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Cable car delivers a picture-perfect outing

For impressive views of Puerto Plata, its harbor, sparkling coastline and verdant hillsides, climb aboard the only cable car in the Caribbean and indulge in a panoramic feast.

Puerto Plata cable car. Photo courtesy of Dominican Ministry of Tourism

Puerto Plata cable car. Photo courtesy of Dominican Ministry of Tourism

The Teleférico (Spanish for cable car) shuttles passengers up the 782-meter (2,565-foot) Isabele de Torres Mountain, named after the benefactor-queen of Christopher Columbus. An imposing view from most anywhere in Puerto Plata, the mountain has been declared a nature reserve due to its great variety of flora and fauna.

The pleasant, eight-minute ride eases visitors out of the base station and up and over rooftops, schoolyards and playgrounds. Before long only dense, tropical greenery lies ahead, and, as the ascent progresses, a broad, coastal vista unfolds.

As the 20-passenger car steadily climbs, the weather changes, too, with the temperature dropping pleasantly.

Foggy mist may obscure views on the mountain approach, giving travelers an eerie sensation as the cabin glides through a white-cotton blanket. When the station nears, a 10-meter (33-foot) Christ the Redeemer statue comes into a view from its perch at the summit.

The smaller version of Brazil’s famous 30-meter (99-foot) sculpture stands with outstretched arms atop a white dome, built as a small fortress in the days of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. Gift shops now pack the space.

In addition to the stunning views of the shimmering Atlantic coast, a lush tropical garden and lagoon also await at the peak, as do a full restaurant and walk-up refreshment stand (soft drinks, cocktails and snacks). Restrooms are available both at the base and peak. Visitors can spend a few minutes or a few hours enjoying the tranquil setting.

Opened in 1975, the Teleférico operates seven days a week, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cost is $10 (USD) for adults; free or reduced admission for children. Visitors can also take a difficult hike to the summit or arrive by car, but there’s nothing like the round trip aboard the cable car.

Find a little of everything on the Malecón

Looking along the scenic Malecón in Puerto Plata. Photo courtesy of the Dominican Ministry of Tourism

The Malecón hugs the coast in Puerto Plata. Photo courtesy of Dominican Ministry of Tourism

A must-see destination on the North Coast, Puerto Plata’s Malecón is a scenic, three-kilometer (one-mile) promenade hugging the Atlantic Ocean and its golden-sand beaches.

Lined with small, friendly bars, the route begins at La Puntilla park, anchored by the historic San Felipe Fort, a 16th century landmark, and a 24-meter (78-foot) lighthouse, built in 1879. A new amphitheater, which accommodates up to 4,000 patrons, also occupies the site. A sculpture of military hero Gen. Gregorio Luperón on his horse greets arriving visitors.

The Malecón culminates at the stretch of shore known as Long Beach, named by U.S. military occupiers in the early 1900s. A bronze replica of Michelangelo’s statue of David stands at a nearby intersection.

There’s plenty to see along the way. Photo ops include mighty Neptune, Roman god of the sea, who overlooks the city from a rocky perch offshore; colorful fishing boats bobbing in the shallow surf; and the city’s historic fire station, an architectural gem.

Snacks and cold drinks are never out of reach, as small, friendly bars line the wide, breezy walkway. Strolling vendors sell candies, shaved-ice drinks, fresh coconut milk and more.

Under the shade of sea grape and almond trees, locals play spirited games of dominoes while others — Dominicans and expatriates alike — enjoy a peaceful spot to meet and mingle. Joggers and cyclists use a protected lane alongside the malecón.

Soon after sundown, the beachside joints lock their shutters and the activity shifts to the other side of the four-lane highway, where bars, dance clubs and restaurants cater to nighttime crowds.

Planning for the Malecón dates to 1917 but not until 1971 were the broad avenue and ample sidewalk built; the route was remodeled in 2006.

Free music education reaches more than 200 North Coast kids

Previously on the waiting list for free music education, dozens of additional students are taking classes in guitar, drums, piano and violin in FEDUJAZZ’s new center in Cabarete.

FEDUJAZZ, the music education foundation of the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival, increased enrollment this year by 73 students for a total of nearly 225 North Coast children.

The programs, divided into five age groups for kids 7-18, aim to educate children with structured music programs that enhance their education and increase their opportunities in life.

Berklee Global Jazz Institute brings kids to their feet. Photo: Matt Bokor

Berklee Global Jazz Institute leads workshop for kids in 2014

The annual Dominican Republic Jazz Festival not only provides five nights of free concerts, many of its performers lead daytime music workshops for children. During the 2015 festival, over 1,500 schoolchildren attended music workshops presented by renowned musicians.

