Tales of my love for the Capital of the Caribbean....the emerging cosmopolitan megatropolis.
01.03.2017 - 01.04.2017 30 °C
Santo Domingo is the largest city of the Caribbean islands, with roughly five million inhabitants in the sprawling tropical megatropolis.
From the super swish upmarket areas with twinkling towers of first class apartments and malls to the gritty yet boisterous areas to the east, the city offers a full spectrum. Perhaps sadly, Santo Domingo is overlooked by visitors in favour of the beach resorts - though really, the city is an undiscovered gem.
I stayed here for roughly six weeks in total and loved every moment.
The weather is always warm and usually sunny.
There are many outdoor restaurants by the sea, in the gorgeous tree lined streets or by the ancient plazas in town.
Dominicans love their malls - and the ones here rival anywhere else in the world. They also love to party and have fun, and there are many nightlife options and always some kind of fiesta going on.
It's one of the most welcoming cities I have ever been to.
If you're looking for a great, warm and very affordable city to spend time in, then SD is a great option.
There are many wonderful hotels in the city, mostly clustered in Zona Colonial - the beautiful historic area, which is probably the oldest of the new world.... Santo Domingo was founded in the late 1400's!!
I rented an apartment in Zona Universidad, close to where I studied Spanish.
The building had a private rooftop pool and fantastic gym. Even if you're staying just a couple of days, I recommend using Airbnb - there are many great options there.
Zona Colonial has a myriad of amazing options - great restaurants, discoteques, bars and everything in between.
This area is safe to walk around at night.
If you're feeling a bit more adventurous, you can venture to Avenida Venezuela on the east side of town - this area is a lot more local and arguably a lot more fun. You will hear only Dominican music here - bachata, merengue and salsa - whereas the posher areas cater to more international music tastes.
Dominicans love also to gamble. There are more casinos here per capita than probably anywhere else in the Caribbean. Each one has a nightclub and restaurant attached that hold late licences. You'll find they get busy after the discotheques close.
My favourite nightlife venues are Jetset (live Salsa) and Merengue Club (owned by legend Juan Luis Guerra).
The baller, high roller club in town is definitely VIP Room. The carpark here is full of Porsches, Bentleys and even Lambos on a Saturday night. It'ds super flashy and pretty "urban".
No traditional Salsa or Bachata here... strictly modern banging electronic music and Reggaeton beats.
I lived across the road from this place and often just dropped by to observe the "make it rain" chaos of spoiled brats falling over themselves in overpriced clothes with a skin full of France and Peru's finest exports.
For a truly Dominican experience, visit almost any colmado (off licence/bottle shop) around 6pm, sit down on a plastic chair amongst the many, share a cold longneck and get up once in a while for a bachata dance; as Dominican's do most nights after work.
Music and Dance
Music has been an intrinsic part of Dominican culture for 700 years!!!!
If you like Cuba, you will love the DR in that sense. Merenque and Bachata are the most popular forms invented here. Bachatero, Romeo Santos is probably the biggest Spanish singing star in the world right now. He literally brought bachata from it's humble beginnings as Dominican "country music" to the billions. You can hear bachata and find dance classes in almost every country in the world these days... good work Romeo!
If you want a real taste of Dominican music culture, then attending the weekly concert at the San Fransisco ruins on a Sunday night is a must.
Every Sunday night literally thousands of Dominicans go to the ruins, and buy beer and barbeque from the stalls and watch/listen to legends Grupo Bonye play marathon sets of Merengue and Salsa. The whole crowd mingles, dances and socialises. It's really, really amazing and one of my favourite experiences in Santo Domingo.
Throughout other nights of the week smaller ensembles play free concerts throughout Zona Colonial, so keep your ears to the ground.
I studied Salsa at the University Autonoma of Santo Domingo in the evenings. I loved energy and the enthusiasm of the classes.
It was great to learn from the many master who participated, like these two:
Dominicans dominate world baseball. They have the most players per capita in the A League in the USA, and crush in world tournaments. There are many options to play, even casually. If you're staying a while, I recommend signing up at one of the universities. Normally they just charge a small fee for non students to join sports and dance classes.
The national Olympic training centres are in the heart of the city.
I was lucky enough to visit the martial arts centre there.
I studied Spanish at Dominico Americano. It's the most reputable language school in the country, primarily for teaching English to locals. They run courses for kids and adults. Their Spanish for foreigners course was great. I had a private teacher for four hours per day at a very reasonable cost of roughly USD$100 per week.
The malls here are first class. Most of the popular brands are here too from Zara to Prada.
Blue Mall in Piantini is posher than posh, with elevated prices, valet service, etc. At the other end is the enormous everyman mall Megacentro, in the east side.
Agora Mall is my favourite. It's one of the biggest, with all the usual brands and a great food court.
Santo Domingo is the only city in the Caribbean with a metro system. It is underground, clean and perfectly safe to use.
Uber is also in the DR. I strongly recommend using it here. The drivers take their jobs seriously and have clean cars, etc. The rates are quite cheap.
I didn't have a single problem during my time in the DR. It's best to follow simple common sense regardless of where you are - don't walk anywhere alone at night, keep the bling to a minimum when walking around and try speak at least some Spanish.
Adieu Republica Dominicana
Well, three months in the DR went mighty fast and it was a blast.
It was sad to say farewell to both my friends and the great places there.
I can't wait to go back!!