"Compare spanish schools of Spain and Latin America"
Spanish in Santo Domingo

How to Spend Your Downtime in Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo is, upon first glance, a pretty large city. However, do not be intimidated by the initial sprawling appearance as you will find that the city is quite neatly divided up into various districts and fortunately all of the main tourist sights are to be found in the most central one. The city is basically divided into two parts by the Ozama River. The most important and unsurprisingly most popular part of the city is the 'zona colonial' on the Western bank of the river, facing the Caribbean Sea. Other important areas include the pretty neighbourhood of Gazcue in amongst its shady spots and tall trees and El Malecón boardwalk, which has a bit of a Californianised/Hollywood feel to it, passing palm trees and casinos as you stroll along the water's edge.

Alcazar Cristobal Colón

The main sights to see in Santo Domingo are easy to find and a lot of them are of great historic importance. Within the colonial zone you will find both the oldest viceroyal residence in the Americas and the oldest Cathedral in the western hemisphere. The Alcazar de Colón was built as a family home by Diego Colón, the son of Christopher in and around the year 1510. It now houses a Museum with an impressive collection of renaissance art pieces and tapestry work from throughout Europe. The first Cathedral in the Americas, the Catedral Primada de America,also known as Santo Domingo Cathedral, is found just across from the Parque Coln. It was completed in 1540 and has an almost golden appearance from the outside. The principal styles to be found both in the facade and within are mostly Gothic and Baroque. A true slice of history!

A pleasant spot in the Colonial quarter is the Plaza de la Hispanidad, located just outside the Alcazar de Colón. It is quite a large plaza and a great spot for a bit of people watching and having a relaxing beer at sunset...or at any time of the day really. Many of the old colonial buildings that surround it have been converted into bars and restaurants where you can while away a sunny morning watching the Santo Domingo world go by. Leading away from the Plaza and the Alcazar you will find Calle de las Damas, the oldest street in Santo Domingo, with construction dating back to 1502. It is in a mostly 'pedestrian-only' area and must-see sights that it provides includes the Royal Sundial and the Panteon Nacional, an old Jesuit Convent originally constructed in 1747, now used as a mausoleum for royals and dignitaries. Just a few streets across from the Calle las Damas if ruins are your thing, then you are in luck. The Monasterio de San Francisco, used as an insane asylum from 1880 until around 1930, is an interesting place to see and the ruins are nowadays often used for different social and cultural events.

Museo del Hombre Dominicano

Santo Domingo, unsurprisingly when you consider its historical denotation, has many museums on offer to the visitor. The 'Museo del Hombre Dominicano' in the Plaza de la Cultura has informative displays on the native tribes, such as the Tano Indians, that used to inhabit the area and there are numerous different masks and other ceremonial items on display. The Modern Art Museum is located a bit further inland, nearby to the National Theatre and houses works by both national and international artists and the 'Museo Bellapart' in the North of the colonial sector has an impressive selection of Dominican Republican and other art, as part of the city's largest private art collection. Also, if you would like to see how the colonial rich lived, the 'Museo de las Casas Reales' display a selection of furniture, treasures and restored traditional rooms for you to gain an insight into their luxurious lifestyle.

Historical sights aside, Santo Domingo still has much to offer in and around the city. There is a large Botanic Garden just outside the city proper, a haven of tranquility and calm just minutes from the buzz of the city. You can take a train ride, stroll through the Japanese Gardens, feast your eyes on an incredible collection of native plants and animals and just generally relax and take in the peaceful ambience. Similar, but closer to the city centre you will find the 'Parque Mirador del Sur', a place of trees, caves and a huge limestone ridge, filled with joggers, cyclists, a dance club in a cave and plenty of fresh juice and snack stands.

Boca Chica

Over on the eastern side of the Ozama river is another natural delight that shouldn't be missed; The 'Parque de los Tres Ojos' or the Park of the Three Eyes, a place of caves, lakes, waterfalls and a little bit of climbing. On an aquatic theme there is also a large aquarium in the city which is open and airy with over 3000 underwater inhabitants. If you fancy seeing these creatures and more a little closer up then Santo Domingo will certainly come up with the goods. Two nearby beaches, Boca Chica and Juan Dolio are both pleasant for bathing and great for scuba diving and idyllically picturesque to boot.

For those of you wishing to venture a little further afield from Santo Domingo during your stay, there are easily organised trips for scuba diving excursions to some of the nearby islands, many of which leave from La Caleta, about half an hour from the city centre of Santo Domingo. About two hours outside the city is the recreated, curious Medieval town of Altos de Chavón, within the city of La Romana. It is the brainchild of a film set designer and an industrialist. Construction began in 1976, complete with Roman style amphitheatre, the venue for a number of events and concerts throughout the years. Even legendary crooner Frank Sinatra has made an appearance.

Santo Domingo has one of the most important histories in all of the Americas and the sights that are there for you to see today are a fascinating testament to this. Furthermore there is a modern day culture and electricity to the city easily felt amongst the ruins and colonial architecture and there are plenty of things to see and do. A trip to Santo Domingo, perhaps combined with a Spanish language course could be one of the best decisions you make!