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Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

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Did You Know … ?

  • Santo Domingo claims the New World’s first cathedral, hospital, monastery and university.
  • Vasco de Balboa, Hernando Cortes and Ponce de Leon started their history-making journeys from Santo Domingo.
  • The city boasts the hemisphere’s oldest street (1502), called the Walk of the Ladies.
  • Francis Ford Coppola shot scenes for “Godfather II” (1974) in the city’s Colonial Zone.
  • Santo Domingo, laid out on a grid, provided the model for most town planners in the New World.

New World firsts

For obvious reasons, most vacationers in the Caribbean aim to spend some time near water. They may mean to laze around a pool or at a beach; others will be more active by diving, sailing, waterskiing and the like.

But, tourists who schedule a few days in Santo Domingo may have another interest in mind or they discover a new one after arrival. The attraction is history, and no one has to be a scholar to get a little thrill out of preserved or restored sites associated with the very first urban European settlement in the Americas.

Santo Domingo is that city, and its historic zone harbors a rich collection of buildings that are the visible record of the first years of contact between the Old World and the Americas. Tourists are drawn to:

  • The Cathedral of Santa Maria of the Incarnation, built between 1514 and 1542 in a blend of Gothic and Renaissance styles.
  • The Ozama Fortress and Tower, a group of military buildings dating from 1503.
  • The Alcazar de Colon (Columbus Palace), the viceroy’s residence built in 1510-1512 by Diego Columbus, son of the explorer.
  • The Royal Houses Museum, the 16th century governor’s court, which now has exhibits documenting the city’s history up to 1821.
  • The hemisphere’s oldest street, Calle las Damas (Walk of the Ladies). The New World’s oldest hospital, Hostal San Nicolas de Ovando, now a hotel, is on this street.

 

Santo Domingo, founded in 1496, was Spain’s first colonial headquarters in the New World, and today it is the Dominican Republic’s capital and its economic hub.

It offers the diversions of a big city — a raft of museums with good stories to tell; a humming nightlife (with casinos, clubs, restaurants and lots of merengue), plus baseball and the devoted fans to go with it. The city also has access to beaches and mountains.

As a large metropolis, it has problems with crime, requiring caution against pickpocketing and other thievery. It also is best to avoid walking alone at night or entering neighborhoods off the tourist path.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Don scuba gear and explore the Hickory and El Limon shipwrecks off the coast at Boca Chica, or the Tanya V shipwreck at Playa Juan Dolio.
  • Go caving. Depart from Santo Domingo for caves in Cuevas de Bourbon National Park or for El Pomier, where caves are etched with petroglyphs created by the aboriginal Taino people.
  • Jog or bicycle in the Mirador del Sur Park (South Lookout Park), and enjoy its views of the Caribbean, too.
  • Take sailing lessons at the Santo Domingo Yacht Club.
  • Return to the Colonial Zone at night as it is a hot spot for after-dark clubbing. Find a club or clubs that feature merengue. Try the local beers.
  • Head to Jarabacoa in the mountains for river rafting opportunities on the Rio Yaque del Norte or Rio Jimenoa.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Try your luck in a casino. Or bet on the horses at the Race Track V Centenario, aka Hipodromo. At the races, you’ll be treated to surprising between-races shows.
  • Set aside time for a baseball game at the San Pedro Tetelo Vargas stadium.
  • Descend into one or all three of the sinkholes that give the National Park of the Three Eyes its name. One holds fresh water, one salt water and one sulfur water.
  • Perfect your own dancing by attending the city’s Merengue Festival, held in July.
  • Bargain for mahogany wood carvings, ceramics, leather goods and other Dominican crafts at Santo Domingo’s Mercado Modelo.
  • Grant yourself a personal stroll along the Caribbean Seaside Boardwalk, called the Malecon. It parallels George Washington Street on one side and the Caribbean on the other. It is an area well supplied with restaurants, shops, entertainment and top hotels.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Join a guided tour of the historic sector (the Colonial Zone) of Santo Domingo, and see the city’s New World firsts: cathedral, monastery and university. Also, walk down the Calle las Damas (Walk of the Ladies), the first paved street.
  • See an extensive collection of the amber for which the Dominican Republic is known at the National Museum of Natural History. Shop for amber.
  • Head to the beach at Boca Chica.
  • Play golf at Guavaberry Golf and Country Club, or at another of the area courses.
  • Set aside one evening for a traditional Dominican meal and after-dinner folkloric entertainment.
  • Spend quality time at the Royal Houses Museum, the 16th century governor’s palace, to see period artifacts and models of Columbus’ three ships.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism at www.godominicanrepublic.com