36 Hours on D.R.’s Amber Coast

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Beaches like this one abound on the Amber Coast. This one’s between Puerto Plata and Cabarete.

 

Friday morning and you awaken with a start. Your vacation’s almost over and you’ve accomplished almost nothing. Well, you’ve lowered your stress levels but you’ve barely left your hotel.

On the upside you’ve still got a few hours left to explore The Amber Coast – named for its high concentration of that gem – stretching from just west of Puerto Plata to Cabarete on the Dominican Republic’s north shore.

It is a bastion of history and an ecotourist’s delight – a prime vacation destination.

And not to worry: those Presidente beers will still be cold when you get back to your special seat at the swim-up bar.

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Even in the rain Puerto Plata is downright photogenic.

 

FRIDAY

6 p.m.

PUT ON YOUR DANCING SHOES

Were those dance lessons the real deal? Find out at Rancho Tipico Esposade. It’s neither upscale nor glitzy but it’s popular with locals and some call it the best place in Puerto Plata to dance the merengue. Buyer beware: fills up early on weekends.

10 p.m.

SING A SONG

If you’ve tired yourself out from all that dancing but still can’t quell that internal music, stop in at Hemingway’s in the Playa Dorada Plaza. Karoake on Friday nights.  Attractive interior – lots of natural wood, shades of Key West. Can you say Mojitos?

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The gondola ascending Mount Isabelle de Torres overlooking the town of Puerto Plata.

 

SATURDAY

10 a.m.

CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN (THE EASY WAY)

So today you’re doing Puerto Plata. Ascend Mount Isabelle de Torres on the gondola – an actual literal P.P. overview. Check out the out the botanical gardens, walk through the giant ferns (a lazy man’s jungle hike) and meditate for a moment at the replica statue of Christ the Redeemer.

Maybe you’ll get lucky: sun. Or not (more likely). Fog frequently shrouds this nearly eight hundred metre promontory. When Columbus saw that mist he thought it gave the mountain a silver  – or “Plata” hue. The rest is history.

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Amber’s not the only raw material for local jewelry-makers. Artisans at Rainbow Gift Shop also use plenty of larimar, a turquoise-colored stone.

 

1 p.m. 

 SOME REALLY EXPENSIVE TREE RESIN

The Amber Museum (guided tours Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.) is a bit commercial, but you can’t do the Amber coast without learning about amber (AKA Really Expensive Fossilized Tree Resin). Some of the best – translate most transparent – amber in the world comes from the region and some of the best samples are found right here. Build in some time to check out the Victorian architecture then buy some jewelry – and watch them making it – at the Rainbow Gift Shop.

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The Cathedral of St. Philip the Apostle in the main square in P.P. is an excellent example of Art Deco architecture.

 

3 p.m.

GET THEE TO A CHURCH

In one of the oldest European settlements in the New World you’d expect to see a more ancient house of worship. Makes sense – but the original burned down. But this version of the Cathedral dedicated to St. Philip the Apostle is still a worthy pit-stop. Built under Trujillo’s regime, it is a fine example of Art Deco, boasting twin towers and a façade that could hold its own in Miami.

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A colonial fortress guards the approach to one of the D.R.’s more important northern ports. It’s also a fun attraction.

 

4 p.m.

A REALLY OLD FORT

From a historical standpoint the Fort of San Felipe is a must-do even if they don’t exactly have their act together. It’s among the oldest standing fortifications in the New World but exhibits sometimes seem an afterthought. At least you get some great views of the sea and the harbour. And the history is interesting: many Dominicans were imprisoned here during Trujillo’s reign.

6 p.m. 

TAKE A WALK 

Since you’re so close to the Malecon you’d be crazy not to take a stroll here.  Craft vendors, a multitude of local bars, some catering to visitors, most frequented by locals, spewing out tunes from rock to merengue so loud you can feel the bass pulse in the pit of your stomach. Best people-watching in Puerto Plata. Get lucky and you might even catch a beach volleyball tournament or impromptu Merengue festival.

7 p.m. 

DINNER

Consider dinner at Big Lee’s Beach Bar. The place has a great view of the sea and visitors repeatedly rave about it. Burger and fries sort of place or do rice and beans at one of the other many local eateries nearby.

9 p.m.

…AND A SHOW

With all the money you saved at dinner now you can head out to Ocean World for a show called “Bravissima” – a sort of Vegas meets Tropicana meets merengue, replete with thirty dancers and nearly two hundred costumes.

SUNDAY MORNING

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Street scene in Puerto Plata – bustling, busy, chatty.

 

10 a.m.

10. TAKE A WALK (THE SEQUEL)

Head east to Cabarete, a gorgeous beach town littered with great restaurants, bars and a multitude of beach activities. Check out the crafts sold by local vendors then do a beach walk – it’s six kilometres long – or sign up for a half-day hike to El Choco National Park.

NOON

11. MAKING LIKE HEMINGWAY (PART TWO)

Actually run by an Italian couple, Mojito Bar is right in the middle of the beach at Cabaret. The big selling point is Italian sandwiches – ten on the menu including one called the “Canada”. And, since you started out Friday with a tribute to Hemingway round out the weekend nicely. Hemingway loved Mojitos.

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Great surf on the Amber Coast. Sign up for a lesson at Cabarete or Sosua.

 

2 p.m.

12. RIDING THE WAVES

Since nearby Encuentro beach boasts some of the best surfing in the Caribbean, this could be the perfect spot to learn. Lessons at the Caribbean Surf School include a thirty-minute session on land and a two-hour on-water lesson.

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Fun to dine “tipico” at local restaurants. Even more fun to pick up a snack from a street vendor.

 

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