The neoclassical house sheltering the Museo de Ambar Dominicano also contains the densest collection of boutiques in Puerto Plata. Many of the paintings here are from neighboring Haiti, but the amber, larimar, and mahogany woodcarvings are local.
Although the marketplace at Puerto Plata hardly resembles the greater one at Santo Domingo in the Zona Colonial, the Mercado at Puerto Plata merits a visit. It lies at the corner of Avenida Isabel de Torres and Calle 2, and is open Monday to Saturday 8am to 5pm (it starts winding down after 3pm, however). Everything is sold here, from both Dominican and Haitian art (loads of it) to handicrafts, along with the inevitable T-shirts, as well as luscious fruits and vegetables. It's a photo op.
Plaza Turisol Complex, the largest shopping center on the north coast, has about 80 different outlets. You may want to make this your first stop so you can get an idea of the merchandise available in Puerto Plata. This complex also has the most upscale and tasteful merchandise. You might want to stop in here if you don't have time to visit all the shopping centers. It's about 5 minutes from Puerto Plata and Playa Dorada, on the main road heading east. Nearby is a smaller shopping center, Playa Dorada Plaza, with about 80 shops selling handicrafts, clothing, souvenirs, and gifts. Both it and the Plaza Turisol are open daily 9am to 9pm. The Amber Shop, in the Playa Dorada Plaza (tel. 809/320-2215), is associated with the Amber Museum. This shop sells the best collection of Dominican amber in town, artfully displayed on racks and on shelves. It features necklaces, pendants, bracelets, and rings crafted from amber ranging in color from oil-clear yellow to dark blue. A competitor, Galería de Ambar, Calle 12 de Julio (tel. 809/586-2101), is both a museum and shop. On the ground floor, both amber and larimar are sold along with Dominican and Haitian arts and crafts and with bottles of rum. Upstairs, a museum displays rare samples of Dominican amber, often with prehistoric insects imbedded inside. It is open Monday to Friday 8:30am to 6pm, Saturday 9am to 5:30pm, charging an admission of RD$40. Tobacco Shop, in the Playa Dorada Plaza (tel. 809/320-2216), is the best shop selling cigars around Puerto Plata. Don't overlook the benefits of cigars rolled in the Dominican Republic from tobacco grown with Cuban seeds. They're a lot less expensive than most of the Cubans, and many of them are surprisingly good. Plus, you can take them into the U.S.
Plaza Isabela, in Playa Dorada about 450m (1,500 ft.) from the entrance to the Playa Dorada Hotel complex, is a collection of small specialty shops constructed in Victorian gingerbread style, although much of its inventory has a Spanish inspiration or flair. Here you'll find the main branch of the Dominican Republic's premier jeweler, Harrison's (tel. 809/586-3933), a specialist in platinum work and a favorite with celebrities. The store has a special clearance area; tours are available. Another branch is in the Centro Comercial Playa Dorada (tel. 809/320-2219) in the Playa Dorada Hotel complex.
Back in Puerto Plata, you can also patronize Cuevas y Hermanos Fabricantes de Cigarros, Tan Tan Café, Malecón 6 (tel. 809/837-8866), open Tuesday to Sunday 1pm to midnight. This is the best outlet at which to purchase Dominican cigars, which some aficionados prefer to Cuban cigars. Those considering purchasing a box of cigars can smoke one for free.
A particularly attractive outlet for jewelry is La Canoa, Calle Beller 18 (tel. 809/586-3604). If you drop into this place, you can wander around, noting the difference between what's in front (a well-ordered, glossy-looking jewelry store) and what's in back (a much more workaday and less glossy series of workrooms where a crew of locals polishes and sets amber and larimar into gold and silver settings.) There is a wide range of prices, suitable for modest to extravagant budgets. Although there are the predictable array of gold, diamonds, and precious colored stones, our favorites are the chunks of amber -- some pale, some tawny, and some of them blue -- set into gold frames and configured as pendants, brooches, earrings, or rings.
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