Things to Do in Santo Domingo
The Caribbean is known for its brilliant colors and vibrant culture. Travelers to Dominican Republic will find this to be especially true amid the lively streets of Santo Domingo, where the country’s urban center is ripe with the smells and sounds of Latin America.
But visitors who venture to Zona Colonial—one of the city’s most historic neighborhoods—will find a tiny enclave filled with traditional European-style architecture, well-kept parks, cobblestone streets and artistic nods to great adventurers.
A mighty bronze statue of Christopher Columbus sits at the center of Parque Colon, and nearby Calle Las Damas is the oldest paved road in the New World. These historic sites, paired with incredible architecture unlike anywhere in Santo Domingo, are just part of what make Zona Colonial a popular destination for travelers looking to escape the hustle of the city, as well as those who want to experience the nation’s capital as it used to be.
This UNESCO World Heritage site located in Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone, is the oldest Viceroy residency in all of the Americas. Once the home of the famous Columbus family, the symmetrical structure was built by the famous explorers son is 1515.
This historic site, which is now home to the Museo Alcazar de Diego Colon, was once an architectural constellation of fifty rooms, gardens and courtyards. While this once impressive palace is today approximately half the size, the artifacts, tapestries and documents on display in the museum showcase a rich and colorful history that grants travelers a deeper understanding of the culture and stories of Santo Domingo, as well as one of the world’s most well-known explorers.
In a diverse city with streets that vary from colonial cobblestone to well-worn dirt paths, the bustling square of Columbus Park proves iconic, with an energy that unifies old world Santo Domingo with contemporary Dominican Republic.
Once known as Plaza Mayor, the square was renamed after its towering sculpture of Christopher Columbus in the late 1800s. The historic park is a popular gathering place for travelers looking to people watch and locals looking for a bit of relaxation come mid-afternoon. Columbus Park’s close proximity to landmarks like the Catedral de Santa Maria la Menor, the Municipal Palace and the old commercial district known as Calle del Conde, make it the perfect place to kick off a day in the city’s old Colonial Zone.
Los Tres Ojos—one of Santo Domingo’s most unique attractions—is an open-air limestone cave that’s home to three beautiful lakes. A nearby underground river feeds water to these brilliantly colored ponds that are accessible on foot or by boat. Travelers can explore the blue, green and yellow waters that are rich with indigenous wildlife that were once a source of survival for the first inhabitants of Hispaniola. An impressive network of stalagmites and stalactites surround the lakes, which travelers say makes a visit to Los Tres Ojos feel like stepping into another world.
Calle de las Damas is one of the Colonial Zone’s most picturesque destinations. The cobblestone street—said to be the first ever in the New World—is lined with classic Spanish-style houses and beautiful European churches that are a nod to the city’s ancient past. Travelers can venture back in time as they wander past Fortaleza Ozama, Calle El Conde and Hoeyl Sofitel—the first solar clock on the continent. While the scenic street is worth checking out, visitors agree that the surrounding shops, quiet restaurants and colonial charm make Calle de las Damas.
Like much of this capital city, Faro a Colon, a bold and imposing cross-shaped structure, serves as a tribute to one of the world’s most famous explorers. Built in a style that’s more urban office building than coastal treasure, this mausoleum and museum does have one distinct feature that’s responsible for its namesake. Columbus Lighthouse projects a unique cross-shaped beam with a light so bright it can be seen from the shores of Puerto Rico.
Travelers who venture to this concrete structure can explore a vast collection of Columbian jewelry, an ancient boat from Cuba and what locals say are the remains of Christopher Columbus.
This 16th-century fortress located in the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo was built by the Spanish and is recognized today as a UNESCO World Heritage site. History buffs can explore La Fortaleza—which is the oldest European-style military building in the Americas—and learn more about how this old-school castle that once guarded the port of Dominica Republic’s capital city. Travelers can explore the grounds of this imposing castle that once served as a prison on their own or with the help of a local guide. A climb to the Torre del Homenaje offers incredible 360-degree views of the city, and a nearby powder house and rows of cannons reflect the fort’s important military history.
More Things to Do in Santo Domingo
Founded in 1976, the National Botanical Garden in Santo Domingo was named after a Dominican botanist who published a guide to the plant life of Hispaniola. The calming paths of this quiet and contemplative garden are ideal for escaping the city streets, and athletic travelers agree the garden’s five miles of well-kept tread are perfect for early morning runs, too.
The botanical garden’s tram winds visitors through multiple ecosystems, tropical foliage and a broad range of displays that showcase Dominican Republic’s diverse flora. Travelers agree the impressive Japanese garden is an essential stop on any visit to the National Botanical Garden, and the lush lawns also prove ideal for afternoon picnics.
Recognized as one of the oldest churches in the Americas, Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor is Santo Domingo’s most famous religious structure. Tucked into the old-world streets of the city’s Colonial Zone, Santa Maria was built in the early 1500s and remains an icon of the country’s Catholic community. Its classic Gothic and Baroque features are a nod to the church’s European roots and an extensive collection of woodcarvings and religious artifacts make a visit well worth the trip.
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