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Santo Domingo

The Old Town features the New World's first street (Calle Las Damas), fortress (Ozama fortress), sundial and Cathedral (Catedral Primada de América), among others, as well as many old churches, el Alcázar de Colón (Diego Columbus' house), el Museo de las Casas Reales (Museum of the Royal Houses), the Amber Museum, etc.

Parts of the Old Town that aren't as known as these ones feature Ruinas del Monasterio de San Francisco (San Francisco Monastery ruins), the New World's first hospital (Ruinas de San Nicolás de Bari), Santa Barbara church and Fuerte de San José, among others.

The Old Town is quite easy to walk around on by yourself as long as you have a good map so that you get to know what you're walking past by. There are guides that can walk you through the main sights and you can find them either at Parque Colón or at the entrance of some of the monuments. Having a guide can be of advantage because they can get you ahead of lines, if there are any, and to get an overview of the sights if you have reduced time. Before you get started, negotiate a rate and stick with it, but if the service was good then perhaps you can give them a little tip.

To recharge your batteries grab a cup of coffee in one of the cafés or bistros in front of the Spanish Square for a fantastic view or buy water, juice, soda or even a beer and a light snack at the local convenience store or supermarket and sit on the steps by the Square and enjoy people watching.
 

 

Santo Domingo This zoo, inaugurated in 1975, is home to big cats, the white rhino, hippos, monkeys, birds, etc. Before you used to see endemic animals of this island like the Solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus) but for now the only endemic animal in exhibition is Boa de la Hispaniola (Hispaniola boa constrictor). Some cool animals you'll see are Guaraguaos (hawk like birds), Paloma Ceniza (pigeons with ash colored feathers), Australian emus and ostriches, South American ñandús, ponies, etc.

The biggest attraction of the zoo right now are the Chimps Maria and Toby. Before it used to be an Asian female elephant called Mami (mommy) but I understand she past away of natural causes.

A lot of families use the zoo as a Saturday or Sunday excursion, where they can bring their own food and drinks and spend the day peacefully while the kids get rid of all the energy at the children's play area but the park isn't as well kept as the Botanical Garden and that's a shame.

Practical info: we got lost finding the place because there were very few signs, so I'd recommend you take a cab. The entrance fee for all non Dominicans is 5US or the equivalent in pesos, 50 pesos for all Dominicans and in the entrance fee a 15-minute train ride is included although the guide speaks and the signs are written only in Spanish. Notice that it's forbidden to feed the animals, to bring skateboards, inline (and otherwise) skates and radios/boom boxes. Open Tue-Sun 9am-5pm.
Jardín Botánico - Botanical Garden: Jardín Botánico

The Botanical Garden has been a must for nature lovers and everyone who wants to have peace within chaos in the city since its opening in 1976 during the government of Dr. Joaquín Balaguer. It houses one of the biggest flower clocks in the world (according to their website), a lovely Japanese garden, a section with native plants of the island of Hispaniola, aquatic plants, orchids, a museum with dissected exemplars of plants and a palm area. Don't miss their Japanese garden with its soft grass and the loveliness of the trees.

Here's another place where you can bring your own lunch and picnic (like the Zoo).

Because this garden is huge (2 million square meters), a good way to explore here is their guided tour by train. If you don't speak Spanish say so, so that they can do the guiding in English - like Mr. Sweden experienced :)

Practical info: open daily 8am-4pm all year round. The fees are as following:
- Entrance: 20 pesos for Dominicans (adults), 60 pesos for foreigners
- Train fare: 20 pesos for Dominicans, 40 pesos for foreigners.

They have a package including the entrance, the train and the museums fees but since we didn't take it I forgot what it costs. All fees are clearly published on the entrance, by the ticket booth, just look for the word "extranjeros". 

 

 

Plaza de la Bandera

he monument, Plaza de la Bandera (The Square of the Flag), is situated at the end of the important road "27 de Febrero". Around the square there are several government buildings.

Seen from above, the monument has form of a Latin American cross and in the central part the Monument to the Country is located, represented by an Arch of the Triumph. At the sides there are two angels that represent: The Glory and the Honour. Under the arch, a sculpture of Juan de Avalo is located and a very big Dominican flag completes the monument.