Coming up in November, the 20th anniversary of Dominican Republic Jazz Festival will include a show in Santo Domingo. This will be the first time the event, a North Coast fixture, will be presented in the nation’s capital. Festival dates and cities are:

• Nov. 8, Santo Domingo

• Nov. 9, Santiago

• Nov. 10, Puerto Plata

• Nov. 11 & 12, Cabarete

Since its inception, the festival has presented internationally renowned Latin Grammy and Grammy Award-winning musicians such as Ignacio Berroa, Joe Lovano, Chuck Mangione, Ray Baretto, Nestor Torres, Chucho Valdes, Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez and Arturo Sandoval among many other talents.

The event, the largest of its type in the Caribbean, is presented by FEDUJAZZ and the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism.

New port welcomes 5,000 visitors a week to Puerto Plata

Since its first ship docked in October 2015, the Amber Cove Cruise Center has been welcoming more than 5,000 passengers per week to Puerto Plata while adding hundreds of workers to the region’s payroll.

When passengers disembark, their first sight is a verdant mountain range, which provides a scenic backdrop as they make their way into the 30-acre port.

Carnival Valor visits Amber Cove Cruise Center

Carnival Valor visits Amber Cove Cruise Center

Carnival Corporation’s $65 million development was designed with architectural elements that blend the bright and breezy Caribbean style with the North Shore’s colonial heritage, such as distinctive turrets similar to those at nearby San Felipe Fort, a 16th century landmark in Puerto Plata.

Named after the fossilized resin that’s common in the area, Amber Cove offers an extensive shore excursion program with dozens of landside experiences for passengers to enjoy during their daylong stop. Choices include beaches, water sports and special culinary, cultural and adventure options. Ocean World, one of the region’s largest marine adventure parks, offers guests many ways to experience and interact with a variety of marine animals.

Cruise passengers also have easy access to historic Puerto Plata, named by none other than Christopher Columbus, who established the nearby La Isabela settlement in 1493 during his second visit to the island. In Puerto Plata, visitors can check out museums and artist studios; view classic Victorian architecture; experience rum and cigar factories; or stroll along the scenic malecón, a three-mile, beach-side boardwalk dotted with bars, restaurants and shops.

Passengers who remain at Amber Cove are hardly high and dry. One of the central attractions is a 300,000-gallon pool, complete with swim-up bar surrounded by 30 submerged barstools. A spiral waterslide and zipline are also popular at the Aqua Zone.

Visitors can rent kayaks, standup paddleboards and canoes to explore the blue-green waters of the Bay of Maimón. They can also travel via speedboat to Paradise Island, one of the Caribbean’s top spots for snorkeling and scuba diving.

Passengers can rent over-water bungalows. Photo by Matt Bokor

Rental bungalows are available. Photo by Matt Bokor

For a luxury experience, private bungalows are available for six to 20 guests, complete with the services of a personal chef, bartender and staff. Seven pastel-colored, thatch-roof cabanas are perched over the water, linked by a wooden walkway; others are nestled poolside and hillside.

There’s shopping, of course, such as a Dominican artisan market with a dozen booths stocked with locally produced crafts, amber and larimar jewelry, cigars and coffee among the usual selection of souvenir caps, T-shirts and trinkets. Another four kiosks with Dominican products are sprinkled throughout the development. Plus there are freestanding jewelry, apparel and travel stores, a pharmacy, and a tempting duty-free emporium.

Amber Cove’s drinking and dining options include two full-service Coco Caña restaurants, bars and shops; the hilltop Sky Bar, which offers a panoramic view of the bay, port and pier; and pool-side and cabana-side bars.

Even before it opened, Amber Cove represented an economic shot in the arm for the North Coast, starting with three years of construction to revive Puerto Plata as a cruise destination after a 30-year hiatus. Today some 600 people work there — 92 in port operations and management, with 500-plus at the shops, restaurants and attractions.

Port encompasses 30 acres

Port encompasses 30 acres

Overseeing it all is Amber Cove General Manager Mouen Al Mawla, better known as Mo, a veteran of the hospitality industry — putting to good use his hospitality degree from Cornell University.

Born in Lebanon, Mo was raised in Aruba and has lived in New York, California and Florida. Before becoming Amber Cove’s first general manager, he was director of operations and food and beverage for the Bristol Hospitality Group in Panama.

His global travels had already taken him to La Romana, Punta Cana and Santo Domingo but not until Mo landed the Amber Cove job had he experienced Puerto Plata.

“I came to work, it was my first visit and I fell in love with the place,” he said.

And that’s how the Dominican tourism industry hopes all Amber Cove visitors will react when they discover the North Coast.

American Airlines adds Charlotte-Puerto Plata flight

Just in time for the 2015 holiday season, American Airlines has started nonstop service to Puerto Plata from Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina.

Operating on Saturdays, the new flight to Gregorio Luperón International Airport is among eight additional routes American offers through the Caribbean, Mexico and Latin America. The first Charlotte-Puerto Plata nonstop was Dec. 19; the flights are scheduled aboard Airbus 319 aircraft, which seats 124 total.

