Bustling Puerto Plata sprawls over the coastal plain of Dominican Republic’s lush Silver Coast, sandwiched between the towering, forested peak of Isabel de Torres and the aquamarine Atlantic.
This busy port is the oldest city on the north coast. Arguably, it’s the prettiest, too, thanks to its setting amid extraordinary natural beauty and its enchanting Victorian architecture.
Explore the museums, monuments, and once-grand 19th century gingerbread mansions of the downtown area. Or head for the great outdoors. Whether you’re looking for the thrill of zip-lining, wildlife encounters, canyoning down waterfalls or the more serene pursuit of basking on glorious sandy beaches, Puerto Plata is a wonderfully diverse destination, appealing to every taste.
Here are 17 exciting things to do in Puerto Plata on your next visit.
Stroll the Malecón
Puerto Plata’s paved waterfront boulevard stretches all the way from the city center to the sandy expanse of Long Beach, passing several other glorious, palm-fringed beaches along the way. You’ll see locals strolling, jogging, and cycling here, taking in the sea air and the views.
Stop for coffee in the morning or sundowners as the light begins to fade. If you’re here during Carnival, you’ll find many of the festivities and parades take place along the Malecón, too.
Slide Down a Waterfall
Visiting the 27 Charcos de Damajagua, about an hour from the city, is one of the star activities in Puerto Plata. You’ll hike through lush rainforest and over swaying jungle bridges in the company of local guides, who will point out the flora and fauna along the way.
At the top, it’s time to gear up with safety helmets and lifejackets and start making your way down the mountain, in the water. You’ll whizz down natural rock chutes, splashing into cooling turquoise pools, with chances to jump off the rocks for an added thrill.
You can make the day as challenging as you like. Most visitors climb up to the seventh rock slide, although more adventurous travelers can descend from the twelfth. Very experienced canyoners can tackle the entire 27 waterfalls, accompanied by a guide.
Explore El Choco National Park
Visitors to Puerto Plata are often surprised at the lushness of the vegetation surrounding the city. A day in El Choco National Park, just 15 minutes from the coast, is a case in point.
Thirty square miles of dense rainforest, caves, and lagoons are criss-crossed with hiking and mountain biking trails lined with cacao trees and tropical shrubs. Guides will point out endemic animals and plants, including tropical birds, lizards and bats.
Play Castaway on Cayo Arena
Cayo Arena is a tiny spit of powdery white sand, lying in shallow, aquamarine water to the northwest of Puerto Plata. The island is accessible by boat and surrounded by teeming reefs. Snorkel over the reefs, where you’ll spot electric blue surgeonfish, striped sergeant majors, graceful angelfish, and maybe octopus.
Or choose a diving expedition. The warm, shallow waters, no more than 16 feet deep, are perfect for novice divers. Alternatively, bask on the sand, rum punch in hand, and shimmering turquoise water surrounding you in every direction.
Admire the Rainbow Colors of Umbrella Street
Calle de las Sombrillas, or Umbrella Street, occupies a short stretch of Calle San Felipe in Puerto Plata’s downtown area. Dozens of umbrellas in every shade of the rainbow are strung overhead in a display so bright and joyful that you can’t help but smile.
Stop for coffee, shop for hand-rolled cigars, and capture that perfect photo during a stroll along this pretty street.
Kayak Through the Mangroves
Dense mangrove colonies thrive along the north coast of the Dominican Republic, and the best way to explore them is by kayak or stand-up paddleboard. At the Estero Hondo Marine Mammal Reserve, you’ll have a sense of being at one with nature in a non-powered craft, stopping to listen to birdsong and look out for marine life.
You may be lucky enough to encounter manatees. Look for the gentle giants of the tropics popping their heads out of the water to have a look around. A colony of around 40 manatees inhabits this serene, protected area, and your guide will tell you about their ecology and the efforts to protect them.
Tour the Fortress of San Felipe
Built on the green headland of La Puntilla, the Fortaleza San Felipe, a sturdy and remarkably well-preserved fortress, was constructed in the 16th century by the Spanish. Back then, this coast was the target of interest from both the British and Dutch, thanks to its abundant reserves of gold and silver.
Passing pirates had an interest, too, and the fortress was an essential defense against invaders. It never saw any action, though, and ultimately served as a prison.
Today, the structure is a museum, where you’ll be able to see a few cannons and other weapons and take in sweeping views of the Atlantic.
Stroll Around Independence Square
The heart and pulse of the city, Independence Square serves as a park, children’s playground, meeting place, and lunch spot. This leafy square, also known as Parque Central, is surrounded by some of Puerto Plata’s most significant buildings, not least the imposing St. Philip the Apostle Cathedral.
Take a peek inside this elegant Victorian building to admire the light filtering through beautiful stained glass windows. There’s been a church on this site since the 14th century, but the original burned down in 1863.
The Cathedral today is the most important religious building in Puerto Plata. If you’re here on a Sunday, you’ll see locals flocking to Mass in their finery.
