As one of the oldest cities in the new world, you instantly feel transported back in time when walking around the cobblestone streets of Santo Domingo. About three million people live in “la capital” Santo Domingo. Its rhythm can be seen — not just heard.
The Lonely Planet, a travel guide, describes the city as the island’s New York, “a collage of cultures and neighborhoods … a vibrant beating heart that fuels the entire country.”
Our hotel is in the charming and historical Colonial District. It’s the first full day and Rachael Kleinberger, my friend who’s on the trip with me, and I are ready to explore the centuries-old streets.
Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, the city is home to the first street, cathedral, university and hospital in the Americas. The city is wonderfully preserved, similar to New Orleans’ French Quarter. Trendy restaurants and world-class restaurants are spotted throughout the same neighborhoods that you’ll find old-word relics and historical Cathedrals. There’s a heavy Spanish influence throughout the area because it’s where settlers lived as they arrived in the 16th century.
We’re staying in a charming 17th-century mansion turned charming hotel. The Boutique Hotel Palacio is filled with colorful details, heavy with medieval and Spanish influences. Unlike American hotels, the air conditioning doesn’t kick in until you put your room key in a special slot, but other than that, it’s a great room.
The hotel is full with staircases that lead to little terraces and sitting areas. I spent at least 30 minutes wandering around exploring the nooks and crannies.
The streets in this part of the city are very narrow. Almost every road is a one-way. Also, I’m not sure there are strict driving laws in this country. Either that or no one follows them. Merging happens quickly and without warning. There’s a lot of horn honking and while I’ve never felt unsafe, I try to just turn a blind eye to the vans packed so full of people, the doors are left open.
Our hotel is just off a promenade where we found many restaurants and tourism shops. Everywhere we went there were people trying to sell us something. Luckily, they don’t harass you once you say “no quiero” or “I don’t want.” But flash a man a nice smile and say hello and they’ll make advances. Luckily, I have no idea what they’re saying.
It’s been said when Columbus arrived in the Dominican Republic he called it “the most beautiful land human eyes had ever seen.” I can believe it. I’ve often felt like I’m walking through a post card.
Cathedral of the Americas was erected by Diego Columbus, son of the famous explorer. It’s said the first stone was laid in 1514, but construction didn’t happen for another half-century. Several architects worked on the church and its surrounding buildings, which is why there’s a merging of Gothic and Renaissance styles.
There is still daily and weekly mass at the Cathedral and it’s open to visitors the rest of the day. It, like many of the other historical buildings, is constructed with coral and marble.
It was during our second stop at a small military church where a tour guide taught us about the meaning behind the Dominican flag. We were told the red represents war, the way the country’s land was acquisitioned. Blue is for peace; and the white cross is for peace throughout the world. In the middle of the flag is an emblem containing the bible and a banner reading, “God, Fatherland, Liberty.”
Overall, the people are friendly and helpful. Everyone we’ve met has been happy to have us in their country and is very proud of their traditions. It’s gearing up for a great trip. We’re very excited to keep exploring and meet more people.