Charlotte is American’s second-busiest hub, after Dallas/Fort Worth.

American has also added new Saturday service to Punta Cana from Charlotte and from Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

19th Dominican Republic Jazz Festival delights music lovers

Josean Jocobo

Dominican piano man Josean Jocobo. Photo courtesy of the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival.

The 19th edition of the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival brought five nights of free concerts to the Dominican North Coast recently, delighting an estimated 12,650 music patrons in four cities.

Presented by FEDUJAZZ and the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism, the Nov. 4-8 festival featured an all-star lineup of outstanding musicians who performed in Santiago, Sosúa, Puerto Plata and Cabarete.

Artists for the 2015 festival included Grammy Award winners David Sanchez (Puerto Rico) and John Patitucci (USA), and the Grammy-nominated Pedrito Martinez Group, along with other outstanding talents: Josean Jacobo (Dominican Republic), Roy Assaf Trio (Israel), Berklee Global Jazz Institute (USA), Javier Vargas and The Big Band Conservatory of Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) with special guests Jim Kelly, Jim Odgren and Jason Camelio (USA).

Additional prominent artists included the Student Loan String Band (USA), Manuel Tejada (Dominican Republic), Mario Canonge Trio (France) and Pengbian Sang and Retro Jazz (Dominican Republic).

Pedrito Martinez Group

Grammy-nominated Pedrito Martinez Group. Photo courtesy of the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival.

The largest free event of its kind in the Caribbean, the festival also paid homage to several of its own beloved national treasures, with tributes to renowned Dominican saxophone players and composers / arrangers Juan Colón, Sandy Gabriel and Crispin Fernandez.

In addition to delighting jazz lovers at the evening shows, several of the artists led daytime music workshops for more than 1,500 North Coast schoolchildren.

FEDUJAZZ, the music education foundation of the festival, currently provides 150 local children with free, ongoing music education and training at its new center in Cabarete.

In December, FEDUJAZZ will expand its music programs to include 73 children now on the waiting list. The programs will be divided into five age groups: 7 to 8 year olds, 8 to 9 year olds, 10 to 11 year olds, 12 to 14 year olds and 15 to 18 year olds.

The festival has also announced an exciting, new alliance with the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. Matt Marvuglio, dean of the college’s Performance Division, and Marco Pignataro, college managing director, will join the festival’s Artistic Advisory Board, beginning with selection of artists for the 2016 event. Mr. Marvuglio and Mr. Pignataro will also serve as FEDUJAZZ advisors.

Since its inception, the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival has presented internationally renowned Latin Grammy and Grammy Award-winning musicians from around the world. This enriching addition to the diverse culture of the country allows for visitors and locals alike to enjoy all forms of jazz in the beautiful setting of the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic Jazz Festival will celebrate its 20th edition in 2016 on the following dates:

• Nov. 8 – Santo Domingo

• Nov. 9 – Santiago

• Nov. 10 – Puerto Plata

• Nov. 11 & 12 – Cabarete

Sponsors for the 2015 festival included Ron Macorix, JetBlue, the U.S. Embassy, Berklee Global Jazz Institute, Gratereaux Delva & Associates Law Firm, Sea Horse Ranch Luxury Resort, Ultravioleta Boutique Residences, Millennium Resort & Spa, Casa Linda, the Municipality of Sosua, Cibao Recycling and Ban Reservas.

For more information, visit www.drjazzfestival.com.

Talented lineup headlines 19th Dominican Republic Jazz Festival

Internationally renowned musicians from Cuba, France, Israel, Puerto Rico, the USA and, of course, the Dominican Republic will take the stage at the 19th Dominican Republic Jazz Festival, which will bring five nights of free concerts, Nov. 4-8, to Santiago, Sosúa, Puerto Plata and Cabarete.19th Dominican Republic Jazz Festival

Presented by FEDUJAZZ and the Dominican Ministry of Tourism, the highly anticipated cultural event is the longest-running jazz festival in the Caribbean.

In addition to the talented lineup, festival organizers announced that Matt Marvuglio, dean of the performance division at Berklee College of Music (Boston, Massachusetts), and Marco Pignataro, managing director of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, are joining the Artistic Advisory Board for the festival and will serve as advisors to FEDUJAZZ, the education foundation that provides free music education for Dominican youth.

Since its inception, the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival has presented internationally renowned Latin Grammy and Grammy Award-winning musicians such as Ignacio Berroa, Joe Lovano, Chuck Mangione, Ray Baretto, Néstor Torres, Chucho Valdés, Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez and Arturo Sandoval among many other talents.

