209km (130 miles) NW of Santo Domingo

The city of Puerto Plata has only a few tourist attractions (albeit considerably more than what's in Punta Cana, its leading rival). Although it's defined as the administrative and cultural centerpiece of the region, it must simply watch as most of the tourist business heads to its eastern and western peripheries, notably to Playa Dorada and Costa Dorada, to the east, and to Cofresi, to the west. Nonetheless, it's a valued symbol of an entity whose value revolves around more than tourism, providing a kind of balance between U.S., Canadian, and European newcomers and an established Dominican infrastructure. Most of the other newly emerging Dominican resort areas, such as Punta Cana, don't have as large or prominent a settlement nearby, and often, labor has had to be imported into relatively new communities from other parts of the country.

Chances are high that you'll be staying outside the city center, but consider a visit to Puerto Plata's restaurants, bars, shops, and its historic colonial-era fort, plus a walk along its oceanfront promenade, El Malecón. Sometimes you can see dolphins frolicking offshore or a humpback whale in winter.

Puerto Plata also contains the Dominican Republic's best shopping outlets for amber and, to a lesser degree, larimar. The town also contains one of the country's only cable cars, from the top of which visitors have dramatic views of the north coast.

Playa Dorada and its immediate neighbor, Costa Dorada, beginning only 1km (2/3 mile) east of Puerto Plata, share between the two of them about 15 hotels, most of them all-inclusive; a gorgeous beach of golden sand; plus an 18-hole golf course, a shopping mall, and a range of ancillary sporting venues, bars, dance clubs, restaurants, at least two casinos, and several additional diversions. They're accessible by driving east from Puerto Plata along the coastal road.

Some savvy visitors are bypassing Playa Dorada with its mass appeal and heading about 5km (3 miles) east of Puerto Plata to Playa Cofresi, site of the newly expanded Ocean World and an all-new blockbuster real-estate and resort development, Sun Village. On Sundays, islanders themselves pour into Playa Cofresi, turning the beach here into a giant house party, with the eating, drinking, picnicking, barbecues, and merengue lasting well into the night.