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7 Reasons to visit Santo Domingo

Millie Adams

Tuesday, 15 February 2022

Millie shares with us some amazing reasons to visit the Dominican capital, a jewel of a city in the heart of the Caribbean!

Santo Domingo is a Latin American metropolis brimming with historical sights, natural beauty, and a vibrant music scene. Located on the island of Hispaniola, east of Haiti, the Dominican Republic was the first settlement of the New World, and its capital city, Santo Domingo, was founded by the Spanish in 1496. It’s a beautiful blend of Latin and Caribbean culture and a fantastic city to explore.

Wander colonial-era cobbled streets


The best place to stay in Santo Domingo is the Zona Colonial (the Colonial Zone), which is a historical district of cobbled streets, colourful houses, and plenty of shops, restaurants, and bars. Most tourists never leave the Zona Colonial!

Here you can find the first cathedral of the Americas (Catedral Primada de América) and the first paved street of the Americas (Calle Las Damas). A stroll down Calle Las Damas will take you to the UNESCO World Heritage site Alcazar de Colon, a colonial palace with beautifully preserved interiors, Renaissance artwork, and quaint courtyards.


Calle Hostos in the Zona Colonial [image description: the top of a street, with colourful houses and parked cars on either side of the cobbled road. The pavement descends steep steps and at the end of the street a white church is visible, photo credit: Millie Adams]

Learn about indigenous culture


Whilst exploring the charming streets of the Zona Colonial, it can be easy to forget about the indigenous people of the island and the significant conflict caused by colonialism. Before 1492, Hispaniola was populated by the Taíno people and many Dominicans today have indigenous ancestry. ​ To learn more about pre-Colombian history, visit the Museo del Hombre Dominicano and Museo Prehispánico. Both museums offer insights into indigenous history and African heritage to better understand Dominican roots.


Dance to bachata, salsa, and reggaeton


Most Dominicans love to dance and every night, in the capital, bars are full of people enjoying Latin dance and music. In fact, at any time of the day, the streets are filled with music and you are never too far from a colmado (local corner shop) blasting Marc Anthony or Dominican-born El Alfa. The Zona Colonial is the safest area for bar-hopping and nightlife, I can recommend Bar Parada 77, Rox, Safe Zone Lounge, and Merengue Club. Drinks are cheap at 300 pesos for a cocktail (around £4) or try one of the local beers, Presidente and Bohemia. There is also a free music outdoor concert at the San Francisco ruins courtesy of Grupo Bonyé who perform merengue and jazz every Sunday from 6pm till late.


The Sunday night concert at the San Francisco ruins [photo description: a large crowd is gathered to watch a music band performing in front of the ruins of an ancient monastery which has been illuminated by colourful lights, photo credit: Millie Adams]

Relax on Caribbean sands


In the Caribbean, you’re never too far from palm trees, white sand or crystal-clear water. Santo Domingo is no exception and it’s easy to escape the energetic city and relax at a nearby beach. Boca Chica is 15 miles east of the capital and is a crowded stretch of sand that has a reputation for becoming a party spot after dark. However, during the day, you can visit the bird-inhabited mangrove or give scuba diving a go. If you venture past Boca Chica, you’ll find a picturesque section of coast known as Juan Dolio, including beautiful beaches such as Playa Dorada and Guayacanes.


Explore tropical caves


On the east side of Parque Mirador del Este, you can find a series of large caves in the Los Tres Ojos (“The Three Eyes”) National Park. A winding staircase takes you to three iridescent blue lagoons that are fed by an underground river and surrounded by impressive stalactites and stalagmites. The caves had been used by indigenous people for religious ceremonies and have more recently been used as a set for films such as Tarzan, Jurassic Park III, and Oro Y Polvo, to name a few. Today, you can feel like an explorer by visiting the furthest lagoon, which can only be accessed by a small raft pulled across via rope for a small fee of 30 pesos.


Ride the Caribbean’s 1st urban cable car


For the best views of Santo Domingo, take a ride on the city’s recent addition to its transport network – the teleférico, Dominicans use it to avoid the heavy traffic at rush hour, but it has also become a unique attraction for tourists. Return tickets are available for as little as 50 pesos and you can visit all four stations that connect more than 23 districts. The gondolas pass directly over Los Tres Brazos, where the city’s two spectacular rivers converge into one estuary.


View from the Santo Domingo’s cable car [photo description: bird’s-eye view of a residential area of the city with cable car line above, photo credit: Millie Adams]


Taste local cuisine

If you’re looking for a good local meal, there are plenty of options on Calle El Conde in the Zona Colonial, ranging from fine dining around Parque Colón to cheap family-run comedores and pica pollos. I can recommend Mix Empanadas for a cheap bite (must try their chocolate and ricotta empanada and fresh juices) and Restaurante Lucía which is a little more expensive (but worth it for the live music and cocktails). ​ More nice restaurants can be found on the Plaza de España overlooking the Alcazar de Colon. If you’re looking for vegan food, Time Plant-Based Journey does amazing Latin-inspired dishes including nachos and quesadillas. Dominicans also have a sweet tooth, and the Zona Colonial is full of ice cream stalls and dessert shops, where you can try chinola (passion fruit) flan or dulce de tres leches. ​ For a unique dining experience, El Meson de la Cava is a distinguished restaurant that is tucked underground in the natural limestone caves under the city. Historically, the cave was used for storage by US soldiers but was converted into a restaurant in 1967. Tables are surrounded by stalagmites and El Meson de la Cava is known for its excellent local cuisine with Spanish and French influences.


 

Overall, Santo Domingo is a unique mix of Caribbean and Latin cultures. It’s an exciting city that is rich in historical architecture and delicious food and drink, as well as its tropical wonders of caves and beaches. You won’t want to leave until you’ve mastered bachata dancing!

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Images provided by Millie Adams.


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