject to hurricanes.
I still kick myself for not taking a Caribbean Cruise when I was living so close to Miana. A place like Puerto Plata isn’t one I’d normally pick, but I’m sure I’d love it nonetheless. I know I’d enjoy the amber and rum museums. Last November, I went on a kick to kind the original recipes for the Hurricane drink and had to buy some rum for that purpose. So in my usual fashion, I read tons of post on the history of rum, etc.
Jeri, when we were in Miami this June I was surprised to learn how many people in the area take cruises, often at the last minute, They just look for a good deal. I guess it makes it easier when you don’t have to book flights, etc. to get to the cruise departure site. I laughed when I read about the rum research you did. That sounds like something I would do.
Very nice overview of Puerto Plata. Makes me wish we had more time on our visit to the Dominican Republic last year. We only had a bit of time to drive through town to view a few of the highlights.
Thanks. There always seems to be more to see than one has time!
I haven’t yet visited the Dominican Republic. Getting away from the all-inclusive resorts may draw me to visit. The amber museum looks interesting. Did you buy a piece of amber jewelry? I am also not a rum drinker but am intrigued by your comment that even a non-rum drinker could appreciate it. No cigars for me, however! 🙂
Debbra, I did not buy any jewelry, although I was tempted. The amber was lovely, but I was also drawn to the Larimar. I love its blue colour. I think you would too.
Some of those buildings are exquisite. Remind me of New Orleans a little bit. Now mind you, I have never been to NOLA but from the photos I’ve seen:-) thanks for sharing this piece of history!
Vicki, I haven’t been to New Orleans either so cannot compare, but it was fun to see these buildings in Puerto Plata.
Hi Donna, I’ve never been to the Dominican Republic or Haiti. Dominican looks lovely. Amazing in comparison to what we see if Haiti in the news.
Susan, I haven’t been to Haiti. I imagine it also has historic landmarks, but it’s tragedies and poverty get, and deserve, more of our attention. The Dominican Republic has its own share of need, with 40% of the people living below the poverty line and many not having access to piped water, but its situation is not as dire as its neighbour. Tourism is a big boon to the overall economy.
So that is what the town looks like. I opted to walk around the barrios close to Amber Cove rather than taking the taxi into Puerto Plata. Yep, I missed the Brugal Rum factory.
Charles, and I missed out on wandering through the barrios. So many things to see and do, so little time!
The Amber Museum sounds awesome! I’m fascinated to learn that amber in the Dominican Republic has more fossils than other amber in the world.
Brooke, the Amber Museum had a lot of interesting information.
I really enjoyed re-experiencing this destination. I visited about a year ago and really appreciated the fantastic history and beauty of the island. Thank you for an excellent post and and photos!!
Enjoyed this post and pics! Interesting note on the mist and origin of the name Puerto Plata.
Lesley, I found the information about the mist and the origin of the name interesting too. I heard a couple of other possible reasons for the name, but it is the one about the mist which seems to be most common.
I totally want to go here!
And after (or before) the city tour, there are the beautiful beaches!