Santo Domingo Travel Guide
When I found out I was headed to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, I was thinking of those postcard, pure white beaches that Dominican Republic was known for. However, this country’s capital is far from a beach town! Instead, Santo Domingo is a hidden gem, full of charm and character that allows you to roam the streets without feeling like you are queueing up with loads of other tourists. Santo Domingo is the largest + oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the America’s and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So much history and culture that makes Santa Domingo a must visit city or an easy stop over before or after heading to the beaches (only a 2 hour drive from Punta Cana)! Here is a list of things of what you need to do and where you need to go to get a full taste of what Dominican Republic is all about!
What to do:
Explore the Streets of Zona Colonial
This city did not feel as old as it is, you can sense all of the history with its cobblestone streets, 16th century architecture, 17th century ruins, feels like you’re stepping back in time with Columbus or Cortes. So much to explore and see but check out some of these highlights!
Other things we did to learn more about the history of Santo Domingo and you should be sure to check out:
The Colonial Gate 4D Cinema! This is not an ordinary cinema. It’s a 4D, interactive movie ride (yes your chair moves, bounces, blows wind in your face, making you feel like you are actually IN the movie)! They have multiple films and you can buy packages. We did a short 10 minute film to learn about the history of Santo Domingo in a 4D rollercoaster like ride. It was a very cool way to learn about the history!
Chu Chu Colonial Touriest Train. “500 years of history in 45 minutes”. A cool way to get a guided tour around Zona Colonial. This guided train tour brings you to all of the hot spots!
Kah Kow Experience. Amazing organically grown chocolate made from the Kah Kow plant, native to Dominican Republic. This delicious tour explains the history, describes how the chocolate is derived from Kah Kow, and the tour ends with samples of all of the different types of chocolate.
Stop in a Dominican Cigar Shop
Dominican Republic is one of the world’s top cigar producers and tobacco is one of the country’s main exports. I had to check it out and get a couple of hand rolled cigars as gifts for my cigar loving friends and family. There are many local factories and I happened to stumble upon Caoba, which is right of the main square! It was really cool to see the entire process from beginning to end and how fast these guys can roll a cigar (all while smoking one of course). The staff was very friendly and loved showing me around to the different rooms which showed each process of the cigar making!
Go dancing! Whether you like to dance or not, I promise you will not regret going to one of the local restaurant/bars that has live music. These venues become full of energy that might even have the least likely to dance, shaking their tush like Shakira! Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, strangers, couples, old, young… everyone danced. The room had the best energy and made for some great people watching! Also, if you happen to be in Santo Domingo over a Sunday, be sure to check out Grupo Bonye, which is a free concert at the ruins of Monasterio de San Francisco in the Colonial Zone and it’s supposed to be epic.
Local boutiques. While we were in Santo Domingo, we were lucky enough to attend Dominicana Moda, which is an annual fashion show spotlighting some of Dominican Republic’s top fashion designers. The talent of these local designers was SURREAL! Santo Domingo is known as the fashion couture of the Caribbean and after the shows, I can see why! Some of the local designers have local shops (such as Jenny Polanco and Giannina Azar), so I wanted to highlight some of my favorites for you to check out!
Jenny Polanco Giannina Azar
Mercado Modelo. This market has so much that it’s a little overwhelming but totally worth checking out. If you’re looking for locally made gifts, you are bound to find something in this indoor/outdoor market. Anything from woodcarvings, art, jewelry, clothing, to paper mache carnival masks. If you venture to the back of the market, street side stalls are covered with DR’s tropical fruit, vegetable, seafood, and you might also find some typical Dominican botanicas selling secret health and love potions!
Day Trip to Boca Chica
If you aren’t heading to one of the beaches before and after Santo Domingo and itching to get to the water, Boca Chica is only about 45 minutes to an hour from the city. We did a day trip here and ate an amazing lunch right over the water at Boca Marina. The food was amazing, the cocktails were fresh, and you can even take a dip in the water in between drinks!
Visit the Los Tres Ojos (the Three Eyes) National Park
Super bummed I didn’t get a chance to visit this park. This park is a nature reserve and open-air limestone cave system with a series of crystal clear lakes known as the “eyes.” Only 15 minutes away from Santo Domingo and I wanted to mention because it looks amazing!
Where to Eat:
The food scene in Santo Domingo was amazing. I can honestly say, I did not have a bad meal. Everything was so good and being from the Midwest, I was obsessed with all of the fresh seafood, from the ceviche to the fish, it was all amazing! Here are some notable restaurants that I went to that I promise you would not be disappointed with!
Buche Perrico. If a restaurant has an outdoor space, that’s where I want to eat. This restaurant has a stunning outdoor atrium with fern walls and cozy lights. The food was amazing and it was such a cool spot to eat.
Lulu Tasting Bar. One night we had a super late dinner and ate here. We ordered a bunch of appetizers and they were to die for! This restaurant was very a trendy spot and while the food filled my belly, the music (DJ spinning lounge music) fueled my soul! Definitely need to try the coffee rub ribs and the deep fried oreos. Still drooling over these! Great for dinner and/or evening out!
Jalao. This restaurant has live music and it gets amped in here. It was so fun to people watch, everyone dancing and having a great time, the energy was contagious. We danced the night away while having another amazing Dominican meal!
Pat’e Palo. European Basserie with Dominican flare. Loved the ambiance here. We sat outside, while getting serenaded by a group of live musicians, while overlooking Plaza de Espana, which is home to a colonial castle as well as Alcazar de Don Diego Colon. Beautiful food, amazing meal, and if you visit, you must try their apple appetizer! We were all OBSESSED WITH THESE so much that we ordered another round!
Laurel. Another trendy restaurant where you’ll feel an international influence on the Dominican food. We ate lunch here and it was a hot spot for business locals. The décor in this restaurant was really cool and I’m still dreaming of that bathroom (I’m a sucker for cool bathrooms!).
Where to Stay
Hodelpa Nicolas de Ovando. This hotel was built in the 16th-century and once home to Governor Nicolas de Ovando. It has been restored into a luxurious (yet affordable) hotel that comes with modern Colonial-style décor. I was obsessed with all of the beautiful arches, the rooms had high ceilings with wooden beams, there was a large outdoor swimming pool, and to top it off, amazing dining options (I had breakfast there every morning and was SO happy). It seems like this is where all of the bloggers stay but honestly, I can see why. This hotel is in the heart of Zona Colonial, situated right on Calle Las Damas which is the first paved street of the New World and you are able to walk EVERYWHERE!
I loved this hotel but didn’t see any of the other ones. BUT, regardless of where you stay, I can’t recommend enough that when finding a place to stay in Santo Domingo, make sure it is in the Colonial Zone. There are boutique hotels and Airbnbs throughout Santo Domingo, so you should be able to find one in your price point. This is definitely the location you want to be because you can walk everywhere and there is so much to do and see!
Adios, Santo Domingo!
Santo Domingo should definitely be considered as a stop over before or after hitting up the beaches of Punta Cana. It is here where you’ll get a real taste of Dominican life before switching off at the beaches. It truly was a great experience and I would definitely go back! For more information on Dominican Republic, be sure to check out the Ministry of Tourism site HERE!
This adventure was sponsored by Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism; however, all opinions are my own and please know that I had the BEST time eating, exploring, dancing, and absorbing myself in this beautiful city of Santo Domingo, would highly recommend a visit!
Have you been to Santo Domingo? Did I miss anything? Did this post make you want to go? Let me know!
As always, thank you for reading! xoxo, Rachael