Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic Cruise Port Guide

A Puerto Plata cruise brings you to an idyllic coastline of high mountains, lush rainforest, and long, sandy beaches. Days here are all about adventure, from the rock slides and natural pools of the 27 Charcos de Damajagua to a marine reserve where you can paddleboard through the mangroves in search of the endangered manatee. Or embark on an off-road adventure, soar on a thrilling zipline, or take a tour of a local coffee plantation.

There’s fascinating history found in Puerto Plata, a bustling city displaying handsome Victorian architecture and an intoxicating zest for life. Or perhaps the glorious beaches will be the highlight of your Caribbean cruise to the Dominican Republic. There are miles of them, with golden sand, colorful reefs to explore, and cool beach clubs in which to relax and unwind.

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Top Sights & Attractions on Cruises to Puerto Plata

Historic Puerto Plata

The historic center of Puerto Plata is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its collection of fine Victorian buildings clustered around the pretty Parque Central. Admire the San Felipe Apóstol Cathedral and colorful “Umbrella Street”, shaded by dozens of umbrellas strung overhead. Pink Street is equally photogenic—and very pink, as its name suggests. Drop into the Amber Museum to admire a fine array of golden resin from the Jurassic era.

27 Charcos de Damajagua

One of the best natural attractions near Puerto Plata is 27 Charcos de Damajagua, a complex of waterfalls, lagoons, and swimming holes. The falls are accessed via a hike through dense rainforest before starting the thrilling descent of the hillside through deep rock canyons. You’ll slide down a series of watery chutes into cool turquoise pools, where the river propels you gently to the next slide. Most tours include seven falls, but serious adventurers can attempt all 27.

Fortaleza San Felipe

The chunky San Felipe Fortress is the oldest building in Puerto Plata. It presides over the bay and the Malecón, with sweeping views along the coast. The fortress was built by the Spaniards in 1577 to defend the north coast of the Dominican Republic from pirates and British and Dutch hopefuls who coveted the gold and silver deposits here. It previously served as a prison, but today is an atmospheric museum displaying the original cannons and old weapons.

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Things to Do in the Dominican Republic

Paddle Through a Manatee Reserve

Look for majestic manatees as you drift through tranquil mangroves on a paddleboard or kayak at the Sanctuary of Estero Hondo, near Puerto Plata. There’s a healthy population of more than 40 of these gentle sea cows here, as well as colorful birds, crustaceans, and sea turtles. Manatees are both endangered and protected, so it’s a real joy to spot one feeding as you paddle around. Local guides will point out the different vegetation and wildlife, making this a wonderful experience.

Enjoy the View From Mount Isabel de Torres

Take the cable car up to the summit of Mount Isabel de Torres, 2,624 feet above sea level, for magnificent views down over the mountainside, the city of Puerto Plata, and the beaches and the blue Caribbean beyond. Check out the replica Christ the Redeemer statue, smaller than the original in Rio de Janeiro, but nonetheless impressive. Explore the botanical garden, visit a traditional homestead, peek into caves, and clamber around the remains of a historical fortress.

Relax on Playa Dorada

Popular Playa Dorada, the original and most famous beach of Puerto Plata, is a sweep of pale golden sand that extends for more than a mile. The beach is lined with hotels, restaurants, shops, and watersport concessions, and there’s even a links course here for golfers. Reefs close to the shore make this a great spot for snorkeling. Pick your favorite watersport, or spend the day enjoying the beach bars, the warm, clear water, and the shade of your beach umbrella.

Top Food & Drink in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic has a strong culinary culture with plenty of dishes to try during your visit. Bandera is the national dish, combining red beans with stewed meat, fried green plantains, and rice. Fish with coconut sauce is another specialty, as is locrio de pollo (fried rice with chicken),  mofongo (plantains with deep-fried pork or shrimp) and sancocho, a stew comprising seven different types of meat. 

For snacks, try chicharron, or pork rinds. You’ll find excellent coffee everywhere, as well as fruit juices and shakes featuring local fruit like mango, passionfruit, guava, pineapple, and papaya.

Culture and History of Puerto Plata

The area known as Puerto Plata was inhabited by the Taíno people for centuries before Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492 and claimed the island for Spain. The city of Puerto Plata as we know it today was founded by Nicolás de Ovando in 1502. However, due to the growing threat from English pirates and privateers, Spain’s King Philip III ordered the city to be abandoned and destroyed in 1605. It lay in ruins for a century before being repopulated in the 18th century, mainly by Canary Islanders who migrated there and cultivated coffee, tobacco, bananas, and sugar cane.

The Dominican Republic, including Puerto Plata, was under Haitian control from 1822 to 1844. After attaining independence, the country briefly returned to Spanish rule in 1861, before finally breaking away again in 1865. Much of the city as you see it today dates back to 1865 and onwards, with many blocks in the center featuring preserved Victorian-era architecture and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Puerto Plata boasts a vibrant culture influenced by Spain, Africa, and the original Taíno, with music and dance permeating daily life, strong family values, and a laid-back approach to life. The official language is Spanish and, away from the tourist areas, some knowledge of the language will be very useful.

Puerto Plata Cruise Port Facilities and Location

On a cruise to Puerto Plata, you’ll disembark in Taino Bay, a purpose-built cruise terminal that’s a destination in itself. In a gated village, you’ll find shops, restaurants, food trucks, ATMs, free Wi-Fi, live entertainment, a huge lagoon swimming pool, and aviaries displaying colorful birds. There’s also a beach right here for those who don’t want to stray from the port. Four-person tuk-tuks will carry you back and forth from the ship’s gangway (they’re free but the drivers do appreciate tips), and taxis wait outside the complex. You can walk from Taino Bay to the attractions of Puerto Plata if you don’t mind the heat—it’s about 15 minutes on foot to Umbrella Street and the Amber Museum.

Transportation in Puerto Plata

There are numerous ways to get around Puerto Plata. Taxis are plentiful, and some drivers may offer you their services for the whole day, in which case, negotiate a price in advance. Puerto Plata also has rideshare service. Local minivan “buses” are called guaguas and will stop when you flag them down and drop you where you say you want to disembark. You’ll need cash for these. Slightly more comfortable but operating on the same basis are carritos, or shared sedan cars, as opposed to vans. Car rental is also available, but be prepared to negotiate busy roads crammed with motorbikes.

Shopping Near Puerto Plata

Puerto Plata, and the Dominican Republic as a whole, is a great place to shop for hand-rolled cigars, rum, Haitian art, mahogany wood carvings, and jewelry made from amber, which is widely found here, or larimar, an opaque blue stone found only in the Dominican Republic. Shops in malls will display prices, which are regarded as fixed, but if you’re shopping in markets, a little polite haggling is appropriate. You’ll find plenty of shops within Taino Bay, but there’s a wider selection downtown.

Local Currency & Tipping Customs

The Dominican peso is the primary currency of the Dominican Republic. It’s wise to have some cash to buy local goods from smaller shops and to pay taxi drivers and bus fares. Credit cards are accepted in many places as well. Leaving a 10% tip is customary at restaurants, bars, and cafés for good service.

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