Saturday, 28 October 2017

DOMINICAN REP: Santo Domingo, Drivers Will Charge Double Fare If You Are Overweight, Immigration Officials Dishonest Do Not Return Change

Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic and the oldest European city in the Americas. The old city is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Santo Domingo is the capital city of the Dominican Republic, and it prides itself in being the first European city in the New World.

Founded by Christopher Columbus's brother Bartolome Colombus in 1496, it is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas and was the first seat of the Spanish colonial empire in the New World.

For this reason, the city of Santo Domingo has a really rich historic and cultural heritage that makes any visit extremely worthwhile. Nowadays, it remains one of the most populous cities in the Central America-Caribbean area, and the main economic and commercial center of this region.

Santo Domingo is the cultural, financial, political, commercial and industrial center of the Dominican Republic, with the country's most important industries being located within the city. Santo Domingo also serves as the chief seaport of the country.

The city's harbor at the mouth of the Ozama River accommodates the largest vessels, and the port handles both heavy passenger and freight traffic. Temperatures are high year round, with a cool breeze around winter time.

The Ozama river flows 148 kilometres (92 miles) before emptying into the Caribbean Sea. Santo Domingo's position on its banks was of great importance to the city's economic development and the growth of trade during colonial times.

The Ozama River is where the country's busiest port is located.

Many of Santo Domingo's most notable landmarks are located within the Zona Colonial district of the city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990.

The Colonial Zone, bordered by the Rio Ozama, also has an impressive collection of early 16th century buildings, including palatial houses and majestic churches that reflect the architectural style of the late Middle Ages.

The city's most important historical buildings include the

- Catedral Santa Maria La Menor, called La Catedral Primada de America, America's First Cathedral, which states its distinction

- Alcazar de Colon, America's first castle, once the residence of Viceroy of the Indies Don Diego Colon, a son of Christopher Columbus

- Monasterio de San Francisco, the ruins of the first monastery in the Americas

- Museo de las Casas Reales, in a monumental complex that includes the former Palace of the Governors and the building of the former Royal Audiencia of Santo Domingo

- Fortaleza Ozama, the oldest fortress in the Americas

- Panteon Nacional, a former Jesuit edifice now hosting the remains of various renowned Dominicans

- Dominican Convent, the first convent in the Americas.

On the north end of Calle Las Damas, the restored and expanded Plaza de Espana is bordered by Las Atarazanas the former naval yard, now a museum and a number of small shops and restaurants.

This area was the first European commercial center in the Americas, and is still a hub of activity today. The Alcazar de Colon, having once been the colonial palace of the Columbus family—beginning with his son Diego,is now a museum displaying period furniture and decorations.

The building was originally built in 1510, and restored to its current appearance in 1952.

A 700 million US dollar investment was made in the Port of the Ozama river adjacent to the Ciudad Colonial aiming to turn Santo Domingo into a port of call for luxury cruise ships and including a privately owned marina. The project is being completed by Sans Souci Ports S.A.

The city proper of Santo Domingo is subdivided into incorporated areas or neighbourhoods called sectores which could be considered as small urban towns. All sectores are serviced directly by the municipal mayor's office.

Sector regions of Santo Domingo:

- Ciudad (city) – applies to the original older parts of town, many of which date back to the colonial times.

- Ensanche – usually, but not always, applied to the more modern parts of the city.

- Villa – the urban outskirts of both the old city of Santo Domingo and the current smaller National District, originally they were separate villages, hence their names.

The demographics of Santo Domingo are similar to other metropolitan areas of the country, except that the population of immigrants mainly Haitians, is larger in the city because of the relative ease of finding work and the economic dynamism compared to other provinces.

Santo Domingo, like most of the country, is made up of native-born Dominican mulattos, though there are large numbers of Afro-Dominicans and Euro-Dominicans, as well as a large immigrant community. In fact, over 20% of the city's population is immigrants, mainly Haitians.

However, there are also recent immigrants from Europe, Asia, as well as other Latin American nations present in the city. The city of Santo Domingo has a significant community of Asians mainly Chinese, Arabs mostly Lebanese, and Europeans mostly Spanish and Italian people are also present in the city.

There are also significant numbers of Venezuelans and Puerto Ricans, in the city, as well as US born Dominicans returning to their parents' home country. The northeast quadrant of the city is the poorest while the southwest is wealthier.

Santo Domingo is also considered one of the epicenters of the growing Dominican middle-class. The city is one of the most economically developed cities in Latin America. Santo Domingo's population in 2010 was 3.8 million in the metropolitan area.

The city is divided into two parts by the Ozama River. The western side is very developed economically, while the eastern part, known as Santo Domingo Este, has historically lagged behind.

The most important tourist destination of the city is the Zona Colonial or Colonial Zone, on the western bank of the river and facing the Caribbean Sea.

To the west of the Zona Colonial lies Gazcue, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, filled with old Victorian houses and tree-lined streets.

The city's waterfront George Washington Avenue, knows as El Malecon, borders the Caribbean Sea and attracts many tourists because of its hotels, casinos, palm-lined boulevards and monuments.

Surrounding the Gazcue area you will find the Palacio Nacional or seat of the Dominican government, the National Theater, the Museums in the Plaza de la Cultura, and the Palace of Fine Arts.

In the central part of western Santo Domingo lies the economic and commercial heart of the city, in an area known as the Poligono Central and delimited by the 27 de Febrero, John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill and Maximo Gomez avenues.

This high-income area remains rather unexplored by tourists, despite offering most of the best dining and shopping available in the city. Many of the city's most affluent neighborhoods surround the city's two main parks, the Parque Mirador Sur in the South and the Jardin Botanico in the North.

In the less developed Oriental Santo Domingo you will find other major monuments and tourist spots, such as Columbus's Lighthouse, where the explorer's remains are buried, the open caves of the Parque Nacional Los Tres Ojos, and the National Aquarium.

This all makes of Santo Domingo a cosmopolitan, vibrant and bustling city with very distinct neighborhoods and ambiances, all worth a visit, and providing the most diverse cultural experiences.

