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Dominican Republic Cruises

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

About Dominican Republic

Founded in 1496 by Bartholomew Columbus, brother of Christopher Columbus, Santo Domingo is the capital and cultural center of the Dominican Republic, which comprises two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola (Haiti covering the other third). But long before Bartholomew arrived, the Taíno people thrived in this paradise in an organized society of five chiefdoms, each ruled by its own chief. When Bartholomew landed on these shores, Santo Domingo became the first Spanish settlement in the New World, and opened the door to subsequent conquests of more islands and the mainland by the Spaniards. Since the end of Spanish, French and Haitian rule, Santo Domingo has been the capital of the independent Dominican Republic since 1865.

Situated at the mouth of the Ozama River, Santo Domingo was the hub of economic development and trade during colonial times. It continues to thrive as the commercial and financial heart of the country, with such industries as metallurgy, plastics, textiles and food processing. The combination of its location, economic stability, modern telecommunications infrastructure and a largely bilingual population attracts large international firms.

Dominican Republic Lifestyle and Culture

Dominican culture blends Spanish, African and indigenous Taíno influences to produce a liveliness that’s expressed through the country’s arts and food. Its music, too, is an intoxicating blend of cultures, most vibrantly expressed in merengue and bachata. In Santo Domingo, often simply referred to as “La Capital,” you’re just as likely to stroll past a modern high-rise as you are to witness a group of men hunched over a table on a tree-lined street, contemplating their next domino moves.

The city is bisected by the Ozama River: the less-developed eastern side known as “Santo Domingo Este” and the action-packed western half. Its richly preserved Old Town, the Zona Colonial, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, boasts the region’s most unique collection of Caribbean late-medieval structures. These are the oldest cathedrals, castles, fortresses and houses in the Americas. Within its dozen cobblestone blocks of landmarks and Victorian homes, you could easily spend a few hours exploring. Or, if you wish, enjoy it from a horse-drawn carriage.

At the edge of the Zona Colonial is the Malecón, a waterfront promenade that runs along Avenida George Washington. The restaurants, hotels, casinos and music-filled clubs here promise nonstop entertainment day or night.

Dominican Republic Sights and Landmarks

The Zona Colonial is where you’ll find many of the city’s historic sites, like the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, the first cathedral in the Americas, also known as Catedral Primada de América. Christopher Columbus’s son Diego started its construction in 1514; its completion more than 30 years later reflects a combination of Gothic and baroque stylings due to a revolving door of architects. To see where Diego lived, walk over to Alcázar de Colón, his impeccably restored home. Inside, late medieval and Renaissance artwork and lush tapestries adorn the walls. Exploring its grand interiors is like wandering the hallowed halls of old Europe.

The Ozama Fortress was constructed to defend against enemies. Don’t miss the fort’s rooftop lookout with panoramic city views. The National Pantheon was originally a Jesuit church, but now stands as a mausoleum and remembrance site for many of the country’s celebrated citizens.

Among the city’s historic and artistic institutions, the Museo del Hombre Dominicano (Museum of Dominican Man) celebrates the nation’s past and present with a stunning collection of Taíno artifacts and African influences, including relics of religious practices. The Museo de Arte Moderno (Museum of Modern Art) is four stories of modernist and postmodern Dominican art such as Alberto Bajo’s huge triptych depicting a family divided by American immigration.

Dominican Republic Entertainment and Activities

For a dose of the arts, head to the the Teatro Nacional (National Theater), the cornerstone of the Plaza de la Cultura, or Plaza of Culture. Beautifully appointed, with travertine marble arches, it hosts operas, ballets and the National Symphony Orchestra. For less formal entertainment, Plaza de España hosts live music and dance performances on weekend evenings, but it’s always abuzz with some of the city’s best restaurants and cafés. Simply sit outside and watch the people go by.

The Jardín Botánico (Botanic Garden) showcases trees, plants and flowers from every part of the island, and 300 types of orchids. While not exactly tropical, the Japanese Garden with its pagoda, stream and manicured maze makes for a tranquil stroll.

For more natural beauty, seek out Los Tres Ojos (the Three Eyes), a trio of limestone cave lagoons connected to one another by small walkways. Originally used for religious ceremonies by the Taíno, today travelers and movie crews are more common; it provided the backdrop for many Tarzan films. Access to the caves is via the Parque Mirador del Este on the eastern side of the Ozama River.

Just 20 miles from Santo Domingo, in Boco Chica, crystal clear water, white sand and a natural coral reef come together to create one of the best beaches on the island. Unlike the more turbulent waters up north, Boco Chica’s shallow waters are excellent for swimming.

Dominican Republic Restaurants and Shopping

Dominican cuisine is distinguished by its Spanish, Taíno and African influences. La bandera is one of the most typically Dominican meals, consisting of rice, beans and stewed meat. Mangú is another staple; green plantains are boiled, mashed and topped with sautéed red onions.

The biggest concentration of restaurants in town can be found along the Malecón and in the Zona Colonial. Opened by a seafaring Dutchman in 1505, Pat’e Palo in the Old Town caters to a sophisticated palate with squid ink pasta and Chilean sea bass. For upscale Italian housed in a 16th-century colonial building, La Briciola serves pastas and sauces made daily. Or to experience authentic Dominican cuisine, try Hermanos Villar for a plateful of delicious local food.

For woodcarvings, jewelry, paintings and other souvenirs, visit the bustling Mercado Modelo. Also try Felipe & Co. in the Zona Colonial, a boutique known for high-quality handicrafts. If you’re looking for a local mall, the Acrópolis Center offers four floors of typical retail shops.