Travel to: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

August 11, 2020

There are SO many things to do when visiting the Dominican Republic. It’s a country with such a vibrant personality and a rich (yet turbulent) history. Many people visit the resorts and beach towns like Punta Cana or Jarabacoa. While these are marvels of crystal water and ivory sand, fewer folks take the time to visit the capital city of Santo Domingo.

The City that Made Me

I was born at the Centro de Obstetricia y Ginecologia on the Avenida Independencia in Gazcue. This is a neighborhood in Santo Domingo.

Did you have to take vocabulary tests in high school?

Amalgamation is one of those fun words I remember from high school vocabulary tests. I love that it describes me so well. My ancestors came from several African and European countries. A great percentage came from Portugal, Lebanon, and Spain (particularly the Canary Islands). Some mingled with the Taínos on the Dominican half of the little island (Hispaniola) that we share with Haiti.

I grew up in Santo Domingo and in a tiny suburb in Georgia. You could say that I’m a little bit country and a little bit rock-n-roll.

Well, maybe a little bit country and a little bit merengue or bachata.

The Gateway to the Caribbean

Locals refer to the Dominican Republic as El País de las Maravillas, the Country of Wonders. Santo Domingo, however, is known as the Gateway to the Caribbean.

In Santo Domingo, the sidewalks are full of palm trees. Not Beverly Hills or Charleston, South Carolina palm trees; these are luscious palms full of seeds and wild coconuts growing alongside clusters of bright magenta bougainvillea. Every side street looks like it’s covered by the rainforest canopy.

Further west of the older parts of the city, there are bigger highways which lead to heavy painted concrete buildings and new skyscrapers, lined with shiny black glass and full of colorful European storefronts, loud conversations, and the savory smells from street vendor carts.

If you think the Dominican Republic (DR) is only beaches and resorts, then you are missing out, my friend. Santo Domingo is one of the oldest cities in the Americas. It is home to the first cathedral, castle, university, monastery, and fortress in the “new world,” and if you are looking for a budget-friendly vacation, you need to start looking for flights to SDQ.

You know the kids’ rhyme that helps us remember that asshole Columbus’s “discovery of America”: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” — ?

Well, Bartolomeo (or Bartholomew) Columbus, Christopher’s brother, stumbled upon the island (referred to as Hispaniola) in 1496, and dedicated Santo Domingo in 1498, making it “the oldest continually inhabited European settlement in the Americas.”

Santo Domingo was the place to be in the 1500s. It was like the Quantico, VA for explorers and conquistadors, where all the plotting took place.

Unfortunately, Sir Francis Drake and his pirate cronies captured the city in 1586. They plundered Santo Domingo (they even took the church bells!) and left after receiving their 25,000-ducat ransom. This left the island high and dry, making it vulnerable to the French (hence: Haiti).

Quite the history!

In fact, Dominicans have kept the Colonial City of Santo Domingo (or La Zona Colonial) so beautifully preserved with its original perimeter retained by walls and forts that it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994.

How to Get Around in Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo is a fairly large and metropolitan city, which gives tourists and residents alike plenty of transportation options

Public Transportation 

If you are on a strict budget and are looking for an interesting experience, the public buses (guaguas), mopeds, and cars are your best bet. 

If you’d like to ride in a little more comfort, taxis, Uber, and Cabify are all available within the city and function in the same way as they do in the US. Two popular cab companies are Apolo Taxi and Aero Taxi. 

Long Distance Travel

If you’re looking to take a day trip to Santiago or La Romana, interurban coach bus service companies like Metro Tours, Caribe Tours, and Expreso Bavaro are air-conditioned (and sometimes equipped with Wifi and a movie!) and fairly comfortable for getting you to towns outside of Santo Domingo. 

Car Rentals

Let me preface this section with a warning: Dominican traffic, drivers, and streets can be nuts. Therefore, I do not recommend renting a car, even if you’re staying for a few weeks or months. 

That said, you do have several options at the airport (Santo Domingo Las Americas Airport) or online. 

What to See in Santo Domingo

I may be biased, but there are so many amazing things to see in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. 

  • If you’re a history buff, check out the Fortaleza Ozama, one of the first military forts at the mouth of the Ozama River. 
  • The Alcazar de Colon is located in the Colonial City and is the former home of Diego Columbus (Christopher Columbus’s son) and his wife, Maria de Toledo, the niece of King Ferdinand of Spain.
  • El Museo Memorial de La Resistencia Dominicana (the Memorial Museum of the Dominican Resistance) tells the story of one of the DR’s darkest historical periods and honors Dominicans who fought against the horrific regime of dictator Rafael Trujillo.

What to Do in Santo Domingo

If you only do one thing while visiting Santo Domingo, you must

1. Visit the Colonial City.

It was founded in 1498 and is the site of the first cathedral, hospital, customs house, and university in the Americas. 

It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and not only is it beautifully preserved, some of the most amazing buildings, museums, and restaurants are within its walls. 

Ciudad Colonial -

You can also:

2. Have an adventure in Los Tres Ojos National Park

Parque Nacional Los Tres Ojos -

3. Go dancing! 

Bonyé at the Colonial City -

3. Learn cigar-making at Caoba Cigars

Dominican Republic – Dream Destination for Cigar Smokers - Cigar ...

4. Ride el Teleferico :: Opret suspende servicios del Teleférico debido a ...

5. Take in dinner & a show at the Microteatro Santo Domingo 

Teatro: Microteatro estrena su primer espacio en Argentina

Ay, Santo Domingo, Tomando Mamajuana

As you can see, there are so many glorious things to do, see, and experience in Santo Domingo – and I haven’t even touched on half!

The food alone deserves its own blog post–nay, it might deserve it’s own blog. Stay tuned for that one.

My little country is full of magic and color.

  • In Santo Domingo, you’re always a short drive away from a beach, as blue as the Larimar – a stone that can be found only in Dominican Republic. Take a day trip to Boca Marina for some beachside tostones and a frosty Presidente – the only beer, in my humble opinion.
  • If you’re feeling fancy, you can get the best blow-out on the planet at any salon. Then, go out for delicious food and live music at Jalao, a restaurant and bar in the Colonial City. Most nights, they offer live merengue, but be sure to also try their pescado con coco.

    (Watch out for those sanky-pankies 😘 )

Or you can find my fam, cooking up a vintage-bicycle-wheel-sized paella outside en el patio, dancing solo merengue or bachata with our cerveza bottles to a little Juan Luis Guerra.

¡Apretados pero contentos!

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