Visited Havana and liked what you saw? If you’re nodding, we think Santo Domingo should be at the top of your must-visit list…
Holidays to the Dominican Republic are all about rainforest-cloaked mountains, Instagram-worthy colonial towns, and a laid back atmosphere that oozes the cool Caribbean. But if you fancy swapping the sea for the city, why not make tracks for the culture-filled capital of Santo Domingo? This place is one of the Caribbean’s oldest cities, offering up historical monuments, a UNESCO-certified World Heritage Site and some of the most drool-worthy snacks on earth. Keep reading to find out why if you liked Havana, you’ll love Santo Domingo.
Take in top notch street art
With brightly-coloured paintings and inspiring street illustrations at every corner, it’s easy to see why you might think that Havana is the street art capital of the world. But we’re pretty confident that the jaw-dropping pieces in Santo Domingo can rival it. We think the best place for art lovers is the lively neighbourhood of Santa Barbara. Here, buildings, walls and lamp posts have been covered in colourful murals by local artists and students, showing off everything from political views to their love of Dominican culture. It brings a huge splash of colour and a modern twist to the colonial city which dates back to the 15th century.
Visit UNESCO-protected hot spots
Everyone knows the sign of a good landmark is a UNESCO World Heritage Site stamp. So if you loved exploring Habana Vieja – or Old Havana – which is filled with cobbled streets, sun-kissed plazas and Baroque-style churches, then you won’t be disappointed in Santo Domingo. If you tour the Colonial Zone, you’ll tick off places like the Catedral Primada de América, which is the oldest cathedral in the Western hemisphere, dating all the way back to 1514. It’s renowned for its Romanesque and gothic-style archways, so it’s really beautiful. Elsewhere in the Colonial Zone, the small, bustling-with-culture area is paved with cobbled streets and claims to have had the first monastery, university and hospital in the Americas. The historic roots don’t end there, though. You’ve also got landmarks like Fortaleza Ozama, which is the oldest fortified structure in the city, and the Amber World Museum, which showcases fossilised insects trapped in amber resin – a major source of inspo for the creators of the Jurassic Park films.
Swap salsa for merengue
If you’ve visited Havana, you’ll know that salsa dancing is a big hit with the locals and holidaymakers alike. In fact, every August the Cuban capital hosts a fun-filled carnival where salsa dancers take over the streets in brightly-coloured costumes, making it one not to be missed. The dancing doesn’t stop there, though. Make tracks for Santo Domingo, and you can expect a similar type of indigenous dance called the merengue. It’s a two-person strut which involves lots of hip wiggling, a la Strictly, so it’s really fun. In fact, the dance is so popular in the Dominican Republic, that 26th November has been declared National Merengue Day. If you can’t wait till November, though, the best place to try out the dance for yourself is at Merengue Club, a lively bar where you can sip cocktails and perfect your moves in a private merengue lesson. Dancing shoes at the ready, people.
Sample Latin American cuisine
Cuban and Dominican food both share Latin American roots, so it’s the ideal place to visit if you’re a bit of a foodie. Traditional dishes in Santo Domingo are rice and vegetable heavy – so you can expect to sample the likes of mangu (mashed plantain with onions and cheese), rice and beans, and casaba (a flatbread made from a root vegetable).
When you picture holidays to the Caribbean, rum is just one of things you’ll have in mind. So it’s no secret that Havana and Dominican Republic both share a love of the sweet stuff. But instead of sipping traditional mojito cocktails like you did in Havana, you’ll be swapping it for Santo Domingo’s local tipple, called mamajuana. This Dominican cocktail is a blend of rum, red wine, honey, and herbs. And much like in Cuba, the rum in Dominican Republic is world famous – although it’s a lot smoother thanks to the distilling process which gives it a unique flavour. We’ll cheers to that.
Try out Dominican cigars
It wouldn’t be a trip to Havana unless you tried out a Cuban cigar. These thumb-thick cigars are the best in the world thanks to their 100-year-old tobacco, which is grown in Cuba, of course. But you won’t have to venture to far to find similar tasting cigars in Santo Domingo, either. The same Cuban tobacco is grown in the Dominican Republic thanks to the tropical climate and rich soils, so it’s a win-win situation.
The cigars here stand out because they’re made from high quality materials, and are given lots of care and attention in the factories. In fact, it takes more than a whopping 100 steps to produce a single cigar, so you can expect an excellent and authentic taste. The Colonial Zone is renowned for its wealth of cigar shops, like Boutique del Fumador, La Leyenda Del Cigarro, and Taino Cigars Shop, where you can buy the product for yourself.
Che Guevara V Christopher Columbus
There are just a few iconic sights and legends you may have taken in while holidaying in Havana. We think the most memorable ones are the paintings and street murals of Che Guevara – a Cuban revolutionary leader who became a left-wing hero in the 20th century – in his iconic black beret plastered all over the city. In Santo Domingo, it’s all about Christopher Columbus. The Italian explorer, navigator and colonizer founded the city way back in 1498 when he embarked on his first ever journey to America, so he’s pretty famous. In the colonial quarter of Santo Domingo, you can sign up for the Capital Delights tour where you’ll visit the house Christopher used to live in the 16th century. Alcázar de Colón, the UNESCO-protected building, is marked by its beautiful gothic architecture and a statue of Columbus himself just outside the grounds – so don’t forget your camera.