When daydreaming of a getaway to the Dominican Republic, sun, surf, and rum-based cocktails first come to mind. And you’re not wrong. But the island-nation’s capital city of Santo Domingo is also brimming with history, culture, and natural wonders well worth visiting. So, why not make a weekend of it?
With most major cities offering nonstop flights to Las Américas International Airport, a dose of some much needed R&R against a rich and vibrant backdrop is just a hop, skip, and a jump away.
A mere 30 minutes from your arrival gate you’ll find the UNESCO World Heritage site and must-see (and stay) area of Zona Colonial. A peek into the past, “La Zona,” as it’s known, is the first European Colonial district in the New World and hasn’t changed much. Stroll along the cobblestone streets where you’ll undoubtedly stumble upon massive squares, stone churches, statue-packed parks, and fortresses dating back to the 1500’s.
Start your jaunt at the top of Calle El Conde, or Street of the Count, at Parque Independencia, accessed through La Puerta del Conde (The Count's Gate) which once served as the entrance to this fortified city. Along with the occasional stone sentry box, busts of national heroes line the grand walkway and hide amongst the lush greenery and rotating art exhibits on the grounds. Larger than life statues of the Fathers of the Dominican Republic (Juan Pablo Duarte, Matías Ramón Mella, and Francisco del Rosario Sánchez) reside in the impressive marble mausoleum, Altar de la Patria, where visitors come to pay their respects.
Calle El Conde itself is a colorful, bustling scene rife with shops, restaurants, music, street dogs, performers, and talented artisans. Grab a coffee at an open air cafe, browse beautiful original canvases often featuring the beauty of the adjacent Ozama River, or try your hand in a chess tournament against a regular at one of the many outdoor tables.
At the end of this 1 KM stretch you’ll reach Parque Colón or Columbus Park. Without surprise, a statue of Christopher Columbus stands dead center; pointing towards his next conquest and constantly covered in pigeons. Galleries, government buildings, and arch-adorned cathedrals surround the plaza as well as laid back cafes and bars offering outdoor seating and thirst-quenching drinks. And amazing location for people watching, dog watching, and taking it easy. Be sure to order a traditional Dominican drink, the Morir Soñando. Essentially frothy milk and orange juice, the name means “to die while dreaming" and is apparently acceptable to sip on morning, noon, and night!
If you’re in the mood for a little escape from the hustle and bustle, Los Tres Ojos, or the three eyes, is just 15 minutes away. The three eyes stand for the three lakes located within the limestone caves of the Mirador del Este park. With bright turquoise water and stalactites abound, the caves look like something out of the prehistoric era, and they are! Scenes from the third Jurassic Park movie (as well as Tarzan) were shot here and it’s easy to see why! A few pesos gets you a trip across the turtle-filled waters of the second eye, La Nevera, on a small ferry boat operated by ropes. This descent deeper into the cave proves completely breathtaking and a little eerie.
It wouldn’t be a trip to the Caribbean without a little beach time. Playa Boca Chica is close, clear, and calm. Despite soaring temperatures, fried food is the delicacy of choice on the sand. You can order everything from fried fish to fried yuca and Yaniqueques (Johnny Cakes) amongst the myriad of bright wooden stands lining the road en route to the beach.
Prices here are more favorable and the food is often prepared on the spot under the charming hand painted signs. If you want front row seats to the Caribbean Sea, you can pay a little more to sit under an umbrella at one of the restaurants that plunge over the shoreline and offer larger seafood platters and giant bottles of Presidente that really hit the spot.
Back in Zona Colonial, the perfect end to a stint in Santo Domingo is at the perfect rave. The ruins of the Monasterio de San Francisco is home to a Sunday night Dance Party featuring bright lights, ample drinks, and live music for all generations. It’s a balanced blend of old and new; breathing new life into the first monastery of the new world and making for an unforgettable finish to a fabulous weekend in the sun.