On the Dominican Republic's northern coast, Puerto Plata is in the midst of a revitalization.
There are affordable all-inclusive resorts here with enough activities to keep guests on property, but compelling new attractions, golf courses and beaches, plus readily available transportation, are enticing visitors to explore their surroundings.
At the new Ocean World Adventure Park you can take the plunge and become part of the aquarium, snorkeling in an artificial sea as passersby watch, and you can also arrange to swim with dolphins. Those who aren't ready to dive in and get wet with the sea creatures can instead observe the sea lions, who love to perform tricks and clap their flippers when they hear applause.
"Puerto Plata is going to have more products to offer in about a year from now, but there are still some attractions that continue to bring in tourists, and Ocean World is definitely one of them," says Mike Lapointe, vice president of product development for Apple Vacations, which sends an average of 45,000 to 50,000 people a year to Puerto Plata. "Swimming with dolphins, snorkeling, those are the things people coming to the Caribbean are looking to do."
Also on the horizon is the opening of the newly constructed Ocean World Casino & Marina, which will welcome its first visitors December 16. It will have a restaurant on the first floor and, on the second floor, the gaming area will have 60 slot machines and 10 table games. On the third floor, shows will feature 30 or more professional dancers.
The $95 million project will include an all-service marina with a gym and a grocery store. Diego J. Tripaldi, business development director for the project, calls it the "missing link" between the Bahamas and Puerto Rico, because in that 300-mile stretch there's no other marina.
Beaches are still the main draw for many visitors to the Dominican Republic, so it's always good news when one has been improved. In August, the new Long Beach, which is adjacent to Puerta Plata's main road (also set for expansion), was unveiled.
A favorite golfing destination of former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, the Dominican Republic has become one of the hottest spots to tee off in the Caribbean.
Here, golfers will find 21 courses with oceanfront fairways and dogleg lefts around swaying coconut palms. They'll also find courses designed by legends such as Pete Dye, P.B. Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Robert Trent Jones, Gary Player, Nick Price, Tom Fazio and Nick Faldo.
"A lot of people think beaches when they think the Dominican Republic," says Lapointe, "but many travelers don't realize how many beautiful golf courses the Dominican Republic has, as well. And one of the best is located in Puerto Plata," he says, referring to the Playa Dorada, which has an 18-hole Robert Trent Jones-designed golf course. It's in the Playa Dorada Resort Complex, which has 14 hotels to choose from.
One of the few attractions in the heart of the city, the Amber Museum showcases one of this country's native products in a white Victorian-style building. Amber, a fossilized resin from prehistoric trees more than 60 million years old, is classified as semiprecious. Dominican Republic amber, which is mined between Puerto Plata and Santiago, is considered some of the world's most transparent.
There are thousands of pieces in the collection. Some contain insects, but perhaps the most studied and appreciated piece is that of a 15-inch lizard that has been kept in a perfect state of perservation, trapped in the amber for approximately 30 to 40 million years.
Amber is sold throughout the country, but to be assured you're getting the best quality, you should make all your purchases at the museum's gift shop, which has an extensive selection.
Selling puerto plata's Renaissance
Resources to plan vacations to this evolving Caribbean destination
Agents can mark April 2007 as the date that the much-needed improvements will be complete in Puerto Plata, creating a list of new selling points for a destination that was in need of revamping.
The government has allocated more than $30 million to development and improvement projects in Puerto Plata, including new water processing facilities, sanitation systems, roads and walkways, all the while protecting natural resources.
The area around the Malecón, an oceanside road filled with numerous cafés and small restaurants, is set for expansion. The rezoning and reopening of the area will maximize its use and give the tourism industry a boost. Whereas the previous height limit for apartments and condominiums used to be three floors, the new buildings along the Malecón, Will be able to rise seven stories. More than 300 hotel rooms per hectare will not be allowed.
Tour Operators: Apple Vacations (800-727-3400, www.applevacations.com) offer a minimum of 8 percent commission for Puerta Plata and a maximum of 14 percent for add-ons.
Hotels: Here we list the three top properties in Puerto Plata. Rates start at $260 at the boutique hotel Casa Colonial Beach & Spa, which is adjacent to the Robert Trent Jones golf course. There's a 10 percent commission. Call reservations manager Basilia Diaz at 809-320-3232. The all-inclusive Occidental Grand Puerto Plata is geared towards families; rates start at $142. Also all-inclusive, Coral by Hilton Puerto Plata offers a 10 percent commission. The best rooms here are the Deluxe Plus rooms, which have a balcony with an ocean view. Call reservations manager Bani Gordian at 809-320-1515.
Golf: Golf Digest voted Playa Dorada one of the top 100 courses outside the U.S. for 2005-2006.
Restaurants: Pizzeria Roma (809-586-3904) is at the Calle Beler; Heming-way's Café (809-320-2230), specializes in American cuisine for the traveler who might be a bit homesick, and Al Fresco, which serves pasta, sushi and various grilled foods, are both in the Playa Dorada Plaza.
Transportation: Domestic flights are often the easiest way to get around between tourist areas within the Dominican Republic. One popular airline for domestic flights is Air Santo Domingo (809-683-8006, www.airsantodomingo.com), which flies between most of the country's airports.
Taxis can be hired at all airports and through major hotels. Visitors should always agree on a rate with the driver before getting into the cab, since not all vehicles are metered. —JP
- 1. Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism, 888-374-6361 www.godominicanrepublic.com|~www.godominicanrepublic.com/
- 2. Casa Colonial Beach & Spa 809-320-3232, www.casacolonialhotel.com|~www.casacolonialhotel.com/
- 3. Occidental Grand Puerto Plata, 800-858-2258, www.occidentalhotels.com|~www.occidentalhotels.com/
- 4. Coral by Hilton Puerto Plata 809-320-1515, coralbyhilton.com/marien|~coralbyhilton.com/marien/
- 5. Amber Museum 809-586-2848, www.ambermuseum.com|~www.ambermuseum.com/
- 6. Ocean World Adventure Park 809-291-1000, www.oceanworld.net|~www.oceanworld.net/
- 7. Playa Dorada Golf Course 809-320-3472, www.playadoradagolf.com|~www.playadoradagolf.com/