Calle El Conde - El Conde street: El Conde

his tip about El Conde could also be a shopping tip, because El Conde is one of the oldest streets in Santo Domingo - and still among the city's most popular commercial centers.

El Conde is a pedestrian street and is home to a variety of stores that include clothing and textile shops, shoe stores, restaurants and cafes, gift shops and jewellery stores. I will compare El Conde with ‘Strøget’ in Copenhagen…

The name ‘El Conde’ honours the Conde (Count) of Peñalba who defeated the English in the 17th century.

Palacio Nacional

On a walk through Santo Domingo, we passed the Palacio Nacional - the office of the president (2008: Doctor Leonel Fernández). The palace is located east of the Plaza de la Cultura.

It's possible to take a guided tour inside the Palacio Nacional , but it must be booked in advance.

We didn't go inside, but saw the beautiful palace from the street.

Reloj del sol - Sundial: Reloj del Sol

Reloj del Sol (Clock of the Sun) is located just outside Museo de las Casas Reales at Plaza España.

The clock was built in 1753 by order of Governor Francisco Rubio y Peñaranda. It was positioned so that officials of the ‘Casas Reales’ could see the time with only a glance out their eastern windows.

There is also a nice view of Rio Ozama from Plaza España.

Plaza de la Cultura: Museo del Hombre Dominicano

Long before Columbus set foot in the Dominican Republic, the island was home to several native tribes - especially the Taino Indians. Museo del Hombre Dominicano (Museum of the Dominican Man) displays the country's cultural evolution from pre-historic time to present time through a variety of pre-Columbian and Spanish colonial artifacts. There are furthermore special exhibitions about the African slavery, carnival costumes and the voodoo tradition in the Dominican Republic.

I had really high expectations of the museum, but was a little disappointed. The museum was established around 1975, and several exhibitions looked like they haven’t been renewed since then. The exhibition text (and other signs) only written in Spanish, but I have read that you can join a tour with a English speaking guide.

Opening hours: Tuesday thru Sunday (10am to 5pm).
Admission fee: 50 peso for adults.

Acuario Nacional - The Aquarium: Acuario National

Acuario National (the National Aquarium) - opened in 1990 – is claimed to be one of the better aquariums in the Caribbean. I don’t know if that’s true, but I think the National Aquarium in Santo Domingo is a great place to spend a couple of hours.

The aquarium contains 3000 live specimens (from angelfish to sharks) of 250 species of marine life from the waters around the Dominican Republic. The star resident is Tamaury, a manatee rescued as a baby off the coast of Barahona. The aquarium is equipped with a clear glass sea-tunnel that makes viewing the enclosed sea life an awesome experience.

The location of the aquarium is also very beautiful with a fine view of Santo Domingo and right next to the Caribbean Ocean.

Fortaleza Ozama - Ozama Fortress: Fortaleza Ozama

Fortaleza Ozama was built in 1502 and this impressive fort is the oldest military structure in the New World.

Inside the fort you’ll find The Tower of Homage, with two-meter thick walls and dozens of riflemen embrasures. It is absolute recommendable to take the spiral staircase to the roof of the tower for beautiful 360 degree views of Santo Domingo. Also of interest is the old powder house standing off to the side, with a statue of the Virgin Mary keeping watch over the door.

Standing in the middle of the yard is a bronze statue of Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, a famous historical chronicler who was put in charge of the fort and lived and died there. His room was on the second floor of the fort and was turned into a prison cell after his death.

Until the 1970s Fortaleza Ozama served many functions, including as a military post and a prison, until it was opened to the public.

Optional and informative tours are offered by the guards at the front gate (also in English).

 

Museo de las Casas Reales - Royal Houses Museum: Museo de las Casas Reales

 Museo de las Casas Reales (The Museum of the Royal Houses) was built in the beginning of the 16th century.

The building was once the colonial administrative centre for all the Spanish West Indies, and was housing the Royal Court, Treasury and Office of the Governor.

