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Santo Domingo


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Welcome to Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo

If any city in the world could be declared the perfect holiday destination, then Santo Domingo would probably be a prime candidate, with its modern sophistication, old world charm and Latin charisma, not to mention its position on the tropical southern Caribbean coast of the Dominican Republic. The only blight on the landscape is the crime rate: robbery, muggings and petty theft are common, so guard your belongings with care.

Santo Domingo is used to being first: it was the first European settlement in the New World; it boasts the western hemisphere's first cathedral, first monastery, first hospital, first university and first law court. This rich colonial heritage, sparked off in the 15th Century by legendary Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus, has been turned into a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the heart of the city. Known as the 'Colonial City' it is now a delightful area of cobblestone streets and 16th-century buildings, interspersed with cafes, bars, small hotels and restaurants.

Visitors don't need to stray from the Colonial City to enjoy a great time in the city, but it is advisable not to ignore the modern part of Santo Domingo. The superb shopping, delicious dining, dazzling casinos, seductive parks and vibrant nightlife all beckon enticingly, from the monumental Columbus Lighthouse right down to the depths of the Guácara Taina nightclub, with its multi-level dance floors housed inside a real cave. And an opportunity to visit to the Estadio Quisqueya, to watch a game of the Dominican Republic's adored national sport, baseball, shouldn't be passed up on by any visitor to the city between the months of October and February.

Information & Facts


Santo Domingo enjoys a typically tropical climate, the heat tempered somewhat by sea breezes. The average annual temperature is 77°F (25°C). The rainy season is between May and November, but consists of heavy showers of short duration after which the sun shines brightly once again.

Getting Around

There are several ways to get around in Santo Domingo. The city is serviced by large buses, as well as minibuses, which are cheaper than taxis but can be very crowded. Taxis are plentiful and radio-taxis usually respond quickly, with helpful and accommodating drivers who are used to dealing with tourists. Fares must be negotiated before leaving. Another option is a publico, or multi-passenger taxi; fares depend on length of trip. Santo Domingo is relatively easy to negotiate, though roads can be in poor condition, and car rental agencies are available. These usually require a valid drivers licence and credit card, with a minimum age of 21.

Spanish is the official language, but English is spoken in the main tourist centres.

The currency is the Dominican Republic Peso (DOP), divided into 100 centavos. Many of the hotels and restaurants in the main tourist destinations display their prices in US dollars as well as in Dominican Pesos, as US dollars are widely accepted and some places will also accept Euros. The peso cannot be exchanged outside of the Dominican Republic. Major currencies can be converted into pesos at Central Bank approved bureaux; only 30% of the pesos bought can be re-converted and this only if the original receipts are produced, so it is best not to buy more pesos than you are likely to need. Major credit cards are accepted everywhere, but a commission is usually charged and it is recommended that you only use your credit card at your hotel as fraud incidents have been reported. The best exchange rates are paid on US travellers cheques and secondly on US dollars cash and are best exchanged at exchange bureaux ( casas de cambio). Banking hours are Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 4.30pm; some banks also open on Saturday. ATMs are widespread.

A popular escape from city life is provided by the small seaside town of Boca Chica, a 25-minute drive east of Santo Domingo on the Avenida de las Americas. The resort was developed by a wealthy industrialist around one of the best swimming beaches on the coast, and boasts crystal-clear, calm waters, a yacht club and a marina, a golf course and some excellent seafood restaurants.

Inside the Colonial City stands the oldest cathedral in the western hemisphere, built in 1523 and still used to this day. Its mix of late-Gothic and Renaissance elements provide a beautiful example of Spanish Renaissance architecture, with its golden coral facade and Gothic interior. Its walls have seen a great deal of history, including the coming of Sir Francis Drake who captured Santo Domingo in 1586 and held the town for ransom. He made the cathedral his headquarters.

The historic enclave of Santo Domingo, known as the Colonial City, covers only one square mile (3 sq km), but inside the walls are dozens of historical buildings and sites, including palaces, forts, museums, and churches; parks, plazas, statues and monuments. A walking tour of these fascinating buildings takes at least three hours through cobbled streets, where once walked Christopher Columbus, Fernando Cortez and Francis Drake. The main street, Calle Das Lamas, is the oldest street in the New World. Must-sees include the House of Cord, the oldest European building in the Americas, and where Diego Columbus, son of Christopher, once lived; and the Alcazar Palace, now a museum, built in 1514.

This mammoth structure was built on the eastern shore of the Ozama River in the early 1990s, to commemorate both Santo Domingo's status as the oldest European city in the Americas, and the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the New World. The building is 693ft (211m) long, and built in the shape of a cross at a 45-degree angle. It houses what the Dominican Republic claims are the remains of Columbus himself, and is fitted with intense lights which project the image of the cross into the sky at night. The monument was designed by English architect J.L. Gleave, who won an international competition for the design after 455 plans were submitted by architects from 48 different countries. The building is also the repository for numerous documents and artefacts associated with the early Spanish colonial times.

The 'Three Eyes' park, on the east bank of the Ozama River, is a surreal experience for visitors. The park is actually a series of huge natural caves on different levels, containing fresh water lagoons. One is a sulphuric lake rumoured to be bottomless, which is contained in a volcanic crater. The caves are festooned with stalactites and stalagmites. The pre-Columbian Taino Indians used the site for religious ceremonies.

About a mile east of the Columbus Lighthouse monument, is sited one of the better aquariums in the Caribbean. The aquarium contains a variety of marine life, from angelfish to sharks, but its star resident is 'Tamaury', a manatee rescued as a baby off the coast of Barahona. The aquarium is equipped with a clear glass sea-tunnel that makes viewing the enclosed sea life an awesome experience.

The vast green square in the heart of Santo Domingo serves as the city's cultural and artistic showcase, being fronted by a cluster of four museums, as well as the National Theatre. The museums are the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of History and Geography, the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Dominican Man. The National Theatre runs a full programme of opera, ballet, music and drama productions.

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