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Historical Places To Visit In Dominican Republic.

historical places in santo domingo

When Christopher Columbus and his crew arrived at the island of La Hispaniola they thought they had just discovered a new territory in Asia, little did they know that they had just stumbled upon another continent and what that would bring to the future of mankind, top ay homage to this significant date we want to present you the historical places to visit in the Dominican Republic.

Puerto Plata

San Felipe de Puerto Plata could be, in a way, the lesser known cousin of Punta Cana, why? Because it is also home to some of the most luxurious and beautiful resorts in the Caribbean but it has a more laid back and quaint attitude. In 1493 Christopher Columbus himself founded La Isabelica which was the first European settlement in the American continent and was later named Puerto Plata in 1502. A couple of centuries later it was completely abandoned until it was repopulated in 1736 and kept on growing. Among the city´s landmarks you can find San Felipe Fort which was built in 1541, it has stunning views of the Caribbean sea, the city, and the mountains.

historical places to visit in Dominican Republic

Fancy donkey in front of Fort San Felipe, Puerto Plata.

This city also has the only cable car of the Caribbean which goes all the up to Isabel de Torres hill, up there the views are just breathtaking and you can enjoy cooler weather which is a nice change from the bikini ready heat. Overall the city´s downtown has been restored to its island colonial splendor with colorful houses, cobblestone streets, parks, and churches.

historical places to visit in dominican republic

Panoramic view of Puerto Plata.
Photo: Santiago Vasquez under CC License.

Santo Domingo

Founded by none other than Christopher Columbus younger brother Bartholomew Columbus in 1496, it is the oldest European settlement in the Americas that has been continuously inhabited under the name of New Isabella in honor of Spanish queen Elizabeth The Catholic.

historical places to visit in santo domingo

Ozama Fort on the Ozama River, Santo Domingo

The city has had its fair amount of trouble throughout its history, such as being captured by pirate Francis Drake in 1586 which marks as the end of the Spanish power over the city only to be attacked by Oliver Cromwell almost a hundred years later. It was ceded to France and later attacked by Haitian rebels and it wasn´t until 1821 that the Criollos took over and therefore the city and the country gained their Independence.

Santo Domingo´s beautiful historical center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990. It surrounds the Ozama River and features a great amount of 16th-century buildings including mansions, a diversity of colonial churches that reflect an architecture similar to those of Romanesque and gothic styles.

historical places to visit in dominican republic

Romanesque building in Santo Domingo´s Historical Center.
Photo: under CC License.

The Santa María La Menor Cathedral is considered the most important building of all of these architectural jewels, only followed in importance by the Alcázar de Colón, a Spanish style castle that went on to be Christopher Columbus´son – and viceroy of the Indies – Diego Columbus. The St. Francis Monastery ruins are also in the area.

historical places to visit in dominican republic

Remains of Saint Francis Monastery in old Santo Domingo.

Calle de las Damas is another must see in the historical center. It is a long strip that once was the busiest street in the Antilles, the spanish heritage is certainly there in all the small shops, buildings, cafes. Here is where you can find the best Mamajuana to take home and you will see how the Taino culture blended with the spanish traditions.

places to visit in dominican republic

The charm of Santo Domingo´s cobblestone streets is undeniable.
Photo: Richie Diesterheft under CC License.

Another interesting site is the Columbus Lighthouse, a heavy concrete building with the shape of a cross that is both a lighthouse and a mausoleum that holds the remains of Christopher Columbus as well as a collection of artifacts and jewelery from different times in the history of the Americas. To some it looks more like something you´d typically find in Russia or East Europe because it is such a heavy construction, not in the caribbean. The lighthouse is so powerfull that its light can be seen in Puerto Rico.

columbus lighthouse dominican republic

Columbus Lighthouse is crossed shaped.

It is important to point out that all of these buildings were the first built in the Americas despite the fact that they are not on continental mainland. Another historical fact is that the city now known as Santo Domingo was built in 1502 after a hurricane hit the old town and destruyed it, it was rebuilt on the other side of the Ozama River. The remaining walls and some buildings of the original town can still be seen as part of the colonial center, which are also under the UNESCO World Heritage Site protection.

historical places to visit in dominican republic

Romantic Santo Domingo.
Photo: Adam Mizrahi under CC License.

Now that we mention hurricanes, aparently the 17th century wasn´t nice to the island because it was hit by several which sunk some of the most famous ships of that era, such as William Kidd´s Adveture Prize, or the spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe as well as the Conde de Tolosa, the remains can be still seen in the near by Samana Bay, only 90 minutes drive east of Santo Domingo, just drive past La Romana  if you are in for an adventure and into shripwrecks this is the way to go.

Reef cannon

A cannon is what´s left of a gunship found near the Dominican Republic.

If we had to go through the history of every building, every stone, every shipwreck found around Santo Domingo, it will be a never-ending story but what is true is that Dominicans are very proud of their Taino/Arawak ancestry as well as of the Spanish heritage and the blend with African cultures; its rich and complex society has all the best – and sometimes the worst – of all of these cultures and makes them quite unique.

Fun Fact

Santo Domingo, as well as other locations of the Dominican Republic, have served as film locations in the past. Scenes from The Godfather 2 were shot in the streets of Santo Domingo as it was Havana (because as you all know, it wasn´t allowed to go to Cuba until recently) and scenes of other Francis Ford Coppola films such as Apocalypse Now were shot in Catalina Island.

Hosto Street in Santo Domingo helped recreate mid 1950s Havanna in the Godfather II. Photo: dr1

Hostos Street in Santo Domingo helped recreate mid-1950s Havanna in the Godfather II.
Photo: dr1

So we hope next time you will be staying in an incredible resort in Punta Cana or near Puerto Plata you take some time off the sun to explore these colonial cities and historical places to visit in the Dominican Republic. The feeling you will get is that you are in a parallel universe where everything looks european but with that warm caribbean feel and flare; isn´t that at the end what Christopher Columbus did? The merge of two worlds.