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The International Writers Magazine: Winter Vacations

Puerto Plata has more than just beaches
Habeeb Salloum

Situated on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, 210 km (130 mi) northwest of the country’s capital, Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata, a resort town of some 150,000, is the gateway to a coastline of 130 km (80 mi), dotted with stretches of sand. This includes such well-known beaches as Cofresi, Dorada, Grande, Sosúa and a good number of others. However, for those seeking more than beaches, Puerto Plata has many other tourist attributes

If one wants to enjoy the beach life, and in addition, have a fun time; Playa Dorada, 5 km (3 mi) from Puerto Plata, is the place to stay. Lush green mountains overlook the beach’s clean soft sands that have been rejuvenated and expanded in the last few years. Fifteen hotel resort complexes have been built to take advantage of its location and other tourist attributes. In the whole complex, casinos, restaurants, sport and shopping facilities as well as nightlife abound.

Sosúa, some 24 km (15 mi) further on down the coast to the east, is somewhat different. The town and its beach have developed into a resort that is ideal for self-sufficient travellers.

The sands, sheltered by coral cliffs, are said to be one of the most beautiful around the Puerto Plata area. The dozens of handicraft stands, bars, eateries and renters of beach chairs clutter most of the edge of the beach and take away some of its charm.

Besides these two of the most important neighbouring sands’, Puerto Plata has a number of other attractions. For tourists who come for a week’s vacation but with no yearning for beaches or are unfortunate to come during a cold or rainy spell, there is much to keep them occupied.

For the first day, the ‘Combined Puerto Plata- Sosúa day long tour’ is a good bet. It includes a stop at a rum factory then a tour is made of the mansions of the rich, followed by a drive through an old section to see the antique Victorian style gingerbread architecture. A drive around the Parque Central area in town is usually on the agenda, but at present this area is under renovation. Besides stopping at a few shops, the tour takes one in at the Amber Gallery with its museum displaying a wonderful collection of rare amber and its large shop stocks all types of amber and larimar – two of the gemstones of the Dominican Republic.

Near noon, the tour is at the historic Fort Felipe, the oldest fort in the New World and now a historical Museum. Built with 8-foot thick walls in 1541 to defend the city from pirate attacks, it was virtually impenetrable. In the surrounding moat, the Spaniards embedded sharpened swords in coral below the surface of the water, discouraging enemies from fording the moat.

After lunch, in the afternoon, the tour members are taken to spend two hours on the beautiful white sandy beach at Sosúa. About 3/4 km (1/2 mi) long with most of it edged by bars, handicraft shops and eating-places - it’s a great location to buy souvenirs and try Dominican food.

For day two the Puerto Plata-Santo Domingo excursion is a good choice. In early dawn a tourist bus, at a cost of $54. takes beach dwellers in the darkness of the early dawn from Puerto Plata on an all day journey crossing a land covered with exotic foliage to the capital to Santo Domingo, the country’s capital. Here, a fulfilling tour of the old city, the first Spanish capital of the Americas, and much more, is on the agenda. When darkness has encompassed the landscape the travellers are back at their hotels, having discovered the allurement of the Dominican Republic.

The next day in the morning a visitor can take a taxi, at about $10. each way, to the cable car station. From the station, a cable car, the only one of its type in the Caribbean can be taken atop a forest of greenery. After a seven-minute ascent, the observation point the summit of the 791 m (2,595 ft) high Isabel de Torres Mountain, is reached. From atop this mountain, towering above Puerto Plata, there is a fantastic panoramic view of Puerto Plata and the northern coastline, edged by the crystal blue waters of the Atlantic.

The afternoon can be reserved for golfing, beach activities if the weather allows, or shopping. There are two 18-hole golf courses - one at the Jack Tar village on Playa Dorado and another on Playa Grande, an hour and a half drive east of Puerto Plata. For shopping there is a large shopping plaza on Playa Dorado and stores in all the large hotels as well as many shops catering to tourists in the heart of town.

For the fourth day an excursion from Puerto Plata to Jarabacao would be an ideal tour. In the early morning hours, the bus leaves Puerto Plata for Santiago - the second largest city and the commercial and industrial heart of the country. Here, stops are made at the cigar and pottery factories. Following this, travellers are taken up to Cordillera Central - the highest mountain range in the Dominican Republic, dotted with Royal Palms and pine trees. In an atmosphere of soothing cool breezes, visitors ride horses, dine on succulent Dominican food and visit a majestic waterfall. The sun has long set when the visitors are back at their hotels.

The fifth day a full day and evening visit to ‘Ocean World’ could be the highlight of one’s vacation. One of the most complete recreation complexes in the country, Ocean World is located on Confresi Beach just 5 km (3 mi) west of Puerto Plata. It is a huge and unique entertainment world that consists of an elegant marina and an adventure park where guests romp with the creatures of the sea, as well as bars, restaurants, an impressive casino, disco-lounge, and a theatre offering which must be the most spectacular show in the Caribbean.
After the excitement of the day before, the last day or two, depending on the length of the tour, can be reserved for resting or just lazing on the beach before returning home.

Swimming with Sharks

With all these activities, should it rain or the beaches are not what tourists are seeking, visitors can return home, having enjoyed their vacation.

Tips Relating to the Puerto Plata Resorts:
1) The best way to travel to the Puerto Plata resorts is to take the all-inclusive packages offered by tour companies, especially if traveling from Canada with SunSwing – their offerings are much better than other airline charter companies.
2) Tourist accommodation in the Puerto Plata area has improved greatly. In the larger hotels, there are now rarely any breakdowns of electricity, air conditioning or the water systems. For affluent travellers who enjoy luxury the VH Hotels & Resorts that include the Victoria Golf Resort & Beach, the Gran Ventana Beach Resort, and the hallmark of the three, Casa Colonial Beach Resort & Spa, hidden treasures in Playa Dorada are the places to stay.
3) The conversion rate of the Dominican Republic's currency fluctuates at around 33 pesos to a U.S. dollar - change money in banks - some have branches in the major hotels.
4) Drink bottled water only - never from the tap.
5) Except in tourist oriented shops where goods are excessively priced, always bargain when shopping. In some instances, prices are inflated up to 8 times their true value. Best buys are the semi-precious stones amber and larimar.
6) For transportation, taxis cost $5. from Playa Dorado to the centre of Puerto Plata Renting small autos costs some $65. per day fully insured. Gas costs about $5. a US gallon.
7) Meals in top restaurants cost from $25. to $50; in peoples’ eating places in town - from $5. to $15.
8) A good time to travel to Puerto Plata is in September when there is held a Merengue Festival with street parties and handicraft and culinary exhibits.
9) Remember always keep $20.for departure tax.
Note: All prices are quoted in U.S. dollars.
For Further Information, Contact:
In Canada -Dominican Republic Tourism Board in Toronto, 201 – 26 Wellington St. East Toronto, Ontario M5E 1S2. Toll Free 1-888-494-5050 or Tel: (416) 361-2126. Fax (416) 361-2130.
Email; or Bureau de Turisme de la Republique Dominicaine a Montreal, 2080 Rue Crescent, Montreal, Quebec H3G 2B8. Toll Free 1-800-563-1311 or Tel: (514) 499-1918. Fax (514) 499-1393. Email
In the U.S.A. Dominican Republic Tourism Board - 136 East 57th Street, Suite 803, New York, New York 10022. Telephone: 1-888-374-6361 (Toll free in USA) or Telephone: 1-212-588-1012/14. Fax: 1-212-588-1015.

© Habeeb Salloum December 2007>

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