Santo Domingo City Guide
About Santo Domingo
The stunning beaches of Dominican Republic are renowned as a favored vacation destination. If you are in the midst of planning a beach side vacation to the Dominican Republic, you should consider including a visit to the Caribbean nation’s capital city, Santo Domingo in your plans.
A vacation in Santo Domingo ticks many boxes, as this lively city has much to offer in form good shopping, dining and nightlife options along with plethora of famous landmarks including the spot where Christopher Columbus founded the first settlement in the Americas in 1492.
Santo Domingo is a city of many firsts, for the city was Spain’s first capital in the New World. Additionally it also has the distinction of being the site of the western hemisphere’s first cathedral, first hospital, first monastery, first university and first law court.
Santo Domingo’s rich colonial heritage dates back to the 15th century and can be experienced in the city’s ancient quarter, known as ‘Colonial City’. In fact this delightful area features quaint cobblestone streets, old world buildings and several small hotels, restaurants and bars and is one of the most prominent attractions in Santo Domingo, which never fails to delight and enchant visitors to the city.
Where to stay in Santo Domingo
The ‘Zona Colonial’ or Colonial Zone is the ancient heart of Santo Domingo. This quaint area was founded by Bartolome Colon (brother of Christopher Columbus), in 1496, and is earmarked by the United Nations as a UNESCO world heritage site.
This historic epicenter of Santo Doming contains a narrow maze of calles (streets) and plaza (squares) and hosts several landmark attractions of the city like the Cathedral of Santa Maria, El Convento de los Dominicos, the Tower of Homage, Iglesia y Convento de Las Mercedes and the Alcazar Palace. The Zona Colonial is equipped with several small hotels that are perfect for history buffs on a vacation in Santo Domingo as they afford easy access to the many historic sights of the Colonial City.
El Malecón Hotels
The El Malecón or the Avenida George Washington runs parallel to the Caribbean shore in Santo Domingo for nine miles. The middle section of this levee is populated by restaurants, ice cream parlors, bars and night clubs, which are immensely popular with the crowds who descend on El Malecón each evening. The El Malecón is often regarded as an open-air nightclub for a festive atmosphere prevails on this stretch at all times.
Santo Domingo’s main cultural events of Carnival and the Merengue Festival are also hosted on and near El Malecón. If the purpose of your Santo Domingo vacation is to ‘party’ the night away then one of the many El Malecón hotels maybe just right for you.
Modern Santo Domingo Hotels
The modern quarter of Santo Domingo is located on the eastern shore of the Ozama River near the monument of the Columbus Lighthouse. This verdant area offers excellent shopping, dining and nightlife options and is accordingly equipped with many diverse hotels which cater to needs of the modern convenience-loving holidaymakers.
Places to see in Santo Domingo
Cathedral of Santa Maria
The Colonial City’s most prominent attraction is its Cathedral of Santa Maria, the oldest cathedral in the western hemisphere that dates back to 1523. The cathedral, which is an exponent of late Gothic and Renaissance styles, is good example of Spanish Renaissance architecture. The cathedral also has much history associated with it like the siege of Santo Domingo in 1586 by Sir Frances Drake who used the cathedral as his headquarters.
Santo Domingo’s Colonial City extends over only one square mile and is the city’s pre-eminent attraction and is also a UNESCO world heritage site. Located within the narrow maze of streets that constitute the Colonial City are numerous historical buildings which include palaces, museum, forts, churches, parks. Most visitors to Santo Domingo enjoy walking the old cobble stone streets of the Colonial City to soak in its unique atmosphere and take in its various sights like the House of Cord and the Alcazar Palace. Walking tours of the Colonial City however should be avoided at night as Santo Domingo is known to suffer from high levels of crime.
Columbus Lighthouse Monument
The gargantuan Columbus Lighthouse Monument is located on the eastern shore of the Ozama River that traverses Santo Domingo. This monument was conceptualized sixty years ago and constructed in the early 1990s to commemorate Santo Domingo’s status as the oldest European settlement in the Americas and the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World.
This building is shaped like a cross at a 45 degree angle is 211 meters long. At night lasers from within the building project the likeness of a cross into the night sky. The Columbus Lighthouse monument was designed by English architect J.L. Gleave after a world-wide search for an appropriate design. The building contains many historical documents and artifacts, which are associated with the Spanish colonial era though it is believed that building even holds the remains of Christopher Columbus himself.
The Columbus Lighthouse Monument qualifies as a must-do attraction on any trip to Santo Domingo.
If you are visiting Santo Domingo with your children in tow, then the National Aquarium located near the Columbus Lighthouse Monument should be a recommended attraction on your itinerary. The Aquarium is equipped with a clear glass tunnel that renders the view of its repository of marine creatures to be very interesting.
