Santo Domingo Travel Guide
Introduction to Santo Domingo
Quick quiz: what was the first city that was established in the Americas? Canadians might say St. John’s. Americans will quickly answer St. Augustine.
However, both of these answers are incorrect, as the oldest city in the New World is none other than Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic.
Founded by Christopher Columbus’s brother close to the turn of the 16th century, this place became the center of operations for what would become a grand empire for the Spanish crown.
So before you rush off to the many splendid beach resorts that exists along the coast of the Dominican Republic, give this colonial city at least a few days of appreciation at the start or end of your trip.
Cultural Attractions in Santo Domingo
On your first day in Santo Domingo, be sure to make the Catedral Primada de America your first sightseeing stop of the day.
With the cornerstone laid by Diego Columbus, the son of the famous explorer Christopher Columbus in 1514, and the church serving its congregation from its completion in 1541 to the present day, it is the oldest church in continuous operation in the Western Hemisphere.
Containing design elements that have hints of Baroque, Romanesque, and Gothic styles throughout its lavish interior, its vaulted ceilings and incredible columns bear almost no signs of the indignities inflicted upon them by Sir Francis Drake and his band of pirate brothers. Be sure to visit in clothing that you would wear to church; this means no shorts or tank tops!
The Alcazar de Colon is another awe-inspiring building that you should visit while in Santo Domingo. Designed in the Moorish style, which was all the rage back in the 16th century, this ornate residence once was home to the formerly mentioned Diego Columbus, who then passed it off to family relatives when it came time for him to return to Spain later in the 1500’s.
Everything went downhill from there, as the place began to fall apart due to a lack of general upkeep and maintenance.
Eventually it was sold off to become a warehouse, but that wasn’t the worst that this place saw over the years, as it eventually became a prison for the city, and then after that, it was one of the locations where the city dumped its garbage.
In the mid-twentieth century, it was eventually rescued from this ignoble fate by local authorities, who fixed its walls (only two of them remained at right angles), gave its interior a thorough scrubbing, and filled its halls with furniture that would have existed when Christopher Columbus’s son held court in this magnificent residence.
Being the flagship city of Spanish settlement in the New World, military planners knew that they would have to defend this beachhead with one heck of a fort.
Fortaleza Ozama was the end result of their planning, and it remains the oldest standing European fortification in the Americas.
Boasting two meter thick walls and with cannons lining its ramparts, there is much to take in at this historic site.
At the gates of the fort are a number of guides for hire who speak up to five languages, so if you’re looking for the local’s perspective on this defensive stalwart, don’t be afraid to pony up the money required to recruit their insight.
Other Attractions in Santo Domingo
Those looking to explore the Dominican Republic’s natural wonders will not have to go far from the city center of Santo Domingo to take in their first attraction.
Parque Nacional Los Tres Ojos is an exposed limestone cave that can be found in a park in the outer suburbs of the city.
Partially exposed to the sunlight, the crystalline lakes that have formed in the bowels of this former cavern are the main attraction here; keep your eyes open for the resident turtles that call this place home.
While you are going around Santo Domingo checking out the historic sites that this Caribbean city has a wealth of, chances are good you’ll be spending a lot of time within the bounds of Ciudad Colonial.
This portion of the city has been recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site by the UN for being the first European city that was established in the Americas.
In addition to the many attractions that make Santo Domingo an excellent place to learn about the history of the early Spanish Empire in the New World, there are the usual assortment of cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and nightlife options along its aged streets, so if you are looking for a place to kick off your trip to the Dominican Republic in grand fashion, or to end it with a bang.
If you need to rest your tired legs during your long day of wandering through Ciudad Colonial, spending some time on the park benches in Parque Colon should be a goal of yours.
With a grand statue of Christopher Columbus as the centerpiece and plenty of locals going about their own business, you’ll have plenty of subjects for great pictures as you rest under the shade of the trees that grow in this park.