Santo Domingo was founded by Bartolome Columbus in 1496 as the first European city in the New World, and it is the oldest inhabited settlement in the Americas. Today it features charming 15th and 16th century architecture lining cobblestone streets in its colonial center, and scenic beaches and dense jungle surround the urban sprawl. You can explore the vibrant and eclectic city of Santo Domingo, as well as get away from the hustle of the city and glamorous resorts by getting close to the local community with our excursions. Learn about conservation, fishing practices, chocolate-making and more with verified local guides on our tours listed below
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Santo Domingo is the oldest colonial establishment in the New World. It features a mix of tradition and modernity and a fusion of world cultures. You can traverse it by the cobblestone streets or the efficient metro system. You can sample cuisine influenced by Spanish culinary practices and Chinese flavors. Over 2 million people inhabit the port city, perhaps known best for its vibrant nightlife and festival scenes. However, it is also a hub of colonial history and a central point for delving deeper into local life ways in the Dominican Republic.
1498 — Bartholomew Columbus founds the city
1586 — Pirate Sir Francis Drake captures the city, and many settlers move to South America
Mid-1600s — French capture the western half of island (Haiti) and import slaves
1795 — Spanish cede whole island to France
1791 — African slave revolt in Haiti
1804 — Haitians throw the French out of the western half of the island
1822 — Haiti attacks eastern part of the island
1844 — Dominicans drive Haitians back and attain freedom for the first time
1930-1961 — Dominican Republic ruled by a dictator, Rafael Trujillo, who was assassinated
Now, some racial and social problems persist in the Dominican Republic. Those with European descent and lighter skin populate the upper class, and most Dominicans with African and native Taino ancestry remain poorer with little opportunity for social mobility. Among all Dominicans, an emphasis on hospitality and values on family and faith remain consistent.
The city is currently undergoing a lot of renovation to accommodate the tourist boom. Many tourists visit to celebrate carnaval, which began in the 16th century as a religious folk fest. Now people travel to Santo Domingo from all over the world to party with the locals all day and night.
Santo Domingo’s charm lies largely in its colonial architecture. The colonial zone is situated in the center of town, which is the perfect place to stay to fully experience the historical allure of the city. Small boutique hotels are the best choice for a unique and cozy stay. Casa Naemie is located a few blocks from the oldest cathedral in the Americas and the main street of the colonial zone. It’s also situated only 25 minutes from the international airport, and it features breezy terraces and currency exchange. El Beaterio Casa Museo is a tiny hotel and museum with bedrooms of different sizes. It was built in the early 1500s as a nunnery, and it now offers a tropical courtyard and free breakfast for guests. Other great accommodations include Hotel Villa Colonial, which also offers a nice breakfast and hospitable staff, and Hodelpa Nicolas de Ovando, which is situated in a safe area, close to museums and restaurants. If you want to stay on the waterfront to experience the lively nighttime scene, check out Catalonia Santo Domingo, which houses 3 bars and great views of the nearby area. You can eat outside at the hotel but it’s kind of pricy. There are many places to eat cheaply in the city.
As Santo Domingo is situated in the heart of the Caribbean, temperatures usually remain fairly high throughout the year. August is the hottest month, with an average temperature of 82 F. Even during the coldest month, February, temperatures usually don’t dip below 70 F. From May through October, the region experiences the most significant rainfall, but the rain isn’t typically so frequent or strong as to ruin a vacation or prevent any activities from taking place. However, it’s best to avoid planning your trip in the month of May due to rain. March is the driest month and a pleasant time for travel, and any time between November and March is best to enjoy the beaches.
If possible, you should plan to head to Santo Domingo during one if its well-known fiestas petronales to experience eclectic music, dancing and sporting events. Santo Domingo celebrates Carnaval in February, when partiers flood the streets every Sunday with colorful floats, celebrating throughout the day and night. Music lovers and those who enjoy to watch or partake in festive dance must visit during the Festival de Merengue, which usually takes place in late July or early August. Make sure to book your accommodation well in advance as this event draws many to the city.
Spanish culinary practices and African and Taino traditions largely influence Santo Domingo’s cuisine. However, Santo Domingo offers food from all over the world, most abundantly featuring Puerto Rican, Cuban, Italian and Chinese dishes. To experience the best of the local offerings, try some of the fresh fruit juices served by most cafes and restaurants. Many dishes feature plantains, which are green bananas. Mangu is a breakfast dish of mashed plantains and cooked onions, cheese and salami. Mofongo is another plantain dish served with olive oil, garlic and bacon. Other local dishes include “the Dominican Flag,” which is a lunch dish of rice, red beans meat and vegetables on the side, and casabe, a flatbread made from cassava, a root vegetable. Mid-grade and high-end restaurants offer pretty expensive options, and menu prices typically don’t include the sales tax and gratuity charge. Try visiting one the city’s comedors, or cafeterias, which are frequented by locals around business districts and universities. They typically serve one meal of the day for around $3 to $8.
Spend at least two full days touring the colonial center of the city and then head to beaches and other locations for opportunities off the beaten path. Here are some sites not to be missed in Santo Domingo: