Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic – What to see and do

Top 6 must-see attractions in Santo Domingo

If you are going on your first trip to the Dominican Republic, be sure to visit the capital! After all, Santo Domingo is a huge city with a rich history, vivid contrasts and, of course, Dominican flavor!

Santo Domingo

Here is another list of reasons to visit this glorious city:

    – The largest city in the Dominican Republic – it’s home to about a third of the country’s total population – more than 3 million people
  • The colonial part of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • The first city built by Europeans on the American mainland
  • In 2010 the city was awarded the title of the “Cultural Capital of America
  • In addition to its fascinating history, the city has many modern shopping centers, business districts and cultural attractions
  • The only Dominican city with a metro
  • Santo Domingo has the largest passenger and cargo port in the country and two international airports
  • There are stadiums, an auto track, a hippodrome, theaters, concert venues, and modern art galleries.
  • Zoos and botanical gardens are great places for families with children to explore, set in real tropical rainforests.
  • There are also many city parks and natural attractions: for example, Three Eyes Cave with a system of underground lakes

Of course, it is difficult for a newcomer to navigate in such a huge city. We’ll help you with that and tell you about the most important sights, which are obligatory to visit!

The task is made easier by the fact that the most interesting places are concentrated in the historic part of town, which is very compact. In this article we will describe them.

1. The House of Diego Columbus in Santo Domingo (Alcázar de Colón)

Santo Domingo 2

If you want to know what everyday life was like for the Spanish nobility of the 16th and 17th centuries, you have to visit this house which belonged to the son of the legendary explorer Christopher Columbus.

The building was erected by the titanic efforts of one and a half thousand Indians from blocks of coral limestone. Interestingly, not a single nail was used in the construction, even in installing the doors and windows.

Construction was completed in 1514, and Diego Columbus – the viceroy of the New World – settled there with his family. But at the end of the 16th century the palace was looted by pirates, and was revived only in the second half of the 20th century. Today there is a museum showing the environment of the house during the stay of the Columbus family.

2. Calle Las Damas

This beautiful cobblestone street is famous as America’s first street. At first it was called “Fortress” because from this street you could get to the Fortress of Osama.

And the present name – “Street of Ladies” was due to the fact that the ladies, who came with the noble wife of Diego Columbus, liked to stroll along it. The street was paved with stone especially for them so the ladies wouldn’t get their dresses dirty.

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Walking along this street, you will find many interesting things:

  • the only remaining sundial from colonial times.
  • houses of noble and important people
  • Osama Fortress
  • the house where Christopher Columbus spent one night on one of his voyages

And be sure to visit the National Pantheon in Santo Domingo, which was established on the site of a Jesuit monastery by order of the dictator Trujillo.

There are few graves of national heroes in it, but the state symbols are presented in abundance. The massive cast-iron chandelier and “eternal flame” deserve special attention.

If you happen to be near the Pantheon around noon, you can witness the changing of the guard and listen to the national Dominican anthem that always accompanies this event.

3. Palace of the Kings (Museo de las Casas Reales)

Originally a majestic 16th century building, this was the Governor’s residence which also housed the

  • The Royal Court of Justice
  • Court of Auditors
  • the Governor’s Reception Room and the higher military

In the 1970s, a history museum was established in Santo Domingo where a collection of objects from the colonial era is on display.

These exhibits vividly illustrate the main historical milestones of the country’s colonial period:

  • objects of Native American culture
  • a map of Columbus’ voyages
  • the first European settlements
  • pirate artifacts
  • objects used by slave owners
  • major crops

There is also a recreation of a medieval apothecary and a collection of weapons on the second floor.

4. Fortress of Osama (Fortaleza Ozama)

Santo Domingo 4

For the construction of the first fortified fortress on the island was chosen very well: at the point where the river Osama flows into the Caribbean Sea. The construction was ordered by the governor of Española at the time, Nicolás de Ovanda. This man was a cruel ruler, but a competent administrator. So at the end of the 16th century there appeared the Fortress of Osama, the first defense structure of the New World.

The fortress fulfilled its direct function for five centuries, and only in the 20th century it lost it. For some time the main tower was a prison.

Be sure to climb to the top of the tower for a great view of the colonial city, the Osama River, and the port. The entrance to the fortress is through the Charles III Gate, decorated with beautiful carvings. In the middle of the fortress square is a statue of the fort’s commander, Gonzalo Fernandez Oviedo, who wrote his famous book, General History of the West Indies, here.

5. Santo Domingo Cathedral (Basilica Menor de Santa María)

Santo Domingo 5

This church was consecrated in honor of the Virgin Mary and is also known as the First Catholic Cathedral of the Americas (“Primate of America”).

The building project was changed and the final shape of the Cathedral was completed in 1541. Five years later, Pope Paul III made it the main cathedral above all other New World churches. Thus, this temple became the very true religious center of the new continent.