Los Tres Ojos National Park
The ‘three eyes park’ located on the east bank of the Ozama River offers a collection of huge natural caves on different levels which contain fresh water lagoons and ancient rock formations, stalactites and stalagmites.
It is believed that the Taino Indians who were the original inhabitants of Hispaniola Island on which the Dominican Republic is located used the caves as a site for religious ceremonies.
Plaza de la Cultura
This lush green square is located in the center of Santo Domingo and is its cultural epicenter since located here are its main museums: namely the Museum of History and Geography, the Museum of Dominican Man, the Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Natural History. Also located here is the National Theatre that has an event calendar that features opera, ballet, music and drama performances.
Best time to visit Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo enjoys a year round tropical climate and experiences average annual temperatures of 77F (25C) as the trade winds usually temper the scorching tropical heat. The city also experiences a rainy season that extends from May to November. This rainy season sometimes features the deadly hurricanes which are known to batter the various Caribbean islands.
Getting around in Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo is served by its Las Americas International airport which is located 18 miles (29km) east of the city. The Santo Domingo airport welcomes a whole host of airlines, which include both low cost and legacy carriers. This makes getting to Santo Domingo extremely easy.
Fare Buzz periodically announces well priced flight deals for Santo Domingo and if you are currently looking for cheap air flights for a beach vacation in the Dominican Republic, you should probably follow us on Facebook and Twitter to be in the know about these cheap air flights.
Once you have arrived at Santo Domingo’s airport, you can always catch a metered taxi to get to your hotel in the city. You should be careful though not to get into an unmarked taxi as Santo Domingo is known for its high crime rates.
Public transport in Santo Domingo is provided by buses, minibuses, taxis, radio taxis and even multi-passenger taxis. Many visitors to Santo Domingo however opt to rent a car for their stays in the city. Car rentals in Santo Domingo can be reserved at the outlets of major car rental agencies that are located outside the airport.
However if you are looking for better car rental rates, then your best bet would be to reserve your car rental before you get to the city. We at Fare Buzz can assist at this instance as we offer a wide array of cheap car rentals for Santo Domingo, which can be reserved via our normal travel booking platforms.
Further these Santo Domingo car rentals also earn valuable Buzz Reward points like all our other travel services.
Where to shop in Santo Domingo
Need a little retail therapy on your holiday? Consider yourself in luck in Santo Domingo, for the city offers a plethora of shopping opportunities at its many malls, shopping centers and gift shops.
The best buys in Santo Domingo according to frequent visitors are handcrafted native items like silver jewelry and jewelry embellished with locally sourced semi-precious gems like larimar and amber. Also popular are products like tree fossils from centuries ago, wood carvings, straw woven baskets, local artworks, cigars, coffee, rum, ceramics, spices, and more. The prime spot for souvenir shopping in Santo Domingo is the Mercado Modelo at Avenida Mella, a former farmer’s market turned into a giant shopping mall which located just north of the Colonial Zone. This shopping mall hosts more than 100 stalls offering a wide array of souvenirs and novelty gift items. This gifts market is open daily from 9am to 6pm. Like in all markets all over the world, bargaining is an accepted norm at the Mercado Modelo though you are also advised to be vigilant and to take care of your personal belongings for pickpockets abound.
Additional opportunities for souvenir shopping are also available at Santo Domingo’s various gift shops which line its streets like Arzobispo Merino and Isabel la Catolica.
It is often said that Santo Domingo is a ‘shopper’s paradise’, where almost anything can be found. This is somewhat true for the Dominican Republic has free trade agreements with the USA and Europe. Thus it’s many malls and department stores like Plaza Lama, Plaza Central, Acropolis, Americana Departamentos, Blue Mall, Megacentro and the lively pedestrian mall along Calle El Conde, amongst others offer a whole host of products like apparel, foot wear, home wares, lifestyle products and more.
Where to eat in Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo offers a fairly diverse dining scene. The various restaurants located around the city offer both local and international eats as they aim to cater to all budgets. The list of favored restaurants in Santo Domingo currently includes establishments like Fogaraté (offering Caribbean flavors), Lina Restaurant (Spanish fare), Scherezade Restaurant (Middle Eastern eats), El Conuco (Caribbean food), La Bricola (Italian cuisine), El Cantabrico (seafood) and Reina de España (Mediterranean and seafood delights).
Nightlife in Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo like much of the Dominican Republic has a vibrant nightlife scene, populated by numerous dance clubs, bars and lounges that rock on until the wee hours of the morning. Buzzing nightspots in this popular beachside resort at present include thumping boites (dance clubs) like Jet Set, Bella Bleus, Jubilee, Bachata Rosa, Aire, Club LED and Club Murcielago along with bars like Coco’s and Monte Cristo.