The festival is free, but VIP tickets are available, enabling priority seating, complimentary beverages and other perks, with proceeds benefiting FEDUJAZZ. Here’s the lineup:

Wednesday, Nov. 4, 8 p.m. – Santiago, Centro Leon

  • Big Band Conservatory of Santo Domingo with Javier Vargas (Dominican Republic) featuring special Guests Jim Kelly, Jim Odgren and Jason Camelio (USA)
  • Tribute to Juan Colon (Dominican Republic)
  • Student Loan String Band (USA)

Thursday, Nov. 5, 8 p.m. – Sosúa, Casa Marina Amphitheater

  • Big Band Conservatory of Santo Domingo with Javier Vargas (Dominican Republic) featuring special guests Jim Kelly, Jim Odgren and Jason Camelio (USA)
  • Roy Assaf Trio (Israel)

Friday, Nov. 6, 8 p.m. – Puerto Plata, Plaza Independencia

  • Manuel Tejada (Dominican Republic)
  • Berklee Global Jazz Institute (USA)
  • Tribute to Sandy Gabriel (Dominican Republic)
  • David Sánchez Quintet (Puerto Rico)

Saturday, Nov. 7, 8 p.m. – Cabarete Beach

  • Youth Concerts – Noon (Dominican Republic)
  • Josean Jacobo (Dominican Republic)
  • John Patitucci (USA)

Sunday, Nov. 8, 8 p.m. – Cabarete Beach

  • Mario Canonge Trio (France)
  • Pengbian Sang and Retro Jazz (Dominican Republic)
  • Tribute to Crispin Fernandez (Dominican Republic)
  • Pedrito Martinez Group (Cuba)

The FEDUJAZZ music program aims to provide children with free music programs that enhance their overall education and increase life opportunities. Currently there are over 150 students attending free music classes at the new center in Cabarete. Additionally, over 1,000 schoolchildren from the North Coast of the Dominican Republic participate in the music workshops jazz festival musicians.

The 19th Dominican Republic Jazz Festival is presented by the Ministry of Tourism, and sponsors include Ron Macorix, JetBlue, the U.S. Embassy, Berklee Global Jazz Institute, Gratereaux Delva & Associates Law Firm, Sea Horse Ranch Luxury Resort, Ultravioleta Boutique Residences, Millennium Resort & Spa, Casa Linda, the Municipality of Sosúa, Cibao Recycling and BanReservas.

Puerto Plata: The Caribbean’s newest cruise destination

Puerto Plata welcomed its first cruise ship in nearly 30 years on Oct. 6 when the Carnival Victory, carrying nearly 3,000 guests, docked at the new Amber Cove Cruise Center.

Carnival Victory at Amber Cove Cruise Center. Photo courtesy of the Dominican Ministry of Tourism.

Carnival Victory at Amber Cove Cruise Center. Photo courtesy of the Dominican Ministry of Tourism.

Visitors received a colorful welcome as they arrived at the 30-acre cruise center, which features bars, restaurants, retail outlets and an elaborate pool area with water slides that guests can enjoy for free.

Representatives of nearby Ocean World greeted passengers with a sign: “You are the first group of cruise ship clients in our history.”  Dancers in colorful, traditional dress performed as guests strolled through the plaza.

The Victory was the first eight Carnival ships that will call at Amber Cove during the port’s inaugural season. Ships from Holland America, Princess and Costa will also bring guests to Amber Cove. Starting in April, Carnival Corp.’s new fathom brand will bring the first bi-weekly “social impact” cruises to Amber Cove from Miami.

The Caribbean’s newest destination, Amber Cove will be able to accommodate up to 8,000 cruise passengers and 2,000 crew members daily. The two-berth facility on the Bay of Maimon is expected to host more than 250,000 cruise passengers in its first year of operation. A transportation hub allows visitors easy access by land and sea to nearby destinations.

A joint project between Carnival Corp. & plc and the Rannik family of Grupo B&R, the more than $65 million project was designed to re-establish the Dominican Republic’s North Shore as a popular cruise destination.

Puerto Plata amphitheater on target for March completion

Construction of a waterfront, 3,500-seat amphitheater in Puerto Plata should be completed by the end of March 2015, according to a recent update from the Ministry of Tourism.

Artist's rendering of new Puerto Plata amphitheater. Image courtesy of Ministry of Tourism

Artist’s rendering of new Puerto Plata amphitheater. Image courtesy of Ministry of Tourism

Adjacent to the historic San Felipe fortress, the nearly $6 million (USD) project is reshaping the entire Puntilla del Malecón, which will become even more of a cultural destination for tourists and locals alike.

Another facet of the project, which began in early 2014, includes repairs and repainting of historic, Victorian architecture that is sprinkled throughout Puerto Plata.

As Tourism Ministry leaders had hoped, the work will be completed well ahead of the opening of the new Amber Cove Cruise Center, just west of Puerto Plata at the Bay of Maimon. The first cruise ship, the Carnival Victory, is scheduled to arrive for a daylong call on Oct. 6. Thousands of passengers will disembark for excursions throughout Puerto Plata province.