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Enjoying the architectural forms of the cathedral, you will find a combination of different styles, from Baroque to Gothic and Renaissance. On an area of 3000 m2 there are 12 chapels with the tombs of archbishops, presidents and other important people.

At the end of the 16th century pirates plundered the cathedral and used it as a temporary shelter and a warehouse for loot. During restoration work in 1877, the remains presumed to belong to Christopher Columbus were found. The temple itself is located in Columbus Square, which is adorned by a monument dedicated to this famous navigator.

Columbus Lighthouse, Faro o Colón, Columbus Tomb are names for the same place. Perhaps this grandiose structure can be called the most monumental and controversial monument in the Dominican Republic!

columba lighthouse

After all, the Columbus Lighthouse became famous as the most expensive and longest-built project!

Thus, the budget for the construction of this structure cost, by various estimates, 40 to 70 million dollars! Well, the construction itself took many decades.

Posthumous adventures of Christopher Columbus

But let’s start with the background, which is directly linked to the name of one of the greatest travelers in history – Christopher Columbus! The famous mariner loved to travel so much that he continued to do so even after his death!

During his countless voyages the great explorer always dreamed of returning to his favorite island, Hispaniola (where Dominica is today), and he willed to bury his ashes in this new Spanish colony.

However, he died in Spain, where he was buried in the monastery of Valladolid. This happened in 1506, and five years later the remains of the traveler were reburied in Seville. And only after 2 decades, Columbus’s will was fulfilled: his ashes were sent to the New World and buried in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo.

Well, then there was a lot of things: pirates, battles, the Cathedral was repeatedly looted. At the end of the 18th century Columbus’s ashes moved to Cuba and from there to Seville.

However, in 1887, during the restoration of the cathedral, they accidentally discovered a burial site which indicated that these were the ashes of Christopher Columbus.

Since then, the debate has not ceased – where are the real ashes of the greatest pilgrim? In the Dominican Republic, Cuba or Spain? So many years have passed that it’s hard to know. But in the Dominican Republic no one doubts that the great navigator rests where he wanted – on his favorite island.

The found remains were placed in a beautiful and powerful chest, which was placed in a marble mausoleum, installed at the entrance to the cathedral.

Columbus Lighthouse 2

But what does the Lighthouse have to do with it? You ask! We will tell you soon, but first things first.

The Lighthouse Project

The idea to perpetuate the memory of Christopher Columbus emerged at an international conference in Chile in 1923. It was decided to organize the funding by joint efforts, with the participation of North and South America. In order to realize this idea a competition was announced in which architects from 48 countries of the world came up with more than 450 projects.

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The winning project was designed by Scottish architect John Glieve. He proposed to create a lighthouse monument, which with the help of many spotlights will project a light image of a cross in the night sky.

Columbus Lighthouse 3

The exterior resembles a Mayan pyramid, which speaks of the Indian heritage of the continent, and the cross-shaped monument symbolizes the Catholic faith brought to America by the Europeans.

But because of the shortage of funds the project was delayed, and the author began it only in 1945. A large area, where the first lighthouse was located back in the 15th century, was allocated for construction.

But after the foundation was finished, the construction was frozen due to lack of funds. It was not until 1992 that construction was finished, timing it to coincide with the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America.

Columbus Lighthouse: controversial and controversial

The result was a monument 33 meters high, 44 meters wide and 310 meters long. Marble slabs with sayings of great men, excerpts from the Bible and literary works were placed around the perimeter of the building.

Columbus Lighthouse 4

In addition, inside the Lighthouse is a museum dedicated to Columbus’ voyages and the countries that arose from his discoveries. Part of the exposition is dedicated to those states that participated in financing the project. Russia also made a modest contribution in the 1990s, so look for the room with the Russian flag, samovar, and matryoshka: ) To the right, upon entering the Beacon, is the Chapel of the Virgin Mary, where solemn services are sometimes held.

In 1992, the mausoleum containing Columbus’ ashes was ceremonially moved and installed in the center of the Lighthouse. Pope John Paul II himself attended this ceremony and blessed the monument and the Dominican people. For the locals, who are devout Catholics, such a visit was a grand religious event.

The armored “pope-mobile” in which the great hierarch rode is still in the square near the Lighthouse, as a reminder of the event.

Columbus Lighthouse 5

Despite the best of intentions, the project was not fully realized. After all, to light 157 spotlights requires a lot of electricity, and in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo everything is not so good. Therefore, the spotlights are lit only a few times a year on major holidays, but the spectacle is truly spectacular.

The humid tropical climate has also not helped the appearance of the lighthouse: the facade has darkened a lot and now looks rather gloomy, even though it is regularly treated and cleaned.

That is why, in its current incarnation, the Columbus Lighthouse evokes rather ambiguous impressions among visitors: some admire the genius of the architectural idea, while others claim that the monument looks gloomy and overwhelming.

