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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, founded by Christopher Columbus and his younger brother Bartholomew Columbus in 1496. The part of the city inhabited at the beginning of the 1500s is called the Colonial Zone (Zona Colonial in Spanish). The colonial zone boasts many firsts for the New World. The first paved street, university, cathedral, castle, monastery, hospital and fortress – to name just a few. The colonial zone, with its beautiful architecture and rich history, is a must-see when visiting Santo Domingo. The colonial zone has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
In the colonial zone, in addition to the beauty of historical buildings, there are hotels, restaurants, cafes, museums, bars, shops, etc. are found. The two most famous streets in the colonial zone are Calle Las Damas (street of the colonial zone). women) and Calle Conde. Calle Las Damas was the street where upper class women went to have lunch after church. Calle Las Damas is a wonderful street during the day, but it becomes even more wonderful at night as the street lights turn the walls of the buildings into a beautiful shade of orange. With every step you take on the first paved street of the New World, you travel deeper in time, until you feel as if you were walking with Christopher Columbus himself in the 1500s.
There are many hotels to choose from and they offer a wide price range from economical to elegant. The nice thing about the budget hotels in the area is that they are clean and staffed with friendly people – many speak English. Keep in mind that these are old buildings and although they are clean, most of the rooms are small and have “old building” issues. That said, I think they’re a great experience for the price in a great area. There are many such hotels and many offer different deals at different times, so it is difficult to recommend just one hotel. The reason I like hotels in this area is because when you walk out the door of the hotel, you don’t have to pay a taxi to take you somewhere you can enjoy. You are already at the number one destination in Santo Domingo.
There are many hotels on the higher side, but I will talk about Hodelpa Nicolas De Ovándó. This hotel has spacious rooms, a nice courtyard to enjoy the evenings, a small bar, good food for buffet breakfast and a wonderful menu for dinner, but the two best aspects of the hotel are its history and architecture. Nicolas de Ovando, a traveling companion of Christopher Columbus, was the 3rd Governor of India and this hotel was his home and dates back to 1502. The first houses have been built, so for me there is no better place to stay to immerse yourself in the culture of the oldest city in the New World. But don’t worry if the hotel is out of your budget, you can visit and have a cocktail at the bar or in the courtyard.
Things to see and do
I highly recommend starting at the Calle Las Damas pedestrian street and making it the first thing you do when you arrive in the colonial zone. By learning about the buildings and their history, you can enjoy them more. For example, if you are sitting in the Spanish Square (Plaza Espana) having a nice dinner while looking across the square and seeing the stone building, it will no longer be just a stone building, because after taking the walking tour you will understand that it is for Diego Columbus, the son of Christopher Columbus the home.
As you walk down Calle Las Damas, you will be approached by tour guides who will offer you a walking tour. So far, all my tours have been with guides who speak excellent English. The walking tour usually takes two hours. I usually talk to the tour guide beforehand and ask them to find the highlights and try to do the tour in 1-1 1/2 hours. The cost of the tour is usually around $1,000 Dominican pesos ($20 USD), but you can try to negotiate a lower price. The guides do a great job and are caring, so I think they will earn the $1000 pesos.
The next section will discuss some of the buildings worth seeing, many of which will be featured on the tour.
Buildings, museums and historical attractions
Cathedral de Santa Maria/ The Cathedral of Santa Maria– Built in 1514, the first cathedral in America. This cathedral is an active cathedral, holds services and has 7 beautiful chapels.
Alcázar de Colón It is the house of the son of Christopher Columbus (Diego Columbus). This home has been converted into a beautiful museum with some of the original furnishings and reproductions of the original furniture. As you walk through this museum, you will learn how Columbus lived in the 1500s.
Plaza de España a large, open concourse with 8 restaurants facing the square on one side and the Alcazar de Colon (home of Diego Columbus, son of Christopher Columbus) on the other. The plaza is located at the end of Calle Las Damas.
Calle Las Damas perhaps the most historically significant street in the city. It was the first paved street in the Americas, and it was also the street where the ladies of the upper class walked to have lunch after church. The street is full of buildings dating back to the 1500s that are now museums, hotels, restaurants, etc. transformed. Draw history as you walk down this street.
Calle Conde probably the 2nd most important street in the city. This street is closed to cars and full of shops, cafes, restaurants, hotels and there is a small park (Parque Colon) in the middle and on the other side of this street is the Parque Independencia (Independence Park).
Fortaleza Ozama 19th century mansion overlooking the Ozama River in the colonial zone. It is the oldest European-designed fort in America.
Ruins of San Francisco remains of a monastery built in 1508 to host the Franciscan Fathers. It is considered an important ruin and is the work of Governor Nicolas de Ovando.
pAnteon de la Patria it was originally a church of the Jesuits, later it was transformed into a mausoleum, where the remains of the most important national, civil and military heroes of the Dominican Republic were placed.
El Parque Colon (Columbus Park) in colonial times and still today, it was the main gathering place for holidays. It is located on Calle Conde, opposite the Hotel Conde, next to the Cathedral of Santa Maria. It’s a great place to sit on a bench under a tree and take a break from visiting museums and ruins to soak up the beauty and culture.
Restaurants, bars, cafes and night clubs
The colonial zone has many restaurants, bars, cafes and night clubs. I focus on those that have historical significance, those that I have enjoyed, and those that our past clients have enjoyed.
There are 8 restaurants overlooking Plaza Espana (Spanish Square) and Alcázar de Colón (Deigo Columbus’ house). Each one has a menu that can be found outside the restaurant in Spanish and English. All 8 restaurants are elegant, and the oldest restaurant in Újvilág is one of them. Pate Palo (the wooden leg) was owned by a one-legged pirate, a 500-year-old restaurant where Sir Francis Drake once ate. Whether you’re eating at Pate Palo or one of the other 8, you can’t go wrong with one of these.
There are many restaurants to choose from on Calle Conde. Casual clothes for lunch and casual or dressy casual in the evening. Segrefrados, an Italian restaurant, is a great place not only for dining but also for people watching. They start the day with great coffee in the morning and their pizzas are also excellent. For more traditional Dominican food, head to the first floor of the Conde hotel. This restaurant’s terrace overlooks Parque Calon and Santa Maria Cathedral.
At the end of Calle Conde is a very famous cafe/restaurant called Grands, formerly Pacos. This restaurant is open 24 hours a day and is a great place to start the day with a coffee and a small breakfast. This is not a trendy place, but a traditional cafe where you can meet people here any day of the week, having a good conversation with their coffee and Dominican style food, regardless of the hour.
LuLus Tasting Bar is a great place to enjoy a cocktail and dinner. This is a very trendy place that is upscale casual.
Onnos is a nightclub in the heart of the colonial zone where you can listen to the countries favorite music (Bachata, Merengue and Salsa).
As I mentioned earlier, there are many more restaurants, cafes, bars and nightclubs to choose from, but I wanted to give you a list of what we consider to be popular choices. You will see many more as you walk, if you see one you like, just go in and enjoy it.
Between 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 where it is very safe to walk around as a tourist.
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