Santo Domingo enjoys a tropical climate. Temperature averages from 73.4°F (23°C) in the morning to 89.1°F (31.7°C) by the afternoon. Generally, January and February are the coldest months, and August is the hottest month of the year.

The island is prone to hurricanes especially during June 1 to November 30, but fortunately they receive many warnings beforehand to prepare their people and tourist of any harm. Santo Domingo is a great city to visit during any season, because the city's ideal tropical weather runs all year long

Santo Domingo is the headquarter of economic activity in Dominican Republic. The city catches the attention of many international firms. Many of these firms have their headquarters in the city due to its great location and prosperous economy.

It is where most of the country's wealth is concentrated and the seat of the national legislature, judicial, and executive government. Many national and international firms have their headquarters or regional offices in Santo Domingo.

The city attracts many international firms and franchises such as Ikea, Goldcorp and Barrick due to its location and economic stability.

The infrastructure is suitable for most business operations. A key element that has helped the city grow and compete globally is the telecommunications infrastructure.

Santo Domingo and the Dominican Republic as whole enjoy a modern and extensive telecommunications system liberalized in the late 1990s which has benefited from extensive foreign investment. This has attracted numerous call centers in recent years.

Santo Domingo not only has an excellent telecommunications infrastructure but also a sizeable bilingual population that speaks English.

The city's economic growth can be witnessed in the extensive vertical growth experienced across many of its neighborhood. The construction boom is reflected in the many high density residential towers, shopping malls, elevated highways, the metro expansion and overall increase in commercial activity.

Santo Domingo has a thriving middle class contrasting with the significant pockets of poverty that remain as challenges for the future.

Marginalized slum conditions exist mostly in the northeast quadrant of the city with smaller pockets extending across the city.

Areas of extensive development include the Poligono Central, which is bordered by the Avenida John F. Kennedy northward 27 February Avenue south, Avenida Winston Churchill to the west and Avenida Maximo Gomez to the east, and is characterized by its mixed development and its very active nightlife.

Santo Domingo has areas of high development, among them Serralles, Naco, Arroyo Hondo, Piantini, Urb Fernandez, Ens. Julieta, Paraiso, Los Prados, Bella Vista, Sarasota and other sectors, where most of the middle class can be found.

Bella Vista and La Esperilla are currently the fastest growing sectors with large mega -projects. Gazcue belongs to the more traditional southeastern area of the city and is known for its buildings dating from the 1930s to the 1960s.

The performing arts are very important in Santo Domingo. The city has its own symphonic orchestra, chamber orchestra, opera company, ballet company, folkloric company, and national theater, including a number of smaller groups.

The Plaza of culture is the center of activity, but there are concerts, ballet, folklore, and other performances throughout the city. Casa de Teatro is the gathering place of avant garde artists, actors, and musicians.

It stages art and literature exhibitions and offers painting, drama, and dancing courses and monthly contests for poetry, short stories, and other forms of literature.

Santo Domingo is the location of numerous museums, many of which are located in the Zona Colonial district.

In the Zona Colonial is the Museum of Alcazar, in Diego Colon's restored palace,the Museum of the Casas Reales, with artefacts of the colonial period and a collection of ancient weapons donated by Trujillo, the Naval Museum of the Atarazanas, in the former naval yards, Museo de la Catedral, Museo Memorial de la Resistencia Dominicana, documenting the struggle for freedom during the regimes of Trujillo and Balaguer, Museo Duarte, dedicated to the hero of Dominican independence, and the World of Ambar Museum.

Plaza de la Cultura also houses the city's most important cultural venues:

- Teatro Nacional or National Theater and various museums

- Palacio Nacional, which houses the Presidency of the Dominican Republic

- Palacio de Bellas Artes or Palace of Fine Arts, a neoclassical building that is the permanent home of the country's National Symphony Orchestra.

- Boulevard 27 de Febrero, a pedestrian promenade located on the busy Avenida 27 de Febrero, which displays works of art from prominent Dominican artists and sculptors.

- Centro Olímpico Juan Pablo Duarte, a sports complex in the center of Santo Domingo. This complex was used during the 2003 Pan American Games.

In the Plaza de la Cultura are the Museum of the Dominican Man, with artifacts from the pre-Columbian Taíno civilization, the National Museum of History and Geography, the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Modern Art.

Other museums include the Museo Bellapart, a prominent private collection of 19th- and 20th-Century Dominican painting and sculpture and the Museo Prehispanico, a major private collection of pre-Columbian Taino art.

The city has various parks, many of which are relatively large. Santo Domingo (D.N) is surrounded by the Santo Domingo Greenbelt. Mirador Norte Park lies in the north of the city, close to Villa Mella and Mirador Sur Park is located in the southwest section of the city.

Mirador del Este is located on the East bank of the Ozama river and it is the seat of the Columbus Lighthouse. Independencia Park and Colon Park are located in Zona Colonial.

Parks include:

- Parque Enriquillo

- Parque Independencia

- Parque Metropolitano Las Praderas

- El Malecón

- Jardin Botanico Nacional

- Parque Zoologico Nacional

- Barrio Chino de Santo Domingo

- Parque Nunez de Cáceres

Power outages have been one of the downfalls of placing a major headquarter in the city, but the infrastructure is a great advantage to many of these international firms.

Since Santo Domingo has privatize and integrated with the US telecommunication system, they have been fortunate to have the benefit of a contemporary telecommunication system.

Incomes in Santo Domingo can vary from extremely rich to extremely poor. Many of the prominent families live in neighborhoods surrounding Avenida John F. Kennedy to the north, Avenida 27 de Febrero to the south, Avenida Winston Churchill to the west and Avenida Maximo Gomez to the east.

Some other areas that are always expanding and developing are Naco, Arroyo Hondo, Piantini, Paraíso, Bella Vista, Sarasota. Most of the city's less fortunate live outside the center of Santo Domingo, which can be seen by various slums that emphasizes the huge issue poverty is for the city.

