Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic, its political and economic center, but not a tourist one. Often tourists bypass this city, and all for different reasons. Someone is afraid that it is not safe here, someone thinks that there is nothing to see here. I will try to show Santo Domingo exactly from the side that the traveler needs.
Table of contents:
- Santo Domingo: general facts.
- A very brief history of the city.
- How to get there and how to move around the city.
- Where to live.
- Sights of Santo Domingo or what to see.
- Travel Tips
Santo Domingo: general facts
- The city was founded in 1496.
- The largest city in the Dominican Republic. With a population of 10 million people in the Dominican Republic, the population of Santo Domingo is 2 million.
- The city has a subway
Let me tell you about safety. There are a lot of articles on the Internet about how dangerous it is here, how tourists are robbed, that you shouldn’t take more than $ 20 with you. I don’t know why people retype this from each other. In fact, everything is not so scary. Yes, 10 years ago there were certain security problems in the Dominican Republic. They were due to illegal immigrants from nearby poor Haiti.
But things have changed a lot in 10 years. Yes, even today tourists are not recommended to visit the poor areas of the city on the outskirts, especially at night. But in general, it is safe here, at any time of the day. In the colonial zone in the center, nothing can happen at all.
Is there exactly the same situation in other cities and capitals of the world? Rio in Brazil, Barcelona in Spain – there are many such cities.
Good to know:Everyone knows that in Rio in the favelas you can be shot even during the day, but at the same time, millions of tourists come here every year. At night, Africans offered us in the center of Barcelona to buy banned weed, and they did it very aggressively. Therefore, Santo Domingo is no more dangerous than in many European cities.
Read a large article about safety in the Dominican Republic for tourists at the link.
Briefly about safety in Santo Domingo:
- Yes, there are pocket thieves.
- Do not show large sums of money, expensive equipment and jewelry on the street
- Take simple precautions
- And all will be well.
Remember:Santo Domingo is no more dangerous than Rome or Barcelona. It’s just that the Dominican Republic is a little different and you need to get used to it.
Capital of the Dominican Republic: a brief history
I will not reprint Wikipedia for you in detail. But you need to know the history briefly for a general understanding. Yes, and knowledge of history greatly helps when visiting the main attractions of the capital. Therefore, further, thesis and main from the history of Santo Domingo:
- Christopher Columbus discovered the Dominican Republic in 1493 during his first voyage. But on his first journey he sailed only to the northern shores of the country. And Santo Domingo is in the south.
- During the second trip of Columbus, which already passed through the southern part of the island of Hispanola in the Caribbean, the ships sailed to the mouth of the Osama River. This was at the end of 1495.
- And after a couple of months, in 1496, the younger brother of Columbus founded a city on this place.
- The city was named New Isabella. And already in 1502 it was renamed Santo Domingo, in honor of St. Dominic.
It is important to know:Santo Domingo is the oldest city in the new world, in the two Americas, which was founded by Europeans. Before Santo Domingo, in this part of the planet there were only cities of Indian tribes Maya, Incas, Aztecs.
- During the first hundred years of the city’s existence, the residence of the Spanish king and other stone buildings were built here. Today it is the center of the city, which is called the Colonial Zone. Since it was built in the colonial era of the Spanish conquistadors.
- Santo Domingo was the main city of the new world for the Spanish crown, and was of great strategic importance.
- But after the Spanish conquistadors captured the mainland, namely Mexico, Peru and other modern countries of Latin America. That is where the strategic center moved. After that, Santo Domingo lost its privileged position.
- For about 200 more years, the Dominican Republic was waiting for uprisings, revolutions, slavery, the US occupation, and a dictator.
- And approximately from the end of 1960, the Dominican Republic embarked on the path of constitutional order. This gave a great impetus to the development of industry and the economy of the country.
Santo Domingo: how to get there and how to get around the city
How to get to Santo Domingo, I will not dwell in detail. This is the capital of the country, there are excellent roads. Therefore, it is clear to everyone that from any city in the Dominican Republic there are buses routes to the capital.
Even if you flew to another airport. And from Europe, almost all planes fly to Punta Cana. Getting to Santo Domingo is not at all difficult. And how to fly and where to buy tickets from Europe and the USA to the Dominican Republic, read the link.