Today Casas Reales is a museum featuring Colonial era artifacts, including a re-creation of the governor's receiving room, maps, weapons and military uniforms. In addition to pre-Columbian art you can see the main artifacts of two galleons sunk in 1724 on their way from Spain to Mexico.

Pantéon Nacional - Pantheon: Panteón Nacional

Panteón Nacional (the National Mausoleum) was built between 1714 and 1745, originally as a Jesuit church (Iglesia de los Padres). During the church’s history it has been used as a tobacco warehouse, housing for the San Fernando seminary, public offices and a theatre for the independence fighters in 1860.

In 1956 Dictator Rafael Trujillo turned it into Panteón Nacional – the resting place for many of the greatest Dominican heroes (Trujillo is not buried here…).
 

Los Tres Ojos - The 3 Eyes National Park: Los Tres Ojos Los Tres Ojos (The Three Eyes) is several caves beneath the earth. In the caves there are three/four freshwater lagoons (the eyes) and many stalactites and stalagmites (I have just learnt that stalactite is above, and hangs downward - the stalagmite is below and sticks up…).

In the caves you follow walkways and a pulley-powered vessel to get through the underground system. The last of the “eyes” offers a spectacular natural landscape of tropical vegetation, sheer rock faces, and green-tinged water.

The Taino Indians have used the caves for religious ceremonies.

Los Tres Ojos is located not far from El Faro.
Faro a Colón - Columbus Lighthouse: El Faro a Colón

l Faro a Colón (Columbus Lighthouse) was completed in 1992 - to the 500th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America. Inside the monument there is a mausoleum of Christopher Columbus, but are the remains of Columbus here - or in Sevilla - or both places? I don't know...

I don't think the monument is beautiful, but must admit that it is an amazing building (207 meters long and 60 meter wide).

At night time the lighthouse project a gigantic cross in the sky - made by laser light.

Originally the monument was supposed only to be a funeral monument to Christopher Columbus, but you’ll also find exhibitions of each American nation (and some European and Asian nations) inside El Faro a Colón.
 

  • Directions: The lighthouse is located in the Mirador del Este Park.
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    Zona Colonial - Old Town: Zona Colonial

    Zona Colonial is the old city of Santo Domingo. The area was renovated in the 1980s and is now declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

    Parque Colón could be a good place to start in Zona Colonial . Parque Colón is an open space with a statue of Colón (Columbus) in its centre.

    Near Parque Colón you will find the cathedral, El Conde (the shopping street), the town gates, some museums and cigar shops.

    Take your time just to watch all the beautiful buildings in the old city

    Catedral Primada de América - The Cathedral: Catedral Santa María de la Encarnación

    The cathedral is the oldest church in the West Indies. The construction began around 1521, but was not finished before 1540 – maybe because the Spanish searched for gold outside Santo Domingo.

    It is an impressive building, built in Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance styles, with a mahogany altar, detailed friezes and sculptures, and stained-glass windows. There are 14 separate chapels inside the cathedral.

    Some guidebooks say that shorts are not allowed, but I had no trouble entering the cathedral with shorts.

    Zona Colonial - Old Town: Iglesia de los Padres Jesuitas y Panteon Nacional

    walked across and down to Calle Las Damas and to see the Changing of the Guard in the mausoleum which occurs at noon every day. This is the National Pantheon (The name translated to English means "A Church run by the Jesuit Fathers and National Pantheon") which was built in the early 1700s (some say as early as 1714, some say it was in use in 1747, and others say it was not finished until 1755) as a Jesuit church by Geronimo Quezada y Garçon

    Catedral Primada de América - The Cathedral: Cathedral

    Fortaleza Ozama - Ozama Fortress: Fort and Calle las Damas

    Zona Colonial - Old Town: Old Town: Casa de Bastidas (House of Bastidas)

    Parque Colón - Columbus Square: Old Town: Parque Colón (Columbus' Park)

    Boulevard 27 de Febrero

    Old Town churches: Convento de los Dominicos

    Calle El Conde - El Conde street: Take a stroll on Calle El Conde 

    Parque Independencia: Old Town: Puerta del Conde & Altar de la Patria

     


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