Avenida Winston Churchill and 27 de Febrero Avenue are two of the commercial centers of the city. Many malls and shops are located in these two avenues such as, Acropolis Center, Scotiabank, Citibank, Banco BHD, Banco del Progreso, Banreservas, Plaza Central and Plaza Naco.

However, some of the most popular malls are Acropolis Center, Bella Vista Mall, Blue Mall, the upcoming Novo-Centro, Agora Mall and Galería 360 because it contains more contemporary shops and is popular within the high income families.

Santo Domingo was formerly called Ciudad Trujillo during the era of the dictatorship of Trujillo

The national government of the Dominican Republic is located in Santo Domingo. The National Palace is the workplace of the current President of Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina, and the National Congress.

The National Police or Policia Nacional and the Tourist Police or Policia Turistica are in charge of implementing city safety. The national police station is located in Av. Leopoldo Navarro #402, you can also contact 809-682-2151 for the cenral line, but in case of an emergency dial 911.

Be warned that their reliability is questionable and are not always responsive even to dire emergencies. There are also many destacamentos or police outposts scattered throughout the city.

Santo Domingo is served by two airports. Aeropuerto Internacional La Isabela a newly constructed airport located in the northern section of the city, within kilometres of the city center. It serves mostly domestic and charter flights.

The major international airport that serves the city is Santo Domingo Las Americas, which serves North and South America and also Europe.

Las Americas International Airport is found in Greater Santo Domingo and is located approximately 15 minutes from the greater metropolitan area and around 30 minutes from the city`s center. The airport offers several transportation options, including all major American car rental firms.

Direct flights from: Atlanta, Boston, New York, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Philadelphia, Panama City, San Jose Costa Rica, San Juan Puerto Rico, Havana, Port-au-Prince, Caracas, Paris, Madrid, Frankfurt, Munich and Duesseldorf and surrounding Caribbean islands.

Airfare to Santo Domingo may vary widely depending on season and demand. A round trip ticket from Boston or New York ranges anywhere from US$300 to US$700, with fares from Miami or San Juan only slightly lower.

Airfare from most cities in Latin America cost between US$400 and US$1,000 and require layovers in Panama City, Panama (Copa Air) or San Jose, Costa Rica (Taca). Upon arrival, a Tourist Card must be purchased ,it is 10 dollars, US money only and is available at a booth in Immigration.

Please bring Exact change. Immigration officials have been known to not make change for a $20 bill or larger and will often pretend to not have the ability to make change, even though they have clearly accepted the $10 bills of many other tourists in front of you.

Other airports in the country:

- La Isabela International Airport in Greater Santo Domingo. (IATA: JBQ)

- Punta Cana International Airport in Punta Cana / Higuey City. (IATA: PUJ)

- La Romana International Airport in La Romana City. (IATA: LRM)

- Cibao International Airport in Santiago de los Caballeros City. (IATA: STI)

- Gregorio Luperon International Airport in Puerto Plata City. (IATA: POP)

- El Catey International Airport in Sanchez City. (IATA: AZS)

- Maria Montez International Airport in Barahona City. (IATA: BRX)

There is ferry service to and from Mayaguez as well as San Juan, Puerto Rico. It costs around US $200 roundtrip and the overnight journey last 12 hours. For an additional fee, you can bring your car along for the ride.

The former company, Ferries del Caribe is now out of business and the new provider is called America Cruise Ferries.

Sansouci is a good terminal that holds up to 3800 passengers+luggage. From there you can get a taxi or a tour, and there is also an ATM, gift shops, a call center, and internet service.

The Port of Santo Domingo is located on the Ozama River. Its location at the center of the Caribbean is well suited for flexible itinerary planning and has excellent support, road and airport infrastructure within the Santo Domingo region, which facilitate access and transfers.

The port is suitable for both turnaround and transit calls.

The port's renovation is part of a major redevelopment project, aimed at integrating the port area and the Zona Colonial and foster a cruise, yacht, and high-end tourism destination.

Supported by legislation approved in 2005, the project, developed by the Sans Souci Group, also includes the development of a new sports marina and a 122-acre (0.49 km2) mixed-leisure real estate development adjacent to the port.

Santo Domingo was, until recently, a huge city of nearly 4 million people that was split into 5 independent municipalities: Distrito Nacional, Santo Domingo Este, Santo Domingo Oeste, Santo Domingo Norte and Boca Chica.

Almost all tourist attractions and shopping, dining and entertainment venues are located relatively close to each other in the Distrito Nacional, making it easy for you to get around and see the sights.

Santo Domingo is not entirely a tourist-friendly city. It`s often hard to move around if you don't know the city, as many streets lack proper signage and addresses are often reliant on the neighborhood's name more than an actual street address.

However, don't be afraid of asking the locals for orientation, as Dominicans are well known for their helpful nature and usually helpful to tourists.

It's a good idea to get a street map,there are many city maps online but it's also possible to buy one at any gift shop or book store for no more than US$5 dollars.

Walking along major thoroughfares in Santo Domingo can prove quite challenging. First, drivers aren't very respectful of pedestrians, so you have to take extra care when trying to cross a street. Second, some sidewalks can be damaged or under construction , forcing you onto the street.

The Malecon and Colonial Zone are the most walkable parts of the city. They offer multiple pedestrian attractions and are relatively safe areas for tourists to explore. Although it is always wise to use common sense as everywhere.

While exploring the Colonial Zone try hiring a properly-licensed tour guide. These talented yet underpaid, multi-lingual individuals will keep you entertained for hours with unprecedented historical insight and humor.

You can usually find them at the Plaza Colon in front of the Cathedral. Most are worth every penny. On the other hand, some of them are known to take their customers to businesses that throw them a kickback, so it's up to you to decide whether you really like to act upon their advice on businesses or not.

From the airport You can book your airport transfers in advance. Dominican Airport Transfers one of business leaders, you can actually get an instant quote and book online on their automated site but the office is located in the city.

A company that specializes in working with non-Spanish speaking visitors is Santo Domingo Taxi. They can provide you a quote and drive you to any location in the country.