Meet a Monkey
This is one of the most enchanting activities in Puerto Plata to try if you’re traveling with children. Monkeyland is a five-acre reserve in the lush countryside outside of Puerto Plata, inhabited by two troops of cute squirrel monkeys. The monkeys are completely used to human interaction and will scamper down from the trees when visitors arrive.
Be prepared; they’re very friendly and will perch on your shoulder or head, posing obligingly for photos. Local guides supervise the whole experience and will provide tidbits to feed the monkeys.
Watch Daredevil Action on Kite Beach
Palm-fringed Playa Cabarete is known locally as Kite Beach, and you’ll soon see why. Take a ringside seat on the soft sand and watch the daredevil stunts of kite surfers as they jump, twist, and flip over the waves, the brilliantly colored kites creating a dazzling aquatic ballet. You’ll see surfers, too, and windsurfers.
This is one of the Dominican Republic’s best beaches and is safe for swimming. Towards the eastern end, there are plenty of laid-back beach bars under the palm trees, perfect for a refreshing rum punch.
Fly Over the Forest Canopy
A short drive from Puerto Plata, Country World Adventure Park is a jungle playground featuring activities from ATV expeditions to swimming under waterfalls.
For a bird’s-eye view of the rainforest, clip on to the eight zip lines, more than 7,900 feet long in total, and fly through the forest canopy, on the lookout for monkeys in the trees and colorful birds. One of the lines plunges you into a pool, which is all part of the fun, so prepare to get wet.
Sample Fine Island Rum
The Dominican Republic is famed for its rum, and the largest distillery in the country just happens to be based in Puerto Plata. If you’re a rum lover, a tasting is one of the essential things to do in Puerto Plata during your visit.
Brugal Rum Distillery has been in business since 1888, aging its rum in 200,000 barrels of American white oak. Join a tour of the distillery and learn about rum production before sampling the company’s wares.
Naturally, there’s a chance to buy rum after the tour; you might want to try the limited edition Papá Andrés, named after the company’s founder and presented in a handmade decanter.
Ride the Caribbean’s Only Cable Car
For one of the best views of Puerto Plata and the surrounding countryside, ride the cable car, a local institution since the 1970s, to the top of Pico Isabel de Torres, which looms over the city from the south. In just 10 minutes, you’ll be whisked up to 2,625 feet above sea level, the city, beaches, rainforest, and deep blue Atlantic stretching out below.
Views aside, this is the only teleférico, or cable car, in the entire Caribbean. When you reach the top, there’s a surprise, too. No, you’re not in Rio de Janeiro but the statue of Christ the Redeemer, arms outstretched toward the city, is certainly reminiscent of the bigger version in Brazil.
Take time to wander around the botanical gardens at the top of the cable car. There’s incredibly rich birdlife up here, from the Dominican parrot to turkey vultures, dainty hummingbirds, and nightingales. You’ll find a café for refreshments after your stroll.
Gallop a Horse Through the Surf
Puerto Plata offers superb opportunities for fans of horseback riding, with several ranches located in the countryside outside the city. Choose an easy ride high in the mountains, where trails will lead you through sleepy villages and lush meadows.
Or opt for a beach ride on the long sweep of Bergantin Beach. Here, you can choose a leisurely walk or gallop in the surf. There’s a very special opportunity to take your horse into the sea for a swim. This is something horses love doing, and it’s a rewarding activity for riders, too.
Visit the Amber Museum
The Dominican Republic is famed for having some of the purest amber in the world. Although it’s classified as a semi-precious stone, amber is actually golden tree resin that’s hardened over the millennia, preserving insects and plants as if frozen in time.
You could be looking at a fossilized insect that was alive at the time of the dinosaurs in this fascinating museum, located close to Independence Square. In fact, one of the exhibits is a tiny lizard, encased in amber and believed to be 50 million years old.
Browse the museum shop after your visit for exquisite pieces of authentic amber jewelry.
Tuck Into Tostones
Tostones, or twice-fried green plantains, are the ultimate snack in the Dominican Republic, and you’ll see them sold on street stalls and in beach bars all around Puerto Plata.
The plantains are peeled, thinly sliced, and then deep fried. The technique then is to flatten them and fry them again until they’re crispy and a deep gold. Tostones are served sprinkled with salt and are absolutely irresistible; every visitor to Puerto Plata should try this tasty snack.
Encounter Marine Life at Ocean World
Claiming to have the largest manmade dolphin habitat in the world, the vast Ocean World complex has been certified by the American Humane Conservation program for its high standards of animal welfare.
This extensive marine wildlife park offers the opportunity to get up close to friendly dolphins and Patagonian sea lions. There’s even a chance to swim with placid nurse sharks in a safely controlled environment. Not surprisingly, Ocean World is one of Puerto Plata’s most popular attractions.
Intrigued by the many faces of the Dominican Republic? One of the best ways to reach this vibrant country is on a luxury cruise to Puerto Plata. Browse our itineraries online and plan your next tropical adventure.