Sitting on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Plata (translation: Silver Port) sits right in the middle between the tip of Cuba and San Juan, Puerto Rico. The area is steeped in history dating back literally to Christopher Columbus, who founded nearby La Isabela as the first European settlement in North America in 1493.
Today the area is a bustling city of approximately 150,000 that’s also become a popular cruise destination with multiple ports. If your cruise includes a stop in Puerto Plata, then you might be wondering what to do during your stay. We’ll cover lots of options of what to experience in Puerto Plata on your cruise, along with some helpful information about what to expect on your day in port.
Overview & What Puerto Plata Like?
Whereas many port cities in this area of the world can seem like they are there only to serve tourists, Puerto Plata is different. Tourism is a major part of the economy, but it’s also a real town.
As you would expect given the location along the coast, the beach plays a big role in the things to do and see. However, there is also history, natural scenery, and dramatic landscapes to enjoy (along with plenty of touristy things too!).
There are two different cruise ports in the area. If you are sailing on a Carnival Corporation line (Carnival, Princess, etc.), then you will dock at Amber Cove. This is a dedicated port area about six miles from the center of Puerto Plata. Built in the mid-2010s, this port is definitely touristy with manicured grounds, a pool/bar area for passengers, shops, and restaurants. You could theoretically spend the entire day here and be entertained.
The second port is the Taino Bay port, located right near the heart of the city. This port also offers the typical touristy shopping port area to passengers, but offers easy access to the sights of the city center as well.
As for the city itself, it offers up a very Latin feel. It’s bustling with tourists and locals going around the city by car, motorcycle, or walking. Buildings are built almost to the street and densely packed, as is common in older cities with Spanish influence, providing a lot to see in a small amount of space.
The surrounding areas are lush and mountainous, giving a natural beauty to the area. It’s also a chance to see the real Dominican Republic in that there are parts that are drop-dead beautiful combined with poorer areas that make you appreciate what you have at home.
That all combines to make Puerto Plata a unique place that offers an experience we found much more interesting than more “sanitized” cruise ports.
Getting Around Puerto Plata
If you plan to leave the port to explore, you have a few options for getting around.
Walking: If you dock at the port near the city center, then you can simply walk many places. For instance, from the port to Parque Central, the walk is just about 15 minutes. It’s another 10-15 minutes to spots like the beachfront and even less time to the famous Umbrella Street and Paseo de Dona Blanca (more on these spots below).
Taxi: If you don’t want to walk or you are docked at Amber Cove, then a taxi is an option. Just know that rates are expensive. A sign posted shows the fixed rates. A ride from Amber Cove to Puerto Plata is $35 each way for up to five passengers. That’s for a trip that’s only about six miles. Still, given Amber Cove’s setup, there really isn’t another option unless taking an excursion.
Shore Excursions: Booking a shore excursion to go out and explore the area? Then your transportation will be included in the trip. Given that the cost of a taxi is fairly high, it’s something that you should consider when pricing out things to do. Having a ride to and from the port included isn’t just convenient, it can save you money.
Things to Do in Puerto Plata on a Cruise
Below we cover a number of things to do while you are in port on your cruise.
Visiting Amber Cove
Sailing on Carnival (or a sister cruise line)? Then you’ll dock at Amber Cove (see our guide to the port here). The port area is built as a literal playground for passengers. On one side is a number of shops to explore, a photo opp in front of the ship, and restaurants. The other side includes a large pool area with loungers, a swim-up bar, zipline, waterslides, and a splash pad for small kids. There are also other amenities to rent, from a wi-fi day pass to kayaks to cabanas. In short, you can spend your entire day here in the shadow of the ship if you want.
Visiting Taino Bay
Sailing another cruise line like NCL, Royal Caribbean, MSC, or Virgin Voyages? Then you will dock at the Taino Bay port, right near the center of Puerto Plata. Like Amber Cove, it also provides a lot for passengers to enjoy without going far. There are shops, restaurants, and bars, along with a pool area and man-made beach (though no open water swimming) that offers views of the ship. If you’re wanting to stay close to the ship, this is an easy way to spend the day. Just know that the port area can get crowded.
