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A Tourist Guide To The Colonial Zone, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Santo Domingo is the oldest city in the New World and was founded in 1496 by Christopher Columbus and his younger brother, Bartholomew Columbus. In the early 1500s, part of the city was called the Colonial Zone (Zona Colonial in Spanish). The colonial area boasts many firsts for the New World. First paved road, university, cathedral, fort, monastery, hospital and fort – to name a few. With beautiful architecture and a rich history, the colonial zone is a must-see when visiting Santo Domingo. The colonial area has been classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
In the colonial zone, with the beauty of historical buildings, you will find: hotels, restaurants, cafes, museums, bars, shops, etc. The two most famous streets in the colonial zone are Calle Las Damas (Street. Ladies) and Calle Conde. Calle Las Damas was the street women of high society walked down after church to lunch. Calle Las Damas is a stunning street during the day, but it becomes even more stunning at night as the street lights give the walls of the buildings a beautiful orange hue. With every step you take on the New World’s first paved road, you travel deeper in time until you feel like you’re walking in the 1500s next to Christopher Columbus.
There are many hotels to choose from and they offer a wide range of prices from budget to luxury. The good thing about the budget hotels in this area is that they are clean and staffed with friendly people – many speak English. Keep in mind these are old buildings, and while they are clean, most of the rooms are small and have “old building” issues. Still, for the price, I think they offer a great experience in a great area. There are many of these hotels and many offer different specials at different times, so it is difficult to recommend a particular hotel. The reason I love hotels in this area is that when you walk out the door of your hotel, you don’t have to pay a taxi to take you somewhere to enjoy. You are already the #1 destination in Santo Domingo.
On the upside, there are many hotels to enjoy, but I will talk about the Hodelpa Nicolas de Ovando. The hotel has spacious guest rooms, a nice patio outside to enjoy the evenings, a small bar, good food for buffet breakfast and an amazing menu for dinner, but the two best aspects of this hotel are its history and its architecture. Nicolas de Ovando, Christopher Columbus’s traveling companion, was the third Governor of the Indies and this hotel used to be his home and dates back to 1502. The hotel is located on Calle Las Damas (first paved street). First built houses, so for me, there was no better place to be able to immerse myself in the culture of the oldest city in the New World. But if the hotel is out of your budget, don’t worry, you can visit it and enjoy a cocktail at the bar or on the patio.
Things to do and see
I suggest you take a walking tour of Calle Las Damas and make it the first thing you do when you get to the colonial zone. Once you understand the buildings and their history, you will be able to enjoy them more. For example, if you’re enjoying a nice dinner in Spanish Square (Plaza España), as you look across the square and see a stone building, it won’t be just a stone building anymore because, after a walking tour, you’ll see Diego Columbus, son of Christopher Columbus. You will understand that there is a house.
Walking down Calle Las Damas, you will meet tour guides who will offer you a walk. Every tour I’ve taken so far has been with excellent English speaking guides. A walking tour is usually two hours long. I usually talk to the tour guide first and ask them to hit the highlights and try to complete the tour in 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Tours usually cost around $1,000 Dominican pesos ($20 USD), but you can try to negotiate a lower price. The tour guides do a great job and care, so I think they earn $1,000 pesos.
The next section will discuss some of the buildings worth seeing and many of these will be included in the tour.
Buildings, museums and historical attractions
Catedral de Santa Maria / Cathedral of Santa Maria– Built in 1514, America’s first cathedral. This cathedral is an active cathedral and conducts services and has 7 beautiful chapels.
Alcazar de Colon It is home to the son of Christopher Columbus (Diego Columbus). The house has been turned into a beautiful museum with some original furniture and some reproductions of original furniture. A walk through this museum will give you a feel for how Columbus lived in the 1500s.
Plaza de España There is a large, open gathering area with 8 restaurants overlooking the square on one side and the Alcázar de Colón (home of Christopher Columbus’ son Diego Columbus) on the other. The Plaza is found at the end of Calle Las Damas.
Called Las Damas Perhaps the most historically significant street in the city. It was the first paved street in America, and high society women would come down after church for lunch. The street is lined with buildings dating back to the 1500s that have now been converted into museums, hotels, restaurants, etc. has been in Make history as you walk this road.
Calle Konde It is probably the second most important road in the city. This street is closed to cars and is lined with shops, cafes, restaurants, hotels and has a small park (Parque Colón) in the center and just off this street, Park Independencia (Independence Park).
Fortaleza Ozama The colonial zone has a 16th century fort overlooking the river Ozama. It is the oldest European-designed fort in America.
Ruinas de San Francisco It is the remains of a monastery built in 1508 for the preparation of the Franciscan Fathers. It is considered an important relic and was the work of Governor Nicolas de Ovando.
PAnton de la Patria Originally a church for the Jesuits, it was later converted into a mausoleum to house the remains of some of the Dominican Republic’s most notable national, civil and military heroes.
El Parque Colon (Columbus Park) It was the main gathering center for festivals during the colonial period and remains so today. On Calle Conde, across from the Hotel Conde and bordering the Cathedral de Santa Maria, it’s a great place to sit on a park bench under a tree and soak in the beauty and culture by visiting museums and ruins.
Restaurants, bars, cafes and nightclubs
The colonial zone has many restaurants, bars, cafes and nightclubs. I will focus on the ones that have historical significance, the ones that I enjoy, and the ones that our past customers have enjoyed.
There are 8 restaurants in a row overlooking both Plaza Espana (Spanish Square) and Alcázar de Colón (Deigo Columbus’s house). Each of them has a menu in Spanish and English at the front of the restaurant. All 8 restaurants are elegant and one of the 8 is the longest running restaurant in New World. Pate Palo (Wooden Leg) is a 500-year-old restaurant once owned by a one-legged pirate where Sir Francis Drake once dined. Whether you’re eating at Pate Palo or one of the other 8, you can’t go wrong choosing one of these.
There are many restaurants to choose from on Calle Conde. They are casual dress for lunch and casual or upscale casual at night. Segrefrados, an Italian restaurant is a great place not only to eat but also to people watch. They have great coffee in the morning to start your day and their pizzas are also excellent. For more traditional Dominican cuisine, you can head to the first floor of Hotel Conde. This restaurant has a patio facing both Parque Calón and Catedral de Santa Maria.
At the end of Calle Conde is a very famous cafe/diner called Grands, formerly Pacos. The restaurant is open 24 hours a day and is a great place to grab a coffee and some breakfast to start your day. It’s not a fancy place but a regular cafe where any day of the week, you’ll find people gathering here to enjoy great conversation with their coffee and Dominican-style food, no matter the hour.
Lulu’s Tasting Bar is a great place to enjoy cocktails and dinner. It’s a very trendy place that’s upscale casual.
Onos is a nightclub located in the heart of the colonial zone where you can listen to the country’s favorite music (bachata, merengue and salsa).
As I mentioned earlier there are many more restaurants, cafes, bars and nightclubs to choose from but I want to list what we consider popular choices. You will see many others while walking around, if you see one you like, go in and enjoy.
Between the history, museums, great restaurants, cafes, and nightlife, the Colonial Zone is a must-see for anyone visiting the Dominican Republic. It is an English speaking friendly area which is very safe to travel as a tourist.
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