Puerto Plata, Jewel of the Dominican Republic North Coast
Apart from Santo Domingo and its lovely colonial zone, in general the Dominican Republic is better known for its spectacular beaches than for its historic architecture – though over the years I’ve certainly come across some fetching examples scattered hither and yon. Happily for lovers of quaint and charming towns, San Felipe de Puerto Plata is an exception that proves the rule.
This city of around 200,000 up on the DR’s north coast, just a hop and a skip over from Playa Dorada, the zone where most Puerto Plata hotels and resorts are located and site of Iberostar Costa Dorada, dates back to the beginning of the 1500s (building on an original settlement established in 1494, a mere two years after Columbus sailed the ocean blue). As the island of Hispaniola’s main port, it was a target for both military and pirate attacks, so that’s why it sports a fairly impressive fortress, the Fortaleza San Felipe. Here you can visit a small colonial museum, ramparts, barracks, cells, and other fort-y stuff – and that pretty much does it for colonial history hereabouts.
What to Do in Puerto Plata
Cool as the fortress is, for me what’s most charming and unique about Puerto Plata is its pastel-hued, gingerbread downtown, centered around Parque Luperón, aka Parque Central. It’s all a relic of a post-colonial boom beginning in 1865, driven by immigration, sugar, and tobacco, and for me it pretty much defines Puerto Plata’s personality. Here you’ll find shops, restaurants, and the Museo del Ámbar, devoted to one of this area’s signature products, amber. While there are quite a few other attractions and activities to enjoy in this town (which I’ll be covering in future posts), it’s really the historic center that makes it a keeper.
By the way, a great time to visit is February and March, for the festivities, parades, and parties surrounding the pre-Lenten Carnaval held throughout the Catholic Caribbean.
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