But you can only form your own opinion about this symbol of the Dominican Republic if you are there. So join us on our trips to the capital and you’ll discover all the secrets, legends, and history of the city of Santo Domingo!

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Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic and is the oldest European city in South America. The old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Interesting to know

Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic, and it is proud to be called the first European city in the New World. Founded by Christopher Columbus’ brother Bartholomew in 1496, the city is the oldest permanently inhabited place of European settlement in the Americas, the first place in the New World where there was a Spanish colonial empire. As such, the city of Santo Domingo possesses a rich historical and cultural heritage, making any visit to it extremely rewarding. Currently, it remains one of the most densely populated cities in the Caribbean region of Central America, and the main economic and commercial center of the region.

The city is divided into two parts by the Osama River. The western part is economically very well developed, while the eastern part, known as “Santo Domingo Este” is historically backward.

The most important tourist destination in the city is the Colonial Zone, located on the west bank of the river, towards the Caribbean Sea. To the west of the Colonial Zone is the Gasque, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, filled with old Victorian houses and tree-lined alleys. The city’s waterfront, George Washington Avenue, known as “El Malecon”, borders the Caribbean Sea and attracts many tourists with its hotels, casinos, palm boulevards and monuments. Near the Gasque you will find the Palacio Nacional (the seat of government of the Dominican Republic), the National Theater, the museums in the Plaza de la Cultura, and the Palace of Fine Arts.

In the central part of western Santo Domingo lies the “heart” of the city’s economic and commercial activity, in an area known as “Poligono Central”, bounded by the streets of February 27, John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill and Maximo Gomez. This high-income area remains poorly explored by tourists, despite offering most of the best restaurants and stores available in the city. Many of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods are surrounded by two major city parks, Parque Mirador Sur to the south and the Botanical Gardens to the north.

In less developed, eastern Santo Domingo you will find other major monuments and tourist sites such as the Columbus Lighthouse, where the explorer’s remains are buried, the open caves of Parque Nacional Dos Tres Ojos, and the National Aquarium.

All this makes Santo Domingo a cosmopolitan, vibrant and bustling city with very different neighborhoods and landscapes, all worth a visit, providing you with a variety of cultural experiences. I usually book hotels on booking, and you can compare prices from different sites here. Another option to stay in Santo Domingo is to rent private apartments, rooms. Similar offers can be searched here.

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Economy

Santo Domingo is the economic center of the Dominican Republic. The city has attracted the attention of many international companies. Many of these firms have their headquarters in the city because of its convenient location and thriving economy.

Power outages have been one of the disadvantages of locating important headquarters in the city, but the infrastructure of this city is a great advantage for many of these international firms. Ever since Santo Domingo privatized and integrated with the U.S. telecommunications system, they have been lucky enough to benefit from modern telecommunications systems.

Incomes in Santo Domingo range from very high to very low. Many of the noble families live in neighborhoods surrounded by John F. Kennedy Street to the north and February 27th Street to the south, Winston Churchill Street to the west and Maximo Gomez Street to the east. Other parts are constantly expanding and developing, such as Naco, Arroyo Hondo, Piantini, Paraiso, Bella Vista, and Sarasota. Most of the population is less fortunate: They live far from the city center, where various slums can be found, indicating that poverty is a big problem in the city.

Winston Churchill Street and February 27 are the two commercial centers of the city. Most shopping centers and stores are located on these two streets, such as Acropolis Center, Scotiabank, Citibank, Banco BHD, Banco del Progreso, Banreservas, Plaza Central and Plaza Naco. Despite this, the most popular shopping centers are the Acropolis Center, Bella Vista Mall, Blue Mall, the soon to open Novo-Centro, Agora Mall and Galería 360, all because they have more modern stores, popular with high-income families. Santo Domingo used to be called “Ciudad Trujillo” during the Trujillo dictatorship.

Government and Politics

The national government of the Dominican Republic is located in Santo Domingo. The National Palace is the workplace of the current President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina, and the National Congress. The National Police (Policia Nacional) and the Tourist Police (Policia de Turismo) are responsible for the implementation of urban security. The National Police base is on Leopoldo Navarro Street # 402, you can also reach them by calling 809-682-2151 for a central line, but in case of an ambulance call dial 911. There are also many police outposts scattered throughout the city.

How to get there

Planning a trip to Santo Domingo? Do you want to know how to get there? If your answer is yes, the list of ways to get there is below.

By air

Las Americas International Airport (location: Greater Santo Domingo). (IATA (International Air Transport Association):SDQ (city coding, in this case Santo Domingo)) is about 15 minutes from the greater metropolitan area and about 30 minutes from downtown. You can monitor flight tickets to Santo Domingo, for example, in this section of Travelascope. The airport offers several transportation options, including all the major car rental firms.

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