The best monuments and places to visit in Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo is on the rise. After years of being a bit overlooked, the capital of the Dominican Republic is undergoing a major transformation, spurred on in part by the renovation of its old town and the development of new, more modern areas. Today, it’s one of the most vibrant capital cities in the entire Caribbean, in the same league as Panama City or San Juan. If you’re traveling to destinations that are more popular with tourists, such as Puerto Plata or Punta Cana, don’t hesitate to plan a getaway to this lovely colonial city. Just so you’re clear on all that this metropolis has to offer, we’ve put together a list of places to see in Santo Domingo.
Given that it was the first European settlement in the Americas, Santa Domingo is one of the cities where colonization has left the biggest mark, with many interesting monuments to visit that have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Cathedral of Santo Domingo
The Cathedral of Santo Domingo, also known as the Primate of the Americas because it was the first basilica constructed on the new continent, is one of the city’s greatest symbols. Built between 1510 and 1540, it’s one of the few Gothic-style cathedrals in the Americas. What’s more, Christopher Columbus was buried here for more than two centuries before his grave was taken to Havana and later to Seville. However, many believe that the admiral’s remains (or at least part of them) were here until 1992, when they were transferred to the Columbus Lighthouse.
The cathedral is located in the Columbus Park Plaza, which is a good starting point for your visit as it’s right in the heart of the city.
Alongside the cathedral and the shores of the Ozama River, you can find this medieval fortress, one of the most important enclaves of Santo Domingo and the first permanent military structure in the Americas. It was built between 1502 and 1508 in order to protect the city from pirate and corsair attacks.
Save some energy for climbing the nearly 90-foot tall tower, where you can enjoy stunning views of the Santo Domingo port. You can also venture into the dungeons and interior tunnels where prisoners were kept hidden away.
Baluarte del Conde
Ten minutes from the cathedral, you can find the Baluarte del Conde, or the Count’s Bulwark, a military stronghold which still conserves part of the ancient city wall. It is located in Independence Park. This structure also includes the Puerta de la Misericordia, or the Gate of Mercy; the Fuerte de la Concepción, or Fort Conception; and the Altar de la Patria, or the Altar of the Homeland. In addition, this place was the site of one of the most important episodes in the history of the Dominican Republic: here is where the fight for the country’s independence took place.
Alcázar de Colón
Another monument to see in Santo Domingo is the Alcázar de Colón, or the Columbus Alcazar. The first Viceroyal palace in the New World, its construction was finished in 1512 and features a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance styles. Within its walls lived Diego de León, son of Admiral Christopher Columbus, along with his wife María de Toledo, niece of King Ferdinand of Spain.
Its interior houses a museum in which furniture, works of art, and other 16th-century objects are displayed. Without a doubt, this museum is certainly worth a visit, not only for its interior, but also for the spectacular grounds, which feature views of the Ozama River and the Plaza de España.
Santo Domingo Pier
If you want to enjoy an evening in the city, there is nothing better than a stroll along the bustling Santo Domingo Pier, which runs parallel to the coast along George Washington Avenue. You can enjoy a lovely walk and sit at one of the beachside cafés with a delicious coffee or cocktail made with local rum.
El Conde Street
The historic neighborhood of Santo Domingo, in addition to being home to beautiful monuments and colonial buildings, is a gem in and of itself. Get lost on its narrow, colorful streets surrounded by colonial architecture and, most of all, don’t miss a stop on El Conde street, the most popular pedestrian shopping street in the country. On this cobblestone street, you will not only find shops with handicrafts and local products, but also many outdoor cafés, restaurants, and coffee shops where you can stop to rest and try some of the country’s delicacies.
Located on the emblematic Las Damas street, the Kahkow Experience is a museum and factory of one of the most popular products from the Dominican Republic: cocoa. Through a visual multimedia tour, you will learn the process by which chocolate is created, from harvesting the fruit on cocoa plantations until it becomes a bar of exquisite chocolate.
Save some space in your stomach because the tasting room offers various types of this delicious product. It is certainly one of the most interesting places in Santo Domingo to visit.
Faro a Colón
Despite what its name may suggest, the Faro a Colón, or Columbus Lighthouse, is not a lighthouse for guiding sailors, but a monument in honor of Christopher Columbus that was built 500 years after his landing on the island. It’s a massive structure built in the form of a Latin cross but also with the vertical shape of a Mayan pyramid. This mausoleum, which also features a museum, was inaugurated in 1992. The remains of the admiral were transferred here. It’s an emblematic place that is a must-see in Santo Domingo.
Cueva de los Tres Ojos
If you want to take a deep breath and get away from the city, just 5 miles from Santo Domingo is the Parque Nacional de los Tres Ojos, or Three Eyes National Park. This place is full of paths which run between caves and lagoons of underground water that are a tremendous blue that, from far away, look like three eyes. Here, the Taínos, the ancient native people of the Dominican Republic, took refuge and performed their rituals.
Ruins of the San Francisco Monastery
Santo Domingo is full of buildings that can boast of being the first ones built by Europeans in the New World. In this case, the San Francisco Monastery is the first monastery in the Americas. Due to ups and downs and different circumstances, today only ruins remain of this abbey, which in its heyday was one of the most important in the country.
These are just some of the places you can see in Santo Domingo, but there are many more, such as the Museum of the Royal Houses or the Mirador Sur Park. Don’t forget the modern restaurants that have cropped up around the historic center, which offer all kinds of dining options. Another highly recommendable place is the village of Boca Chica, located 40 minutes from the capital city. It has heavenly beaches where you can swim and enjoy a well-deserved rest.