Dominican Republic // Top 10 things to do in Santo Domingo
A couple of years ago we lived in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, for three months. An amazing experience we’ll never forget! This beautiful country with its beautiful people has so much more to offer than paradise beaches!
Here are our personal top 10 things you have to see when visiting visiting the capital of the DR:
1. Exploring the Zona Colonial
This ancient city was founded in 1495 and is the oldest European settlement in the Americas. The colonial zone of Santo Domingo (the largest city of the Caribbean) was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and a great place to wander for hours and hours.
Beautiful architecture, cosy artist shops, shaded terraces and excellent restaurants are waiting for your discovery!
2. Walk the Calle de las Damas and visit the Museo de las Casas Reales
One of the highlights of the colonial zone is the Calle de las Damas, translated as “Ladies’ street”. It is the oldest street of the New World, and named after the noblewomen who used to take their daily stroll here.
This beautifully paved street passes along my favorite museum in Santo Domingo, the Museo de las Casas Reales. The buildings that form the museum date back to the 16th century, and used to house the administrative offices of the Spanish colonies. Besides admiring the architecture you can see an extensive collection of artifacts, demonstrating both the household and military life from the Colonial days.
3. Visit Plaza de España and Alcázar de Colón
Make your way further down the Calle de las Damas and you’ll reach Plaza de España, an enormous square overlooking the Ozama river surrounded by lovely restaurants and cafés. On Friday and Saturday night you can catch a free open-air show where traditional dancers are showing their best moves to the beats of Merengue music.
Located on this huge square is the impressive 16th century house of Diego Colón, the son of Christopher Colombus. Nowadays it’s a museum displaying important Medieval and Renaissance pieces, and one of the most visited ones of the Dominican Republic.
4. Buy local artworks at Parque Fray Bartolomé de las Casas
This little known but very cool market is located at a tiny park called Parque Fray Bartolomé de las Casas. Several local artists are designing and selling their colorful creations on the spot.
You’ll definitely find a unique souvenir at this place – I did too :)
5. Drink a jugo de piña on a leafy terrace at Parque Colón
Parque Colón is the central square of the historic district of Santo Domingo. It is the main tourist hub and busy with tourists, musicians, vendors, shoeshiners and taxi drivers all circling the grand Christopher Columbus statue in the middle.
If you’re in need of a break, just take a seat on one of the many terraces under the massive trees, have a divine jugo de piña (pineapple juice) and watch the world go by – refresh to the max :) !
6. Visit the oldest cathedral of the New World, the Catedral de Santa María la Menor
Construction of this impressive cathedral started in 1512, and was completed in 1540. I think it’s one of the most special cathedrals I’ve ever visited. The warm ochre color of the stones sets of well against the blue sky and green surrounding trees, giving it an alluring charm.
It’s certainly not one of the biggest or most ornate cathedrals around, but its history seems very palpable as there are architectural fragments lying about everywhere, and some of the crumbled walls make it look like construction is still ongoing. You’d almost expect Christoper himself popping around the corner to inspect the progress :)
7. Imagine yourself in Jurrasic Park at Los Tres Ojos
You don’t expect to see a natural wonder in the middle of the city, and so yet again, the Dominican Republic succeeded at surprising me! Los Tres Ojos (“The Three Eyes” in English) is a series of three huge open-air limestone sinkholes, located in the East of the city.
The caves are filled with 50 shades of deep blue water, enclosed by imposing stalactites and stalagmites. You can take a small makeshift ferry to cross the largest lake and walk up to a landscape that’ll surely evoke flashbacks to Jurrasic Park, or World… :)
8. Get a road trip feeling within the city’s limits
Santo Domingo’s marvelous oceanfront avenue, aka the Malecón, stretches out for miles along the Caribbean sea and the Ozama river. Driving along this road is one of the nicest ways of exploring the city by car.
All you need to do is roll down your car windows, put on some sweet tunes and join the traffic towards the lovely Zona Colonial. And of course, enjoy the magnificent sea views between the palm trees and occasionally avoid a pit in the road :)
9. Feel the exciting buzz of the illustrious Caribbean Carnival
As we were in the DR in February, we were very happy to experience the famous Carnival festivities in Santo Domingo! The festival is celebrated with smaller parades every Sunday and the grand finale is usually held on the first Sunday of March along the Malecón.
Prepare yourself for numerous groups of dancers, each magnificently dressed in colorful costumes and masks representing numerous myths, religions and traditions. One of the most spectacular characters is the Diablo Cojuelo or Limping Devil, very often cracking a whip that will make your ears pop!
Being a spectator doesn’t necessarily mean that you are free of being involved in the festivities. While admiring the amazing show passing by on the Malecón, we had the honor of being smacked on our bottoms with smelly Vejigas (inflated animal bladders) that many of the dancers carry. Of course, by the time you turn around to see who or what exactly hit you, the culprit had already blended in with dozens of other Diablos…
10. Indulge in deliciousness
You cannot write about the Dominican Republic without mentioning the food. It is ricissimo – so good! Take your time to taste the many different cuisines on offer in Santo Domingo. Whether it’s Dominican, Asian, European, American, African… it’s all so savory!
And if you’d like to combine great food ánd excellent views, go back to Plaza de España and get comfy on a terrace overlooking the huge square, the Alcázar de Colon and the river behind… and start off your evening of delights with a Rum Sour cocktail.
Take me back there, NOW :) !