And if you arrive at Las Americas Airport, this is the country’s main airport, which is 15 km away. It’s easy to get to Santo Domingo.
Much more interesting is the issue of movement around the city.
The best way to get around Santo Domingo
It is important to know:Santo Domingo, a densely populated city with heavy traffic. There are huge traffic jams every day during peak hours. Even outside peak hours, the traffic is very dense. Therefore, advice: if you don’t need to go to Santo Domingo, and you are traveling, for example, from Punta Cana to Samana, then no matter how the navigator leads, it’s better not to enter the city. Enter the city – this is just a loss of two hours in traffic jams.
Inside the city, it is best to travel by two modes of transport:
Driving around the city is not comfortable. Heavy traffic and parking problem everywhere.
About the metro in Santo Domingo
As elsewhere, a very convenient and fast way to travel, and also cheap. The trip costs 30 pesos – about $ 0.5.
The metro in Santo Domingo is young and was opened only in 2008. But the metro in this city has one minus:
- There are only two lines and 30 stations, and most importantly, there is no metro in the tourist center of the Colonial zone.
Below you will read about the sights of Santo Domingo and find their map. So, near most of them there will be no subway. Perhaps this is the biggest disadvantage for tourists.
And so the subway is clean, cheap, trains run every 4-5 minutes. Opening hours from 6 am to 11 pm.
About taxi in Santo Domingo
Convenient, safe and cheap way to get around the city if you know a few things.
- Taxi in the Dominican Republic is very expensive, especially for tourists.
- But at the end of 2020, the well-known UBER entered the market of this country.
- He collapsed prices 3-4 times. There were conflicts, strikes and even skirmishes among taxi drivers.
- As a result, this service was closed in part of the country. But in Santo Domingo UBER works and the trips are really cheap.
- A trip up to 5 km costs $3-4. It is convenient to travel by taxi between attractions.
Read more about the conflict between UBER and regular taxi services and about taxis in the Dominican Republic in general at the link.
It is important to know:In order to install and register with Dominican Uber app, you need a local SIM card. It is also needed for the Internet, so immediately upon arrival, buy it. Which SIM card to choose, where to connect, how to top up, which tariff plan to choose and much more, read the article: Internet in the Dominican Republic.
Santo Domingo: where to live?
There are a lot of accommodation options in Santo Domingo. There are also hotels of world chains, there are also apartments from locals, there are also hostels. Choose only for you. The only thing you need to pay attention to is the location. And you are calmer and safer if you live in the center, and not on the outskirts.
Top tip:It is better to choose a hotel in the center but without the subway than on the outskirts and near the subway.
And below is the dynamic rating of the coolest accommodations in Santo Domingo. You can click on each option, see photos, read reviews and compare prices.
A complete database of accommodation options in Santo Domingo is available here
Attractions of Santo Domingo or what to see
Santo Domingo is a city with 500 years of history. The list of only the main attractions can stretch over several sheets. And if you like museums and churches, then you can walk around them for a week.
Advice:I recommend everyone to allocate 2 full days to Santo Domingo. Then you will have time to see the main sights of the capital at a calm pace. Since if you come for 1 day, then you will have time to see only the Colonial zone, the Los Tres Ojos caves and take a walk along the embankment. If this is enough, then you can go here without spending the night.
Santo Domingo: attractions map
On the one hand, this is a separate attraction of Santo Domingo. On the other hand, the Colonial zone includes a huge number of must-see places.
The Colonial zone in Santo Domingo is the center of the old city from where it began to be built up and developed. Here, each building is a museum or a historical significant place. This is a building from the time of the Spanish colonizers of the 15th-17th centuries. The Colonial zone has been preserved in the form in which it was 400 years ago.
Today, the Colonial zone is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Some of the main attractions of Santo Domingo are located here.
- Entrance to the Colonial Zone is free
- It is open 24\7
- I recommend allocating 4 hours for visiting. Below are the points that you must see in the Colonial Zone.
- Author rating. Hereinafter, the rating is subjective, but will help you evaluate the need to visit each attraction. 10 out of 10. This is a symbol of the city, which should not be missed. You may not go to museums and churches, but you must take a walk along the streets of Colonial Zone.