Unlike most major metropolitan areas, there are very few roaming taxis in Santo Domingo. Even if you see one, it is best not to take a chance, it can be dangerous. In most cases you have to call a dispatcher to have a taxi sent to your location.

This isn't a problem and most businesses will gladly call a cab for you. Relatively expensive, usually US$ 4-15 per average trip and possibly more if you use one of the friendly cabs waiting in front of your nice hotel lobby.

Again, depending on circumstances, you may find that hiring a cab driver for the day is a good bargain.

Alternatively, go up to the second floor at the Arrivals at the very end, where a minivan will accommodate up to 8 passengers for a ride 70 pesos or ~ 2 USD, 1/2 hour to the Zona Colonial only.

For further distances to the center i.e. to the Caribe Tours Terminal, you will need to negotiate just like you would have with the usual un-metered taxis.

To return, the cheapest option is to go to the corner of Av. Sabena Larga with Av. Las Americas it is walkable in 15 minutes from Zona Colonial, where this same van may be there, or if not take the bus going to Boca Chica for 40 pesos, about 1 hour ; ask the driver to stop before the express route to the Airport, from where you can walk about 20 minutes, some 2 km.

I would not recommend this return during night time, nor do I know if lack of Spanish will hinder this option,hardly anyone speaks English in the bus, around the terminals etc.

However getting to the city center seems more viable, that van was recommended at the Tourist Desk in the airport, and some sort of authority with a badge was entertaining the driver while waiting for the car to be filled.

At least Taxis are convenient but expensive.

Never get into stray cabs at night or cabs that aren't sent by a dispatcher, they are not the safest. Another note, some cabs will put several passengers in at once, each paying a separate fare.

All major US car rental firms are available at the airport, along with several local vendors offering everything from subcompacts to late model Hummers, Range Rovers and Land Cruisers.

When renting from local vendors be sure to read the fine print regarding insurance coverage, you might think you're getting a great deal on a car, only to get into an accident and find out that your insurance coverage does not apply or that your deductible is as high as US$5,000.

Before you go for a car rental be aware Gasoline costs around US$ 5 per gallon and people drive fast and furious, breaking every imaginable rule.

It might be safer and cheaper to develop a friendship with a cab driver who will gladly become your personal driver, tour guide and concierge for a day rate equal to a fraction of what it would cost you to rent, insure and gas up a rental.

Traffic at rush hour can be very heavy, especially in the city center and as stated by others, aggressive driving is the norm. There are many one-way roads that are not marked and signage is very poor all-around.

The police are looking for handouts and so they will attempt to pull over any gringo in sight. It is not recommended to drive yourself as the drivers are super aggressive, road rules are ignored more often than not and no matter the circumstance an accident will always be the fault of a non-local.

For some unknown reason bus service in Santo Domingo is not very user-friendly and geared more towards locals getting to and from work. It is often impossible to know which bus goes where unless you ask the driver, as neither buses nor routes are clearly marked.

Not Inexpensive about US $ 0.5 and 1.00 per ride, yet complicated. Avoid unless you are accompanied by a local. These are called guaguas by locals.

These collective taxis or carros publicos as they are called by Dominicans, stick to a predetermined route,usually up and down a major avenue, picking up and dropping off passengers along the way - often cramming up to five passengers into a twenty year old Toyota Corolla.

Very inexpensive,US$ 0.50 per trip, yet very uncomfortable. By the way, if you are overweight don't be surprised if the driver charges you for two seats instead of one.

They fit 7 people total, the driver, two in front passenger seat, and four in the back seat.

Santo Domingo has just recently gotten its own Metro, with just one line operating on a North-South axis under the Maximo Gomez avenue, going from Villa Mella to the Centro de los Heroes and the Malecon, passing by the National Theater and the Santo Domingo Autonomous University (UASD).

It costs just 20 pesos per ride less than US$ 0.6. A second line is currently in construction and there's around five more lines in plans of construction for the upcoming future.

Despite boasting a rich cultural, architectural and artistic heritage, Santo Domingo has not been exploited for all its tourist potential. You're pretty much on your own to discover this fascinating city. Make the most of your time there.

Colonial Zone. Santo Domingo was the first major european settlement in the New World. Christopher Columbus walked these streets! Check out the many examples of 15th and 16th century architecture in the Colonial Zone. Don't miss the Ozama Fort, the Alcazar de Colon and the Cathedral, all built in Columbus' lifetime.

You can also check beautiful churches and convents, such as the Iglesia Regina Angelorum and the Convento de los Dominicos. Don't miss the Panteon Nacional, where the national heroes are buried, located in the Calle Las Damas, the New World's first (European) street.

Walk up the Calle del Conde, a very old pedestrian shop-lined street that used to be the commercial heart of the city.

This street leads to the Puerta de la Independencia, where the Dominican Republic proclaimed its independence from Haiti, and the Parque Independencia, where the country's founding fathers' remains are kept.

On Sunday evenings, check out the Ruinas de San Francisco for live bands playing Merengue, Bachata, Salsa and Son, in a wonderful weekly show where both locals and tourists dance, drink and enjoy themselves. This would be an unforgettable experience.

Also check out La Atarazana street after dark for a variety of romantic outdoor cafes with a spectacular view of the Alcazar and bay area. One such brasserie, Pat E Palo, has operated uninterrupted since 1505.

Check out the house where Ponce DeLeon lived before he embarked upon his quest for the fountain of youth and ended up discovering Florida.

Malecon at George Washington Avenue. This waterfront boulevard is home to several huge hotel/casino complexes and dozens of small restaurants, clubs and cafes. Go there to people watch, take a romantic carriage ride or just have a few beers.

Site of many festivals and concerts throughout the year. Parallel to the Malecon you will find Avenida Independencia, a tree lined street full of shops, bed and breakfasts and affordable restaurants with a nice mix of locals and tourists.

For a unique dining experience check out Adrian Tropical, a traditional Dominican restaurant literally built on the water, or San Gil, a more formal eatery occupying the ruins of a colonial fort.

Malecon Center, located on the far end of the Malecon, is a new and still under occupied high-end shopping center/hotel/condo complex with a Botero sculpture out front that reportedly cost US$1 million.