Construction of amphitheater. Photo courtesy of Ministry of Tourism

Construction of amphitheater. Photo courtesy of Ministry of Tourism

Ungodly ordeal ends for mighty Neptune

NeptuneWith trident at his side, mighty Neptune rules the sea once again from his rocky perch just off the beach in Puerto Plata.

Installed in 1971 under the administration of longtime President Joaquín Balaguer, the 22-foot-tall bronze sculpture became known as the guardian of the harbor, the mascot of the community. Even so, the Roman god of the sea endured decades of indignities, including two falls and several amputations by metal thieves, before his recent return to grandeur.

Regional Tourism Ministry Director Lorenzo Sancassi and Ministry Architect Acalia Kunhardt provided a chronology:

Around 1979, Neptune fell but was soon righted, thanks to a generous expatriate (known only as Mr. Charlie) who footed the bill. It wasn’t long before he started a gradual tilt and in finally toppled again onto the jagged rocks.

The fire department hauled the fallen lord to its yard for storage, but metal thieves picked at the languishing sculpture like buzzards on road kill. Trident? Gone. Two fingers, amputated. The tail of the fish on which he rested a foot also vanished. Someone even lopped off Neptune’s manhood.

He found some respite after his transfer from the fire department to the more-secure police department headquarters. As his adoring public grew impatient for his return, Neptune was trucked up to the foot of Mount Isabel de Torres. There, at the base of the scenic Teleférico (cable lift), the long-awaited repairs began.

Neptune stands 22 feet tall atop his craggy islet off Puerto Plata's malecón. Photo by Matt Bokor

Neptune stands 22 feet tall atop his craggy islet off Puerto Plata’s malecón. Photo by Matt Bokor

Metallurgists from nearby Santiago, the country’s second-largest city, worked for five months to replicate Neptune’s missing parts, patch gouges, fix dents and install durable, spine-like supports (namely, three steel pipes filled with concrete). The Teleférico operators, Tourism Ministry and community donations covered the roughly $30,000 repair bill.

Restored and reinforced, Neptune rode down the mountain by truck to the sprawling seaside resort of Playa Dorada for his triumphal return. At five tons, however, Neptune was too heavy for the military helicopter that was enlisted to whisk him home. After being trucked to the city’s port, he traveled by barge to his craggy islet in September 2013.

Secured by four cables and bolted atop a sturdy mount, Neptune underwent another month of adjustments before a festive lighting ceremony formally ended his ungodly ordeal.

Dominican Republic Jazz Festival delights audiences

Pat Pereyra y su Banda, Rafelito Mirabal, Guy Frometa & guest Alex Jacquemin. Photo courtesy of Dominican Republic Jazz Festival

Pat Pereyra y su Banda, Rafelito Mirabal, Guy Frometa & guest Alex Jacquemin. Photo courtesy of Dominican Republic Jazz Festival

By Matt Bokor

Music lovers from around the country and around the world enjoyed four nights of free concerts by internationally acclaimed musicians at the 18th annual Dominican Republic Jazz Festival, which brought performances to Puerto Plata, Sosúa and Cabarete Beach Nov. 6-9.

Known for its legendary performers and seaside venue, the festival came off better than scripted this year.

Rafael Solano performs 'Por Amor.' Photo courtesy of Dominican Republic Jazz Festival

Rafael Solano performs ‘Por Amor.’ Photo courtesy of Dominican Republic Jazz Festival

For starters several days of rain ended just in time, allowing the full moon to bathe the North Shore in its glow. And after the Jazz Festival presented an award to beloved Dominican composer-pianist Rafael Solano, 83, he unexpectedly took a seat at the grand piano and performed his famous love song, “Por Amor,” to the delight of the Saturday night audience at Cabarete Beach.

Throughout the weekend audiences soaked up the sounds of Colin Hunter & Joe Sealy’s Quartet (Canada); Ignacio Berroa Group (USA) with Giovanni Hidalgo (Puerto Rico); Berklee Global Jazz Institute (USA); Ramón Vázquez TríoS (Puerto Rico); Big Band Conservatory of Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic); Patricia Pereyra and Band with special guest Alex Jacquemin (France); Edgar Molina (Dominican Republic); the Joe Lovano Quartet (USA); and more.

Krency Garcia, El Prodigio, performs. Photo: Felix Corona

Krency Garcia, El Prodigio, performs. Photo: Felix Corona

Accordionist Krency Garcia, “El Prodigio,” made a special appearance, adding his merengue típico music to the mix. La Familia Andre, the popular Dominican fusion band, closed out the festival Sunday night.

Lorenzo Sancassi, tourism minister for the Puerto Plata province and a driving force behind the event, said the festival’s 18-year history makes it “the oldest of its kind in the country. The festival has endured, and provided immense joy and culture to both Dominicans and tourists who gather in our country to enjoy this magnificent event and the appeal of our island.”

