During our stay in Puerto Plata in November 2012, we undertook three excursions from our hotel in Playa Dorada.
We booked each of these excursions through "Tours by James" who has an office on the ground floor of the Playa Dorada Plaza shopping mall. By booking through "Tours by James" we saved a total of $US 140 between us compared to the prices of the equivalent three excursions offered by our tour operator, First Choice/Thomson.
The three excursions were:
Puerto Plata City Tour with Teleferico (Cable Car) = $US 40 per person
Paradise Island = $US 50 per person
Outback Safari = $US 60 per person.
This tip relates to Puerto Plata City Tour with Teleferico (Cable Car).
We were picked up at our hotel (VH Gran Ventana) at 8:30am in a small minibus. There were only 8 of us on the trip; Emma and I, a Canadian couple from Saskatchewan and a family of four from Los Angeles. We were all English speaking so there was no need for any translations on this trip. The guide spoke English very well, provided us with information throughout the day and was happy to answer any questions that were put to him.
We left Playa Dorada and within 5 minutes we were driving along the Malecon; Puerto Plata's seafront promenade which is dotted with simple beach bars and attracts joggers, cyclists and dog walkers. It's a good spot for people watching and I'd have liked to spend some time there sitting in one of the beach bars with a cold Presidente beer watching the waves roll in. Alas, this wasn't part of the itinerary on this tour – we simply drove along it on our way into the city centre.
The first stop on the tour was the Brugal Rum Factory. This was billed as a "factory tour" but that proved to be a gross exaggeration. A guide gave us a brief narrative on the history and the operations of the factory as we stood outside the building and then we were invited inside where we were able to walk along an elevated platform and view the shopfloor and production process below us. We spent a few minutes watching bottles move along conveyor belts and workers pack them into boxes, before they were wrapped in plastic, loaded onto pallets and moved into the despatch area. After seeing the bottling and packing operations in action, we then made our way downstairs to the factory shop. We were invited to sample the various rums (white, dark and "Extra Viejo" aged rum) and to purchase bottles at factory prices. In fairness, and despite my skepticism, the rum was competitively priced so we purchased a couple of bottles (at just $US 4 each) to bring home with us.
After leaving the rum factory, we were driven further into the heart of the city. I enjoyed watching the street scenes from the minibus window (bustling streets, colourful houses, mopeds zipping past...) and was looking forward to getting out and soaking up the atmosphere of the city. Unfortunately, that was never part of the plan for this city tour. Instead, we were driven to the Carmen Gift Shop where we were treated to a demonstration on jewellery making. First, we were shown a couple of small workshops where jewellery was being produced and then we were taught how to distinguish real amber from fake (plastic) amber. Real amber floats in saltwater, while imitation amber sinks. This is interesting to know, but not particularly useful when deciding whether to make a purchase in a souvenir shop. With this new-found knowledge, we were then invited into the gift shop where we were given 45 minutes (!!!) to browse and make purchases. I had long since reached my boredom threshold, so we excused ourselves and went for a walk around the nearby area. There was a busy fruit and vegetable market opposite and some other local shops.
The weather had turned miserable by this point. It was overcast and there was light, but persistent, rain falling. The top of Pico Isabel de Torres was shrouded by cloud and it would have been pointless to take the Teleferico cable car ride at this point as we would have seen nothing from the top. Our guide decided that we would wait instead until the cloud had cleared.
To pass some time, we were then driven to another souvenir shop. This one was a large shop called "D Francisco Souvenirs Market" and sold everything from rum to cigars, paintings, ornaments, clothing, jewellery and souvenirs. I didn't have any desire to go inside, so we made our excuses and went for a walk to a supermarket that we had driven past en-route and bought a few items at genuinely local prices.
When we returned, the rest of our group were still browsing the souvenirs. We were given complimentary shots of the local "mamajuana" theraputic drink as the staff tried to sell us various products. We resisted their sales pitch and went for another walk. Within a couple of minutes, we had stumbled upon Parque Central, the picturesque main square of the city. We spent a few minutes walking around the square and taking photos, by which time our guide and the rest of our group had caught up with us. I'm glad that we got there a few minutes earlier than the rest, because there was no time for sightseeing – we were herded into the San Felipe Church which stands at the edge of the square. After a brief walk along the aisle and a short narrative on the stained glass windows we were tapped up for donations and ushered on our way.