Plaza de la Cultura, (Walk all the way down the Malecon to Avenida Maximo Gomez and take a left. Walk past the McDonald's and Pizza Hut. This amazing complex is home to the National Theater and five museums, ranging from the dilapidated and mundane, to the crisp, modern Museum of Modern Art.

The largest in the Caribbean and home to exhibits by artists from Jamaica, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and of course, the Dominican Republic. If you want a nice beautiful garden to read or talk this is a good place.

Eco-tourism. Find your way to the Parque Mirador Sur, an impressive park overlooking the coast. It gets closed for cars on weekdays between 5 and 8 am and pm, as well as on Sundays, enabling it to get filled with families playing with their children and exercising.

Bike rentals are at your disposal. Also, you can visit the Jardin Botanico, a vast, beautiful and lush park situated near one of Santo Domingo's most exclusive neighborhoods. There you can experience different ecosystems from a rain-forest to a Japanese garden

Eastern Santo Domingo. Referred to as Santo Domingo Oriental, this separate municipality is not very tourist-friendly. Fortunately, most of its attractions are very close to the Colonial Zone and easy to get to.

Check out Los Tres Ojos, or Three Eyes, a series of open-roof caverns and underground lakes for the whole family to explore with a local this part of Santo Domingo is the most poverty stricken and can be dangerous.

Head over to the Faro a Colon, a huge lighthouse and monument to Christopher Columbus which not only houses his remains but doubles as a museum.

Check out the Santo Domingo Aquarium, a small but impressive showcase of the local aquatic life. If you're looking for some shopping, you can go to the Megacentro, Santo Domingo's largest shopping mall. It is massive.

Upscale Santo Domingo. If you want to see the cosmopolitan, upscale side of Santo Domingo, head to the Piantini and Naco neighborhoods.

Gustavo Mejía Ricart and major avenues like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill are lined with high end boutiques, shopping plazas, expensive cafes and restaurants offering a huge variety of international cuisines and just about anything money can buy, from cigar shops to Ferrari and Bentley dealerships.

The JW Marriott Hotel has recently opened in this area, which is very likely to bring much more tourism into what is the actual downtown of Santo Domingo.

Don't miss Blue Mall, an ultra-modern shopping center/office building where you will find everything from Hard Rock Cafe's to Sophias Bar and Grill along with the most expensive shops in the city from Louis Vuitton, Ferragamo, Cartier, Tous & L'Occitane to more casuals like Zara and Adidas.

Just opened is Novocentro which opened in a glass tower which was originally going to be a bank, but turned into a 2 story shopping center featuring a Fine Arts Cinema and some high end restaurants and gelaterias.

Further away you can find Bella Vista Mall and Sambil, two other big shopping malls in Santo Domingo. If you're looking for more open-air plazas lined with smaller boutiques, you should check out Plaza Andalucia.

For bowling, you can go to the Plaza Bolera, which has recently gotten a face-lift.

If you're in this area in the early afternoon, you should check out trendy cafes such as La Cuchara de Madera, where you can enjoy delicious deserts such as their dulce de leche - Piramides, and SUD & La posta for dining and definitely to high-end nightclubs and bars like 504 or Mamma.

In the Colonial Zone:

Alcazar de Colon - Visit this stunning villa, built in 1510 and retaining period furnishings and other items owned by Governor Diego Colón, first-born son of Christopher Columbus.

Naval Museum of the Atarazanas Across the plaza from the Alcazar de Colon on Calle Atarazana, the oldest street in the Western Hemisphere.

Museum of the Casas Reales Another great museum featuring collections depicting life in 16th century Santo Domingo. Located on Calle Las Damas, walking distance from the Alcazar de Colon and the Naval Museum.

World of Ambar Museum An impressive collection of amber stones.

Museum of Duarte A collection of artifacts and writings regarding the Dominican Republic's founding father, Juan Pablo Duarte. Located on Calle Isabel La Catolica, a few blocks west of the above museums.

Museo del Ron Dominicano Interesting museum presenting the history and evolution of rum production in the Dominican Republic. In the after hours it turns into a bar.

In Plaza de la Cultura:

- Museum of Natural History

- Museum of Dominican Man

- Museum of Modern Art

- National Museum of History and Geography

There are many parks around the city of Santo Domingo. One of the most popular parks are called Los Miradores, which are located on various sections of the city. These parks are very cozy for a picnic, to bike ride, a quick jog, or a long walk to enjoy nature and relax with friends.

They’re a quite huge and can be a bit unsafe if wandered during the night, because it lacks street lights. Although Santo Domingo is surrounded by beautiful parks it does lack recreational facilities accessible to the public.

- Mirador Norte Park, lies in the north of the city, close to Villa Mella

- Enriquillo Park

- Mirador Sur Park, located in the southwest section of the city

- Independencia Park, located in Zona Colonial

- Colon Park, located in Zona Colonial

- Las Praderas Metropolitan Park

- The Malecon, cityfront coastal park

- Dr. Rafael Ma. Moscoso National Botanical Garden

- Dominican Republic National Zoo

- Parque Nunez de Caceres

Santo Domingo is an excellent place to study Spanish off the beaten track and get immersed in the language. One recommended Spanish school that specializes in one on one lessons at discount rates is the RoofTop Spanish School.

Two of the top festivities of the year occur in Santo Domingo. The annual Merengue Festival in the summer and Carnival in the spring. Each of these is held on the city's main seaside main road, El Malecon, but tend to spill over into hotel ballrooms, beaches, patios and even parking lots.

This is a great way to emerge oneself into the Dominican culture, as well as meet new interesting people from the city. The Merengue Festival takes place between July 26 to 31. The festival is a celebration of Dominican Republic’s main dance, merengue.

They invite the top merengue bands to perform free concerts to the crowd. The festival begins with a parade, but later becomes a concert. There are art exhibitions, food fairs, and games that occur at the same time.

The main activity that is done during the festival is dancing merengue, so be prepared to be spun uncontrollable when you decide to dance with a local.

