- Where to Go
- The Best of the Dominican Republic
- A Nature Lover’s Dominican Trek
- The Sexiest Dominican Beaches
- Historical Dominican Road Trip
- A Dominican Culture Tour
- Carnaval and Its Masks
- Planning Your Dominican Wedding
- Dominican Adventures
- Golfing the Dominican Republic
- Dominican Music and Dance
- La Ruta del Mango
- Day-Tripping in Monte Plata
- The Best Small Resorts
Those who have never visited Santo Domingo sometimes believe the capital city to be a third-world town with nothing culturally significant to offer, but this perception could not be further from the truth. It’s a city-slicker’s undiscovered treasure, a Latin music lover’s paradise, an in-love couple’s metropolitan grab-bag of excitement, and a shopping addict’s Pandora’s box.
Santo Domingo offers a unique cultural experience for a variety of travelers: Couples will find romance in the quiet of the 500-year-old orchid- and bougainvillea-filled courtyards, singles will enjoy an unbeatable nightlife (with the best gay and lesbian scene in the country), museum-lovers will be satiated by the archaeological and arts and crafts exhibits, and the history buffs will find much to explore in the various colonial landmarks.
This frenetic metropolis is abuzz with the constant din of traffic and a wax and wane of action throughout the day. Activity rises with the morning sun: Colmados (small stores) sell their wares to the accompaniment of merengue soundtracks blaring from their radios, animated haggling takes place in marketplaces, businesspeople pile into públicos heading for work, and vendors roam residential neighborhoods shouting out their daily produce offerings in sing-song voices. When the sun hits its hottest temperature, the frenzy of the day reaches its liveliest, and the streets are choked beyond capacity with diesel trucks, motoconchos, and honking cars.
Then around noon, the city suddenly, as if on cue, quiets down for an extended lunch hour. Many Dominicans retreat into the shade of their homes for a big meal, perhaps a nap and a cold shower to battle the heat, and regroup for the afternoon when it’s once again business as usual. Although still busy, afternoons in Santo Domingo are much more relaxed than the mornings. Calle El Conde is still alive with shoppers and tourists, as traffic picks up again, but the traditional espresso break around 4 p.m. allows worker bees to begin to wind down before the end of their work day, and around 6 p.m. most employees head home for dinner.
At nightfall, Santo Domingo’s nightlife scene takes center stage and is sure to satisfy almost every need. You can dance in trendy clubs, eat in countless restaurants serving culinary favorites from around the world, or romance Lady Luck at the casinos along the Malecón. If you time your visit right, you can experience one of the exciting festivals that the city hosts: Carnaval, the Merengue Festival, or the Latin music festival, all of which go on until the wee hours of the morning.
A city of firsts, Santo Domingo boasts the first hospital, paved street, and university of the New World, in addition to the oldest surviving cathedral and European fortress. Founded by Christopher Columbus’s brother, Bartolomé, this city has survived the centuries; many buildings still stand and have been maintained or renovated within the Ciudad Colonial. Today, portions of the original walls of the city can still be seen, but greater Santo Domingo continues to expand in physical size and in population, which is nearing 2.5 million people.
History and modernity coexist here: Many hotels, restaurants, and bars in the Ciudad Colonial are restored from their original 16th-century buildings and homes and still offer the modern comforts that tourists have come to expect. The tourism industry has recognized the uniqueness of the Ciudad Colonial and has begun stringent efforts to maintain its historical significance along with supplying visitors with modern amenities. In January of 2009, the Minister of Tourism, Francisco Javier Garcia, announced a RD$10 billion restoration program to return the Ciudad Colonial and the Malecón area to “all their splendor and beauty and show the world that we are the owners of the most beautiful Colonial Zone in Latin America.”
All major roads lead to Santo Domingo, which makes it a good choice for a base for your vacation, especially if you love city life and all it has to offer but need the beach or the mountains peppered into your visit. Transportation options are plentiful, and traveling to many beautiful destinations in the country can be done in a morning from Santo Domingo.
The Monte Plata province has many opportunities for exciting day trips from your base of Santo Domingo. Accommodation options are very limited in this region, but things to do are varied and easily reached by a short distance from the capital on a good highway.
© Ana Chavier Caamaño from Moon Dominican Republic, 4th edition