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Santo Domingo is the main reason we chose to visit the Domincan Republic. We were tossing up between Costa Rica and Dominican Republic but kept coming back to the opportunity to visit the oldest city in the “New world”, and also the biggest city in the Caribbean. At the end of the day, we are city slickers. We love the energy and atmosphere of big cities. We also love history and cultural attractions and this is why we were very much looking forward to our visit to Santo Domingo.
We were also looking forward to spending a full five nights somewhere after the craziness of our Deep South road trip in the USA. We didn’t run around like crazy, and it is easy to enjoy everywhere listed here in just a few days, but it is even better if you can stretch it our over longer.
The first stop on our visit was the Malecon. This great seaside walkway stretches along the Caribbean for nearly half the city’s length and is a fabulous place to go for a walk or just hang out. We particularly liked it in the evenings.
It has a good pavement to walk along. The only shame is that there is a fair bit of rubbish next to it and in the water nearby. If we sat around too long at the busier parts in Plaza Juan Baron, we would get hassled, but otherwise no one bothered us. This plaza also has some kiddy rides and food stalls. We wanted to eat at the food stalls one evening, but it was a bit pricey.
We discovered this park accidentally. It is on the Malecon, opposite Plaza Juan Baron. There is a big kids play area. It seemed a bit boring to J and I as it is only swings, see saws and monkey bars, but there are lots of them and a lot of kids. This gave it a great vibe, and we all enjoyed hanging out here.
It is a big park and also had lots of locals doing various activities – teenage boys were practicing their baseball pitches and adults were salsa dancing. A great place to just hang out in the evenings and take it all in.
Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial is the oldest part of the oldest city of the Americas. Walking around this area is our top choice of things to do in Santo Domingo.
The first morning when we walked in to the Zona Colonial, I was worried that I was going to be disappointed. The streets looked the same everywhere. They were all a bit broken and, although pretty enough, not the scenic streets I imagined. Thankfully, once we reached the actual zone, I was not disappointed at all.
It was beautiful without that many people around, although it was a bit busier the day that a cruise ship was in. The Zona Colonial is actually only about 11 blocks close to the river. We particularly enjoyed Calle El Conde and Parque Independencia.
Once we were by the Zona Colonial, we started getting hassled by tour guides, but it was only minor. There were also people that would help us cross the road which was nice. The main roads are crazy.
There are lots of churches, museums and a fort to visit as well. Budget a day here.
This children’s museum is actually a guided tour of museum exhibits. We found it interesting enough for the very low price tag, but really this museum is best for older kids who understand Spanish. You can read more about it in our full review.
220 pesos for all of us. Z was free. It is next to the fort in Santo Domingo
The National Aquarium is a lovely pleasant place about a 15 minute cab ride from the Zona Colonial. It has inside and outside parts, beautiful views out to the Caribbean and a fabulous playground. We had a great visit here. Read more about the aquarium in our full review.
275 pesos for 2 adults, 1 child (Z was free).
This pleasant water park is opposite the National Aquarium, about 15 minutes out of town. There are some big pools and a collection of water slides. The cleanliness standards were not what I had hoped, but we still had fun here. Read more about this water park in our full review.
950 pesos for 2 adults and a kid on a Sunday. Cheaper if you can go on a different day.
We stayed at a fabulous Airbnb apartment in Gazcue which is close to the Malecon and walking distance to the Zona Colonial. It was great to have the space of an apartment after all the budget motels in the USA.
Cleaning was available whenever we wanted, everything seemed new and we had great wifi, so I highly recommend this apartment. The host, Francisco, was also able to pick us up from the airport which made everything even smoother.
You can check it out here – although if you do not have an Airbnb account yet, join up here first and we can both get US$25 in credit. If you need a laundry while in the area, read about our hunt to find one!
If you would prefer to book one of the best hotels in Santo Domingo to make your stay that much easier, we recommend the following. All are great for families:
We found it easy enough to walk most places we wanted to go. However, crossing the main roads can be difficult. Marked street crossings made things slightly easier, but it was still hard. There is a lot of rubbish around. If J went out in the evening alone, he had some problems with some grabby prostitutes!
There was usually some type of footpath, and we did use a stroller. There are lots of cracks and gaps, so it is not easy to use one. I definitely recommend only taking a small, lightweight stroller and only if it is absolutely necessary. A carrier is a much better idea.
There are plenty of cabs and local buses so these are an option too. We were there in December and it was quite sunny and hot which made it hard going in the middle of the day, but otherwise the weather was extremely pleasant. We never needed the air conditioning.
We kept to our $100 a day budget which was fabulous considering the great apartment we were staying in. This included eating out once a day and all attractions as well as a few cab trips.
They had a great time in Santo Domingo. They especially loved the aquarium, water park and children’s museum, but they were happy running along the Malecon and exploring the colonial zone as well. The local park was a great hit especially with all the other children to play with.
These attractions make Santo Domingo a great family destination.
We had a great time in Santo Domingo. It is an easy place to hang out and enjoy a different side to the Dominican Republic.
The Zona Colonial is beautiful and well worth a visit. The Malecon is lovely in the evening. Basically, we enjoyed everything. 5 days is probably too long if you get bored easily, but a few days in Santo Domingo should be on your bucket list.