I have spent quite some time in the Colonial district (zona Colonial) of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic and the first real city in Spanish America. Santo Domingo combines an unsurpassable historical heritage with a modern and cosmopolitan ambience that is best being illustrated by the large number of fancy shops, trendy boutique hotels, super styled restaurants and swanky (cocktail) bars that open up all over town. I love the Dominican capital, especially the Zona Colonial, for its uncomplicated, laid back atmosphere. Santo Domingo surprises with its frequent world class cultural events and exciting festivals. more...
The independence of the Dominican Republic from Haiti was declared in Santo Domingo on the 27th of February 1844. The town founded in 1496 by Christopher Columbus’s brother Bartolomeo is a monument of the irreversible and arguably inevitable change of times, in this case at the cost of the rapid demise of more than one million –mainly- Taino Indians under all kinds of horrific circumstances.
A decade into the 21st century, Santo Domingo has transformed into an exciting town with an old Colonial District known as “Zona Colonial” which offers some of the best things life in the Dominican Republic has to offer. I am particularly fond of the terrace of Hotel de Conde de Penalba, great for lunch and some people watching. Plaza España is another hot spot with excellent restaurants like Grillo Bravo and Pat’e Palo. On Saturday nights, Plaza España offers excellent (free) live entertainment. A visit to Patio Lounge el Canario, a classy cocktail lounge owned by José Alberto a Dominican Salsa star gives you a good idea of the style and sophistication Santo Domingo seeks to adopt.
In order not to miss one single highlight of the Zona Colonial it pays off to hire one of the many expert tour guides like Lorenzo Bido, who puts the lonely planet to shame and will take you from one great monument to an even more impressive one like the Catedral Primada de América, which was finally completed in 1540, 26 years after Diego Columbus, the son of Christopher Columbus, laid the first stone. Santo Domingo is a city boasting many exclusives like the first hospital, university and monastery in the Americas as well as the oldest street, Calle las Damas. The main museums in the Zona Colonial I recommend visiting are Museo de las Casas Reales, interesting for its recovered treasures from Spanish galleons that parished in the coastal waters as well as vast collections of superb maps and Museo Alcázar de Colón, the fabulously renovated mansion of Diego Columbus and his wife, featuring many objects that belongedto the Columbus family.
It is fun to check out the bars and restaurants along the Malecón also known as Avenida George Washington that follows the coast. Beyond the Zona Colonial the fast-moving metropolis of over two million people gradually absorbs you. Here you will be able to find the best shopping and (movie) theaters in the Dominican Republic as well as various museums that are worth a visit. The botanical garden, located in the northern suburb Arroyo Hondo displays over 300 kinds of orchids and an extensive collection of tropical flora that can be found in the Dominican Republic.
Las Americas International Airport, located just 30 minutes from town makes it easy and worthwhile to include Santo Domingo on your itinerary, even when you plan to spend your vacation in one of the other fantastic destinations the Dominican Republic has to offer.
How to get there
Santo Domingo is located about 30 minutes by car west of Las Americas International Airport. Within Santo Domingo there are excellent and affordable taxi services. Affordable luxury buses depart from Santo Domingo to a large number of popular tourists destinations.
- Dominican Republic International and Domestic Flights
Tours and excursions
I took a guided city tour of Zona Colonial and found it to be a fun and efficient way to take in all in the historical highlights within an afternoon. The nearby towns of Boca Chica and Juan Dolio are great for a fun daytrip to the beach.
- Debbie Meets: Lorenzo Bido, local tour guide