From San Felipe church we walked back through Parque Central (no time for sightseeing!) to the nearby Amber Museum. The Amber Museum is located in an impressive Victorian villa on Calle Duarte, just a couple of minutes walk from Parque Central. The exhibition is fairly interesting with a number of glass cases displaying pieces of amber containing various insects and plant life dating back millions of years. However, it's only a small museum and only has enough content to keep visitors interested for 10 or 15 minutes. The museum's exit leads into a much larger ground floor souvenir shop (the theme of this city tour!) where we were once again given the opportunity to purchase cigars, rum, jewellery, ornaments...
After leaving the Amber Museum, we were next driven to the seaside San Felipe Fortress. We paid a small entrance fee (RD$ 100 = £1.80) and received personal audio guides that explained the (limited) exhibitions that were housed within the fortress. We climbed on top of the fortress and admired the views along the seafront and out into the Atlantic Ocean. At this point, the cloud was clearing and our guide thought it would be a good idea to make a dash for the Teleferico cable car while the viewing conditions were favourable.
A short drive later and we were at the lower station of the Teleferico. We sat in an air-conditioned room and were entertained by local musicians while waiting for our turn on the cable car. We then enjoyed a 10 minute cable car ride over the rainforest covered mountainside to the summit of Pico Isabel de Torres. The views were breathtaking and we were thankful that the weather had cleared (and that our guide had waited for it to do so before bringing us here). The summit of Pico Isabel de Torres features a large statue of Christ (similar to its more famous counterpart in Rio de Janeiro)...and, of course, more souvenir shops! The cable car ride and mountain-top views over Puerto Plata were the highlights of the city tour for me.
Overall, I found the structure of the city tour to be a little frustrating. It's probably the most cost effective way to visit all the highlights of Puerto Plata and to get between the main sights quickly and effortlessly, but we spent too much time in souvenir shops and not enough time out and about on the city streets for my liking. We rushed through Parque Central and drove the length of the Malecon without stopping to enjoy it. If I ever return to Puerto Plata, I plan to catch a gua gua into the city and spend a few hours exploring it at a more leisurely pace! It's a worthwhile trip for first time visitors who want to get out of their all-inclusive resort and see some snapshots of the city.
Puerto Plata's Teleferico is apparently the only such cable car system in the whole of the Caribbean. It transports passengers from the city of Puerto Plata to the summit of Pico Isabel de Torres in around 10 minutes.
We took a ride on the Teleferico during a city tour of Puerto Plata in November 2012.
We effectively paid $US 10 each for our ride on the Teleferico. We booked a city tour that included the Teleferico ride and it was $US 10 more expensive than a city tour without it would have cost. For the additional $US 10, we were driven to the base station of the cable car, enjoyed a return ride on it and had around 30 minutes free time to explore the attractions at the top of the mountain (including a statue of Christ that is reminiscent of the one in Rio....and lots of souvenir shops!)
I've since read online that if you visit the Teleferico independently, a ticket costs just 100 Dominican Pesos (approx. £1.70 / $2.80). Most travel agents were charging a standard $US 10 to add the cable car ride to a city tour, but First Choice/Thomson were charging an additional $US 16 to add the cable car ride to one of their city tours.
As we waited to board the cable car, we were seated in a spacious, air conditioned room and were entertained by a group of local musicians who were using traditional instruments and playing lively Caribbean tunes. We then moved onto the boarding platform where we were further entertained by a magician who went through his full repertoire of card tricks and optical illusions. He was very talented and I was happy to tip him.
There are two colourful carriages on the Teleferico; each holding up to 18 passengers and leaving the upper and lower stations simultaneously, passing each other mid-journey.
