Santo Domingo: A Tale of Two Cities
January 1, 1970
by Maria Victoria Suncar
Before I moved abroad to the wonderfully grey England skies, I lived 18 years in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Blue skies, warm people, and extremely warm weather. My childhood was sitting under the shade of the mango tree at my grandpa’s house, while gleefully – of course, enjoying a mango.
Because I lived in Santo Domingo for so long I never had the chance of seeing my city through a tourist’s eye. This past summer my very German boyfriend came to visit, and I think I saw a new Santo Domingo thanks to him. The nuances became pleasures. The food I’d been having for lunch every day, suddenly turned into a delicacy, the ordinary pilsner beer was worthy of international praise, and the old part of the city became new.
Santo Domingo is one of those cities in disguise. It might look like the perfect destination for shoppers and big spenders as there is every luxury brand you could think of. But there is also plenty of room for the laid-back travellers. There are layers to this city, and I have only scratched the surface.
The Colonial Zone
The Colonial Zone, where Columbus and the rest of the Spanish used to reside, has turned into the place to be. It is the perfect clash of young culture and tradition. During the day there is plenty to see, as the area is filled with ruins, museums and the national pantheon! Not only that, but the Colonial Zone is where the independence of the country was declared. You can stand right where it happened. The first cathedral of the Americas, featuring a Gothic style inside, is open to the public as well. It is a must see.
The art scene is also very vivid. Walking along the narrow streets many art galleries can be found, if not the artists themselves selling their pieces. This year’s Dominican Fashion Week was celebrated there, and once again the Colonial Zone served the development of Dominican art and design.
At night, however, the area puts on its best party suit and turns up the music. This type of bar hopping has nothing to do with London’s pub crawling. Here you dance from place to place, there is no crawling involved, except when you get into bed. Once you have a Presidente beer and slowly drink two more, dancing to typical salsa or merengue comes as a second nature. The party is never over, the shore is not far from there, and walking by shore after dancing all night as the sun comes up, is a great memory to hold on to.
There are wonderful colonial houses, hostels, and hotels all over the area. It is so easy to be transported immediately from the chaotic Downtown Santo Domingo. The Colonial Zone remains true to the Dominican culture by highlighting what makes the country unique. It has open arms and welcomes everyone. It has been the home of many political movements, and at the same time, at night, we all come together as one.
Santo Domingo is also a great place to enjoy amazing cuisine, of course, the Colonial Zone has some Instagram worthy brunch places, but Downtown Santo Domingo has a lot to offer too. Apart from the shopping centres ready to fulfil your every need, there is the Botanical Garden, a great independent cinema with multiple languages available, and History, Science, and Modern Art Museums. We are very proud of our use of humour to cope with the ups and downs of life, so the theatre is another growing scene.
Downtown has the latest trends in every aspect as it shows the most sophisticated side of the city. Excellent restaurants that rarely require booking are down one of the main avenues. The bar scene is elevated, featuring one bar with glass floors overlooking one of the busiest avenues – not for the faint of heart. There are wine bars and beer bars exclusively too, each with its own essence and vibe.
Food trucks. There are many ‘food truck villages’, which are very big parking lots filled with great food and drinks, open every day of the week. There you will find the clash of the many present nationalities we have in Santo Domingo, proving that we are a true metropolis. From Venezuelan, Peruvian, to Chinese, your taste buds will have a great time.
The best time of the year to visit is any time of the year! That is the best part of the tropical life. The airport is a mere 30 minutes away from the city centre by car. There is a metro that runs along busy areas of Santo Domingo, however, Uber should do the trick to save both money and time.
Let’s go to the beach beach
Sadly, Santo Domingo does not have a beach. The shore is there to be looked at exclusively as the waters are deep, and we do have a port. But not to worry! The beach is 35 minutes away headed West. You can rent a car, or have your hotel help you arrange a driver. Otherwise, there are bus companies that can do the trick. La Romana, around 40 minutes away, has an amazing beach and golf course for those feeling fancy. There you will have the best fish while rocking the best tan you will ever sport. Those thinking about Punta Cana, I encourage you to look into Samana for whale watching, and Puerto Plata, for some true Dominican beach living. And for the eco-tourists, Bahia de las Aguilas headed Southeast.
Santo Domingo is a layered city. While my boyfriend was visiting we went to the Colonial Zone 7 out of the 10 days he was here. We had mangoes 11 days out fo the 10 he was here. That got me thinking about what else I had been giving for granted about my city. It is so easy to get encaptured by routine and to focus on the lesser aspects of things. All my life I was eating mangoes, but I don’t think I truly enjoyed one until I saw a foreign soul try one with so much joy. Now, when I see foreigners walking by in awe by what they see, I try to look at my city with the same eyes.