The North Coast: Places to Explore

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Puerto Plata and Playa Dorada

A port founded in 1502, Puerto Plata's name was inspired by the shimmering silver (plata) color of its coast at sunset. The city is cradled between the colonial harbor and Mt. Isabel de Torres, which provides a dramatic backdrop. The largest city on the North Coast, its charm is the extent and variety of its Victorian architecture, unrivaled by any other Dominican city. The gingerbread fretwork and pastel colors of its houses and public buildings convey the romantic aura of an earlier time. These vestiges of its halcyon days now house mostly tourist-oriented businesses—galleries, shops, bars, restaurants, and clubs.

Although Puerto Plata seems to have been sleeping for decades, this was a dynamic city both in colonial times and the Victorian era, and it's on the way back now. You can get a feeling for this past in the magnificent Victorian gazebo in the central Parque Independencia; the beautification of the park and its gazebo is a work in progress. The Fortaleza de San Felipe protected the city from many a pirate attack, and was later used as a political prison. The nearby lighthouse has been restored, which it desperately needed. On the Malecón, new streetlights have been erected and the construction here and on the main highway is finally finished. Organization has come to the Malecón, and the many food carts are being replaced by a more hygienic parador (which in the Dominican Republic is a small, roadside restaurant serving up local specialties). Similarly, the vendors selling souvenirs and crafts now congregate in a modelo (market).

Big changes are afoot in this town, which is realizing what it needs to do to become a tourist destination. The Office of Cultural Patrimony, which has done an admirable job of pulling Santo Domingo's Zona Colonial from the darkness, is at work on Puerto Plata. Simultaneously, a group of private business owners and investors have developed a long-term plan for beautifying the city to take advantage of its hundreds of classic, wooden gingerbread buildings. A new museum for the country's heroes will be in the former family home of Independence hero, Gregory Luperón, in the old town. Most of these houses, painted in pastels with wooden, gingerbread fretwork, are found around the central park—to the northeast and for about eight blocks east and down to the ocean.

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