Santo Domingo is the oldest city in the New World and was founded by Christopher Columbus and his younger brother, Bartolomé Colón, in 1496. The part of the city inhabited at the beginning of the 16th century is called Zona Colonial (Colonial Zone 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 a few. With beautiful architecture and rich history, the Colonial Zone is a must-see while visiting Santo Domingo. The Colonial Zone has been classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
In the Colonial Zone, next to the beauty of the historic buildings, you will find: hotels, restaurants, cafes, museums, bars, shops, etc. The two most famous streets in the Colonial Zone are Calle Las Damas (the women’s street) and Calle Conde. Las Damas street was the street that women of high society walked after church for lunch. Calle Las Damas is an amazing street during the day, but it gets even more amazing at night when the street lights turn the walls of the buildings into a beautiful orange hue. With each step you take on the first paved street in the New World, you travel deeper in time until you feel like you are in the 1500s walking alongside Christopher Columbus himself.
There are many hotels to choose from and they offer a wide range of prices, from budget to elegant. The good thing about budget hotels in this area is that they are clean and have friendly people, many of whom speak English. Please note that these are old buildings and although they are clean, most of the rooms are small and have ‘old building’ issues. Still, for the price, I think they offer a great experience in a great area. There are many of these hotels and many offer different special offers at different times, so it is difficult to recommend a specific hotel. The reason I like hotels in this area is that when you walk out the door of your hotel, you don’t need to pay for a taxi to take you somewhere to enjoy yourself. You are already at the # 1 destination in Santo Domingo.
At the higher end, there are several hotels to enjoy, but I’ll talk about Hodelpa Nicolas De Ovando. This hotel has spacious rooms, a nice patio in the back to enjoy the evenings, a small bar, good food for the buffet breakfast and for dinner they have a wonderful menu, but the two best aspects of this hotel are its history. and its architecture. Nicolás de Ovando, Cristóbal Colón’s traveling companion, was the third governor of the Indies and this hotel was his home and dates back to 1502. This hotel is located on Calle Las Damas (the first paved street) in one of the First houses, so for me, there is no better place to stay to be able 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 it and enjoy a cocktail at the bar or on the patio.
Things to do and see
I strongly suggest that you take the Calle Las Damas walking tour and be the first thing you do when you arrive in the Colonial Zone. Once you understand the buildings and their history, you can enjoy them more. For example, if you are sitting in the Plaza de España enjoying a nice dinner, while you look across the square and see the stone building, it will no longer be just a stone building because, after doing the walking tour, You will understand that this is the home of Christopher Columbus’s son, Diego Colon.
As you walk down Calle Las Damas, the tour guides will approach you and offer you the walking tour. So far, all the tours I have taken have been with guides who speak excellent English. The walking tour usually lasts two hours. I usually talk to the tour guide before and ask him to do the highlights and try to do the tour in 1 to 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 tour guides do a great job and are loving, so I think they earn the $ 1,000 pesos.
The next section will talk about some of the buildings that are worth seeing and many of them will be included in the tour.
Historic buildings, museums and attractions
Cathedral of Santa María / The Cathedral of Santa María– built in 1514, it is the first cathedral in the Americas. This cathedral is an active cathedral and performs services and has 7 beautiful chapels.
Alcazar de Colon It is the home of Christopher Columbus’s son (Diego Colon). This house has been converted into a beautiful museum with some original furniture and some reproductions of the original furniture. Walking through this museum will give you an idea of how Columbus lived in the 16th century.
Spain Square It is a large and open meeting area that on one side has 8 restaurants overlooking the plaza and on the other has the Alcázar de Colón (the home of Diego Colón, son of Cristóbal Colón). The square is at the end of Calle Las Damas.
Las Damas Street it is probably the most historically important street in the city. It was the first paved street in the Americas and it was also the street that women of high society walked after church to attend lunch. The street is lined with buildings from the 1500s that have now been converted into museums, hotels, restaurants, etc. Draw the story as you walk down this street.
Conde Street it is probably the second most important street in the city. This street is closed to traffic and is full of shops, cafes, restaurants, hotels, and it has a small park (Parque Colón) in the middle and, on the other side of this street, you have Parque Independencia (Parque de la Independencia).
Ozama fortress It is a 16th century castle built overlooking the Ozama River in the Colonial Zone. This is the oldest European-designed fortress in America.
Ruins of San Francisco They are the remains of a monastery built in preparation for the Franciscan Fathers in 1508. It is considered an important ruin and was the work of Governor Nicolás de Ovando.
Panteon of the homeland Originally a Jesuit church, it later became a mausoleum to house the remains of some of the Dominican Republic’s most notable national, civil and military heroes.
The Colón Park (Parque Colón) It was the main gathering place for festivities in colonial times and still is today. Located on Calle Conde in front of the Hotel Conde and bordering the Cathedral of Santa María, it is a great place to sit on a park bench under a tree and take a break from visiting the museums and ruins to immerse yourself in the beauty and the culture.
Restaurants, bars, cafes and nightclubs
There are many restaurants, bars, cafes and nightclubs in the Colonial Zone. I will focus on the ones that are historically significant, those that I have enjoyed, and some that our past clients have enjoyed.
Overlooking Plaza España and the Alcázar de Colón (Deigo Colón’s home) there are 8 restaurants located in a row. Each of them has a menu located in front of the restaurant in Spanish and English. The 8 restaurants are elegant and the oldest restaurant in the New World is one of these 8. Pate Palo (the wooden leg) once owned by a one-legged pirate is a 500-year-old restaurant in which Sir Francis Drake ate once. Whether you eat at Pate Palo or one of the other 8, you can’t go wrong choosing one of these.
On Calle Conde there are several restaurants to choose from. They are casual wear for lunch and casual or luxury casual at night. Segrefrados, an Italian restaurant, is an excellent place not only for eating, but also for people watching. They have great coffee in the morning to start the day, and their pizzas are excellent too. For a more traditional Dominican cuisine, you can visit the first floor of the Conde hotel. This restaurant has a patio with views of both Calón Park and Santa María Cathedral.
At the end of Calle Conde there is a very famous cafe / restaurant called Grands, formerly Pacos. This restaurant is open 24 hours a day and is a great place for coffee and breakfast to start your day. This is not a fancy place, but a regular cafe that on any day of the week, you will see people gathering here for a good conversation over their coffee and Dominican-style food, no matter the time.
LuLus Tasting Bar is a great place to enjoy a cocktail and dinner. It is a very trendy place that is casual luxury.
Onnos is a nightclub located in the heart of the Colonial Zone where you can listen to the country’s favorite music (Bachata, Merengue and Salsa).
As I mentioned before, 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 options. As you walk you will see many others, if you see one that you like, just come in and enjoy.
Between the history, museums, great restaurants, cafes, and nightlife, the Colonial Zone should be a must-see for anyone visiting the Dominican Republic. This is a friendly English speaking area that is very safe to walk as a tourist.