San Felipe de Puerto Plata, often known just as Puerto Plata, is on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. It is built around a small bay which houses a significant port, and rises up the slopes of the Isabel de Torres Mountain. Puerto Plata is the largest town on the north coast of the island and is full of life.
Christopher Columbus was one of the first European visitors to the town and named it after the silver mists surrounding the mountain. There has been a busy port here since the turn of the 16th century, and it is a popular destination for cruise ships.
The architecture of the town is predominantly Victorian/colonial and everywhere you will see the wrought iron balconies typical of that period, when British wrought iron was used to ballast trading ships as they sailed to the Caribbean, once ballasting the ships with slaves was outlawed.
Many of the early immigrants to Puerto Plata were from the Canary Islands, arriving in the 1900s, and their influence can also be seen, not only in the architecture, but also in the social and cultural life of the city. Puerto Plata is home to a major carnival each year, celebrated as Carnival usually is, just before the beginning of Lent. Street processions, music and dancing combine cultural elements of the Caribbean, Africa, South America and the Canaries.
The only funicular railway in the Caribbean runs from Puerto Plata to the botanical gardens at the top of the Isabel de Torres Mountain, 800 metres above the city, where there is a 7 acre botanical garden, the highlight of the 20 sq km national park. The Gardens can also be reached by road. If you go early in the morning you will miss the fog which can obstruct the panoramic views.
There is plenty of accommodation in the city itself, and to the east of the city lie the resorts of Playa Dorada and Costa Dorada, which are served by the Gregorio Luperón International airport, and the resorts provide over 100,000 beds in a variety of establishments, from all inclusive hotels to smaller boarding houses, and self catering apartments.
Puerto Plata is probably the most vibrant destination in the whole of the Dominican Republic.
(By Angela Webster)