The Dominican Republic has a special relationship with amber, producing and extraordinary range of colors. Christopher Columbus wrote about the local Taino Indians amber-adorned shoes, which he exchanged for a necklace made of Baltic amber.
Considered a semi-precious gem, amber is formed when tree sap fossilizes, sometimes catching plants, and animals in it. Amber mining has, over the centuries, been big business in the Dominican Republic.
The German Bentz brothers made their fortune at the turn of the last century in another popular export: sugar. They built the opulent Villa Bentz in 1919 at the peak of their success. In later years hard times would force them to sell the mansion, after which it began to fall into disrepair. It was not until Didi and Aldo Costa restored it for their museum that it reclaimed its former beauty.
In 1970, the Costa family moved to Puerto Plata and began the collection of amber that would eventually fill the museum. Curated with the assistance of the American Brandt Ghepart of the Museum of Natural History in Cleveland, the museum opened in March 1982.
On display are many rare finds, including the most famous display: a nearly 17-inch long ancient lizard trapped in amber.