The capital of the Dominican Republic is a must-see Caribbean destination with a wealth of historic, cultural and architectural sights. From crumbling 16th-century ruins to beautifully restored colonial buildings, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in Santo Domingo.
The Colonial District, or Zona Colonial, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the heart of this historic city. Its walled, cobblestoned core has a number of old structures that date to the 1500s, including the cathedral.
1. Fortaleza Ozama
Located at the mouth of the Ozama River, the Fortaleza Ozama is one of Santo Domingo’s most famous monuments. Built by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, it was the first permanent military fortress on American soil.
Originally, this fortress was used to house viceroys of Santo Domingo who were responsible for the government’s control over the island. It was also used as a prison for political prisoners.
This is an excellent place to see and learn about the history of Santo Domingo and the Caribbean region. A multilingual guide will give you a fascinating tour of the fort’s history.
You will be able to admire the beautiful tower and the original canones that were used by the soldiers to defend the city. If you take the spiral staircase to the top of the tower, you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the city. There are also many tunnels and dungeons to explore. It’s a great place for families and kids to visit.
2. Monasterio de San Francisco
The Monasterio de San Francisco is one of the most important historical monuments in Santo Domingo, and it stands tall atop a hill. It’s a beautiful place to see, despite its crumbling walls.
Built by Nicolas de Ovando in 1508 when the Franciscan fathers arrived, it was the first monastery established in the New World. It was whipped for hurricanes and was ransacked by English pirate Francis Drake, but it was restored once more.
You’ll find this ancient building a short walk west of the Plaza de Espana on Calle Hostos. The ruins are a great spot to take a photo or two, especially at night when the floodlights illuminate the cracks and crevices.
It’s also one of the best places to grab a coffee in town. The baristas here craft Chemex pour-overs, Nutella Frappes and cold brews, with a menu that features heart of palm tacos, hummus and baba ganoush.
3. Museo de Bellas Artes
If you’re an art lover, you’ll be thrilled by Museo de Bellas Artes, a museum that aims to showcase Cuban art and history. This stunning building houses an array of collections, from Sevilian and other 17th century painters to modern Cuban artists such as Rene Portocarrero and Wifredo Lam.
When you step into the space you’ll see walls, floors and ceiling showcasing bright green plants. It’s a cultural hub, as well as a cozy cafe.
Another thing to do in Santo Domingo is a day trip to Lago Enriquillo, a lake that’s home to tropical animals and beautiful flowers. Nature lovers can also check out the Three Eyes National Park, a limestone cave system and natural reserve with a succession of crystal-clear lakes.
The Dominican Republic is one of the main producers of coffee, and the city has a thriving coffee culture. A great place to taste this delicious drink is Mamey Libreria Cafe, which offers an impressive selection of Dominican coffees.
4. Parque Mirador Sur
Parque Mirador Sur is a large park in the south of Santo Domingo. It's a great place to take a break from the city's bustle and enjoy a nice view of the Caribbean Sea.
- There are many things to see and do in Santo Domingo. One of the best is to go back in time and visit the Colonial Zone.
- This area is filled with narrow cobblestone streets and quaint stores. It is also home to a number of small local restaurants and lovely parks where you can relax and take a few photos.
- Next you can visit Columbus Park, the largest square in the Colonial Zone and a popular spot to watch merengue groups. Sitting under the shade of the huge trees is a great way to recharge your batteries and listen to the music.
- Another interesting thing to do in the Colonial Zone is to visit the Museo Alcazar de Diego Colon, which was once a large palace and the home of explorer and governor Diego Columbus. It is an educational and fun experience for the whole family to enjoy.