The other amazing festival is The Carnival, which takes place during the entire month of February, but reaches its peak on February 27, the Dominican Independence Day.

The Carnival also takes place in El Malecon, where masks, which symbolizes spiritual spirits;elaborate costumes,and intriguing dances parade down the streets while entertaining and sometimes scaring the crowd.

Gruen Projects -- Art Gallery, Bella Vista by appointment. Gruen Projects exhibits and promotes the work of Dominican Artists, such as Hector Ledesma, Miguel Pineda, Leonardo Sanz, Joaquin Rosario, and Joel Gonell.

The Colonial Zone offers plenty of shopping opportunities, especially if you are looking for Ambar and Larimar, the traditional stones of the DR. Don't forget to haggle, as all the shop owners adjust their prices for this purpose.

You will also find a ton of Haitian art for sale everywhere at great prices. If that's your thing, great, just remember its not Dominican. The main boulevard in the Colonial Zone is El Conde, a pedestrian boulevard lined with all kinds of shops and eateries mostly aimed at the locales.

If you are feeling adventurous, have a cab take you to the Mercado Modelo nearby. This indoor labyrinth of shops can be overwhelming for a new tourist but, don't worry, it is safe.

Then again, you might feel safer asking the cab driver to escort you through the maze of shops and kiosks offering every imaginable kind of souvenir, jewelry, stone, artwork, etc.

If you want to experience American-style shopping there are plenty of options but here are the four most popular: Agora Mall, Blue Mall, Galerias 360 and Sambil, for those of you willing to venture into Santo Domingo Oriental, MegaCentro.

No haggling at the malls. While MegaCentro is farther away than the others, it is the second largest mall in the Caribbean after Plaza Las Americas in Puerto Rico and is a destination in and of itself. This place is large.

Please remember when shopping at the malls, this is an island where practically everything being sold is imported and, worse yet, taxed at 18% (ITBIS or Value Added Tax). Don't expect to find too many bargains to brag about back home.

Santo Domingo offers a variety of cuisines from around the world from Chinese, Italian and Mediterranean to Brazillian. You can also find the main fast food franchises like McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, among others.

Be aware that mid-grade and high-end restaurants can be quite costly in comparison with local salaries, a dinner with an entree, main course, drink and dessert can range from US $20-$85 per person. Be careful and ask around as price doesn't always equal quality, especially in tourist areas.

Unless the contrary is specified menu prices don’t include the 10% service charge and 18% sales tax, so real prices are 28% higher than indicated in the menu.

If you want to spend less than US $8 on a decent meal and drink:

Visit a comedor or cafeteria.

Comedores offer a Plato del Dia or predetermined meal of the day,usually rice, beans, salad and meat or chicken, and a soda for just US$3 – 8.

Cafeterias and Comedores can be found everywhere around the city but specially around business areas and universities, this is where locals eat so is a great way of getting in touch with the culture.

Mimosa, located on Padre Billini street in the Colonial Zone, offers a great variety of tasty local food during lunch hours.

Another great option is Cafeteria El Parque which is in front of Eugenio Maria de Hostos Park attached to the Clinica Abreu one of the country's best and most prestigious clinic,close to the Colonial Zone and the Malecon, great place for breakfast, lunch and an early dinner.

Vegetarian - Kalenda corner of Calle 19 de Marzo and calle Arzobispo Portes.
Wonderful food. Afternoon veg meal comes with a free tea infusion like jasmin or green tea. Or just order a green juice to keep you going for the day for four dollars "

Best sandwiches, juice and shakes in the Caribbean - Barra Payán, located on 30 de marzo street only five minutes from the Colonial Zone, is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. A sandwich cafeteria, the place has been a traditional eatery for more than a half century. Buy a sandwich and a delicious squeezed-to-order fruit juice or milkshake for less than US$ 5.

Chinese and Pica Pollo - At some point in history Dominicans became quite fond of fried chicken and chinese food, combining both cuisines into fast food establishments known as pica pollos.

These are usually take-out joints run by first or second generation chinese immigrants, serving up heaping portions of fried rice, plantain slices and tasty and greasy fried chicken, along with the usual variety of Chinese comfort food.

Very inexpensive. Visit Santo Domingo's China Town, near the Mercado Modelo and not far from the Colonial Zone (Duarte Avenue), a very busy zone where working class people do a lot of their shopping.

If you feel adventurous enough to enter this usually chaotic but very picturesque part of the town it would an experience to remember. Keep in mind, pick-pockets love the crowded streets, watch your belongings closely.

A Mcdonalds combo costs around US$ 5, Taco Bell, Wendys and Pizza Hut around US$ 6. There are also several very good local franchises like Pizzarelli where you can have pasta, pizza or a salad for no more than US$ 10, and others like Pollos Victorina.

Also, don't miss some good Dominican empanadas at De Nosotros Empanadas. You can walk into a McDonalds in Santo Domingo and order a value meal with a Presidente beer instead of a Coke.

Adrian Tropical A unique, quality and affordable dining experience. There are three restaurants in the city, the coolest one is literally built on the water in the Malecon. Best known for its Mofongo dish. This plate is made out of mashed plantains.

El Conuco Very touristy and rather affordable restaurant in Gazcue, where you can enjoy live traditional Dominican dances.
Lincoln Road On the Abraham Lincoln avenue, this restaurant has recently been remodeled.

Yokomo The Dominican Sushi franchise. Enjoy the most unique and inventive Dominican-fushion sushi, such as sushi with sweet plantains.

Falafel In the colonial zone, a good and affordable Near Eastern restaurant specializing in, as the name suggests it, falafel.

Atras and Cinnamon in Plaza Orleans, two contiguous open-air restaurants. In this plaza you can order from any restaurant while sitting in the courtyard.

Buen Provecho Middle range restaurant serving different types of food, a good place to get the Dominican Flag of meat with rice and beans.

Red Grill A very trendy grill with several locations in the city. One is located in Plaza Orleans, another one has its own bar on top.

Chef Pepper Also very trendy, and it just opened a new branch in Bella Vista. If you're craving a hamburger or a steak and cheese sandwich, this is a good place to go.