Coinciding with the Dominican Republic’s Constitution Day holiday, the Jazz Festival goes beyond entertainment and into education through its affiliation with FEDUJAZZ, a non-profit organization that conducts musical workshops for youth. Motivating and developing young artistic talent, FEDUJAZZ has partnered with local organizations such as Sosúa City Council to further assist in the education of Dominican children, using jazz as the teaching platform.

Grammy winner Joe Lovano leads a children's workshop. Photo: Felix Corona

Grammy winner Joe Lovano leads a children’s workshop. Photo: Felix Corona

As part of the 2014 festival, hundreds of North Shore schoolchildren attended entertaining, educational sessions where the artists shared their love of music and explained how easy it is for the kids to find music in their lives.

“It was special, being on the beach, in front of 200 to 300 kids,” said Joe Lovano, a Grammy Award-winning saxophonist who led a workshop Saturday morning. “I felt like I was connecting with them. I could see I was reaching them in a certain way.”

Sponsors for the 18th Dominican Republic Jazz Festival included Ron Macorix, JetBlue, the United States Embassy, Berklee Global Jazz Institute, Sea Horse Ranch Luxury Resort, Ultravioleta, Millennium Resort & Spa, Casa Linda, the Municipality of Sosúa and Cibao Recycling.

Mark your calendar for the festival’s 19th edition: Nov. 5-8, 2015. For more visit drjazzfestival.com.

Colin Hunter with saxophonist Alison Young. Photo courtesy of Dominican Republic Jazz Festival

Colin Hunter with saxophonist Alison Young. Photo courtesy of Dominican Republic Jazz Festival

Damajagua volunteer Joe Kennedy re-elected to Congress

U.S. Rep. Joseph Patrick Kennedy III, a former Peace Corps volunteer who worked on sustainable tourism for Damajagua Falls, has been re-elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Kennedy, a Democrat who represents Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District, coasted to a second term on Nov. 4 with no opposition.

Joe Kennedy

Joe Kennedy waves to crowds at the Boston Pride Parade on June 14, 2014. Photo: Joe Kennedy for Congress Facebook page

As a Peace Corps volunteer from 2004-2006, Kennedy used his business acumen and his connections to prevent the stunning Damajagua Falls attraction (27 Charcos) from being monopolized by private tour companies, which were paying local guides only a few dollars per trip.

He worked side by side with community members in the Damajagua Falls Guides Association to win a government concession that secured local control over the site and ensured fair pay for the guides, among other improvements.

Kennedy recounted his experience as part of an October 2014 article in America magazine:

“We convinced the government to put the park under local control, allowing the community to set wages and craft safety precautions. We raised money and built a small business to run the park operations with more local autonomy,” he wrote. “We set up a community reinvestment fund so that a portion of every entrance fee went into the local neighborhood—to build a bridge, buy a school bus, bring clean water to the community.”

Kennedy, who is the grandson of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, came to work in Puerto Plata after graduating in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford University. After leaving he completed a law degree at Harvard Law School in 2009. He was an assistant district attorney in Middlesex County in Massachusetts when he ran for his first term in 2012.

Joe Kennedy III

Congressman Joe Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts. Photo: Congressman Joe Kennedy III Facebook page

Professional lifeguards from Canada train young Dominicans

In an unprecedented effort, several nonprofit, private and diplomatic organizations joined forces recently to train young men and women from the Puerto Plata region in an intensive life saving and first aid course.

Canadian lifeguards oversee a rescue exercise

Canadian lifeguards oversee a rescue exercise at Cabarete Beach. Photo by Adan de Miguel

Participants were the Canadian Embassy in the Dominican Republic; Asociación de Hoteles, Restaurantes y Empresas Turísticas del Norte (ASHONORTE); the Tourism Ministry; Happy Dolphins Project; Dove Mission; and Mariposa Foundation. The program was coordinated by the Caribbean Lifesaving Society, under Kristian Thomas.

During the four-day program, nearly 20 young men and women, all from the North Shore of the Dominican Republic, were trained extensively by expert instructors Scott Keeling, Andrea Gaudet and Kristian Thomas, all from the Royal Lifesaving Society Canada. The Royal Lifesaving Society Canada works to prevent drowning and water-related injury through its training programs, water smart public education, drowning prevention research, safety management and lifesaving sport. The joint work between the Caribbean and Canadian associations has led to the creation of the Caribbean Lifesaving Society.

The training program took place at the pool and beach of Hotel Viva Wyndham Tangerine Cabarete, which offered its premises for this outstanding initiative.

Out of the original group of students, seven were selected for an advanced training session. Members of the Happy Dolphin team, as they were named, met the required standards and were certified in advanced life saving and first aid. This will allow them later to attend the life saving instructor course, as well as the professional lifeguard programs.

All young students received lifesaving certificates in an award ceremony, where several representatives of the participating organizations were present. These included Lorenzo Sancassani, regional tourism director; Ambra Attus, executive director of ASHONORTE; Tim Hall, Honorary Consul of Canada for the North Shore; José Luis Mejía, Viva Wyndham Tangerine manager; Patricia Hiraldo, director of Happy Dolphins Project; and Thomas, president of the Caribbean Lifesaving Association.