House of Diego Columbus
Home of the son of Christopher Columbus, who discovered America. The son was immediately appointed viceroy of these lands. After the founding of Santo Domingo in 1496, construction began on a palace for the Viceroy.
Since the construction went far from Spain and there were no resources or materials. Then the Spaniards used everything local. During the 18 years of construction, according to various sources, 1,500 Indians died. And the house of Columbus was built from local limestone. Construction progressed slowly and with difficulty. I’m afraid to imagine what atrocities the Spaniards did to the Indians. History knows extremely terrible examples.
The house of Columbus was completed in 1514 and the whole family of Diego Columbus immediately moved here for permanent residence. But times were hard, and after the death of Diego, power in the region weakened. Already at the end of the same century, the house of Columbus was completely plundered and restored only in the 20th century. Today there is a museum here and the era of life of Diego and his family in this house is recreated.
- The museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. Saturday and Sunday until 4 pm.
- Allocate for the House of Diego Columbus and the park near the house you need 1 hour.
- Entry fee: 100 pesos or $2.
Author rating:7 out of 10. Outside, everything is very beautiful and atmospheric, here you can feel the spirit of the era. But inside the usual museum. Furniture, clothes, a lot of things of the seafarers of that time. It’s all there in any museum in Europe. Well, there is a sense of chaos here. Therefore, you need to see the Dioego House from the outside, but decide for yourself whether to go to the museum inside. If there is not enough time, then you can not go.
Dam Street (Calle las Damas)
America’s First Street. This is the main street of the Colonial zone, which starts from the house of Diego Columbus and goes along the waterfront, to the Osama fortress. This is the first paved street. It was built by the order of Diego’s wife, so that she could walk without getting her clothes dirty in the mud.
And every day she, in the company of other court ladies, made a promenade along this street, which is why they called it las Damas, which translates as Ladies Street.
In addition to colonial buildings, a sundial has been preserved here, which was used as far back as the 16th century.
- Admission is free
- How much time to allocate – 15 minutes
- Opening hours 24\7
Author rating:8 out of 10. If you have already arrived in the Colonial Zone, then you will not be able to pass this street. Therefore, visit the house of Columbus, then go to the Osama fortress, and there is only one way there – along Calle Las Damas
And this attraction is also located in the Colonial zone. You cannot pass by.
Osama Fortress is a real defensive structure. It was built at the mouth of the Osama River and the Caribbean Sea. It was a very strategic location. The fortress easily defended its fleet, which could completely enter the river, but at the same time, enemy ships could not come close.
The fortress performed its functions for almost 500 years. From its construction at the end of the 16th century to the middle of the 20th century.
From the walls of the fortress offers an amazing view of the entire city, the Osama River and the Caribbean Sea. It is worth coming here just to climb the walls of the fortress.
- Opening hours: from 8 am to 5 pm
- Entry fee: 70 pesos or $1.3
- Estimated time: 20 minutes
Author rating:6 out of 10. On the one hand, this is history, a cool place, amazing views from the walls. But on the other hand, a rather small fortress, nothing special. My personal opinion is that you should come here only for the views. For the sake of architecture, there is nothing to do here, it is available for free in the entire Colonial zone.
Cathedral of Santo Domingo
And one more building in the Colonial zone. As you already understood, here every building is a sight. Therefore, just walk along the streets of this quarter and at every turn another iconic place will be waiting for you.
It is the first Catholic cathedral in all of America. It was built in 1541. And after 5 years, the Pope gave him the status of the main cathedral of all America. Today it is an active cathedral.
- Opening hours: from 8 am to 6 pm daily
- Estimated time per attraction: 15-30 minutes
- Entry fee: free
- Be sure to take care of your appearance. Shorts or not recommended.
- Right in front of the cathedral is a monument to Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of America.
Author rating:5 out of 10. I don’t really like church sites. Inside the cathedral is very beautiful, but outside it is nothing special. In any case, walking around the Colonial zone, you will pass by.
