Santo Domingo – A Vibrant Travel Destination in the Dominican Republic

The biggest and most interesting city in the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo boasts an array of impressive historical and cultural attractions that complement its glorious beaches. Although it’s often viewed as a gateway to the bigger Dominican attractions, Santo Domingo is certainly worth visiting.
Santo Domingo
Table of Contents

A modern and dynamic Caribbean metropolis, Santo Domingo epitomizes the pulse of Dominican culture.

Here the old and new seamlessly blend, from centuries-old history and architecture, to huge shopping malls, fantastic museums, a thriving nightlife and delicious gastronomy scene.

Santo Domingo provides a great base for exploring the Dominican Republic.

It has beaches with soft white sands and clear, blue waters that host diverse fun activities.

History buffs will find their niche along the cobblestone streets of Santo Domingo’s world-famous Zona Colonial.

Read on for the essential guide to visiting Santo Domingo.

Is Santo Domingo a Good Place to Vacation?

Although Santo Domingo has plenty of accommodation, restaurants and entertainment options, it doesn’t deliver the quintessential Dominican holiday.

This vibrant cultural city is certainly worth visiting for a day or two to interact with locals and experience the “real” Dominican Republic.

That said, Santo Domingo is not really a resort destination suitable for vacationing.

Why is Santo Domingo Popular?

Santo Domingo is popular for:

  • Numerous historical attractions
  • Arts, culture and entertainment
  • A vibrant nightlife scene
  • Great food

What is Santo Domingo Known for?

The most densely populated metropolitan area in the Caribbean, Santo Domingo is the capital and largest city in the Dominican Republic. Santo Domingo de Guzman is the official name of Santo Domingo.

Santo Domingo is known for:

  • History: Zona Colonial neighborhood in Santo Domingo hosts many of the New World’s oldest colonial-era buildings and ancient treasures, as well as some of the region’s top museums.
  • Arts & Entertainment: Santo Domingo has a vast array of venues from where you can get your culture fix, including galleries, cinemas, theaters, opera, ballet and music shows.
  • Drinking & Nightlife: Santo Domingo really knows how to party, with lots of corner stores where locals drink and socialize both day and night.
  • Food: Santo Domingo boasts a thriving culinary scene which is best sampled in Zona Colonial, along the Malecon Boulevard and in the trendy downtown neighborhoods of Piantini and Naco.

How Many Historic Sites Are in Santo Domingo’s Colonial City?

More than 300 historical sites are found in Santo Domingo’s Colonial City.

These comprise a series of structures that were constructed by the Spaniards during the colonial period.

The structures include various monuments of both historical and cultural significance, as well as the homes of great societal figures of that era, and important streets such as the Las Damas.

What Are the Beaches Like in Santo Domingo?

Stretching for miles, the beaches in Santo Domingo are beautiful, with soft, white sands fringed by sparkling blue waters.

The beaches are great for swimming and sunbathing, although your relaxation may be interrupted by local vendors selling trinkets.

Located just a short drive from the capital, Santo Domingo’s beach areas are close enough for an easy day trip.

That said, many tourists chose to stay a few days in the city and a few days at the beaches, which have all-inclusive resorts and many beachfront restaurants.

The best beaches in Santo Domingo are:

  • Playa Boca Chica: Located 30km away in San Andres Bay, Playa Boca Chica is a long, wide beach that is popular with locals. Boasting amazingly soft, white sands, this beach is great for going on sailing trips to explore the beauty of Santo Domingo’s tropical coast.
  • Playa Esmeralda: Located a 45 minutes’ drive away in Juan Dolio town, Playa Esmeralda is less hectic, more relaxing, and more upscale than most other Santo Domingo beaches. It has many hotels, restaurants, dive shops and souvenir shops.
  • Playa Guayacanes: Located a few kilometers from the town of Juan Dolio, Playa Guayacanes is a modest, rarely crowded beach offering soft sands and calm waters. It’s a great spot to escape the city and enjoy a quiet beach day under the shadows of swaying palms.

How Far is Santo Domingo from the Beach?

Playa Boca Chica is the main beach closest to Santo Domingo.

The distance to Playa Boca Chica from Santo Domingo is 37.2km. It takes about 30 minutes to drive from Santo Domingo to Playa Boca Chica via the Autopista Las Americas road.

How Do you Get to the Beach in Santo Domingo?