L'Osteria A mid-range but very high quality Italian restaurant, facing the national theater.

Sapore d'Italia Another mid-range, very good Italian restaurant.

La Lasagna And yet another good Italian restaurant, very good and pretty affordable.

American and international midrange franchises:

- TGI Fridays in Acropolis Mall

- Tony Roma's in the Sarasota Avenue

- Outback Steak House in Acropolis Mall

- Aviation Sports Bar in Plaza Central Mall

- Hard Rock Cafe in the 4th Floor Blue Mall, Churchill Street.

The following are very expensive but friendly:

El Vesuvio The oldest and finest Italian restaurant on the island, bar none, located on the Malecon

La Briciola Fancy Italian restaurant in a Colonial Garden.

Meson de la Cava An expensive average restaurant whose chief gimmick is being located within a natural cave underground.

If you want to explore how the wealthier classes dine in Santo Domingo, these are the places to go:

- Pat'e Palo Colonial Spanish/Mediterranean brasserie style restaurant, situated by the Plaza de Espana overlooking the Alcazar de Colon frequented by locals

- Pepperoni Grille Upscale, modern Italian.

- Sofia's Mediterranean cuisine.

- Any of the restaurants around Gustavo Mejia Ricart Avenue

- David Crockett The most expensive steak house.

- Meson de Bari One of the classiest restaurants for Dominican cuisine

- Porter House Grill Steakhouse

- Marocha Very popular cafe/restaurant, especially because of its Churros

- Lupe Right next to Marocha, Mexican Restaurant

- La Marrana Very trendy Spanish restaurant

- Cane, Jaleo and Tangerine Three contiguous Dominican fusion bar/restaurants

- Aka Possibly the most popular Japanese restaurant

- Fellini's Fancy Italian

- Don Pepe Fancy Spanish restaurant, very pricey

- Mitre Chic restaurant and wine bar

- Tabu Bambu Asian Fusion

- Scherezade Middle Eastern/Mediterranean restaurant, with a lunch buffet on Sundays.

- Michelangelo Restaurant, (Winston Churchill and Roberto Pastoriza, Plaza Las Americas). The average price is about six to fourteen dollars a plate, a international menu that includes, imported seafood, imported pasta and cheese, imported steaks and some of the most popular Dominican cuisine.

The decoration is artistic, with Michaelangelo finest works on the walls but at the same time very modern and chic all in white, with a outdoor terrace to enjoy frozen cocktails and wine overlooking one of the most popular avenue in the city.

The restaurant products are mostly imported and they only cook with bottle water, making it one of the most safe place to eat.

- Sixteen Cuts Restaurant & Marine Lounge. This is by far the best kept secret in Santo Domingo. Offers one of the most exclusive views of the Colonial Zone. Has an excellent international menu, being its main courses the Black Angus and US Certified Cuts, divided in 16 Tapas & Entrees, 16 Greatest & Newest Cuts,16 Ultimates Sides.

All this complemented with a delicious offer of Seafood Meals, Fresh Salads and More Great Cuisine, all harmonized with their Wine Selection. Avenida Miguel Barcelo #1, Marina Bartolome Colon.

Santo Domingo has an amazing variety of night life options. Unfortunately, most bars and clubs must close at midnight from Sunday to Thursday and at 2AM on Friday and Saturday. This is a regulation imposed since 2006 intended to curtail the escalating crime in the city.

Therefore, it is not uncommon for people to start partying at 8PM on the weekends. Happily, the regulation is suspended on holidays and the last two weeks of December for Christmas partying. Usually the clubs located inside major hotels are exempt from this rule, although they aren't usually much fun.

As of November 2007, there are a couple of bars that are open until 3AM on weekends since August 2007.

The Malecon is home to several options as well, depending on what's in style at the time.

Check out Jet Set on Monday nights for live Merengue and Bachata shows from the most popular top bands.

Head over to the upscale side of Santo Domingo (Naco, Piantini) if that is your scene. There are a ton of options there, including perennial favorites such as Trio Caffe, Praia and Montecristo.

Be aware that those kind of places can have a rather strict admission policy, you usually have to look white enough and rich enough to be admitted.

This discrimination does not go unnoticed, the Embassy of United States directed all resident official U.S. Embassy employees to refrain from patronizing Loft one of the most popular and exclusive nightclubs in the city, responding to the actions of Loft management in selectively denying entry to African-Americans embassy on July 22 2007.

In this upscale area of Santo Domingo, consider:

- Cue Dance club and lounge

- Cinema Cafe Within Plaza de la Cultura, adjacent to Museo del Hombre Dominicano. Nice ambient, presents local rock bands on the weekends. In case of concert there is a $15-20 cover.

- Dock Very trendy Bar at the Acropolis Center. Open air, electronic music.

- El Barcito Very nice ambiance, mostly rock music. The owner is always present and very friendly.

- 504 Fancy Italian restaurant, becomes bar later at night

- Mamma A nice Club with House music, where some well known DJ's are invited. Near Santo Domingo Hotel.
Level 2 On the second flour of the Holiday Inn Hotel. Also check out the rooftop bar and pool.

- Maruja New, trendy open air bar, close to La Marrana and Margo

- Mix Right next to the Mix Restaurant, another popular bar.

- Zambra The fanciest club, currently moved to the Holiday Inn Hotel.

- Rua Open air bar in front of Aka

- Shots Mostly rock music, very young crowd. Ave. Roberto Pastoriza.

If you are more into the bohemian scene check out the Colonial Zone for great bars and cafes, as well as a vibrant gay nightlife scene.

- Bio. Modern eclectic music from regueaton to latin rock, very young public. Famous for serving drinks from buckets. Calle Sanchez and Padre Billini

- Mojiganga Currently the trendiest place in the Colonial Zone

- Cacibajagua. Great rock music, nice decor, adult crowd. Sanchez #201.

- Casa de Teatro Enjoy live jazz and rock concerts, pretty bohemian.

- Doubles Good Latin dance music.

-El Beduino New Hookah Bar on a rooftop in the Colonial Zone.

