The Colonial Zone is both an important historical site and a vibrant neighborhood
Founded in 1498, the Santo Domingo Colonial Zone is the oldest European settlement in the New World. In 1990, the entire zone was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Colonial Zone is a wonderland of historic Spanish Colonial buildings and monuments. Yet, the area is so much more than a mere open-air museum. It is a bustling district filled with shops, restaurants, cafes and night clubs. The vibrant street life, incredible live music performances and beautiful parks and squares make the Colonial Zone a prime tourist destination.
Parque Colon itself takes up the whole block and is a great place to sit and watch the world go by. You will see many interesting characters go by – well worth a visit.Here you will find the Cathedral Primada de America – the first Cathedral in the new world. Originally it was built in 1514 however there have been many additions and changes since then. The first stone was laid by Diego Columbus – the brother of Christopher Columbus. It is beautiful inside and is definitely a must see.
No visit to the capital is complete without a visit to Calle del Conde. It is the oldest shopping street in the city and is a great point of reference to finding your way around in the Colonial Zone. It is a pedestrian only street that is the length of the Colonial Zone filled with shops, street sellers and all types of people. It is a great place to buy souvenirs and window shop or just stop and relax in a local coffee shop over delicious Dominican coffee.
This open air plaza is home to the Alcazar de Colon – a 22 room house where it is said that Diego Colon lived. They offer tours of the house – there is a ticket booth in the building to its left as you are looking at it.
The Colonial Zone is full of museums so it is hard to just pick a few but The Amber World Museum makes for an interesting visit. Learn how Amber is created as they walk you through the process of how they make some of the Jewelry they have on display.
This small museum is more of a shop than a museum, that said you can watch the worker make Cigars by hand from Dominican Tobacco. You can read about the history and the effect tobacco has on the Dominican economy. They have a big choice of cigar and tobacco products.
The fortress was built between 1502 and 1508 and is a must see. The fort is built at the entrance to the Rio Ozama and its strategic location gives a great view. Originally built to defend the city from marauders and pirates, it was a formidable fortress that was never seized.
More recently it was used as a prison up until the 1960s when it was restored and opened to the public. It is worth taking the guided tour as they explain a lot about the history.
Museo de las Casas Reales was built at the start of the 16th century and showcases the colonial architecture. The museum highlights the history, life and customs of the inhabitants of the Spanish colony. It is a must visit – it has a audio tour included in the entrance price.
Parque Duarte makes it on to the list as a personal favorite – no museums, no touristy feel this is where you should come and visit in the evening. It is an alternative park and attracts every type of person imaginable. In the evening the party vibe gets going with people drinking, chatting and listening to music. Grab a Presidente (the national beer) from the local Colmado (corner shop), grab a bench, relax and watch.
Located in the heart of the colonial zone of Santo Domingo, ChocoMuseo will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about Dominican cacao and chocolate. Next to the cathedral, ChocoMuseo will welcome you in its beautiful 16th century building where the artisanal chocolate factory is located. We also offers chocolate workshops where you learn all the process from the cacao tree to the chocolate bar.
A stay in the Colonial Zone would not be complete without a night out. There are so many bars and restaurants that can be found by taking a walk around the zone. The Colonial Zone bars are very popular with young middle and upper class Dominicans at present – a great opportunity to meet new people. We recommend trying Barcelo – one of the national rums.