Founded in 1498 by Bartholomew Columbus (Christopher Columbus´ brother), Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic's capital, has the distinction of being the oldest colonial city in the Americas. In the present days, this city, located on the southern coast of the island, bordering the Caribbean Sea, has a population that surpasses 3 million people (about 37 percent of the total population of the country) and a land area of approximately 230 square kilometers. The Río Ozama traverses Santo Domingo from north to south, dividing it into two major areas: the eastern and the western; the eastern portion being the most prosperous and modern of the two.
The city is divided in more than 600 sectors denominated ensanches, sectores or zonas. Among these divisions is Santo Domingo´s famous historic district, which is known by many names, including the
Also known as George Washington avenue,
At a walking distance from el Malecón and the Colonial Zone lies the District of Gazcue, formerly an exclusive residential neighborhood, today is a blend of residential and commercial area where houses of unique architecture, mainly from the 1940s and 1950s, are preserved. Many of these residences have become businesses nowadays. This pleasant cultural area, highly populated by trees, is where the majority of the modern museums concentrate, such as the located ones at Plaza de la Cultura, a complex which includes the
Adjacent to the Gazcue area, to the west, traversing the Avenida Máximo Gómez, is the Zona Universitaria district. Here, the first university of the Americas and the biggest of Santo Domingo, the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (UASD) can be found.
Up north, taking the Tiradentes street, and crossing the Avenida 27 de Febrero, the sector of Naco (limited by Avenida 27 de Febrero to the south, Avenica Kenney to the north, Avenida Ortega y Gasset to the east and Avenida Lope de Vega to the west) can be reached. Once an exclusive residential sector, today, Naco is one of the major commercial areas of the city. It hosts the first shopping center of the city,
Along with Naco, the nearby district of Piantini belongs to the group of the most exclusive zones in the city. Located between the Avenida Lope de Vega and Avenida Winston Churchill, this sector hosts the most modern shopping centers, as well as diverse entertainment options to suit all tastes.
Going down the Avenida Winston Churchill, departing from Piantini, the privileged Bella Vista area, delimited by the Avenida 27 de Febrero to the north and the Avenida Anacaona to the south, can be reached. One of the most extensive green areas in the city, frequented by nature and sports lovers daily, the
In essence, Santo Domingo's history is the history of the Europeanization of the Americas. It is a history of conquest, revolution, and ultimately of the triumph of the human spirit.
The island of Hispaniola, which today is the home of both the Dominican Republic and the Republic of Haiti, was originally home to the Taino Indians. The Taino's were ruled by a cacique (cheif) and an impressively complex central government system. When the Europeans first arrived on Hispaniola, headed by Christopher Columbus, in 1492, the Spanish overpowered the Taino government and civilization. Christopher Columbus' brother, Bartholomew Columbus, officially founded the city of Santo Domingo on August 5, 1498. However, the city actually dates back to 1496, when the first Europeans settled in the area.
During its first 100 years, Santo Domingo served as the jumping off point for many expeditions to various other parts of the New World of the Spanish conquista. For example, the expeditions, which led to the conquest of Mexico by Cortés, and the European discovery of Puerto Rico by Ponce de Leon, both originated in Santo Domingo.
The first blow to the strength of Spanish control over Hispaniola came with the invasion of the island by the notorious British pirate, Francis Drake, in 1568. And the island was again invaded in 1655, this time by the French, who took control of the western side of the island, and reduced the area that was controlled by Santo Domingo to less than fifty percent. 1822 saw the Haitians take control of the entire island, forcing a struggle for independence on the Spanish controlled portion of the island. After 22 years of fighting, a group of rebels led by Juan Pablo Duarte , Francisco del Rosario Sánchez and Ramón Matías Mella, took back independence for the Spanish side of the island, and it officially became its own country, the Dominican Republic in 1844.
After the victory of gaining independence, there was a long period of time marked by power struggles within the Dominican Republic, as well as various Haitian incursions, which forced them to continue fighting to maintain their independence. Less than twenty years after gaining independence, the Spanish annexed the Dominican Republic in 1861. This annexation lasted four years, after which, the governance of the Dominican Republic continued to go through many changes in power, which included the thirty year Trujillo dictatorship and the 22 years of presidency of Joaquin Balaguer.
The 500th anniversary of the arrival of Columbus on Hispaniola came in 1992, when this monumental even was commemorated with the extremely controversial construction of the Columbus Lighthouse, which cost around over 300 million Dominican pesos.
Today, Santo Domingo is the largest city in the Dominican Republic, and the country's capital. With over 2 million residents, today Santo Domingo manages to own its title of oldest European city in the Americans while still having all the convenience and progress of a modern city.
Like any major city, Santo Domingo offers visitors a wide range of lodging options. As a major tourist destination in the Caribbean, its hotel and resort industry has developed to include every level of luxury, from five-star hotels with casinos and health clubs to youth hostels for the backpacking crowd.
Those looking for a first-class accommodation in the heart of the Colonial Zone should definitely consider the Sofitel Francés Hotel, an attractive hotel with only 19 rooms, where a European atmosphere blends with the colonial allure of its 16th century building. There is a gourmet restaurant specializing in French and international gourmet cuisine on the premises. The Hispaniola Hotel and Casino, is an affordable bargain, with quality accommodations, and neighbors its sister property, the Hotel Santo Domingo, a charming colonial-style property with a pool, and a restaurant open five days a week for lunch or for receptions. More budget conscious travelers should check out Hostal Nicolás Nader, a small but charming hotel located in a restored 16th-century mansion in the oldest part of the city.
