Puerto Plata, the chief town on the Atlantic coast (which is also known as the Amber Coast) was founded by Ovando in 1502. It is 235 km from the capital. There are two roads from Santiago to Puerto Plata, the older scenic road is now in poor condition. The centre of town has many old, wooden houses, many in need of repair, some new buildings and plenty of colour.
A visit to the colonial San Felipe fortress, the oldest in the New World, at the end of the Malecón is recommended. Although renovated it is showing weather damage already. The museum contains armoury, cannon, swords, bayonets etc, and photos of the excavation and renovation of the fortress. Entry RD$10. Guided tours available.
On the Malecón there is an interesting old firestation, built 1895, just down from the Parque Regalado. The Malecón is not well cared for and although there are a few bars there is nothing special. There are no decent restaurants, there is low quality housing along the seafront and the beach is dirty and smelly. Just 1,000 m past Puerto Plata, a teleférico (cable car) used to run to the summit of Loma Isabel de Torres, an elevation of 779 m, but is closed and likely to remain so for a long time. Hiking tours up the mountain can be arranged with Iguana Mama (see page 442, tour agencies).
There is a statue of Christ that looks out over all of Puerto Plata; it also houses craft shops, a café and there are botanical gardens with a lovely view of the coast and mountains. You can take your chances with horses, bikes or even a car, but be prepared, the road is impassable at some points.
The Museum of Dominican Amber, Duarte 61, houses a collection of rare amber; guided tours, Amber Museum Shop at Playa Dorada Plaza. T5862848. Foreigners US$1.25. 0900-1700. The mountains behind Puerto Plata contain the world’s richest deposits of amber. The cathedral on the Parque Central is worth a visit, under renovation in 2000 but still in use. Also on the Parque Central is the Patrimonio Cultural in a building dating from 1908 where there are interesting art exhibitions. A new Museum of Taíno Art, Beller y San Felipe, first floor above artesanía shops, only contains replicas, but is interesting. Daily, more replicas on sale in the shops below. If you are led into a shop by a local boy, tour guide or taxi driver, you will more than likely be paying a hidden commission on the price of your purchase, even after you bargain. If you want a guide, call the Association of Official Tour Guides, on T5862866.
Excursions To the west is the Costambar resort area, which has not been a success (Bayside Hill Club, Naco group, nine-hole golf course, beach, and Cofresíbeach, several hotels, cabins, A-B per person and more at weekends).
At the east end of town is Long Beach, 2 km from the centre, US$0.15 by bus, but it is crowded at weekends, rather dirty, a sewer pipe brings effluent and litter is washed up or dropped by locals and it is best to be on your guard. There are several small restaurants for breakfast onwards and the tourist office and Tourist Police are this end of town, but the Hotel Montemar is closed and the Hotel Beach for sale and in poor condition. Just east of Puerto Plata, 4 km from the airport, is the beach resort of Playa Dorada with an exceptional golf course, and other sporting facilities. The Playa Dorada Resort is an umbrella name for a complex of large all-inclusive hotels and there are plans to build many more. Montellano, to the east of Playa Dorada, about half way to Sosúa, is the town in which all the processing of sugar cane is done for the north coast. It is undeveloped as a tourist town, but there are tours of the cane processing plant. For the adventurous, it has a great discothèque called Las Brisas, on the river, that all the locals visit, especially on Sunday afternoons. A bottle of rum, bucket of ice and two colas will cost about US$4. The town is a bit primitive, but the disco is not; guaranteed to have a great time, dancing merengue, salsa and some American music.