Puerto Plata was a major tobacco port, and its colorful Victorian buildings with gingerbread fretwork reflect those times and European influence. The city was founded in 1502, and was named for the silver-ish hue of its beaches at sunset. It lies at the base of 2,800-foot Pico Isabel de Torres, whose peak we access via a 20-minute cable-car ride. It’s a clear day, and the views of the ocean and surrounding mountains are stunning.
Closer to sea level, there is a charming plaza with a twostory Belgian-designed gazebo called La Glorieta, which has become the symbol of Puerto Plata. Just two blocks away is the must-see Museo del Ámbar. Once the home of a wealthy entrepreneurial German family, the museum contains an exceptional collection of prehistoric insects and lizards preserved in amber — fossilized tree resin, likely from a nowextinct species of a prehistoric tree. The museum enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame in the movie Jurassic Park, in which DNA extracted from the museum’s collection leads to the rebirth of dinosaurs. Puerto Plata amber is considered among the best and clearest in the world, and the museum has a gift shop where specimens and jewelry may be purchased. Kat buys a pair of earrings made of larimar, a turquoise-like mineral that is found in only one mine worldwide, in the Dominican province of Bahoruco.
At the tip of Puerto Plata’s beachfront malecón, we explore the picturesque 16th-century San Felipe Fortress, with its still-present cannons primed to pick off nonexistent pirates. As with so many things in the D.R., it’s the oldest of its kind in the New World.
Before retiring to our resort to drink in the Dominican sun on the beach, Kat and I take the tour of the Brugal rum factory, which was founded in Puerto Plata in 1888. The D.R. has been a leading rum maker for centuries, beginning not long after Columbus first brought sugar cane here from the Canary Islands. We enjoy our free samples at the end of the tour, and it immediately becomes clear why Brugal is a national favorite. Before long, we’re finally appreciating what so many come to the D.R. for: beautiful beaches and lulling Caribbean waves.
After a few hours, the sun begins to ignite the clouds with a pastel palette, and we decide to take a stroll. A boy approaches us and holds out his hand, revealing several ornate shells that he has collected. “Lo siento.” I apologize and tell him I don’t have any money. “Es un regalo,” he says. A gift. Placing the shells in my hand, he smiles and walks off, and leaves us with the perfect way to remember the Dominican Republic.