Taking a trip to Santa Domingo in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic claims the oldest European city in the New World (anything west of Europe’s western shores). That city is Santo Domingo, founded in 1496 by Bartolome Columbus (Christopher’s brother) and capital city of the Dominican Republic. The Republic shares the tropical island of Hispaniola with Haiti, and its history provides a turbulent and fascinating saga.

Santo Domingo, like the rest of the country, is a study in contrasts. It is the cultural and economic center of the Republic, energetic, complex and basically ‘untamed’ when it comes to the usual standards for tourists. Some parts of the city are wealthy by any standard, other parts are still badly impoverished, and the best advice for visitors (which by the way is true anywhere) is to make friends with a few locals and let them guide you.

Amongst the many and diverse possibilities for exploring the city, history buffs will want to see the so-called Colonial zone (Zona Colonial) the oldest area where much of the architecture dates from the 15th century. The zone consists of about eleven blocks within the old walls, and in this small city-within-a-city centuries of history are evident today. The Zona Colonial claims the first hospital, the first university, the first cathedral and the first monastery ever built in the New World.

The zone is bordered by the Ozama River and the Caribbean Sea; one entrance is via the Gate of San Diego, where part of the great surrounding wall can still be seen. Inside you will find a bounty of museums, monuments and marvellous architecture along with some splendid dining establishments, pleasant cafes, nightclubs and artists galore. The Zona Colonial is the original from which the large and complex city of Santo Domingo has evolved.