Wander logo

Travel to: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

by NSanchez 2 years ago in caribbean
Report Story

Not your average tropical vacation

Travel to: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Photo by Asael Peña on Unsplash

There are so many things to do and see when traveling to 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, and 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 - a neighborhood in Santo Domingo.

One of the words I remember best from high-school-vocabulary tests is "amalgamation." I like to think it describes me: my ancestors came from several African and European countries. A large percentage from Portugal, Lebanon, and Spain (in particular, 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 of Atlanta, so I guess you could say that I'm a little bit country and a little bit rock-n-roll.

Or well, maybe a little bit country and a little bit merengue or bachata.

The Gateway to the Caribbean

Many 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.

By Asael Peña on Unsplash

In Santo Domingo, the streets are lined with luscious palm trees full of seeds and coconuts, and clusters of bright magenta bougainvillea. Every side street looks like it's underneath a rainforest canopy.

The west part of the city is a bit newer; there are highways which lead to heavy painted concrete buildings and new skyscrapers that are lined with shiny black glass and are full of colorful European storefronts. You can hear loud conversations and smell the crisp, salty dough of street-vendor empanadas.

By Asael Peña on Unsplash

The Dominican Republic is not all beaches and resorts. 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."

You know the kids' rhyme about Columbus? "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue..."

Well, Bartolomeo Columbus, Christopher's brother, stumbled upon the island 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 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 (even taking the church bells!) and left after receiving their 25,000-ducat ransom. The poor island was left high and dry, making it vulnerable to the French (hence: Haiti).

Quite the history!

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.

By Venero Encarnación Martínez on Unsplash

How to Get Around in Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo is a fairly large and metropolitan city, with plenty of transportation options for tourists and residents.

  • Public Transportation: If you're on a strict budget or are looking for an interesting experience, the public buses (guaguas), mopeds, and cars are your best bet. Be warned: the bus drivers will solicit for more passengers at traffic lights - an inch of space wasted is a peso lost!
  • Ride shares & cabs: Taxis, Uber, and Cabify are all available within the city and work the same as in the US. Two popular cab companies are Apolo Taxi and Aero Taxi, but note: these guys don't often have meters (especially not ones linked to an app) and are notorious for exorbitant rates.
  • Long Distance Travel: Interurban coach bus service companies like Metro Tours, Caribe Tours, and Expreso Bavaro are air-conditioned (and sometimes equipped with movies and Wifi!) and are fairly comfortable for getting you to towns outside of Santo Domingo like Santiago or La Romana.
  • Car Rentals: Dominican traffic, drivers, and streets are nuts--I don't recommend renting a car. If you must, the Santo Domingo Las Americas Airport has several options.

What to Do in Santo Domingo

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

1. Visit the Colonial City (La Zona Colonial)

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.

You can also:

2. Have an Adventure in Los Tres Ojos National Park

3. Go dancing! A bailar!

3. Learn to Make Your Own Cigars at Caoba Cigars

4. Ride El Teleferico

5. Take In Dinner & A Show at the Microteatro Santo Domingo

A Few Other Things You Must See in Santo Domingo

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

  • If you're a history buff, check out the Fortaleza Ozama, one of the first military forts, located at the mouth of the Ozama River.
  • The Jardin Botanico Nacional (National Botanical Gardens) is a fan favorite.
  • The oldest cathedral in the Americas, the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor, dates back to the year 1512.
  • 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. No, I'm not a big fan either, but it's still pretty cool.
  • 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.
  • In Santo Domingo, you're always a short drive away from a beach, as blue as the Larimar - a stone that can only be found in the Dominican Republic. Take a day trip to Boca Marina for some beachside tostones and a frosty Presidente.
  • If you're feeling fancy, get yourself a Dominican blow-out 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 order the pescado con coco.

Watch out for those sanky-pankies!

Ay, Santo Domingo - Tomando Mamajuana

You can see there is no shortage of awesome things to do, see, and experience in Santo Domingo - and I didn't even mention half.

The food alone deserves its own dissertation (stay tuned).

It's my little country, and it's full of magic and color.


Nikki Sanchez is a Dominican-American millennial blogger with a love for bread and trash television. If you're interested in receiving her newsletter, sign up here. Find more of her work at Good Golly, Mrs. Holley!


About the author


Writing to help make the world better.

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2022 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.