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a group of people walking on a city street

What better place to visit in the Dominican Republic than its beautiful and vibrant capital, Santo Domingo? Also called ‘La Capital’, this city is not huge, but a cultural hub nonetheless. Only a 2.5-hour drive from Punta Cana, we thought it was time for you to discover Santo Domingo. We will be giving you a snapshot of the city today, so you can start planning your next trip.  

A brief history

Santo Domingo is a historically fascinating city, as it’s the oldest European settlement in the Americas. That means that Spaniards came to claim the city and the island as part of their ‘New World’, about 520 years ago. It is always a bit odd to talk about the origin of a city like this – of course the Dominican Republic and its people (the native Taíno people) existed before the Europeans came. Santo Domingo lies on the south coast of the island and was discovered by Bartholomew Columbus in 1496. Yes, that is the younger brother of Christopher. Apparently, they were all out sailing.

Santo Domingo owns the first university, cathedral, castle, monastery and fortress in the Americas. The city’s Zona Colonial houses some beautiful ancient buildings and architecture. As Santo Domingo is situated both on the ocean AND on the river Ozama, this city is the most important seaport of the Dominican Republic. The gateway to the Caribbean, a much fought for place by many different European nations, under which the English and the French. No wonder life is so raw and pulsating here, harbor towns have the reputation to be just that bit more authentic.

The city of Santo Domingo

Let’s not try to write down all of Santo Domingo in one go – it’s simply not possible! The city has a nice, warm tropical climate year round, but because they’re on the ocean, a cool breeze is always near to hike up skirts and blast off hats.

But enough about the weather. What’s truly, typical Santo Domingo is the sound of dominos being smacked down, the hooting of horns in the chaotic traffic and the blasting of merengue, reggaetón and bachata from simply EVERY shop! Next to the old European Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo is actually a booming Caribbean city. Urban and hip, full of trendy clubs and fresh ideas. The city is divided into many neighborhoods, of which the ‘ciudads’ are older and the ‘ensanche’ are newer parts. Santo Domingo has a hugely diverse population, ranging from Afro-Dominicans, Euro-Dominicans and Dominican people of mixed descent, to Asians, Arabs and many Europeans and Americans (with Dominican parents). The city is one of the most well developed in Latin-America. 

All about that culture in Santo Domingo

Culture is very important in Santo Domingo! Apart from seeing older buildings and churches in Zona Colonial, the performing arts are thriving. There are many theatres, ballet performances, orchestras, an opera company, concerts and performances throughout the city, but especially in the Plaza of culture.

Museums you should visit? The Museum of Alcazar, the Museum of the Casas Realas, Museo Memorial de la Resistencia Dominicana and Musea Duarte. If you’re more into art and less into history, the Museo Bellapart could be your thing. This museum owns a prominent private collection of 19th- and 20th-Century Dominican painting and sculptures.

The Teatro Nacional is the biggest theatre in the Dominican Republic. Furthermore, the Palacio de Bellas Artes is the permanent home of the country’s National Symphony Orchestra, and the Boulevard 27 de Febrero, a busy promenade, displays works of art from important Dominican artists.

If you’re up for a rest, Santo Domingo owns many beautiful and large parks throughout the city, as well as a Botanical Garden. Mirador del Este is located on the east of the Ozama river and is the seat of the Columbus Lighthouse.

A nearby nature stop

When you plan to spend just one or two days in Santo Domingo and wouldn’t mind travelling a bit further for a bit of wind in your hair and an eerie view of the world, you could visit Las Dunas de Bani. This is a huge field of dunes, or a sort of desert, whatever you make of it! It’s most dreamy and could work wonders as a moment away from the bustling city. An ideal way to check out this southern region.

We promise we’ll be back with more Santo Domingo soon, but this time with tips from an insider in Santo Domingo with the coolest places you can visit there! Tag us in your pics, using #instaBOP or @bestofpuntacanaofficial!