A trip to the Dominican Republic is always a great idea, and not just for its beaches, water sports and perfect sunsets from a sunbed at a fantastic resort, but also for its capital, Santo Domingo. This colonial jewel on the shores of the Ozama River is perfect for a quick, 48-hour getaway that will convey the charm of the past and the joy of its people. These are the best plans and things to see for two unforgettable days in Santo Domingo. Take note.
What to do and see with 48 hours in Santo Domingo: places to visit, tourist attractions and leisure
Santo Domingo was once the jewel of Spanish colonies. Today, extending past limits that were unimaginable for the earliest colonists, its streets and shops exude an unstoppable beat and the chance to discover a piece of history in every corner and at an unbeatable price. The icing on the cake is the joie de vivre spirit of its residents, which will accompany us from the warm welcome to well past our return home. Welcome to La Primada, or the first colony, and to the places to see and things to do in 48 hours for the best trip imaginable.
DAY ONE: 9:00 am. A walk through the charms of the Colonial District
Time flies when there is so much to be amazed by, which is why getting up early and filling up at the hotel’s buffet breakfast is the first step in getting ready while also trying some of the local delicacies. The city is divided into four parts: the National District, the nation’s economic, social and political hub; Santo Domingo Oeste (West) and Norte (North), which are less populated; and Santo Domingo Este (East), also known as the Eastern District or the other side of the bridge, where many leisure spots and other cultural attractions are located.
Starting in the National District, the closest to the historic quarter (it’s always advisable to stay at a hotel located near the Colonial District), perhaps the best way to get an idea of Santo Domingo is to take a stroll along El Conde. This happens to be one of the first streets built by the Europeans in the city and in all of America, more than 500 years ago. It continues to be one of Santo Domingo’s main avenues and is also home to monuments such as La Catedral (the cathedral), the Cabildo and the Picota, which any first-time visitor should definitely see.
The Basilica Catedral Santa Maria de la Encarnacion (Catedral Primada de America) is one of the impressive constructions that was formerly located within the defensive wall, of which nothing remains, although the buildings it housed continue to exist and they all form part of the Colonial District that has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As one of the city’s symbols, this cathedral is the oldest in America and the only one with a Gothic architectural style in the entire continent. It was built next to the Ozama River, with the figure (and at one time also the remains) of Christopher Columbus.
Continue your route along Santo Domingo’s main avenue and visit the most distinguished family home of its era: the Alcázar de Colón or the Palacio Virreinal de Don Diego Colón, a palace built by the eldest son of Christopher Columbus. It currently houses the Alcázar de Diego Colón Museum, dedicated to conserving and sharing the life of the family of the person who discovered America. The area around the green park of Plaza de España and its stunning views of the river are worth checking out. Nearby, the Museo de las Casas Reales (Museum of the Royal Houses) and the Panteón de la Patria (National Pantheon) offer the chance to visit the relics and remains of the nation’s most respected dignitaries. Admission is free.
2:00 pm. Eat Dominican delicacies
The Colonial District is home to great restaurants that serve traditional local dishes as well as creations with Spanish, Taino and African influences. Although the combination may seem surprising, it wins diners over at first bite. Sancocho is the official Dominican dish and it consists of a stew made with seven different types of meats that are mixed with pumpkin, tubers and vegetables for a delightful combination. Other essentials are beans cooked with white rice, chicken casserole and tostones, a dough made of green plantains that is eaten in lieu of bread.
3:00 – 4:00 pm. A journey through the past and its cultural legacy
Once you have regained your strength, it is time to visit one of the most impressive spots in Santo Domingo: the Fortaleza Ozama castle. Made of stone (1502-1508), at the time it was the city’s most impressive building because it protected Santo Domingo from pirate attacks and European conquistadors. It is now a World Heritage Site and surrounded by a large garden. From the Torre del Homenaje (Tower of Homage), visitors can take in one of the best views of the Ozama River as well as of the urban profile of Santo Domingo and the Colonial District. A specialized guide is advisable since the castle has many interesting stories, such as the fact that the arsenal where weapons were stored was made to look like a church to prevent attacks.
6:00 pm. Sunset overlooking the Ozama River
Once you have obtained all the stamps in the mandatory cultural passport, why not take a walk along the Malecón promenade? You can enjoy a beer, coffee or even a glass of local rum right on George Washington Avenue, which is a main thoroughfare that crosses nearly half the city, in parallel to the coast. In addition to the uniquely charming views of the port, this boulevard features the famous obelisk of Santo Domingo as well as casinos, restaurants and leisure spots of all types.
DAY TWO: 10:00 am. Discover parks that are monuments
Another day begins with countless promises and plans in Santo Domingo, so after a filling breakfast that should definitely include green plantain mangú with scrambled eggs and salami (if you haven’t tried it yet), you will be ready to head over to the National Palace and its gardens. This spectacular building designed in a neoclassical and renaissance style was built in 1944 at the behest of the former dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. It is now used as the headquarters and residence of the national government and admission is free. Several nearby monuments also demand our attention: the Baluarte del Conde (Count’s Bulwark), which is made up of several monuments and sights—the Puerta de la Misericordia (Gate of Mercy), the Puerta del Conde (Count’s Gate), the Fuerte de la Concepción (Fort of the Conception) and the Altar de la Patria (Altar of the Homeland)—, Independence Park, where the Dominican Republic’s independence took place, and Parque Colón (Columbus Park), the city’s old colonial square.
5:00 pm. Cross the river and find more wonders
Everything is nearby when you are in the Colonial District, but since the previous day consisted of exploring every last detail of the historic quarter, why not cross the river to discover the other side of Santo Domingo? Whether you decide to go in a yola (traditional boat) or by car along one of the two closest bridges, you will reach Santo Domingo Este in no time. It’s that easy.
This area features several extremely interesting spots such as Faro de Colón (Columbus Lighthouse), a monument in the form of a cross dedicated to Christopher Columbus and where his remains are supposedly kept. Additionally, the exhibition halls inside celebrate the cultures of all American nations. A short distance away is Los Tres Ojos (The Three Eyes) National Park, a natural area with three interesting, freshwater lakes that are partially located inside caves. The peculiar thing about this spot is the color of the water, which takes on an intense green-turquoise blue hue due to the sun and the high concentration of minerals in the water.
After spending two days absorbing the city’s history and best landscapes, your body will surely want to immerse itself in the relaxing pools, spas and services at the hotel. In the restaurant, local dishes like beef stew, yucca and plantain will comprise the imaginative menu to help you end the day with a good dinner and a stop at the casino, where music and the renowned glass of rum await.