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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.

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

Velero Beach Resort in Cabarete

For a long time, everyone thought Cabarete’s crowd was limited to the budget conscious, windsurf addicts only too happy to crash in tiki huts and ten-dollar hostels.So when Velero Resort opened in 2000, its aspirations as a boutique hotel seemed a little out of place.

But some of those baggy, shin-length shorts that everybody wears on Cabarete Beach must have pretty deep pockets because not only have Velero’s four-star accommodations have become a popular commodity, they’ve started a trend, where today, half million dollar condominiums and million-plus villas are popping up all along the Cabarete shoreline.

“Cabarete used to attract just the hardcore windsurfers”, says Velero’s director, Mario Magnan. “Then the surfing crowd spawned a party crowd and now Cabarete has become the hottest beach in the Caribbean. Everybody’s coming here. It’s amazing.

The luxury of space: set on two acres, Velero’s buildings take up a small percentage of the land

Ever the discreet host, Mario won’t reveal who “everybody” might include booking into Velero Resort. Suffice it to say that last week a private jet flew in from L.A.; last month, Velero’s grounds provided the backdrop for a major swimwear shoot; and not long before that a major network crew had checked in and were interviewing him about the phenomenon that Cabarete has become.

“Not everybody is high profile. But there’s a lot of people who want quality and are willing to pay for it”, he says.

Velero is a complex of twenty-six privately owned condominiums three stories high, cleverly designed and properly equipped to function as a hotel; and to provide short term guests the services they likely wouldn’t get simply renting a private residence.

The $300 dollar for a penthouse that can sleep six is not priced out of orbit, while furniture and finishing makes you feel like you’ve checked into somebody’s house

Set on two oceanfront acres on the eastern tip of Cabarete Bay, balconies leading from each room look over an expansive lawn and an infinity pool set by the sea. The property is ideally located a few minutes walk down the beach from town center: just slightly removed from the bustle.

This affords a sense of civilized serenity at Velero, from where you get a perfect view of the entire expanse of the bay and of what makes Cabarete so incredibly special, that panorama of hundreds of multi colored sails on the water and giant kites in the sky, blasting through the waves and flying through the air on the silent power of the Tradewinds.

Particularly appealing at Velero is the very real feeling of being at home. Originally designed and constructed to appeal to a select group of private owners (half the owners don’t even rent out their units) there is an attention to detail in the handcrafted oak cabinets and trim, detailing in brickwork and fittings, personal touches and individuality in pieces of art and decorations, that all contribute to the sense being in a home and not a hotel room.

And while you’re enjoying feeling at home, the services are all there, too. You can pick up the phone request a personal attention from a 24-hour receptionist, arrange gourmet in-room dining, hire a babysitter, reserve a personal visit from a masseuse or aesthetician.

While there is no restaurant on the premises, a well-appointed beachside cafe serves breakfast. light meals and beverages.

“Cabarete has such a variety of fabulous restaurants, we decided not to provide a dining room”, says Mario. “But our kitchen is prepared to provide private meals and special menu requests.”

A business center, a small conference room, a gourmet deli are a few of the other facilities found at Velero. Room rates, from standard to penthouse, range from $75 to $250 in low season and $100 to $300-plus in the winter months.

For more information visit the Velero web site