29 October 2011

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

a road under water and monsoonal rains will not stop a good time

In June of this year, I took advantage of living on the island of Hispaniola by visiting the other country on this small, Caribbean paradise - the Dominican Republic. Obviously, this decision was augmented by the fact that I have had multiple friends live in and fall in love with this Spanish-speaking nation - I mean - I had to go. 

I decided to head for Santo Domingo, as I had heard very good things about it, and did not want to chance having rainy weather at the beach. I hear there are some absolutely gorgeous beaches in the DR though. Next time around...

getting there:
super small planes for the super small airport.
Since I was living on the same island as the Republic, I decided to travel there a bit unconventionally - by road there and by plane back. I loved doing this, as it allowed me to experience the gorgeous jungle-y scenery of the island, while allowing the maximum time to adventure in the city.

A word of warning, should you decide to travel this route - the road is notoriously bad and unpredictable. Oftentimes, vehicles cannot get through and/or get stuck. We happened to plan our trip during rainy season, which allowed us the fun (and a little stressful) experience of driving through the lake, which had flooded the road. I am amazed our little vehicle made it through. But an adventure it was!

There are also buses to take from Port-au-Prince and other areas of the DR, as well as 2 airports to service your needs. I flew out of the smaller one, as I was just making a short hop. Do not be surprised to have to pay an airport tax in cash upon arrival. And if you do decide to make the short hop over to the other side of the island, also do not be surprised to have hand-written boarding passes and no computer to register your payment. Some of the airlines have yet to enter the computer age - as much charming as it is strange.

to stay / get around: I ended up staying more in central Santo Domingo, which was not super convenient for doing what I wanted to do. But it was cheap. And close to a Taco Bell, which, after almost 2 years away from the US, was a HUGE plus in my book. 

just off the Malecon - not much of a beach,
but still with Caribbean views
On the other hand, I would recommend staying in an area close to Zona Colonial, which will likely be where you will want to spend your time wandering. There are plenty of hotels and B&Bs to choose from on Avenida George Washington (also known as the Malecon) and Avenida Independencia. A search on your favourite travel site should find you some great options ranging from as little as $20 per night for a homey B&B to upwards of $175 for a more ritzy hotel.

Should you choose to stay on one of these roads, getting around will be very simple. Santo Domingo is a very walk-able city, with lots to see and experience. And for times when your feet are just too tired to take another step, taxis are plentiful and cheap. My experiences with them proved them to be very knowledgeable of the city and willing to hand you their cards should you want to hire them for further services. Don't expect much English though.

As with all travel (and arguably with life), be aware of your situation, whether it is walking around, in a taxi, or at your hotel. I had no bad experiences myself, but that does not mean that all tourists are left alone...

to see:
Contrary to the belief of the average American, the New World did not begin in the good ol' US of A. Au contraire, mes amis, Santo Domingo boasts being the oldest European city in the Americas, founded by the Columbus family, whose influence can still be seen throughout the city.

This is most notable in the Zona Colonial, where one can find:
Calle Las Damas: the Oldest European Street in the Americans 
- Fortaleza Ozama
- Alcazar de Colon: the former residence of the Columbus family, now a museum
Me and the Alcazar de Colon!
- Panteon Nacional
- Ruinas de San Francisco

The river of water emerging from the
Ruinas de San Francisco
- Iglesia Regina Angelorum
- Catedral Primada de America
The gorgeous Catedral Primada de America
- La Puerta del Conde or Puerta de la Independencia, which leads from a major shopping street to the plaza where the DR proclaimed its independence.
- Altar de la Patria, which houses the remains of the DR's founders
- And lots of other beautiful pieces of the Americas' history. 

Ruinas de la Iglesia y Hospital San Nicolas de Bari
I highly recommend just taking your time and exploring Zona Colonial. You never know what you will find.

Should you desire, there are tour guides available to explain the history of the area. Of course there is a small fee (negotiable). Beware, though - they may try and force themselves on you. At this point, I was touring alone and had not done enough research, so I welcomed the information from my friendly tour guide. He offered to take me around the city, which I didn't have time for, but walked with me as I finished my visit around the Zona Colonial. I learned much more than I would have if I had been by myself, including information about the Dominican crest, the first sundial, and the Columbus family. But it's up to you... (I think my guide was also excited to do something - there were not a lot of tourists around in the monsoon I found myself in.) 
Take note: most museums and indoor experiences are closed on Sundays, much to my detriment. If you plan your visit to the Zona Colonial better than I did, you will get to experience the magnificent finds in this historic city.

don't forget:
  • to enjoy Dominican life through observation.
There are lots of lovely plazas and parks to just sit and relax with a book and a Presidente, watching life pass by. Don't forget this integral part of your cultural experience! Recommendations include: Parque Colon, El Parque Independencia, or Plaza de Espana.
Parque Colon: a place for pigeons and people watching
  • to dance the night away. 
Music and dance flood the streets of Santo Domingo. While the DR's national dance is the merengue, latin / haitian-based rhythms can be found at most clubs, including salsa, bachata, and kompa. Clubs playing other types of music can be found, but don't miss this opportunity to move your body to the Dominican beat.
And don't be surprised to find live bands playing on any old street corner or plaza. Enjoy! This is the Caribbean! 
No, I am not talking about the well-known plant. Mamajuana is a traditional Dominican drink, which infuses Dominican rum, red wine, honey and locally-sourced bark and herbs to produce a sweet-tasting potable with medicinal properties. It is said to aid digestion and circulation, cleanse blood, livers and kidneys, and cure the flu. And for those who are interested, it is also known to be an aphrodisiac with Viagra-like properties. 

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE your photos....especially the ones where you are in them!....Love; Dad