- Santo Domingo -
Brief History of the Capital City of
the Dominican Republic

Santo Domingo the capital city of the Dominican Republic has been an important seaport for more than half a millennium. Even though his brother Bartolome chose the spot and began the foundation of the City in 1496, it is Christopher Columbus' name that will be forever associated with this City that lays claim to being the site of the first fort, the first cathedral (slightly questionably), the first monastery, the first university, the first hospital...and the first 'palace' to have been built in the 'New World'! Little wonder it has been hailed as a center for cultural heritage.

This rich heritage makes Santo Domingo a fascinating place to visit when you come to the Dominican Republic. Few places can offer such a concentration of historic sites, still preserved in such good order, within such a concentrated space as the 'Zona Colonial' – that 'magical' area bounded by the walls of the old city.

Third time lucky...

In fact the final location of the capital city was '3rd time lucky' for the Columbus brothers. There were false starts at the original settlement of Navidad, named because they made landfall there on Christmas Day (and which would be in today's Haiti). A further disastrous period trying to make a 'capital' out of La Isabela (named for the Spanish Queen, and Columbus' patron) which would have been a port to the west of Puerto Plata if it had survived. But five years of plague, disease and hurricanes put paid to what was truly the first European settlement in the New World. Then came Santo Domingo – which grew into an important and influential seaport.

From the harbour of this historic anf fascinating city numerous famous 'conquistadors' set off to claim new lands for the Spanish crown. Hernan Cortes set out to Puerto Rico and went on to conquer Mexico. A possible early forebear of 'Rocky'...Vasco Nuñez de Balboa ;-)...went and 'fought' his way from the mouth of the River Osama, on which the capital sits, to 'discover' what became known as the Pacific Ocean! Cuba, too, fell to the governanace of the Spanish under the hands of Diego de Velazquez.

The combination of well preserved historic buildings towering over narrow cobbled streets, and the wealth of historic relics in the many museums Santo Domingo proudly hosts truly make Santo Domingo a rare treat for history and culture vultures!

At one time, during the emergence of the country from the iron fist of the Trujillo era, Santo Domingo was the 'only' place that 'the few tourists who visited the Dominican Republic really came to. But gradually, more 'beach based' tourist towns developed along the coast particularly to the East of the capital city.

Staying in the South? Santo Domingo's a must!

From Boca Chica, once a playground for wealthy Dominicans, through Juan Dolio, La Romana and on to the Eastern extremes of the island between Punta Cana and Bavaro – in all these townspremier beach-based developments have been established. For visitors to these areas in particular it is likely that a vacation will not be complete without a day – and ideally a night – in Santo Domingo! Modern shops, clubs, casinos, restaurants and hotels contrast with the antique charms of the Zona Colonial to make Santo Domingo a fascinating city of contrasts. Some would say the only thing it lacks is a beach!



For those staying at resorts on the Northern coast – you could make a trip to Santo Domingo fairly reasonably from Puerto Plata, where regular bus services run to the capital from early morning until about the middle of the evening. But for those of you staying much further East (or even West) of the Amber Coast's main city you will be hard pushed to comfortably include a visit to Santo Domingo on your itinerary unless you do not mind spending many hours on the road. This means a visit is really only feasible for those on extended stays of, say, at least two and preferably three weeks. Perhaps a good thing is that...if you cannot make it to Santo Domingo the FIRST time you visit the Dominican Republic...it is an excellent reason to make sure you come back again soon!

Be sure to visit our other 'quick tour of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic' page, for more information about the sites and sights of this amazing city!


Ruth & Esther

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