Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic and the oldest city in the Western Hemisphere. The old city is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The Las Americas International Airport (SDQ) is located 25 minutes from Santo Domingo. The airport offers several transportation options, including all major American car rental firms.
There are direct flights from Boston (American Airlines), New York (American Airlines, Jetblue, US Air) , Miami, Fort Lauderdale (Spirit, American, Jetblue), Philadelphia (Delta), Panama City (Copa Airlines), San José (TACA), San Juan, Havanna (Cubana), Paris (Air France), Madrid (Iberia) and from several Caribbean islands.
You can book your airport transfers in advance from the comfort of your home with [Dominican Airport Transfers] one of the Dominican Republic's leaders in airport transfers servicing all airports and tourist destinations. You can actually get an instant quote and book online on their automated site. Dominican Airport Transfers office is located in Santo Domingo City.
Taxis charge anywhere from US$25 to US$40 for the drive into Santo Domingo.
All mayor US car rental firms are available at the airport, along with several local vendors offering everything from subcompacts to luxury SUVs. When renting from local vendors be sure to read the fine print regarding insurance coverage; you can get a good deal on a car but often times deductibles are as high as US$1,000 or more.
Please Note: If you are a first-time visitor to Santo Domingo, do yourself a favor and don't rent a car. People drive fast and furious here. It's safer and cheaper to develop a friendship with cab driver who will quickly become your personal driver, tourguide and concierge for a fraction of what it cost to rent a car and gas it up. Never mind that gas costs US$4 a gallon here.
There is ferry service to and from Puerto Rico twice per week.
Getting Around in the City
Santo Domingo is actually a huge metropolitan area (pop. nearly 4 million people) composed of several municipalities (Distrito Nacional, Santo Domingo Oriental, Santo Domingo Oeste, Santo Domingo Norte and Boca Chica). While this is a huge city, most tourist attractions are located relatively close to each other in the Distrito Nacional, making it easy for you to get around and see the sights.
The Malecon and Colonial Zone offer multiple pedestrian attractions and are relatively safe areas for tourists to explore, although it is always wise to remember that "common sense is the least common of all senses". Use your head, you're not in Kansas. While exploring the Colonial Zone try hiring a properly-licensed tour guide. These talented, underpaid, multi-lingual individuals will keep you entertained for hours with unprecedented historical insight and humor. You can usually find them at the Plaza Colon in front of the Cathedral. Worth every penny.
Unlike most major metropolitan areas, there are very few roaming taxis in Santo Domingo. In most cases you have to call a dispatcher to have a taxi sent to your location. This isn't a problem and most businesses will gladly call a cab for you. Relatively expensive, usually US$7-15 per average trip and possibly more if you use one of the friendly cabs waiting in front of your nice hotel lobby. Again, depending on circumstances, you may find that hiring a cab driver for the day is a good bargain.
For some unknown reason bus service in Santo Domingo is not very user-friendly and geared more towards locals getting to and from work. It is often impossible to know which bus goes where unless you ask the driver, as neither buses nor routes are clearly marked. Very inexpensive yet hard to navigate.
These collective taxis stick to a predetermined route (usually up and down a major avenue), picking up and dropping off passengers along the way. Think of them as four passengers buses. Very inexpensive, yet generally uncomfortable.
Santo Domingo has not been exploited for all its tourist potential. You're pretty much on your own to discover this fascinating city. Make the most of your time there!
Santo Domingo was the first major european settlement in the New World. Christopher Columbus walked these streets! Check out the many examples of 15th and 16th century architecture in the Colonial Zone. Don't miss the Ozama Fort, the Alcazar de Colon and the Cathedral, all built in Columbus' lifetime. Check out La Atarrazana street after dark for a variety of romantic outdoor cafes with a spectacular view of the Alcazar and bay area. One such brasserie, Pat E Palo, has operated uninterrupted since 1505. Check out the house where Ponce DeLeon lived before he embarked upon his quest for the fountain of youth and ended up discovering Florida.
This waterfront boulevard (George Washington Avenue) is home to several huge hotel/casino complexes and dozens of small restaurants, clubs and cafes. Go there to people watch, take a romantic carriage ride or just have a few beers. Site of many festivals and concerts throughout the year. Parallel to the Malecon you will find Avenida Independencia, a tree lined street full of shops, bed and breakfasts and affordable restaurants with a nice mix of locals and tourists. For a unique dining experience check out Adrian Tropical, a traditional dominican restaurant literally built on the water, or San Gil, a more formal eatery occupying the ruins of a colonial fort. The Malecon Center, located on the far end of the Malecon, is a new and still underoccupied high-end shopping center/hotel/condo complex with a Botero sculpture out front that reportedly cost US$1 million.