Lighthouse of Columbus or Tomb of Columbus or Faro o Colon
Ну что выходим из зоны Колониаль и идем к самому важному зданию Доминиканы. А теперь смотрите в каких показателях маяк Колумба самое MOST:
- the longest construction of all modern buildings in the country, about 50 years
- the most expensive building – about $70 million
- of course, the largest building in the Dominican Republic
- and the most pompous and extraordinary
The building is 310 meters long and 44 meters wide. The lighthouse resembles the Mayan pyramids, which pays tribute to the Indian heritage. But it was built in the form of a cross, which is reminiscent of the Catholic faith, which the Spaniards brought with them to the “New World”.
The building is actually very unusual and pompous, and when the lights and spotlights are turned on at night, it looks very cool. But this is at night. And in the daytime, the impressions are different: there is a wasteland around, because of the high humidity, the building has darkened and no longer causes such delight.
The Columbus Lighthouse today located:
- museum dedicated to the life of Christopher Columbus and his travels
- museum dedicated to the countries he discovered
- there are halls that are dedicated to the countries that funded the project
- small chapel of the Virgin Mary
- and of course, the remains of Columbus himself were transferred here. But the Spaniards claim that the remains of Columbus are stored in Seville. Someone is definitely lying.
As of 2023, the Columbus Lighthouse has been opened to tourists. Before that, for a whole year it was possible to look at it only from the outside.
The park around the Columbus Lighthouse is more like a wasteland. There is a popemobile on the square in front of the lighthouse. This is exactly the armored car that the Pope used in 1992 when he consecrated the lighthouse during its opening.
Access to the park is free and open 24/7.
- I recommend taking 30 minutes to explore the outside.
Author rating:6 out of 10. To be honest, neither outside nor inside of Columbus Lighthouse there is no WOW effect. I highly recommend coming in the evening when the lights are on. And you won’t get bright impressions here during the day. But for those who love museums, this place is a must visit.
Three Eye Caves (Los Tres Ojos)
This is a unique attraction for one reason. In the center of Santo Domingo, a densely populated metropolis, there is a real lost world.
Karst caves with three underground lakes, with a ferry crossing. Getting here, it seems that you are in the heart of the jungle, where the nearest people are at least 400 km from you. And it’s 400km up to the ISS. But no, it’s downtown.
For details about the history of this place, and about how we visited it, read the article Three Eyes Caves in the Dominican Republic.
- Opening hours: from 9 to 17 daily
- Entrance ticket: 200 pesos or $4, ferry crossing another 50 pesos or $1
- Estimated time: 1 hour
Author’s recommendation:10 out of 10. Very cool caves, cool lakes and the feeling that I really got into the book “The Lost World” by Arthur Conan Doyle. I recommend to everyone.
I want to note that these are not all the sights of Santo Domingo. But only the most famous and visited. If you are in the city longer than 1-2 days, then pay attention to:
- Botanical Garden
- National Palace
- Mirador del Sur Park
- Museum of the Dominican Man
- City waterfront
- Main market of the capital
- Dominican street food
- and much more
And about guided tours in Santo Domingo, read the article at the link.
Santo Domingo: Travel Tips
Below are some tips that will make your travel in Santo Domingo easier or help you save some money or time.
- I recommend coming to Santo Domingo with one night. One daylight is not enough
- Always have small pesos and small dollars in your pocket. So it will be much easier to pay, because everywhere no one has change
- You can easily walk around the Colonial zone.
- But to the Three Eyes caves it is already easier to call a taxi.
- Use only Uber. It’s cheap and convenient.
- If you don’t have a car and want to tour Santo Domingo, then there are more really cool programs from Punta Cana, Bavaro and Puerto Plato. Most importantly, the transfer from the hotel is already included there. You will see the capital in one day and return to the hotel late at night:
- More than 20 excursion programs in Santo Domingo from different travel agencies
In conclusion: the city of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, is unfortunately not the most visited city by tourists. It is not as popular as Punta Cana and Puerto Plato. Many tourists skip Santo Domingo, believing that there is nothing to do here. Yes, there are no beaches here, but there is that atmosphere and a huge layer of cultural heritage that is nice to explore while walking along the colonial streets of the old city.
Come here, the capital of the Dominican Republic will not disappoint you!
in November 2021 the lighthouse was opened.
Irina, thanks for the helpful comment.