Isabel de Torres (Cristo Redentor Statue)
Just south of Puerto Plata sits Isabel de Torres — a tree-covered mountain that overlooks the city and the sea. An excursion can take you here (or take the cable car, covered below). It’s a national park and features a walk through beautiful forest and manicured grounds. Here atop the mountain it can be breezy and 20 degrees cooler than at sea level, so be sure to dress a little warmer. But the payoff is the view of the city below and the chance to see Cristo Redentor — a statue of Christ with arms spread that watches over the port.
Located near Parque Central, if you’re wanting an “Instagram” spot, this is one of two must-sees. It’s a small cross street that’s closed to traffic and a metal frame structure has been built over it. There, dozens of colorful umbrellas are hung above the street creating a unique area that’s pedestrian-friendly, with small shops to explore, colorful umbrellas, and beautiful bougainvillea plants adding to the atmosphere.
Paseo de Dona Blanca
We mentioned one of two “must-sees” for the most photo-worthy sports. The first is Umbrella Street. The second is Paseo de Dona Blanca. It’s literally a half-block from Umbrella Street, and right near the center of town, making both spots popular to visit at once. What’s special about this alleyway is that it’s pink. We don’t mean a little pink. We mean from the roof of buildings down to the walkway, everything is painted a bright pink. It’s a short walk through the alley, but it’s a unique spot that you can’t miss.
Teleferico to Isabel de Torres (Cable Car)
We mentioned Isabel de Torres — the mountain that overlooks the city with stunning views. There are two ways up. First, you can drive up, or you can take a cable car (also known as the Teleferico). The entrance is about a mile from the cruise port in town. From here you can hop aboard the car for the ride to the top, providing stunning views as you do. Once there, you’ll be right at the Christ the Redeemer statue and can tour the mountain top before heading back down.
You can think of Ocean World as a Puerto Plata version of SeaWorld. It’s a popular spot to enjoy with families as there is lots for kids to do and it sits roughly in the middle between the two cruise ports in the area. You can purchase a day pass (or book an excursion through the cruise line) that gives you access to snorkeling, animal shows, beach, pool, and waterslides. In addition, there are other opportunities to do things like swim with dolphins, or shark and sea lion encounters for an extra cost.
In Puerto Plata there are plenty of beaches — the entire city sits on the coast. But one of the neatest is Playa Neptuno. That’s because sitting off the coast is a small island about 1,000 feet from shore. There is an imposing statue of Neptune erected that looks back over the beach. Perhaps best of all, this beach area is much calmer and quieter than the busy port areas if you’re looking for a place to swim.
Fort San Felipe
We’ve mentioned the history in Puerto Plata, but unfortunately much has been lost to time. One spot that remains is Fortaleza San Felipe. It sits overlooking the Taino Bay cruise port, and when it was built in 1577, it served to protect the harbor from pirates. These days you can tour the fort or just explore the park that surrounds it, with views of the ships, the ocean, and lots of green space.
Jurassic Park fans may remember one of the opening scenes where a mine in the Dominican Republic finds a piece of amber with a mosquito trapped inside. That led to the cloning of dinosaurs and the invention of the park. These days, amber is a big part of Puerto Plata’s history and culture. You’ll find it for sale in many shops. If you want to know more, you can check out the Amber Museum, which includes a chance to see pieces with historic animals, plants, and insects encased inside.
In most Latin American cities, there is a central plaza that serves as the heart of the city. Puerto Plata fits that bill as well. Parque Central is an open square with seating, vendors, historic statues, and all lined by Spanish colonial architecture including a massive church. Have a seat and you can people watch to your heart’s content. It also serves as a great starting point for exploring the downtown area.
Catamaran Sail & Snorkel
Sure there is lots of history and culture in the area. But when you’re on a cruise, sometimes you just want to party a bit. In that case, look for shore excursions being offered by the cruise line for catamaran sailing with snorkeling. These trips will pick you up, take you on a catamaran ride to a snorkel spot. After a round of snorkeling, it’s back on the ship for lunch, open bar, and music. It’s a fun way to spend the day on the water having a great time.
All-Inclusive Beach Day
Another way to spend the day is with a shore excursion to one of the many all-inclusive resorts in the area. Check your cruise line’s listing of offers. They will likely have 2-3 different options that include time at a beach with food and drinks served. It can be an easy way to spend some time enjoying yourself without the crowds that you’ll find in the port areas.