“We have established this organization in order to train Dominican youth to become life savers and first responders. This will give them in turn the opportunity to train others,” Thomas said. “We are seeking the support and sponsorship of the International Life Saving Federation. Once we have reached this goal, our joint efforts will have international recognition. We hope to continue with these training courses so that more young instructors will spread the program and keep our coasts and rivers safe.”

Hiraldo said there are well over 300 drowning deaths reported each year at beaches and rivers (other estimates place the number at closer to 1,000). An estimated 70 percent of Dominicans do not know how to swim, even though the country is mostly surrounded by water. Also, these training programs are a powerful platform to turn these young underprivileged women and men into proud community leaders for future generations.

Finally, the initiative seeks to create new job opportunities in hotels and beaches of this beautiful Caribbean naation, which is already one of the top tourist destinations on the planet, especially when it comes to watersports and beach lovers. It is therefore crucial to maintain high safety levels in accordance with international standards.

Student lifesavers celebrate with their Canadian instructors. Photo by Adan de Miguel

Student lifesavers celebrate with their Canadian instructors. Photo by Adan de Miguel

Spring completion expected for new cruise port

Construction of Carnival Corporation’s new port near Puerto Plata is expected to be complete sometime in the spring of 2015, a Carnival Cruise Lines representative said recently.

Under construction since May 2012, the two-berth Amber Cove Cruise Center will be able to accommodate up to 8,000 cruise passengers and 2,000 crew members daily. The facility is expected to host more than 250,000 cruise passengers in its first year of operation.

The 30-acre development on the Bay of Maimon includes a welcome center with a variety of retail outlets, themed restaurants and bars and a transportation hub allowing visitors easy access by land and sea to nearby destinations. A 2014 completion was originally forecast.

A joint project between Carnival Corp. & plc and the Rannik family of Grupo B&R, the $65 million project is designed to re-establish the Dominican Republic’s North Shore as a popular cruise destination. The last cruise ship to call at Puerto Plata was nearly 30 years ago.

Columbus’ cursed colony 500+ years later

By Matt Bokor

Located on the northwest coast of the Dominican Republic, remnants of the first European town in the Americas tell the story of how Christopher Columbus and his large entourage lived—or tried to—after the Spaniards’ second arrival in 1493.

Cemetery at La Isabela

Cemetery at La Isabela. Photo by Matt Bokor

The admiral named the settlement La Isabela, after his benefactor, Queen Isabela of Spain. However, the seaside spot about 30 miles west of modern-day Puerto Plata didn’t last long.

Visitors to sun-baked La Española National Park, which encompasses the settlement’s relics, will find excavated foundations of homes, a church, storage buildings and several other structures, including Columbus’ citadel and portions of the wall that surrounded the roughly five-acre outpost overlooking the Bay of Isabela.

Perhaps most striking for tourists today are the many gravesites, including one with the skeleton fully exposed.

The informative La Isabela Museum onsite exhibits numerous artifacts and narratives about the settlement’s turbulent, five-year history, which goes like this:

With goals of establishing a Spanish base in the Americas and finding gold and other precious metals, Columbus arrived with a fleet at 17 ships and some 1,500 men, along with horses, pigs, seeds, tools and other materials for carving out a community.

The explorers also introduced rats and diseases—smallpox, measles and typhus—which with warfare and enslavement doomed the native Taino population.

The Spaniards grew increasingly hungry, sick, disillusioned and even mutinous as their crops failed and their gold expeditions proved fruitless; hurricanes in 1494 and 1495 sunk several ships.

By 1498 the settlement had been abandoned in favor of a new location on the south coast—Santo Domingo.

Historical archaeologists from the Florida Museum of Natural History collaborated with the Dirección Nacional de Parques de la República Dominicana and the Universidad Nacional e Experimental Francisco de Miranda in Venezuela to excavate and study La Isabela between 1989 and 1999.

The results of that work can be seen onsite at the La Isabela museum and online at flmnh.ufl.edu … just type La Isabela in the search field.

National Geographic Television produced the documentary “Columbus’ Cursed Colony” about the debacle at La Isabela in late 2011.

La Española National Park is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; admission is 100 pesos (about $2.50 USD). Guided tours (in Spanish) are available for an additional fee.

Although La Isabela is relatively close to Puerto Plata, the drive takes about 1.5 hours.