- El Sarten Latin Dance music

- Encuentro Artesanal. The decor is definitely the best in the Colonial Zone highly selected electronic music, frequented by artists and publicists.

- Misifu New bar in the Atarazana street. Very trendy at the moment.

- Museo del Ron The daytime museum turns into a very cosy bar, offering a wide range of Caribbean rums to taste, as well as some of the best rum based coctails in the city. Nice lounge music, beautiful patio.

- O' Brien's Supposedly an Irish Pub, and although there's nothing of a pub about it, it is a very trendy place.

- Ocho Puertas Rock, alternative and electronica with live music also, very beautiful place. Jose Reyes #107

- Parada 77. Latin rock, spanish songwriters some merengue and salsa , people in their mid thirties and forties.

- S Bar. Mostly rock music can enjoy some falafels too, you would love the owner Isaac. Calle Sanchez and Padre Billini

- Segafredo. A franchise, loungue music, italian food and good coffee.

Don't leave Santo Domingo without visiting La Guacara Taina, the only nightclub in the world inside a huge natural cave. Descend several hundred feet into a fantasy world of lights and sound.

You have to see this place to believe it. Located under the Mirador Sur park mentioned above. It can be empty if you go early or on weekdays. Only opens for events now.

Hotel Villa Colonial, Calle Sanchez 157, Zona Colonial. checkin: 14:00; checkout: 13:00. Hotel Villa Colonial is in the heart of Santo Domingo's historic center, and has an outdoor pool, tropical gardens and a charming patio.

The air-conditioned rooms include cable TV. Each functional room at the Hotel Villa Colonial features a fan, a safe and a mini-fridge. The private bathrooms have a hairdryer and free toiletries.

The hotel features a free Wi-Fi zone and a 24-hour front desk. Airport transportation can be arranged for an extra fee. The Malecon seafront promenade and El Conde market are just a 2-minute walk from Hotel Villa Colonial. Boca Chica Beach and Las Americas International Airport are a 25-minute drive away.

Apartments for rent in Santo Domingo. A wide selection of furnished apartments with excellent facilities and located in the best areas of Santo Domingo. Either vacation rentals or long term rentals apartments.

You can rent our apartments for days or weeks, this is an excellent alternative to the hotel because you can enjoy more space, more freedom and more privacy without sacrificing comfort.

Courtyard by Marriot Santo Domingo Hotel, Avenida Maximo Gomez. checkin: 3PM; checkout: 1PM. Near the business district, conveniently located to the US Embassy and the US Consulate, ideal for business travellers. Comfortable rooms equipped with free wireless internet.

Hilton Santo Domingo, George Washington Avenue, #500.

Acuarium. checkin: 2PM; checkout: 12PM. With sprawling tropical gardens, swimming pool, Jacuzzi and massage center, Acuarium is a relaxing haven in which to base oneself in order to explore the oldest city in the New World! The onsite restaurant and pizzeria offer delicious Italian and Dominican cuisine. US$ 60.

Hotel Atarazana, Calle Vicente Celestino Duarte #19 Zona Colonial. checkin: 2PM; checkout: 12PM. Family-run boutique hotel. All rooms are equipped with color cable TV, en-suite, air conditioning or ceiling fan and wi-fi. All rooms have balconies.

Breakfast is served in the hotel’s patio, surrounded by lush plants and a jacuzzi. English, Spanish, German, French and Italian spoken by staff. US$ 80-100.

Hotel Beaterio, Calle Duarte nº8 Ciudad Colonial. Excellent accommodations in a former nunnery! Wrought iron beds, old world charm, and central to the colonial district. From $75 up.

Hotel Delta, Sarasota #53 in Bella Vista area. Excellent for the business traveler. It located in the center of the city making it very accessible. Hotel offers a business center and wifi connection.

Restaurant with 24 hour room service. There is a very nice pool/bar on the rooftop which offers a 360 degree view of the city.

Pension Ginette El Conde 505 near Puerta del Conde. 400 DOP for 2 people.

Quality Hotel Real Aeropuerto Santo Domingo, KM 22 Autopista Las Americas next to Las Americas Free Zone. Quality Hotel Real Aeropuerto Santo Domingo offers guests pool, parks in every area, restaurant and bar.

Rooms have access to high speed internet, cable TV, laundry service, among other services. Prices range between $80 - $140.

Renaissance Jaragua Hotel & Casino. Centrally located near El Conde shopping district, historic colonial buildings, and restaurants. Also across the street from the malecon which is long sidewalk and sitting area in front of ocean.

The RoofTop Hostel, Calle Francisco Peynado No. 56, Edificio Calu, A great hangout spot for backpackers with dorm beds starting at $6 USD per night.

Be aware that although Santo Domingo is on the ocean, there are no beaches in the National District/Malecon area.The beach resorts are in Boca Chica, east of the airport and about a 20-25 minute drive from the city center.

WHO suggests to use intensely Mosquito repeller due to diseases which may be transmitted by insects. In the begin of 2016 there were 10 official cases of zika virus in Santo Domingo.

Poverty, though not as bad as next door Haiti, is still rampant and it is best you take precautions.

Do not flash obvious wealth in poorer or middle class sections of the city,lots of jewelry, expensive camera, big watches, etc. Keep your bag away from the street when walking as it can be snatched by kids on mopeds and keep a firm grip on it.

Keep your passport at your accommodation and in a safe because some maids have been known to steal.

If you are Caucasian no matter how you are dressed, expect to have a lot of insincerely friendly people on the streets follow you and strike up conversation with you. They are only talking to you in order to get money from you.

They inevitably steer the conversation towards money and are looking for handouts or, worse, protection money to protect you from the more undesirable elements of society.

Walk confidently and know where you're going before you get there.

Don't dress like a tourist,for example, very few Dominicans wear short pants in public. Be yourself but if yourself is flashing Gucci and Prada where ever you go, maybe you need to dress down a bit.

If you are unfortunate enough to need rabies shots, the place to go is the Centro Antirrabico Nacional on Avenue Duarte.

Tourism Observer

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