If you find yourselves on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic near Puerto Plata, you’ve probably come to the island via Carnival or Fathom cruise, to Amber Cove port. (Most all-inclusive resorts are located at the far tip of the island at Punta Cana.) From Amber Cove, the town of Puerta Plata is only about 10 minutes away, and well worth a visit in your exploration of the area.
You can get a ’top 10’ sort of tour through your cruise ship, but we recommend hiring a guide on your own. We used Marysol Tours, and found the experience far superior to a large bus tour.
We easily set up our day with Marysol Tours ahead of time, via email. From their site, simply go to the section on Puerto Plata city tours and email your preferred date and number in your party. We were a party of five, and had no trouble getting the day we needed. Francisco organizes the tours, and you’ll be well taken care of.
Before our tour, we told Francisco we wanted to see some of the highlights of the city, including Fort San Filipe and Central Park, but also wanted the opportunity to make some changes to the set itinerary (anticipating we’d get recommendations once on the ship). I loved that Marysol Tours welcomed this flexibility. The price (listed below) was actually less than that of the big group tour, and we had the ability to make changes on the fly.
The standard city tour includes a tour of the rum factory in town, a visit to the amber museum (this area is rich in amber), a few minutes in the old city center with its Victorian homes and church, the San Filipe fort, a cigar factory, and a walk along the Malecon (ocean front). For an extra $10 each, visitors can also go up the cable car, which is the highest in the Caribbean with views overlooking the city.
We decided we wanted to see everything except the cigar factory (which simply didn’t interest us), and we were obliged. We also skipped the cable car, since it was a foggy day, and our guide, Jesus, and driver, Ricardo, took us to a scenic overlook instead, which still gave us views of the city. At the rum factory, we were given the standard tour (with entrance fee covered), and at the city center, we visited the central square and church. This area was run down, but beautiful to see, despite some fairly aggressive locals hoping to show us around for tips. Nearby was an amber jewelry store, and we visited this instead of the museum. To us, this was more authentic because we met the jewelers and saw the process of making the jewelry they sold.
We took a San Filipe fort tour in the same manner as the run factory (Jesus left us in the hands of the on-site tour operators), and then we walked along the waterfront adjacent. All of this was well-worth seeing.
The not so great:
After we visited the fort, we asked if we could end our tour at a restaurant recommended to us. Instead, Jesus and Ricardo first took us to another restaurant on their agenda, which was far too touristy for us, and we had to firmly explain that this wasn’t what we wanted. Despite assurances that we could deviate from the planned itinerary, it took a phone call to Francisco to explain our desires. Certainly, the tour company has an agenda they are trying to stick to. However, after a phone call to Francisco, Jesus was able to take us to Maimon, the tiny town on the other side of the port, where we had been told we could find some of the best seafood in the region. We told Jesus he could leave us here to eat, as it was only a few minutes’ taxi ride from the port, but he and Ricardo kindly returned for us after our meal. And yes, our meal was the best we had in the Dominican Republic. We highly recommend La Primo in Maimon.
The totally awesome:
When Jesus and Ricardo came to pick us up, we asked them where we could find a rare tropical fruit, guanoabana. Ricardo cheerfully took us on a wild goose chase to no fewer than four roadside fruit stands to find the after-dinner treat. Finding guanoabana made our day!
The bottom line:
We had to keep our wits about us to make sure we got the tour we wanted, but once we were clear about our needs, Marysol Tours went above and beyond. We had a very good, personalized tour of Puerto Plata.
A city tour with Marysol Tours is $35 for adults and $18 for kids (free for lap children). As noted above, this is less than the pre-determined cruise excursions for a more personalized experience. Be sure to budget a little extra for a tip for your guide and driver.
Marysol Tours will pick you up at Amber Cove. During our trip, they were not an official cruise partner, so we had to meet them just outside the main gate (by the highway) instead of in the terminal. It was about a 10 minute walk from our ship.
Disclosure: We were given a media discount from Marysol Tours, for the purpose of review. I paid full price for the teens.