Walk all the way down the Malecon to Avenida Maximo Gomez and take a left. Walk past the McDonald's and Pizza Hut until you reach the Plaza de la Cultura. This amazing complex is home to the National Theater and five museums, ranging from the delapidated and mundane, to the crisp, modern Museum of Modern Art, the largest in the Caribbean and home to exhibits by artists from Jamaica, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and of course, the Dominican Republic.
If you want to see the cosmopolitan, upscale side of Santo Domingo, head to the Piantini and Naco neighborhoods. Streets like Gustavo Meija Ricard and major avenues like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill are lined with high end boutiques, shopping plazas, expensive cafes and restaurants offering a huge variety of international cuisines and just about anything money can buy, from cigar shops to Ferrari and Bentley dealerships. Don't miss Acropolis Center, an ultra-modern shopping center/office building where you will find everything from TGI Friday's to Prada.
Find your way to the Parque Mirador Sur, an impressive park overlooking the coast. From there, visit the Jardin Botanico, a vast, beautiful and lush park situated near one of Santo Domingo's most exclusive neighborhoods.
Eastern Santo Domingo
Refered to as Santo Domingo Oriental, this separate municipality is not very tourist-friendly. Fortunately, most of its attractions are very close to the Colonial Zone and easy to get to. Check out the Tres Ojos, or Three Eyes, a series of open-roof caverns and underground lakes for the whole family to explore. Head over to the Faro a Colon, a huge lighthouse and monument to Christopher Columbus which not only houses his remains but doubles as a museum. Check out the Santo Domingo Aquarium, a small but impressive showcase of the local aquatic life.
Unfortunately, there isn't a beach in Santo Domingo, despite being on the water's edge. The closest beach is Boca Chica, which is about a half hour away, just past the airport and shipping port.
The Colonial Zone offers plenty of shopping opportunities, especially if you are looking for Ambar and Larimar, the traditional stones of the DR. Don't forget to haggle, as all the shop owners adjust their prices for this purpose. You will also find a ton of Haitian art for sale everywhere at great prices. If that's your thing, great, just remember its not Dominican. The main boulevard in the Colonial Zone is El Conde, lined with shops and eateries. Have fun shopping and people watching here.
If you are feeling adventurous, have a cab bring you to the Mercado Modelo nearby. This indoor labrynth of shops can be overwhelming for a new tourist but, dont worry, its safe. You might feel safer asking the cab driver to escort you through the maze of shops and kiosks offering every imaginable souveneir, jewelry, stone, artwork, etc.
If you want to experience American-style shopping, there are three major options: Plaza Central, Acropolis Center and for those of you willing to venture into Santo Domingo Oriental, MegaCentro. Remember: no haggling at the malls. While MegaCentro is farther away than the others, it is the largest mall in the Caribbean (possibly including Florida) and is a destination in and of itself. This place is HUGE!
Remember, you are on an island where nearly everything is imported and taxed at 16% (ITBIS or Value Added Tax). Don't think you are going to find too many bargains!
Santo Domingo has an amazing variety of night life options. Unfortunately, the current administration, under attack for escalating crime in the city, has responded by seriously curtailing nightclub hours. Currently, all bars and clubs must close at midnight from Sunday to Thursday and at 2AM on Friday and Saturday. Therefore, it is not uncommon for people to start partying at 8PM on the weekends.
Usually the clubs located inside major hotels are exempt from this rule, although they aren't usually much fun. Check out the Colonial Zone for great bars and cafes, as well as a vibrant gay nightlife scene.
The Malecon is home to several options as well, depending on what's in style at the time.
Check out Jet Set on Monday nights for live Merengue and Bachata shows from the most popular top bands.
Head over to the upscale side of Santo Domingo (Naco, Piantini) if that is your scene. There are a ton of options there, including perennial favorites such as Trio Caffe, Loft and Montecristo.
Whatever you do, don't leave Santo Domingo without visiting La Guacara Taina, the only nightclub in the world inside a huge natural cave. Descend several hundred feet into a fantasy world of lights and sound. You have to see this place to believe it. Located (under) the Mirador Sur park mentioned above.