Seeing Santo Domingo
Spending time in the Dominican Republic’s capitol city of Santo Domingo makes sense. Most people fly into Santo Domingo’s Aeropuerto Internacional Las Americas, and although the city isn’t a representation of the rest of the country, it is a good place to start your trip. When I drove into Santo Domingo on a warm Friday afternoon, I expected to see nothing but the grittiness and smog I’d heard so much about. But this wasn’t the case. Although traffic is dense, a thin layer of smog hovers over the city and there are some jarring neon signs and highway billboards, there is a unique beauty to Santo Domingo as well.
The weekend had just begun when we pulled into Santo Domingo, and school children in their plaid uniforms ambled across the sidewalks, calling loudly to one another in rapid Spanish. Dominican women sold bananas and mangos on the side of the road, cars beeped their horns, and the sun shone brightly as people made their way home or to bars and restaurants and other meeting places. The work week was over.
Santo Domingo is definitely not the Caribbean paradise most people envision when planning a trip to the Dominican Republic, so devoting your entire vacation to the city is probably not a wise plan. However, in the few days I was there, I encountered several attractions that were well worth visiting.
La Zona Colonial
The Colonial Zone – or “Zona Colonial” is probably the highlight of Santo Domingo, where you can find bars, restaurants, hotels and an exciting nightlife. It is also very pretty, with the ruins of the old city walls still intact, remnants of the first European city in the New World. Walking along the cobblestone streets, you will find wrinkled men playing chess and vendors selling everything from jewelry to drums to cheap cigars. (Cigars and rum are cheap in the DR, and they’re good. Make sure to bring some home!) People are friendly, and you will find visitors from all over the world. I chatted in broken Spanish to a man from Colombia, as well as a couple from Cuba. There are plenty of hotels to fit any budget, restaurants that prepare excellent seafood, and museums and churches aplenty. If you only make it to one place in Santo Domingo, make sure it is Zona Colonial.
Although the beaches in Santo Domingo are not nearly as breathtaking and beautiful as in other parts of the country, the Malecon provides a beachfront setting that is picturesque. The 7 mile-long outdoor boardwalk features discos, bars and cafes all overlooking the beach, a perfect place to catch cool ocean breezes in Santo Domingo’s humidity. I don’t know if I’d be bold enough to venture swimming in the waters of Santo Domingo’s beaches, but it sure looks nice from atop a stool in one of the Malecon’s bars.
Spending just a few days in Santo Domingo will probably suffice for many, especially those who crave a faster pace and a thriving nightlife. The nice thing about Santo Domingo is its location: it is just a short (and cheap!) bus ride to some of the best spots in the DR, including Punta Cana, the Samana peninsula and Parque Nacional Del Este. Most buses depart several times a day, and are clean and reliable.