The view over Puerto Plata and the surrounding coastline from the upper station is breathtaking. Or at least it is if the weather is clear! We visited mid-afternoon after the morning cloud cover had dispersed. We were above the cloud level and could see patchy cloud below us. Earlier in the day we'd have seen nothing but cloud below us. Instead, we were treated to fabulous views over the rainforest covered mountain, the sprawling town and harbour of Puerto Plata and the Atlantic Ocean.
We paid a brief visit to Fortaleza San Felipe during a city tour of Puerto Plata in November 2012.
This seafront fortress, dating back to 1577, is located at the end of the Malecon, Puerto Plata's seafront boulevard.
Entrance to the fortress cost 100 Pesos (approx. £1.80) and that included the hire of a personal audio guide and earphones. Each time we reached an exhibition with a number displayed upon it, we typed the number into our audio guide and listened to a brief narrative of what the exhibition showed. The exhibitions inside the fortress were mainly weapons and tools.
We climbed onto the top of the fortress, where we found cannons aimed out into the Atlantic Ocean; used in the past to protect the city from pirates.
The fortress itself wasn't particularly impressive, but the views from on top were pretty good. In one direction we could look out into the Atlantic Ocean, while in the other direction we could see the imposing Pico Isabel de Torres looming over the city.
We visited the Amber Museum during a city tour of Puerto Plata in November 2012.
The Amber Museum (with its logo reminiscent of the Jurassic Park logo) is located in a very impressive Victorian villa on Calle Duarte, just a couple of minutes walk from the heart of the city, Parque Central. The villa in question is known as Villa Bentz and dates back to 1919. It has housed the Amber Museum since 1982.
There is usually an entrance fee of $US 1 for the museum, but it was included in the price of our city tour.
The upper floor of the museum houses a small collection of exhibits. Glass cases showcase a number of pieces of amber which contain insects and plants that date back 30 million years. Our guide explained that the amber was formed from the sap of trees which has hardened into a semi precious stone over the years. Since Dominican amber is some of the most transparent in the world, this makes for some very interesting and clear viewing of the objects captured within it (mosquitoes, millipedes, leaves, lizard eggs...). Our guide explained that it is rarer to find a piece of amber that doesn't contain some form of plant or animal life within it than a piece that does.
After we had finished our short browse around the exhibits (there is enough to keep you interested for 10 minutes or so...it's really not very big), we were led downstairs to a large shopping area that sold amber and larimar jewellery, cigars, rum and various souvenirs. This felt like a bit of a tourist trap to me; a short browse around the museum followed by an opportunity to spend our money as the staff explained the virtues of their "happy hour" necklaces (amber on one side, larimar on the other). We passed through without buying anything.
The museum is open Monday to Saturday from 9am until 6pm.
We visited the Brugal Rum Factory as part of a city tour of Puerto Plata in November 2012.
To describe our visit as a "factory tour" would be a huge exaggeration. Our guide told us a few facts (quantity of rum produced/exported each year...that kind of thing) as we stood outside and then we were invited to make our way inside. We were told that no photography is permitted within the factory.
We climbed a flight of steps and found ourselves on an elevated walkway that stretched the length of the factory, giving us a bird's eye view of the production process that was taking place below us. No narrative was provided; we were simply invited to walk along the walkway and see things for ourselves.
We stood and watched for a while as various shaped bottles moved along conveyor belts. We could see some workers feeding bottle tops into a machine and others preparing the cardboard boxes that the bottles would ultimately make their way into. The number of bottles being produced was quite remarkable; a constant succession of bottles (hundreds, maybe thousands, just in the few minutes that we were there) making their way along the production line.
At the end of the walkway, we saw large wrapping machines that were wrapping huge pallets filled with dozens of cardboard boxes. They were then being transported by fork lift truck into the despatch area, which was already stacked high with box upon box, crate upon crate, of various Brugal rums.
We then made our way downstairs to the factory shop and tasting area. We were invited to sample the various rums (white, dark and extra viejo aged rum) and then to purchase whichever bottles we liked.
