Adventuring in and around Santo Domingo
In addition to the great food (which you can read about here), there is a TON to see and do in Santo Domingo. There are cultural sites, romantic vistas, family activities and attractions for all kinds of interests.
The Zona Colonial is probably my favorite area – it is a section of the city that gives off a great sense of place, and that makes you feel like you are “somewhere”. I’m always a sucker for place that I can go to where just being there makes you feel something – and for me that is the Colonial zone, where the narrow roads and stone facades can transport you to another time (especially with the occasional horse-drawn carriage in view).
Within the colonial zone are some great architectural and historical gems. The Fortaleza Ozama is a Spanish-built 16th century fort that was designed to guard the entrance to the port. The Homage Tower sits in the center of the fortress and has quite an Instagram-worthy presence.
Just a little further down the river sits another prime historical monument, Alcazar de Colon, the mansion of Columbus. This 16th century residence was built by Christopher Columbus’ less famous son, Diego, and sits right on the river’s edge, with beautiful views of both the Ozama from one side, and of the Plaza de Espana on the other. They offer a self-guided audio tour that is well worth the price.
If you are interested in churches, they are abundant in Santo Domingo, but the one not-to-be missed religious house is the Basilica Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor, which is the oldest cathedral in the Americas. The Cathedral blends both gothic and baroque styles, which is not surprising given that it was built at the cross-section of both periods, in the mid-16th century. As with the Alcazar de Colon, the Basilica Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor offers an inexpensive audio-guide to allow you to learn about the building and its history at your own pace.
Finally, one of my other favorite diversions from our trip to Santo Domingo is the Acuario National de la Republica Dominicana (or National Aquarium of the Dominican Republic).
It is not an overly large Aquarium, but as a frequenter of the dark indoor New England Aquarium in Boston, it was refreshing to visit with the sea life in such an airy environment. In addition to the regular suspects, the aquarium also features gators, flamingos and several breeds of turtle. There is a lovely path to strolling path along the ocean, and the real unexpected bonus is that there is a small playground for the kids to enjoy. Our little one was still a bit young to make use of the full playground, but she very much enjoyed the baby swing!
Beaching near Santo Domingo
Of course, one cannot go to the Dominican Republic and not find some time for a little R&R at the beach! Since we were situated in the city, we decided that the best plan for us would be to rent a car for the day and drive out to one of the public beaches. Our hotel was pretty close to a Avis rental company, so my husband walked over in the morning while I got the baby ready for our outing. We decided to drive out to Dominicus Beach in Bayahibe. We did have a little bit of difficulty finding it at first, mainly because it seems that the resorts in the area have pretty much eaten up as much of the coastline as possible, with only this little stretch of public beach left.
The beach itself was truly beautiful and one of the best maintained public beaches I have been to. There were loungers for rent and beers for sale and the gorgeous and delectably warm ocean to enjoy. The goods and towels at the beach stalls were a bit overpriced, but then again, goods are really only worth what you are willing to pay for them – and I did walk away with two towels.
Finally, perhaps my favorite spot of the trip was at our post-beach lunch at Saona Café in Bayahibe. We ate a lot of great food on this trip, but there was something about the combination of good music, warm sea breeze and superb drinks that made this place magical. And the food! We had a local lionfish dish that was truly unforgettable and a house specialty salad that I still dream of. In truth, the Saona Café was one of the major Pro’s on our Pro/Con list in deciding to return to the Dominican Republic on our next trip.
Our upcoming trip to the DR should be interesting as we will be staying at two other hotels, the Billini Hotel and the Melia Caribe Tropical, the latter of which will be our first foray (aside from cruising) into the “all-inclusive” territory. These properties definitely have some big shoes to fill, and it will be interesting to see how they compare. Stay tuned!