Why Santo Domingo is the Caribbean capital that's really worth visiting

The Dominican Republic has built up a solid reputation for its beaches and resorts, but what about its capital? Santo Domingo is one of the Caribbean's most accessible, walkable and interesting towns, with everything you'd expect of a city.

Why Santo Domingo is really worth visiting & copy Mariordo - Wikimedia Commons
Why Santo Domingo is really worth visiting & copy Mariordo - Wikimedia Commons

The great news is that Santo Domingo is easily reached when you book a holiday to the Dominican Republic with TUI. Plan a fun-filled day trip to explore the eclectic restaurants and bars, excellent museums, cultural sights, and good shopping, plus numerous courtyards and scenic squares. Here's how to make the most of it.

A city of firsts

Known as 'La Capital', Santo Domingo was the first seat of power for the Spanish colonists who subsequently built the 'New World's' first cathedral, university, monastery, convent, castle and fortress here.

Set by the River Ozama, its historic centre - commonly referred to as the Zona Colonial - is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You can visit the Alcázar de Colón, the former palatial home of the Columbus family; the first resident was Christopher Columbus's son, Diego, and it's now home to a museum that depicts early colonial life.

Inside the Alcázar de Colón - photo courtesy of Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism
Inside the Alcázar de Colón - photo courtesy of Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism

You can also visit the Fortaleza Ozama, the oldest fortress in the Americas, and climb up for cityscape views over Santo Domingo.

Gastronomic treats

There's something of a resurgence in Dominican cuisine with enterprising chefs mixing traditional dishes with modern techniques.

Head to Santoña Gastro Bar Colonial and try the signature burger, salmon cannelloni and other tapas-style dishes or listen to live bands at Buche Perico with its courtyard garden, and enjoy feasting on modern Dominican dishes from ceviche to stew.

If you want to do as the locals, take a taxi to The Food Truck Stop on Avenida República de Colombia, a short drive out of town, where you can try Dominican grills, Italian-inspired dishes, local craft beers and pretty much everything else.

For fresh fish, stroll along the Malecón (beachfront), which is lined with seafood restaurants.

History lessons

It might not be everyone's cuppa on holiday, but the Museum of Dominican Resistance really gets to grips with the dark days under the country's ex-dictator, Trujillo, who ruled from 1930 until he was assassinated in 1961.

There's a good audio guide and while there's a lot to cover, you can pick and choose as you wander, and better understand what makes the Dom Rep tick, plus its links to next-door Haiti.

The Fortaleza Ozama, oldest fort in the Americas - photo courtesy of maxpixel.net
The Fortaleza Ozama, oldest fort in the Americas - photo courtesy of maxpixel.net

The Museum of the Royal Houses is also interesting; these ex-Spanish government offices now tell the story of Santo Domingo.

Shopping fix

It's always fun to walk down Calle Conde, which was also the New World's first commercial street, and browse the street stalls, shops and cafés that line it.

For souvenirs, one of the most comprehensive experiences is the nearby Mercado Modelo where you'll find lots of local art, crafts and fabrics, although some of it will be Haitian and it's not always easy to tell!

The National Botanical Gardens, Santo Domingo - photo courtesy of Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism
The National Botanical Gardens, Santo Domingo - photo courtesy of Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism

The green lung

If you're into botanical gardens, you might be surprised to discover that Santo Domingo is home to the largest of its kind in the Caribbean. A 10-minute taxi ride from town, the 400-acre National Botanical Gardens include a Japanese garden, numerous varieties of palms, medicinal plants, over 300 types of orchid and a little train that takes you around the gardens.

Chocolate o'clock

If you're a chocoholic, the Kaw Kow Experience is a must. This chocolate museum in the colonial quarter explores the story of chocolate in a fun, interactive way using hologram character guides, and ending in the museum's courtyard chocolate-making lab.

Here, you'll have a chance to 'design' your own bar that you can take home (if it lasts that long). The shop, which is open even if you're not doing the tour, is a good place for gifts.

Santo Domingo by night

It's by night that this city is at its most magical. You don't need to seek out its nightlife if that's not your bag; just sit or wander around the main square, Parque Colon, where the lit-up Catedral Primada de América (America's First Cathedral) adds extra aura and enjoy a drink at one of the patio bars.

The tiny Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, the oldest in the Americas & copy Dalomo84 - Fotolia.com
The tiny Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, the oldest in the Americas & copy Dalomo84 - Fotolia.com

If you do want to dance the night away, Jaleo on the square, often has a live band while Lulu Tasting Bar near Calle Padre Billini also has live music and DJs (and great food).

The nearby Moon Rooftop Bar, part of the Billini Hotel, is a nice spot too. If it's a Sunday evening, don't miss live music and dancing thanks to Grupo Bonye, where much-acclaimed salsa, jazz and merengue are played in the magical setting of the ruins of the Monasterio de San Francisco.

Culture

For an art and culture fix, the Plaza de la Cultura, four kilometers from the Zona Colonial, is the place to be. The Museum of the Dominican Man houses a collection of artefacts from the pre-Columbian Taíno civilisation.

Meanwhile, the excellent Museum of Modern Art has a permanent collection of over a thousand pieces by some of the Dom Rep's best artists, alongside temporary exhibits and installations.

Baseball

Integral to Dominican culture is a good game of baseball; in fact, the nation produces some fine players who go on to play in the US. Santo Domingo has two teams - Tigres del Licey and Leones de Escogido - and if you're in the city between October and December, there's a good chance you can catch a game at the Estadio Quisqueya.

Most hotels can arrange tickets. As much fun as the game are the passing food and drink sellers, so leave room for hot empanadas, cold beers and tasty doughnuts...

Are you intrigued by the various sights and things to do in the capital of the Dominican Republic? If you fancy discovering some of these attractions for yourself, check out the latest deals on holidays to the Dom Rep with TUI, which departs direct from Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham and London Gatwick.

Don't forget, you can check out the weather in Santo Domingo, and see when we think is the best time to go to make the most of not only these cultural highlights but the beautiful beaches as well.

Meera Dattani

Meera Dattani
Posted on Thursday 9th August 2018 in: Caribbean City Culture

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