A colorful Victorian-style house in Puerto Plata // © 2015 Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism
Feature image (above): Bask in the sunshine at Costa Dorada beach. // © 2015 Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism
Decades ago, when the Dominican Republic’s mass tourism was getting off the ground, Puerto Plata was the beach destination of choice. Then, newcomer Punta Cana came along and became ever more popular year after year, expanding its resorts with new builds that are big on luxury.
Suddenly, Puerto Plata’s resorts on the country’s northern coast seemed like yesterday’s news, and the region attracted fewer visitors and less investment. This was a shame because Puerto Plata has something that can’t be bought — a sense of history. One of the earliest visitors was Christopher Columbus, who set anchor in Puerto Plata Bay in 1493. Present-day Puerto Plata still has delightful Caribbean and Creole Victorian houses as well as lots of local color. The daily life of Dominicans exists side by side with tourism, making travelers feel like they have arrived in a real place, not just a resort destination.
The region is poised for change in a major way. In addition to new resort openings, Carnival Corporation is developing the $85 million Amber Cove port facility in Puerto Plata. The port will begin welcoming ships in October. The cruise ships will pair with the Grand Turk Cruise Center (located 100 miles north) and embark on new central Caribbean itineraries, including potential stops in Cuba.
Carnival also recently announced that the company will debut a 10th brand in April called Fathom, a brand with a twist. Fathom will give passengers a chance to participate in voluntourism activities. The 710-passenger Adonia will sail out of Miami on seven-day cruises to Puerto Plata. Docking four nights in Puerto Plata, passengers will then pitch in to help Dominicans in a variety of ways, from eco-based activities to teaching school children. Fathom passengers will also have plenty of free time to enjoy Puerto Plata at their leisure.
It’s predicted that the Amber Cove port facility will host 250,000 cruise passengers in its first year of operation. This is a huge boon to Puerto Plata, since the facility contains a transportation hub designed to whisk cruise passengers off to approximately 40 shore excursions. Some of these will be shopping, beach and culinary experiences, while others will focus on major attractions in the area. The big draw will probably be Ocean World, which lies to the east of Puerto Plata. The marine park offers options to have up-close-and-personal encounters with dolphins, stingrays, sharks and sea lions. Ocean World has also developed itself as a nightlife venue, with dining, gaming and live entertainment.
Puerto Plata is a great walking town, with a “malecon” (waterfront promenade), restaurants, boutiques, cafes and rum shops. Major attractions include Isabel de Torres, an observation tower offering superb sea views, reached by a cable car; Fort San Felipe, dating back to 1564; and Dominican Amber Museum, where precious amber pieces are on exhibit. The historic seaside town of Sosua is only a short distance away to the west, famous for being a refuge for European Jews during World War II. A bit farther along down the road is Cabarete, a laid-back town acclaimed for its windsurfing.
Over the years, most tourists opted to stay just outside Puerto Plata in all-inclusive resorts in the Playa Dorada complex, which includes such resorts as Barcelo Puerto Plata and Casa Colonial Beach & Spa. Puerto Plata has seen some new upscale resort openings over the last few months as well, including Gansevoort Dominican Republic, Playa Imbert, which offers 48 luxury suites, and the 323-room, all-inclusive Chic by Royalton Luxury Resorts.