Dominican Republic resorts know how to spoil their guests. Most — such as the El Embajador, a Royal Hideaway Hotel — boast a large variety of great amenities, including beautiful pools and lovely spas, to entice their guests to stay on their grounds as much as possible.
And that’s exactly what many people do when they visit the Dominican Republic. They hole up in their resort, never setting a foot outside until it’s finally time to head back to the airport.
But if you want to get a feel for the authentic Dominican Republic, it’s important to indulge your sense of adventure, pry yourself away from the beach and explore this island’s rich history in the capital city of Santo Domingo.
Santo Domingo was established in 1496 by Christopher Columbus’ brother, Bartholomew Columbus, alongside the Ozama River. Unfortunately, the original colony didn’t survive very long. A hurricane destroyed it in 1502.
But Santo Domingo was too important not to rebuild. Known as the Gateway to the Caribbean, this town played a major role in the exploration of the New World. In fact, many of the world’s most famous explorers, including Ponce de Leon, Herman Cortes and Vasco Nunez de Balboa, began their expeditions from Santo Domingo’s port.
That hurricane strike in 1502 was not the only difficulty that Santo Domingo has had to overcome. Over the years, this town was also captured by Sir Francis Drake in 1586; attacked by Oliver Cromwell in 1655; and captured by Haitian rebels in 1801. It has also been lashed by numerous hurricanes. Yet, like the fabled phoenix, Santo Domingo has always managed to rise from the ashes.
Venture away from the beach for a culturally immersive experience.
You may be surprised to learn that Santo Domingo is home to a number of important firsts, including:
The best place to experience Santo Domingo’s many historical sites is its Zona Colonial, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walk cobblestone streets while admiring an impressive mix of early 16th century buildings.
The Zona Colonial is only about 11 blocks in total, but it contains most of Santo Domingo’s major landmarks, including Fortaleza Ozama and Catedral Primada de America. Art lovers will also want to check out Alcazar de Colon, which was once the home of Diego Colon, Christopher Columbus’ son. Today, the building contains a fine collection of art from the late medieval and Renaissance periods.
Another point of interest is El Faro a Colon, which is also known as the Columbus Lighthouse. This monument is built in the shape of a cross and is said to contain the remains of Christopher Columbus.
Of course, one can’t live on history alone. And, fortunately, Santo Domingo, which is home to approximately 3 million people, has a lot of great places to dine.
This city, in fact, made the Caribbean Journal’s top ten cities for food in the Caribbean. Santo Domingo also boasts one of the most vibrant nightlife scenes in the Caribbean where you can drink and dance the night away. Two of the best places to search for night clubs is near the Zona Colonial and in the downtown area.
Enjoy every moment of being pampered at your resort, but don’t forget to take in all that the area has to offer while you’re there.