This big, sprawling metropolis of nearly three million people is the heartbeat of the Dominican Republic – its political, cultural, and economic capital and by far its largest city. Though it’s situated along the Caribbean Sea, it’s not the place to come if you want to lie on a beach, go swimming or snorkeling, or enjoymany of the other adventures usually associated with a tropical vacation. But Santo Domingo still offers plenty of opportunities for pulsating action.
If you’re a fan of history, you will be fascinated by Santo Domingo’s Colonial City, where the European development of the Western Hemisphere began more than 500 years ago at the mouth of the Ozama River. Now just one percent or so of Santo Domingo’s total area, the Zona Colonial was once the seat of administration for a Spanish empire that stretched as far as Mexico and South America. Conquistadors, explorers, rogues, profiteers, and buccaneers all left their marks here in the 16th century – Christopher Columbus (“Cristóbal Colón” in Spanish), his son Diego Colón, Hernán Cortés, Sir Francis Drake, and Ponce de León among them. In 1990, the entire Zona Colonial – much of which has been restored to its original splendor – was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Woven throughout the Colonial City and its more modern surrounding neighborhoods are many of the country’s finest hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, museums, and cultural venues. Thousands – sometimes hundreds of thousands – of people crowd into the capital for annual music festivals and holiday celebrations. And you can hear merengue music blasting from clubs and bars any night of the week, wherever you go.
Present-day Santo Domingo has its share of problems as well: traffic, congestion, air and water pollution, street crime, grinding poverty amid great wealth. At times, it can all seem overwhelming. But between stints on the beach or running the DR’s wild rivers, a few days spent exploring this historic capital can be a vicarious adventure through time.
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