I grew up in the Dominican Republic, and whenever my family wanted to take a special beach vacation away from the touristy crowds and city hustle and bustle, we would head north to the city of Puerto Plata.

Often referred to as the Amber Coast for its large deposits of amber, this destination offers visitors an long list of fun activities, including hiking mountains or bumming it at the beach. Also, I’ll admit it: In my younger days, I spent a lot of my time there embracing the party animal I once was.

Figuring out where to start your vacation in a destination that offers so much can be a bit tricky. Here are some suggestions to help plan your winter escape to this Dominican paradise.

Finding the right hotel

There are many different types of hotels in the Puerto Plata area. For those wanting a more intimate boutique hotel experience, Casa Colonial Beach and Spa offers privacy in an upscale, laid-back atmosphere. The property is so luxurious and so laid-back that it has become a favorite of celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Jimmy Carter, and Donatella Versace.

For those wanting an all-inclusive, family-friendly getaway, Grand Paradise Playa Dorada offers a long list of resort amenities, including water sports on Playa Dorada, a 15-mile stretch of beach. Suites at this hotel are fitted with kitchenettes for families or larger groups.

Viewfinder Tip: Request prices for tours offered directly through hotels, as some outside companies offer more competitive prices.

Go out and play

The best way to experience Puerto Plata is to get out and explore beyond the hotel grounds. Hikers can take on Mount Isabel de Torres and challenge themselves up the steep trails that lead to its peak, 2,656 feet above sea level.

If you’d rather not break a sweat climbing the mountain, you can ride the Teleforico, or cable car, up to the summit. From the top, on a clear day you can see all of Puerto Plata. Take your photo by the Christ the Redeemer statue (a smaller replica of the iconic statue in Rio de Janeiro), then descend to visit area shops or have a picnic. 

Another great way to spend a day: Take on the challenge course at Monkey Jungle. This adventure park has a 4,400-foot zipline and 3 suspension bridges. It also has an actual monkey sanctuary, as well as a number of caves to explore.

If you’re itching for some time at the beach, check out the area of Cabaret in the neighboring town of Sosua. This is a haven for families looking for a fun day by the sand; the area offers with access to cool shops, restaurants, and an opportunity to mingle with locals. At night the scene becomes more adult, making it one of the top nightlife destinations the country.

In addition to Playa Dorada and Cabaret, other can’t-miss beach spots in the area include Playa Confresi and Guarapitao Beach. 

View of Playa Dorada

See the city

There’s plenty to do in the city of Puerto Plata, as well. Explore the San Felipe Fort, the only structure that remains from the colonial era. Built in 1477 to help combat the pirates that often sought to invade Dominican coasts, the fort also later served as a prison, once holding Juan Pablo Duarte (one of the nation’s fathers of independence). On your way to or from the fort, be sure to walk the Malecón de Puerto Plata and soak up views of the Atlantic Ocean.

For a different experience in Puerto Plata, take the Brugal Rum Distillery tour and find out why this is the Dominican Republic’s No. 1 rum. Another great option: Visit the Amber Museum, housed in a beautiful Victorian house, a symbol of the area’s respect for cultural conservation.

There are many ways to make the most of your vacation in beautiful Puerto Plata. The local airport is close to town, so you can arrive and quickly get to enjoying the beach, food, sights, and the people. Before you head home, don’t forget to buy yourself some amber jewelry as a keepsake. Just make sure there are no mosquitos in what you buy!

What is your favorite winter escape?