On the famous avenue bordering the Caribbean Sea, El Malecón, located at a walking distance from the Colonial Zone, you will find the Hotel V Centenario Intercontinental, a well-appointed five-star hotel that caters to a sophisticated crowd. Complete with gourmet restaurants, pools, casino and even a gym, the hotel offers travelers all the comforts money can buy. A little farther down the road, to the west, is the Renaissance Jaragua Hotel & Casino, which has a large spa and health club, tennis courts, a pool, a casino with nightly entertainment, as well as modern convention and meeting facilities. The hotel has five restaurants and 300 deluxe rooms and suites. The fully equipped executive floor and state-of-the-art business center make this an ideal choice for the business traveler. Nearby the Jaragua is the Melia Hotel and Casino, which is a less glitzy option, but it still features 260 rooms, a pool, tennis courts, a full gym and even a casino.
Gazcue & Naco
The district of Gazcue has a number of hotel options. The Hotel El Napolitano has 72 rooms with splendid views of the enchanting Caribbean sea. Hotel Cervantes is an affordable option with a great location, within walking distance of the historic Colonial Zone. In the highly commercial area of Naco, quality accommodations mingle with modern shopping centers. One moderately priced hotel worthy of mention in the area is the well-known Clarion Hotel. This hotel has very comfortable suites equipped with kitchenettes (with pots and pans) and cable TV. The facilities include a pool, gym, a gourmet restaurant, a coffee shop, as well as a complete shopping center sharing the same infrastructure.
In the exclusive Bella Vista sector of Santo Domingo, a good array of hotels, big and small, is available. Hotel Occidental El Embajador, near the Mirador Sur Park, boasts A-class facilities including a Vegas-style casino. Not as fancy as the Embajador is the Dominican Fiesta Hotel, but still offering up quality and comfort and modern convenience.
Santo Domingo has no shortage of dining options. Formal and casual restaurants, as well as international fast-food franchises share space with open-air cafes and eateries serving a wide spectrum of culinary choices.
The Spanish left their influence not only on the architecture of the Colonial Zone, but also on the local palate. The Restaurant Boga Boga is a fashionable place to sample Spanish cuisine at its best. Be sure to try the Entremeses Bora (appetizers) and the selection of Serrano ham, chorizo (Spanish sausage), chicken and ham croquettes, and Manchego cheese. Another original specialty is the Paella de Carne (meat paella). For fresh pastas and other Italian specialties, Ristorante La Briciola, with its several different areas. Visitors could also dine at the ever popular Hard Rock Cafe Santo Domingo When it comes to drinking, your best bet is to make your way to the Colonial Zone area called La Atarazana, a cluster of restored 16th-century buildings now filled with stores, bars and restaurants. Here you can indulge in a wide variety of beverages. At Pat´e Palo the party and the drinks never stop and Il Grappolo Enoteca Bar is a great option for wine devotees
In Gazcue, visitors to this delightful Caribbean city can enjoy a wide variety of cuisine. El Conuco is an unusual, fun-filled place that resembles a Dominican farm, serving up Dominican and other Caribbean dishes. Home-style cuisine is the order of the day, and the servings could feed a small army. Another good choice for the local specialties is the casual Restaurant La Parrilla, facing the Caribbean Sea. Italian restaurants abound in Santo Domingo. Restaurante Fellini is known for its creative contemporary Italian nouvelle cuisine in a high-class setting. For Spanish cuisine, options include the restaurants Reina de España, where the Grilled Seafood is one of the house specialties and Mesón de Castilla, praised for its delicious paellas. And for a taste of the Argentinean Pampa, stop in at Asadero Los Argentinos. For an upscale, exotic dining experience, Palacio de Jade cooks up all the flavors of China.
The Naco area of Santo Domingo offers everything from five star restaurants to quick and easy eateries. One award-winning restaurants that offer native cuisine is the Restaurante Buen Provecho, a modern cafeteria, popular with the breakfast and lunch crowds for its buffet brimming with native delicacies. Restaurante Melí Meló, at Plaza Naco is one example of quality dining in the many shopping centers of the city. Dominicans love their Italian food, and Vesuvio II is an upscale restaurant traditionally favored as a meeting place by Santo Domingo's elite. One recommended option for meat-lovers is the western-style Restaurant David Crockett. For those following a healthier lifestyle, Santo Domingo offers some vegetarian choices. These include Restaurante Vegetariano Lotos the only restaurant a la carte within this category, includes a menu with the largest variety of vegetarian/strict vegetarian dishes. Mexican food is also very popular in Santo Domingo. If you crave this kind of fare you should definitely consider visiting Don Nacho Taquería, famous for their delicious and gigantic burritos.
The exclusive Piantini area hosts many diverse and quality dining options. Over the years, El Chef, with a casual ambiance has won numerous awards. Locals and visitors cherish this place for its abundance of freshly prepared local fare. Best of all, the food is made from the highest quality ingredients and is low in fat. Diverse Chinese food restaurants are available in Santo Domingo, like the casual Fai Chan Oriental and Expreso Jade. And for Mexican food there are also many options, such as the popular Tacos del Sol.