Holidays to Puerto Plata line up colonial towns, tropical rainforests, and beaches that clock up world-class awards. No wonder this place has such a big fan base.
The north coast
Bookended by San Juan and Bahia Maimon, the Dominican Republic’s north coast packs a lot in. The tick-list in lively Puerto Plata town, for example, covers everything from a rum factory to a seafront fortress. The pretty old quarter is worth a wander, too. But Puerto Plata’s crowning glory has to be the cable car – it climbs a giddy 800 metres to the top of Mount Isabel del Torres.
The Dorada duo
As for resorts, the biggest is Playa Dorada. Backed by green hills and the peak of Mount Isabel, its two-kilometre beach gets the thumbs-up, especially where watersports are concerned. You’ll also find an 18-hole golf course, two casinos and the Plaza – a hub of shops, bars and cafés. A few minutes from here is Costa Dorada. Quieter than its neighbour, it scores 10 out of 10 for beach life. Expect soft sands framed by seagrape groves.
Beaches in Bahia Maimon
Further along the coast you’ll find Bahia Maimon, which is straight out of the ‘do not disturb’ school of resorts. Its beach is award-winning – it was voted one of the world’s top 10 by Conde Nast Traveller. Plus, it’s home to a handful of shops and seafood restaurants.
Things to See and Do in Puerto Plata
North coast sands
It might be a cliché, but when it comes to beaches, Puerto Plata leaves holidaymakers spoilt for choice. Running along the north coast of the Dominican Republic, this place has miles of golden sand to shout about, and every stretch comes complete with shady palms and Caribbean-clear waters. Beaches in Bahia Maimon and Playa Dorada are up at the lively end of the scale, while stretches in Costa Dorada are more the quiet-and-shy types.
The big beach
The big name out here is Playa Dorada. Hugging the Amber Coast, its golden sands pull in the sun-seekers year-round. The whole stretch is backed by shady palm trees and lush, green hills, and there are loads of watersports like paragliding and windsurfing to have a go at.
The secret beach
You don’t have to go far to find a quieter patch, though. Two-kilometre-long Costa Dorada is right next door to buzzing Playa Dorada, so has the same soft sands, palm groves and bath-warm waters, but things move a little slower. Think acres of space, top-notch snorkelling and a big helping of peace and quiet.
You’re never far from a ‘colmado’, or little hut selling essentials like sun cream, cold drinks and beach towels. And supermarkets like Tropical and Jose Luis stock thrifty finds like tropical fruit marmalades and traditional sweets, which make great take-homes. Stores stacked with souvenirs are ten-a-penny, too. Try Puerto Plata’s Central Park area for bazaar-style shops like Casa Nelson and Casa Colon.
Puerto Plata’s Mercado – on the corner of Avenida Isabel de Torres and Calle 2 – is the place to get your hands on everything from Haitian art to Hawaiian shirts. It’s open Monday to Saturday from 8am to 5pm. For brands like Oscar de la Renta, try the Playa Dorada Plaza on Calle Duarte, which has 80-odd stores, plus a cinema, restaurants and cafés. It’s open every day from 9am to 9pm.
Give your wallet a workout at the Plaza Turisol Complex. The largest mall on the north coast, it’s home to about 80 upmarket stores and is only a 5-minute drive from Puerto Plata. For cigar aficionados, there’s Cuevas y Hermanos Fabricantes de Cigarros at Malecón 6 in Puerto Plata. Open 1pm to midnight, Tuesday to Sunday, it’s the place for Dominican cigars.
Go-slow nights are the norm in resorts like Bahia Maimon, Costa Dorada and San Juan. For the most part, it’s all about good food and hotel-based themed nights. For outside attractions, your best bet is to head to Cabarete. Make for the beach or Calle Principal – the main road through the resort – and bypass the livelier places in favour of relaxed hubs like the Chillout Bar and the Village Jazz Club.
Puerto Plata is no Ayia Napa, but it’s got its fair share of cheery bars and upbeat clubs. In the capital, get your cocktail fix at places like Rancho Tipico on Trav de Gondivinho. Fancy a bit of a bar crawl? Try the Playa Dorada Plaza, where you can hit hotspots like Hemmingway’s and The Roadway, then go on to heaving clubs like Coco Bongo. Somewhere with even more va-va-voom is Cabarete – whether you head for the beach or main strip, open-air bars and neon clubs rule the night.
The island’s national dish – a traditional hearty broth – is usually made with meat and veg, but comes in all shapes and sizes. Order ‘sancocho de longaniza’ and you’ll be eating it with pork sausage, while ‘sancocho de habichuela’ is with beans. For the ultimate feast, try ‘sancocho de siete carnes’ – a seven-meat version.
La bandera Dominicana
Translated, this dish literally means ‘the Dominican flag’. You’ll understand why when it arrives at your table. A belt-busting platter of rice, beans, veg and meat, it’s made from ingredients that make up the colours of the national flag.
Fish ‘Dominican style’ is served in many guises. ‘Criolla’ is in a spicy tomato sauce, ‘al ajillo’ a rich garlic sauce, ‘con coco’ a tomato, garlic and coconut milk sauce, ‘al horno’ drizzled with lemon, and ‘al oregano’ with a tangy oregano and cream sauce. Sea bass, red snapper and kingfish are nearly always on the menu.
Dulces con coco
For an instant sugar shock, give these moreish puddings a try. Little square or ball-shaped treats, they’re made with molasses, coconut, vanilla and ginger. The name means ‘coconut delight’, which sums them up pretty nicely.
You’ll find plenty of your favourite beers in the Dominican Republic, but to really fit in with the locals, order a Presidente. Islanders are obsessed with getting the country’s top tipple as Arctic-cold as possible, which makes it the perfect Caribbean cooler.
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Bahia Maimon cut its own wedge out of the Dominican Republic’s west coast – in between the forests and mountains. A duo of swanky hotels has taken up residence here. And it doesn’t take two guesses to realise why once you’ve clocked eyes on its bang-up beach. Plus, it’s easy to grab a cab to nearby Puerto Plata.
Costa Dorada (Puerto Plata)
Resort-wise, Costa Dorada is an upmarket customer. It’s bagged an exclusive stretch of the Dominican Republic’s Amber Coast that’s all coconut trees and white sand. On the one side, you’ve got swanky Playa Dorada, with its casinos, clubs and restaurants. On the other, you get the sizzling jerk chicken and bustling markets of Puerto Plata. And in the background, dramatic Mount Isabel chips in to finish off the desert-island scenery.
Some resorts just don’t like to mess about – and Playa Dorada on the Dominican Republic’s north coast is one of them. What you’ve got here is a gated community of hotels where the all-inclusive deal means you really don’t have to work hard at getting what you want. Restaurants, casinos, clubs – this place just keeps on giving. It even throws in the beach for free, too.
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