Ordinarily, I might have thought that this was a bit of a tourist trap: show tourists a brief glimpse of the factory and then shepherd them into the shop to part with their money. However, the rum being sold at Brugal factory is genuinely being sold at a competitive price, and we were looking to purchase some to bring home with us. We purchased a couple of 350cl bottles; a dark "Anejo" rum and a darker "Extra Viejo" aged rum. Each bottle cost 152 Pesos ($US 4 / £2.50).
Originally built in 1540 by the Spaniards, this fort was used as a prison until the mid 20th Century. The site in infamous amongst the population as a place where most of DR's patriots were imprisoned at one time or another.
A main traditional export of the DR is Amber, the solidified & fossilized remains of a tree sap. Amber often catches and preserves whatever small creatures that get caught in the sap. The museum contains many samples of insects and plant life that existed a 100,000 years ago and were perfectly preserved in Amber.
This park contains an unique Victorian style gazebo. It can also serve as a reference point in the old city for finding one's way. As is the case everywhere in the DR, the park has more than its fair share of touts looking to steer you towards souvenir shops in exchange for a commission.
Along the malecon, you will on one of the small islands see a statue dedicated to Neptune (the god of the sea in Roman mythology).
It is said that the statue guards the harbour of Puerto Plata.
There are two city parks in the old part of Puerto Plata: Parque Luperón and Parque Central.
Parque Luperón is a quiet place with a statue of Gregorio Luperón and shaded benches. (Gregorio Luperón was a successful general in the war against the Spains in the 1860s).
Parque Central (or Parque Independencia) is the gathering place in Puerto Plata, and the Park/Square is surrounded by the City Hall, the Palace of Justice and other government office buildings. Parque Central is a good starting place for a little sightseeing in Puerto Plata.
Check out the local newspaper: Maybe a merengue festival or a beach volley tournament going on down the malecón at the weekend... If so you must take a walk down the malecón.
The Dominicans really know how to party. There is music and dancing everywhere - and off course - some rum. You don't have to join the party - you can just watch how the Dominicans enjoy it.
The picture is from the carnival in February 2007.
The Brugal Factory was established by Don Andrés Brugal Montaner in the second half of the 19 century.
It's free to visit the factory, and you don't have to book a tour. We just took at taxi from Puerto Plata to the factory.
First you go into a small cinema where they show you a short movie (15 minutes) about the history of the factory. Then you are guided into the factory, and you end the tour in a little shop. In the shop you can taste different types of rum and - off course - buy bottles and different Brugal merchandise.
My favourites are ’Extra Viejo’ and ’Añejo’...
The Ocean World is a new (opened in March 2004) theme park at Cofresi, just outside Puerto Plata.
In the Park you have the opportunity to interact one-on-one with dolphins, sea lions, sharks, stingrays, exotic tropical birds, meet tigers, walk through a tropical forest, swim in the Tiger Grotto pool and much more.
When you are swimming with the dolphins, I found it all very scheduled and in a tight program. I have been swimming with dolphins other places where the dolphins were freer to do what they want to do, and only came to me if they want to "talk" with me.
But it's a beautiful (and rather expensive) park, so if you haven’t been swimming with dolphins before, you could consider to go to the park.
Very near the Fort San Felipe a couple of monuments are located.
You’ll find an equestrian statue of General Gregorio Luperon, who was a native son of Puerto Plata - the offspring of a Dominican Father and an English Mother born in 1839. Gregorio Luperon was a successful general in the war against the Spains in 1865, and later he continued to serve and fight for his country until his death in 1897.
Truly a Dominican Patriot and I think he is pictured on the 20 peso bill.
In 1996 a German passenger plane crashed in the sea outside Cabarete only ten minutes after take off.
Just outside the Fort San Felipe in Puerto Plata a monument was raised to honour the memory of all the people who died in the crash.
The Fort of San Felipe is an old imposing stone fortress from 1577 and is located at the malecón in Puerto Plata. The Fort was built so the city could defend itself against French and English pirates, but later it was used as prison for political dissidents.
The fort has been renovated in the recent years, and inside you'll find a museum with lot of objects related to the history of the city.
I find the fort worth a visit. From the fort you got a nice view over the ocean and at night, the fort is outlined in a dazzling display of lights.
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