Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic – City Guide
Oh, Santo Domingo. Where do I begin? After spending a vast majority of my six months in the Dominican Republic in the capital, I have a definite “Love/Hate” relationship with the city. If there were a nice beach here, I'd probably never leave. Instead, there's horrific traffic, garbage, and pockets of third-world living spread throughout the city. The distinct line between “have's” and “have nots” in the capital also adds an edgy element to the city. Still, Santo Domingo has its upside, especially if you enjoy going out at night.
- Population: 3 million (metro)
- Weather: Hot, tropical climate year round. Coolest months are November, December, and January.
- Safety: Relatively safe, especially for the Dominican Republic. It's not “safe,” but if you stay in the safer areas, you won't have too much to worry about.
- Language: Spanish. Only upper-class locals will have any grasp of English.
Santo Domingo is not a cheap city, especially compared with other Latin American countries like Colombia or Mexico. However, you can still live a good life for cheap throughout the city.
- Average Apartment Rental: $400-800 per month
- Gym Membership: $10-55 per month
- Average Meal: $4-10
- Beer In Club: $2-5
- Bottle (rum) In Club: $17-100
Where to Stay
If you're visiting or living in Santo Domingo, you'll have a number of areas/neighborhoods to stay in. Most first-time tourists check out Zona Colonial before venturing into other areas of the city. Safe and popular areas outside Zona Colonial include:
- Bella Vista
- Zona Universitario
If you're planning to spend some time in the city, then staying in one of these five neighborhoods should be your best bet. Personally, I prefer Zona Colonial. You have everything you'd ever need at your fingertips in the area. Within a short walk from your hotel, you'll have gyms, bars, restaurants, clubs, and more. Plus, the whole area is a tourist attraction by itself. Zona Colonial is the first city in the Americas. It's impossible to be bored staying here.
Outside of Zona, you move towards the center of the city. Gazcue is a residential zone. It's safe and fairly inexpensive compared to the pricier neighborhoods in the center, but there just isn't much going on in the area. On a positive note, Gazcue is central to every area in the city (sans Santo Domingo Este).
The Malecon was once a popping area to stay in Santo Domingo. You had stunning ocean views, nightlife, and more. Now I wouldn't recommend it. The area is run down and not what it once was. The views are still stunning, but you're better off checking it out and staying somewhere else.
Naco and Piantini are two upscale neighborhoods in the city. You'll pay more to stay here than other areas of the city. However, you'll also have access to great nightlife and restaurants – along with every other amenity one could want. Just remember that traffic is horrible around this area during the day.
Hotels can be found for as little as $18 (USD) a night in Zona Colonial, but they won't be all that great. A decent hotel will run you $30-70 a night. Monthly apartment rentals run between $400-800 a month. The area and quality of the place will greatly factor into the cost.
P.S: Getting an apartment while visiting Santo Domingo is an excellent choice. Airbnb has a lot of options. Click here to get $40 off your first stay!
How to Get Around
Santo Domingo is a huge city. Getting around can be difficult. To make matters worse, traffic can be atrocious. Moving from different areas of the city during the day can over an hour. Try to avoid moving around during rush hour like it's the plague!
On a positive note, Uber works incredibly well in Santo Domingo. Never, ever take a taxi! Get an Orange sim card and use Uber everywhere you go. Most of my rides only cost $2-5 apiece. That's chump change. Plus, Uber is safe, and you'll never have to worry about a taxi driver trying to rip you off.
Pro-tip: If your Uber driver gets “lost” or takes you on a route that's incredibly inefficient, just email Uber through the app and complain. They'll issue a refund automatically after looking at the GPS map.
The Dominican Republic is a Spanish speaking country. Outside of a few tourist areas and upper-class neighborhoods, English levels are non-existent. You'll want to brush up or learn a little Spanish before you head to the country. Luckily, Dominican people are incredibly friendly and will put up with terrible Spanish to communicate with you.
Things to Do in Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo is a touristy city, but it's not at the same time. There are a few fun tourist things to do, but you won't find days upon days of exciting activities here. You come to Santo Domingo to check out the culture and experience a unique Latin vibe in the Caribbean.
- Embrace the Culture: So do just that and immerse yourself in Dominican culture throughout the city. Make an attempt to dance bachata or perreo. Play some dominoes in the street. Get smashed drinking Presidentes at the local colmado. Start hissing at people when you want their attention.
- Zona Colonial: Walking around Zona Colonial and checking out all the tourist sites is an absolute MUST while in Santo Domingo. The number of places in the old city is truly astonishing. There are numerous nooks and crannies throughout the area that warrants exploring.
- Malecon: While I wouldn't recommend lodging on the Malecon, taking a stroll along the ocean or grabbing a quick workout at Playa Guibia is always a good time. On sunny days, the Caribbean blue waters will look quite stunning.
- Tres Ojos: Just twenty minutes from the city center, this unique tourist attraction is worth a visit. Tres Ojos is a series of small caves and lakes fills the open-air attraction. It's cheap, easy to get to, and makes for a good time one afternoon.
- Rumba: Most importantly, make sure you enjoy the nightlife in Santo Domingo. Due to the New York influence, you'll find some of the best partying throughout Latin America in this city. Dominican people love to party and have fun.
Santo Domingo Nightlife
Santo Domingo nightlife is top-notch, especially if you know where to look. If you like reggaeton and bachata, you'll be in heaven. Unsurprisingly, the top places seem to change every few months, but a few spots appear to be local staples. Saturdays are the biggest nights out – but Sunday, Friday, and Thursday can pop off, too.
Looking for some Santo Domingo nightlife tips? Here are my three favorite places:
- Zambra (Piantini): Another small club, but one of my favorites: Zambra is a great place to mingle with upper-class folk in Santo Domingo. The place plays great music and has a good vibe to it.
- Onnos (Zona Colonial): A Santo Domingo cult classic, you can't stay in Zona Colonial and not check out Onnos for a night. The place is small, but it rarely disappoints. Thursday and Saturday are the best nights.
- Golds (Center): Not my favorite, but everyone in Santo Domingo knows of Golds and has been there. If you're looking for a place to continue the party at three in the morning, look no further. This is THE late night spot in Santo Domingo.
The Dominican Republic is a small country. You can take a bus from the capital and be in any city throughout the country within five hours. Santiago, the second largest city in the country, is only 3 hours away by bus. Boca Chica and Juan Dolio, both beach destinations, are only an hour or so away by local bus. If you're traveling throughout the country, Caribe Tours does a fantastic job busing people around.
Santo Domingo – Overall
While this city isn't perfect, I'm a pretty big fan. You should never be bored in Santo Domingo. With chaos around every corner, you'll need a lot of energy to fully enjoy the city, but it's worth it. Enjoy the culture by day, then indulge in some Santo Domingo nightlife in the evenings.