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Santo Domingo, the Best of Both Worlds
Visitors to Santo Domingo can have their cake and eat it, too, with a dizzying selection of arts and culture, along with a healthy dose of fun in the sun at the many nearby beaches. Christopher Columbus knew a good thing when he saw it, and it’s easy to see why a few nights at a hotel in Santo Domingo just won’t cut it. The Caribbean’s oldest city will take your breath away, and you’ll have the cafes, museums and charming cobblestone streets to thank. Whether your visit coincides with a major festival like Carnival or Festival Presidente, or you plan to take advantage of lower hotel rates in the off-season, you’ll soon discover that Santo Domingo has a rhythm all its own.
Get Ready for Arts and Culture
Santo Domingo knows a thing or two about museums and churches. In fact, you could spend your entire visit learning about the history of the area and stopping at religious sites, many of which date back to the 1500s. A good place to start is the Catedral Primada de América . This church is the oldest in operation in the Western Hemisphere, and boasts some seriously breath-taking vaulted ceilings, 14 chapels, and an interesting mix of Baroque, Gothic and Romanesque architecture. From there, it’s easy to walk to Iglesia de Santa Clara, a decidedly smaller but no less appealing church. Home to the first nunnery built in 1552, it’s a great place to soak up the sense of history that Santo Domingo imparts. Keep the church crawl going and take your pick of more than a dozen fascinating churches open to the public, or continue on to some of the top museums in the country. The Museo de las Casas Reales shouldn’t disappoint, and you might even get a taste of a pirate’s life as you peruse the collections of antique weaponry, maps of explorers and conquistadors, and treasures recovered from Spanish ships. If paintings and sculpture are more up your alley, the Museo de Arte Moderno is a must-see, and for something a little different, the Amber World Museum showcases amber samples from around the world, along with the history of its use and origins.
Three Cheers for a Sunny Day
If you simply can’t justify staying indoors while the sun is shining, you’ll have lots of options to keep you occupied. Visiting the many plazas and monuments are a great way to get a feel for the city without sacrificing a gorgeous day. And what better way to enjoy the weather than doing a little people watching? Parque Colón is the place to be in the Zona Colonial, and it is buzzing day and night with locals, tourists, hawkers, guides, and those that want a shady respite from the afternoon heat. For a place to get your bearings before deciding on a bite to eat, café-lined Plaza de España comes alive at sunset, and you might even see evening music and dancing as day turns to night. Jardín Botánico Nacional is also a pleasant stop on a nice day. If your feet are tired from walking, an open-air trolley transports guests on a guided tour, and with 2 km of lush grounds, it would be easy to forget that you are in the middle of the city. For the ultimate in sunny weather activities, a beach excursion can’t be missed. In as little as 20 minutes, tourists can be walking the famed sugar sand beaches of the Dominican Republic, and resort towns like Boca Chica and Juan Dolio are still relatively undeveloped.
Step Back in Time
Much of the architecture in this exciting city dates back hundreds of years, but it isn’t uncommon to see buildings that have been restored after the various invasions that Santo Domingo endured. While there is a nice blend of old and new, visitors to the city might prefer to stay in one of the historic hotels that the city has to offer, such as the Hostal Nicolas de Ovando Santo Domingo. This 5-star hotel located on the first paved street in the Americas dates back to 1502, and its elegant Spanish Colonial architecture will have you feeling like you are waking up in another century. To continue the historical vibe, add the Fortaleza Ozama to the list of attractions worth a visit. This former military garrison and prison has flown the flag of seven countries, and the fort is one of the oldest in the New World. Casa de Francia also falls under the category of historic buildings that will make an impression, and this former residence of Hernán Cortés certainly has a story to tell. Cortés was the conqueror of the Mexican Aztecs, and this building is said to be where the organisation of his fateful expedition took place. On the way back to your hotel, plan on spending a bit of time at Tabacalera de García to learn about the history and tradition of cigar making in Santa Domingo, and maybe you’ll even want to make a purchase to celebrate a successful trip.