The silver clouds atop Mt. Isabel de Torres, the towering mountain behind Puerto Plata, gave the city its name. Today tourists ride the cable car to get to the top of the mountain, visit its botanical gardens and take in the sweeping views of the port city.
The city boasts the largest collection of still-standing 19th century Victorian-style houses in the Caribbean. Its San Felipe Fort is one of the oldest military colonial period fortresses in the region, dating back to 1577.
Puerto Plata is the province where the remains of the first European settlement in the Americas are located. Admiral Christopher Columbus’ famous three ships made landfall here in 1492, naming it La Isabela.
But today Puerto Plata is better known for its Atlantic coastline with more than 62 miles (100 km) of beaches, coastal villages and hotels. The beach towns of Sosua and Cabarete, world famous for its windsurfing and kiteboarding, are less than half an hour away.
Fortaleza San Felipe
Also known as El Morro de San Felipe, San Felipe Fort was used to protect the City of Puerto Plata from English, Dutch and French pirates and corsairs. It is located on a hill at the Puntilla Del Malecón, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean; its strategic location protected the entrance to the city’s seaport. The construction of the fort was commissioned by King Felipe II of Spain in 1564, and it was completed in 1577 by Don Rengifo de Angulo, the fort’s mayor.
Today, the Fortaleza San Felipe serves as a museum showcasing the important role it has played in the history of Puerto Plata, and the Dominican Republic. The Fortaleza houses military artifacts from the 18th and 19th centuries and is considered one of the most important colonial military structures in the Caribbean.
The Fort was the scene of one of the few land battles in the Quasi War, against the United States in May, 1800. The Battle of Puerto Plata Harbor saw American forces overwhelm both the French and Spanish forces.
The Fortaleza San Felipe has been used in various occasions throughout its history as a prison, it was where Pedro Santana jailed one of the founding fathers, Juan Pablo Duarte.
The Fortaleza was converted into a museum in 1965, underwent a major renovation in 1972 and in 1983 was officially opened to public. Today, the Fortaleza is the only remnant of the 16th century in Puerto Plata, as everything else was destroyed in battles or fires during the War of Restoration.
This is the largest, most animated, cosmopolitan and people-friendly city in the Caribbean and Central America. Avoid peak hour traffic, and you are in a metropolis that has it all.
Every first time traveler is advised to leave the comfort of their resort and, for at least a day, visit the Colonial City, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The Colonial City is a very walkable grid of 16 short streets with jewels of 16th to early 20th century architecture. Cobblestone lanes and iron street lamps lead to the many small museums, shops, hotels, restaurants and bars that are tucked away on every street. The Chu Chu Colonial offers a 45-minute trip around the city to help newcomers get their bearings.
Santo Domingo Cathedral
The Cathedral of Santa María la Menor in the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo is dedicated to St. Mary of the Incarnation and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the oldest cathedral in the Americas, begun in 1512 and completed in 1540. It is the Cathedral of the Archbishop of Santo Domingo who has the honorary title of Primate of the Americas because Santo Domingo was the first Catholic diocese established in the New World.
It is located between Calle Arzobispo Merino and Isabel la Católica, next to Columbus Park in the city of Santo Domingo de Guzman.
The Cathedral is fronted with a golden-tinted coral limestone façade, the church combines elements of both Gothic and Baroque with some lavish plateresque styles as exemplified by the high altar chiseled out of silver. There is also a treasury which has an excellent art collection of ancient woodcarvings, furnishings, funerary monuments, silver, and jewelry.
The cathedral has a treasury containing retablos (devotional paintings), old woodwork, furniture, sculptures and tombstones. There are pieces that were involved with the funeral proceedings of several colonial archbishops. Interestingly, there is a tombstone of Simon Bolivar, one of the ancestors of the Liberator Simon Bolivar. Of note, the remains of Christopher Columbus were once housed at the cathedral, before their final resting place in the Faro a Colon.
The Dominican Republic wins the title of top adventure and ecotourism destination in the Caribbean hands down. As the second biggest island in the region, national parks and scientific reserves cover 25% of its landscape.
We hope you enjoyed this four-part series. If you want to discover more of the Dominican Republic, check out these land vacation packages.