One of the natural wonders of the area is Damajagua Waterfalls. If you’re wanting an adventure along with something that you can’t do anywhere else, this is it. Your cruise line will have an excursion to the area, which takes you into the forest. You’ll be given a helmet and life jacket, hike into the area where waterfalls and natural pools of water are found. From there, you can slide down the falls or jump off the small cliffs (there are also ladders available). It’s not ideal for small kids or older folks, but those looking for adventure will love it.
Puerto Plata Cruise Tips & Things to Know
If you’re visiting Puerto Plata on a cruise, here are some tips and things to know that can make your day run smoother.
Factor in Ride Costs on Shore Excursions
If you’re looking at an excursion and wondering if you can do it cheaper on your own… likely not. That’s because taxi prices in the area are ridiculously high. A ride from Amber Cove to the city center is only about 6-7 miles but costs $70 round trip. Keep that in mind when considering what you plan to do for the day.
Free Wi-fi in Port
If you’re in port, look around for shops or restaurants offering wi-fi services. As a perk to get you in the door, many offer up wi-fi access for no charge, giving you a chance to check email or get in touch back home for cheap.
Photo Opportunities Are Everywhere
If you want to get a picture in front of the ship, you’re in luck. Both ports offer lots of opportunities to get a souvenir shot. Amber Cove, for instance, features a massive sign that you can stand between, with the cruise ship over your shoulder.
An Easy Rule for Exchange Rates
The U.S. dollar is widely accepted in Puerto Plata, but many things are priced only in Dominican pesos. If you’re wondering about the exchange rate, it’s currently around 55 pesos to 1 dollar. While it’s not perfect, an easy rule of thumb is to just double the price in Dominican pesos and then put a decimal point two places in. So if something is priced at 350 pesos, double it to 700 and then put a decimal two spots in for $7.00. A t-shirt costing 1,300 pesos comes out to roughly $26.00 in U.S. dollars. It’s not perfect, but an easy way to ballpark costs.
Heading to Explore Town? Take Screenshots of a Map Before You Leave
One easy thing to do in port is simply walk around the downtown area, exploring on your own or seeing the sights like Paseo de Dona Blanco or the town square. If you decide to do this, it’s smart to take screenshots of the area on your mapping app for your phone. This way, even if you don’t have service you will have a map to refer to in order to get around town.
Try to Visit Umbrella Street Early
One of the most popular sights in the city is Umbrella Street, but if you’re going to visit, then it’s a good idea to try and go earlier in the day. Given its popularity, the place can fill up in the afternoon when everyone is out and about. An earlier visit should give you more time for pictures without having too many other people in the shot.
Public Beaches Are Everywhere
If you just want to hang on the beach, then there are a number of public beaches around. However, the port areas themselves don’t offer public beach access. You’ll have to go outside the port to hit the sand and surf. You can walk the avenue that runs along the coast until you find a spot you like. As well, many beaches have a number of restaurants and beach bars where you can also have a bite to eat in the shade.
Amber Cove Passengers Will Need a Ride Anywhere
While passengers in Taino Bay can simply walk into town, if you’re docked at Amber Cove (for Carnival ships), then no such luck. Here the walk from the ship to out of the port’s gate is roughly half a mile. And after that there isn’t anything else within walking distance. That means if you’re wanting to go explore, you’ll need to pay a taxi fare or book an excursion.
You Can Easily Spend All Day in Port Areas (But You’ll Miss Out)
Not feeling adventurous? Or maybe you just want to have a low-key day. In that case, you absolutely can have a full day without leaving the port area. Both Taino Bay and Amber Cove offer areas for passengers tp enjoy without ever leaving the port. This includes pools, shopping, and restaurants. To be sure, this isn’t the real Puerto Plata or Dominican Republic, and we think you’ll miss out on a lot by not getting out and exploring. But if you want it easy, it doesn’t get any easier.
Be Ready for Rain
In total, Puerto Plata gets about 60 inches of rain a year. The good news is that during the busy summer months of June-September, it’s fairly dry with only 2-3 inches of rain on average per month. But November through May see anywhere from 5 inches up to 9 inches (November and December) on average each month. In other words, if visiting in the winter, pack a rain jacket just in case.