SANTO DOMINGO — THINGS TO SEE AND DO
The Dominican capital (Santo Domingo) is the oldest European metropolis in Latin America, having been first settled by Christopher Columbus’ brother Bartholomew. It is also the first seat of Spanish rule in the New World. Because of this, the capital attracts foreigners interested in seeing the remains of Columbus’ first settlement there (now known as the “Zona Colonial”, which are substantial. They include the Alcazar de Colón (the former residence of Columbus’ son Diego), la Catedral Primada de América (the first cathedral in the Americas), the San Francisco Monastery, the Museo de las Casas Reales, in a monumental complex that includes the former Palace of the Governors and the building of the former Royal Audiencia of Santo Domingo; the Fortaleza Ozama, the oldest fortress in the Americas; the Pantéon Nacional, a former Jesuit edifice now hosting the remains of various renowned Dominicans; an orphanage; and the Dominican Convent, the first convent in the Americas (and the source of the country’s very name). Other places of cultural interest are Plaza de la Cultura, which houses the city’s most important cultural venues, including the Teatro Nacional (National Theater) and various museums; the Palacio Nacional, which houses the Presidency of the Dominican Republic; the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), a neoclassical building that is the permanent home of the country’s National Symphony Orchestra; and the Boulevard 27 de Febrero, a pedestrian promenade located on the busy Avenida 27 de Febrero, which displays works of art from prominent Dominican artists and sculptors.
Santo Domingo has numerous museums, many of which are (not surprisingly) located in the Zona Colonial district. In the Zona Colonial is the Museum of Alcázar, in Diego Colon’s restored palace, the Museum of the Casas Reales, with artifacts of the colonial period and a collection of ancient weapons donated by former Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, the Naval Museum of the Atarazanas, in the former naval yards, Museo de la Catedral, Museo Memorial de la Resistencia Dominicana, documenting the struggle for freedom during the regimes of Trujillo and (his protegé president) Joaquín Balaguer, Museo Duarte (dedicated to the hero of Dominican independence), and the World of Ambar Museum.
Along with those museums, there is (within the Plaza de la Cultura) are the Museum of the Dominican Man (with artifacts from the pre-Columbian Taino civilization), the National Museum of History and Geography, the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Modern Art. Other museums include the Museo Bellapart (a prominent private collection of 19th- and 20th-Century Dominican paintings & sculptures) and the Museo Prehispanico (a major private collection of pre-Columbian Taino art hosted in a Pepsi bottling factory).
Beyond the Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo is a growing Latin American metropolis of nearly 3 million residents, with distinct districts of various social classes – the poorer ones being mainly east of the Ozama River (which is just east of the Zona Colonial). Because portions of the city’s business districts are near the seaside Malecón boulevard, a string of business-class hotels can readily be found there, such as the Renaissance Jaragua Hotel, Meliá Santo Domingo, Hilton Santo Domingo, InterContinental V Centenario Santo Domingo, and the Occidental El Embajador. For those looking for a unique stay in the capital, some choose the Hostal Nicolás de Ovando Santo Domingo Hotel within the Zona Colonial (Calle Las Damas). Currently operated by the French hotelier Accor Hotels, the renovated 16th century site has gorgeous patios and includes the former home of Spanish colonial Governor Ovando. This hotel is also listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Along with such accommodations, a small but growing number of luxury condo apartment buildings are either already operating or are being built at the Malecón – some of the completed ones being available as rentals for entrepreneurs with long-terms business ties to the capital.