Tourism sector float proves a major attraction at the closing Carnival parade

  • Puerto Plata.- An example of the important role of the tourism and hospitality sector in the province of Puerto Plata was the sector’s participation in the closing parade of the Carnival, which took place on the Malecon in Puerto Plata last Saturday.
  • To the surprise and amazement of the thousands of local and international spectators who witnessed the extravagance and colors of the Carnival, the sector’s float featured the hoteliers and other leaders in the tourism business appearing on top of an impressive float with the slogan "Discover Puerto Plata"  -- a slogan inspired by the variety of attractions of Puerto Plata province as a destination. All the way along the waterfront of the city, the float sent out its enthusiastic, positive message and it was accompanied by the contagious rhythms and movements of the Bravissimo Show dancers of Ocean World.
  • In a show of unity, managers and CEOs of various tourism associations of the area are working together and cooperating in supporting events and traditions that make Puerto Plata such a beautiful and unique destination.
  • The participation in this last closing event of  Carnival 2013 in Puerto Plata was the perfect moment to herald the tourism sector’s increasingly close contact with the community, to encourage the preservation of our natural, cultural and social resources, and to enhance the population’s enjoyment of the leisure and recreation the Amber Coast has to offer.

Not for Sale: local hotels join the fight against child prostitution

PUERTO PLATA– The Northern Hotel Association signed a pact that unites Puerto Plata’s hotel sector with ECPAT International, UNICEF and the World Tourism Association to combat child prostitution. Commitments involved in the pact include employee training in detection and prevention as well as the diffusion of public awareness campaigns and deterrent warnings in the region. These programs will be managed through MAIS, a local non-profit dedicated to the fight against child abuse.

This dark side of the tourism industry has united many Dominican Republic institutions in a common front against child sex tourism, including the Ministries of Labor, Tourism, Education, Health, the National Hotel Association and others.  Severe laws were put in place in 2001 that give teeth to these organizations’ efforts to deter child abuse.

Foreign governments such as Canada and USA also lend force  by pursuing nationals who have been arrested here. Last year, an American citizen charged for child prostitution in Puerto Plata was extradited to the United States where he received a 24-year sentence.


MAIS coordinator Luis Méndez signs pact together with representatives of the Northern Hotel Association

Expats volunteer to help improve the visitor experience

Members of the The Meeting Place, a cultural center run by Canadian residents in Puerto Plata, held a press conference to express their interest in participating actively and voluntarily in local projects that will help improve the tourist experience in this province.

Frances Boylston and Henry Milner, founders of the center, said they are preparing a series of activities to contribute to this end, starting with a forum to be held Saturday, February 2. that aims to raise issues of public interest such as the challenges accompanying the imminent opening of a cruise ship port in Puerto Plata.

“We represent a wealth of resources to be taken advantage of. Foreigners come to stay and spend long periods in this city, and not only invest their capital, but they buy local products, employ local people and maintain their properties. We represent this sector, we want to optimize our presence this community  that has welcomed us for decades by volunteering in areas that can benefit from our perspective as foreigners as well as our language skills” they said.

They added that they will be working voluntarily and tirelessly, providing ideas and skills and  events to promote the area and its resources so that all visitors have the opportunity to share and experience pleasant experiences in this destination.

For more information visit http://meetingplacepuertoplata.com/ 

  • Members of the The Meeting Place, a cultural center run by Canadian residents in Puerto Plata, held a press conference to express their interest in participating actively and voluntarily in local projects that will help improve the tourist experience in this province.
  • Frances Boylston, Flérida Otero, Rafael Herández, Henry Milner Frances Boylston, Flérida Otero, Rafael Herández, Henry Milner

Puerto Plata advances in brand development

23 JAN 2013– The Northern Hotel Association (Ashonorte) together with The Tourism Cluster of Puerto Plata and the Chamber of Commerce hosted a conference entitled “Development and Importance of branding Destination”, delivered by product branding expert Sergio Forcadell.
This event also served to highlight the progress made ​​so far developing the brand Destination Puerto Plata, presented by Gregory Dunn and Brian Klein of the Global MMGY marketing agency.
Over the coming months the agency will develop brand strategy and visual identity and then follow up with a marketing plan and promotional campaign development, which is expected to be ready for summer.

$59 million resort project heralds region’s reawakening

President Medina visits north coast flood victims

Rains displace 12,000 in northern provinces

At least people were forced from their homes, leaving more than 3000 families homeless, due to flooding caused by intense rains that pelted the northern part of the country over the past two days.
The Emergency Operations Center, or COE, said in a communique that it decreed a yellow alert in eight provinces and issued lesser warnings for two others in the face of the danger of sudden flooding.
Almost all of the displaced people are being put up in the homes of friends and relatives, the COE (the national emergency operations center) said.
The provinces under the yellow alert include Montecristi, Dajabon, Santiago Rodriguez, Valverde, Puerto Plata, Espaillat, Maria Trinidad Sanchez and Samana, while Monseñor Nouel and La Vega are under a green alert.
The COE also recommended that small boats remain in port since high seas and abnormally strong winds are being registered along the country’s entire Atlantic coast.
Authorities emphasized that the rains have not caused any known deaths, and they recommended that the public continue to follow the precautionary measures and recommendations mentioned in the periodic COE bulletins.