One of the Dominican’s most underrated (maybe even unknown) places is the Southwest region. And the capital of that spot? Santo Domingo! This colonial city is full of tasty food, bright colors and brimming with culture. Here’s the best 24 hours in Santo Domingo you could ever dream of!
Zona Colonial is where most of the history and museums are at, so this is a great place to start! If you’re staying in Santo Domingo longer than a day, consider venturing outside of ZC.
8:00 am Breakfast at the Hotel
You don’t have a lot of time, so try to utilize your hotel or hostel’s breakfast options. I was lucky enough to stay at Hodelpa Nicolás de Ovando in the middle of Zona Colonial. Their breakfast included every item you could possibly think of (my favorites were the homemade hot chocolate, passionfruit and mashed plantains). Since a majority of your day will be spent in this neighborhood, try grabbing breakfast in this area!
9:00 am Wander around Zona Colonial
Honestly, this could be a day-long affair. But for the sake of time, a simple walking tour around the city will leave you satisfied. If you’re staying at Hodelpa Nicolás de Ovando, start by walking out the main entrance and make a right.
A circular tour will take you to all of the good spots: Pantheon of the Fatherland, Reloj de Sol, Castillo Colonial, Plaza de España o de la Hispanidad, the Rum Museum, the Amber Museum, Monasterio de San Francisco, Convento de los Dominicos and much more.
Be sure to soak it all in, read the plaques (if you can), and even take a guide! There is a lot of history here as this was Christopher Columbus’ first stop during his discoveries of North America. You’ll find that the island is incredibly rich with history and culture.
1:30 pm Munch and Marvel at Mamey Librería Café
One of Santo Domingo’s best kept secrets is actually hidden behind a tiny art gallery. Just on the border of Zona Colonial is a gallery-cafe-library combo that works as a beautiful retreat from the humidity. Your afternoon begins by walking into a small and beautiful courtyard garden, almost as if you were in a Moroccan riad. Pass the art, you will find a very small cafe and courtyard. The inside might look like an average cafe, but their piña coladas might be the best I’ve ever had! That paired with the fish tacos and quiet setting and you’ll never want to leave.
2:30 pm Get in Touch with Nature in the Heart of the City
Get out of Zona Colonial for a bit and travel to the heart of Santo Domingo. Take a romantic walk around Jardín Botánico Nacional Dr. Rafael M. Moscoso, the city’s botanical garden. Or head further north and hang with the wild things at the Parque Zoológico Nacional. Odds are you will experience a beautiful beach at some point during your trip. But a look into the wild, jungle side of the Dominican will provide a bit more perspective of this lush island.
4:00 pm Shop with the Locals at Mercado Modelo
Looking for some new decor? Or maybe you’re interested in fabulous gems and crystals? Everything you need (and didn’t know you needed) can be found in and around Mercado Modelo. The indoor market itself is mostly a grab bag of touristy trinkets and very pushy salesman.
But it’s the market’s shops along the perimeter that make the experience so intriguing. Handwoven baskets, fresh and exotic produce, and even witch doctors that prescribe herbal remedies for your various ailments. The best of the Dominican can be found here. Just don’t forget to haggle!
Some classic DR items you might want to buy:
Larimar and amber (precious stones found in the DR)
Woven baskets and hats
After your shopping and snacking, head back to your hotel to get ready for a long evening ahead! (Consider a nap if that’s your speed!)
7:00 pm Dinner at Buche Perico
For a little bit of fine dining with traditional Dominican food, head to Buche Perico on Calle el Conde. From the busy streets of Santo Domingo, this modern-looking restaurant is unassuming at first. But towards the back is an incredible garden patio with a glass ceiling. Much like the jungles of the island, this patio is covered in lush foliage and has a cascading waterfall! Entrees are absolutely delicious but don’t expect fast service here (or on the rest of the island for that matter).
9:00 pm Dance Merengue All Night Long
The city of Santo Domingo is known for its lively and thriving night life. Local bodegas turn into small dance clubs as the sun goes down and suddenly the streets are packed with singles on the prowl. Dance the night away in a little club and you’re sure to have the time of your life!
The dance of the Dominicans is the merengue, originated from the enslaved laborers working in sugar beet fields. The upbeat tempo and its somewhat sexual style had made the dance immoral up until the 1930’s. After the 30’s, the stigma lessened and the merengue, then known as “perico ripiao,” is known as the cultural dance of the Dominican Republic.
Feel the vibe and the beat of the dance if you don’t know the merengue. Let the floor take you and the energy pull you to the music. As the sweat begins to bead down your neck and the rum continues to flow, make sure to watch out for your belongings as there are plenty of sticky fingers in the streets of the Santo Domingo.