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Santo Domingo

Las Américas Highway runs east along the coast from Santo Domingo to La Romana. Midway are well-established beach resorts such as Juan Dolio, and inland, Sammy Sosa’s hometown, San Pedro de Macorís. Much farther east are Punta Cana and Bávaro, glorious beaches on the sunrise side of the island. At the end of the highway lies the luxurious Casa de Campo resort (along with its marina and shopping village, Altos de Chavón) and its airport, both in La Romana. There are some gems among the small number of resorts in Bayahibe and Dominicus Americus. But Bayahibe Bay, all juxtaposed with fishing villages, is idyllic and truly memorable.

POINTS OF INTEREST

GAZCUE

Santo Domingo’s seafront Malecón is lined with large convention hotels that are popular for business travelers and groups. While it’s a popular place to stay, it’s not within easy walking distance of the Zona Colonial, where most of the city’s historic sights are located. Always take a taxi at night; it’s not safe to walk here after dark.

PIANTINI

A surprising number of luxury hotels and trendy restaurants have opened in the city’s main business district. While it’s a great place to dine and stay, it’s not within walking distance of any sights, so you’ll need taxis to get around.

ZONA COLONIAL

Spanish civilization in the New World began in Santo Domingo’s 12-block Zona Colonial. As you stroll its narrow streets, it’s easy to imagine this old city as it was when the likes of Columbus, Cortés, and Ponce de León walked the cobblestones, pirates sailed in and out, and colonists started settling. Tourist brochures claim that “history comes alive here”—a surprisingly truthful statement. Almost every Thursday to Sunday night at 8:30 a typical “folkloric show” is staged at Parque Colón and Plaza de España. During the Christmas holidays there is an artisans’ fair and live-music concerts take place.

Fun horse-and-carriage ride throughout the Zona are available year-round, though the commentary will likely be in Spanish; the steeds are no thoroughbreds, but they clip right along. You can also negotiate to use them as a taxi, say, to go down to the Malecón. The drivers usually hang out in front of the Hostal Nicolas de Ovando. You can get a free walking-tour map and brochures in English at the Secretaria de Estado de Turismo office at Parque Colón (Columbus Park), where you may be approached by freelance, English-speaking guides who will want to make it all come alive for you. They’ll work enthusiastically for $25 an hour for four people.

Most major reconstruction projects in the Zona Colonial have finally come to an end. Shopkeepers and visitors alike are once again loving the joy of this charmed neighborhood. Unfortunately, the Zona is not as safe as it once was—particularly at night and during festivals. Don’t walk on the streets with little pedestrian traffic and low lighting. Do not carry a lot of cash or your passport (leave them in the hotel safe).