There are 2 main ways to get to Santo Domingo’s beaches:

  • Taxi: Taking a taxi is a safe way to get to the beaches of Santo Domingo, especially for tourists who do not speak good Spanish. A taxi ride to the beach will cost about US $30 or US $50 to the beaches at Boca Chica and Juan Dolio respectively.
  • Bus: A more adventurous way to get to the beach is by taking an express guagua – a small older bus that usually has air conditioning. These buses leave from Parque Enriquillo, to the north of Zona Colonial.

Where Can I Party in Santo Domingo?

Santo Domingo boasts the most vibrant and diverse nightlife scene in the Dominican Republic.

It offers the broadest range of after-dark entertainment options, from outdoor bachata concerts to lounges and car-washes that transform into sidewalk bars and nightclubs. There is also live music, festivals and other events.

Whether you’re looking for casual or upscale fun, you’re bound to find it in Santo Domingo.

Santo Domingo has 3 main nightlife hubs:

  • Ciudad Colonial: The colonial city is perfect for bar hopping and enjoying live music.
  • Piantini & Ensanche Naco: Here revelers can enjoy a mix of lively bars and clubs.
  • Malecon Boulevard: Come here for the recreational seaside parks and hotels that offer entertainment.

Here are some useful tips for partying in Santo Domingo:

  • Clubs normally stay open longer on weekends, closing between 3am and 4am. Bars around the city and concerts held at private venues typically end around 2am.
  • Outdoor bars are not permitted to blast music in the streets past midnight due to noise ordinances.
  • Most lounges, bars and nightclubs in Santo Domingo do not have a cover charge. Concerts and events typically have fees that vary according to the artist and venue.
  • Tipping is customary in Santo Domingo. Therefore, be sure to tip your waiter or bartender just as you would back home.
  • Feel free to walk outside with your cup of alcohol, as the Dominican Republic does not have open container laws.
  • Although the metro in Santo Domingo ends at midnight, it is safer to use an Uber to get to and from your nighttime destinations.
  • If you want to use a taxi, call to request one from the central cab company, rather than entering a random taxi off the street.

What Food is Santo Domingo Known for?

The food in Santo Domingo comprises of a rich and varied cuisine.

Because it is a former colony of Spain, the food in the Dominican capital has a strong Spanish influence, as well as roots in both Taino and African culinary traditions.

Santo Domingo is known for an array of delicious traditional dishes including:

  • Mangu: A typical breakfast dish consisting of mashed plantains, often served with salami, sautéed onions or cheese.
  • La Bandera Dominicana: A typical lunch dish consisting of rice, meat, red beans and a vegetable side dish.
  • Empanada: A snack made from bread dough or flour tortilla filled with meat, cheese or vegetables and then fried.
  • Sopa de Mondongo: A soup made by slowly cooking tripe, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, onions, peppers, celery, garlic and cilantro.
  • Habichuelas con Dulce: A dessert made from red beans, coconut milk, condensed milk, butter, raisins, cinnamon, sugar and salt.

What Language is Spoken in Santo Domingo?

In the Dominican Republic, Spanish is the official language, while English and French are considered mandatory foreign languages.

The most common languages spoken in Santo Domingo are:

  • Dominican Spanish
  • Haitian Creole
  • Samana English
  • Chinese
  • Italian
  • Japanese

What Currency Does Santo Domingo Use?

The Dominican peso and the U.S. dollar are the main currencies used in Santo Domingo.

Although most businesses in Santo Domingo list their prices in Dominican pesos, U.S. dollars are also widely accepted by many shops, hotels, restaurants and tour operators in the capital.

Can You Use US Dollars in Santo Domingo?

Yes, you can use US dollars in Santo Domingo.

American dollars are widely accepted by many shops, resorts, restaurants and tour operators in Santo Domingo. In fact, big resorts and upscale restaurants in Santo Domingo normally list their prices in US dollars.

Is It Safe to Visit Santo Domingo?

Yes, Santo Domingo is safe to visit.

Aside from opportunistic crimes such as petty theft, pickpocketing and bag-snatching which are common in key tourist areas like Santo Domingo, crimes against tourists occur rarely here.

To reduce your risk of being a victim of crime in Santo Domingo, be sure to stay within the generally safe well-traveled tourist areas.

Is It Safe to Walk Around Santo Domingo?

Yes, Santo Domingo is generally safe to walk around during the day.

However, when walking around Santo Domingo at night, you should avoid straying from the areas where most tourists stay.

Santo Domingo’s touristy areas are generally safe at night as they are patrolled by tourist police and are typically highly-populated and well-lit with busy bars and nightclubs.

For instance, it is generally safe to walk around Zona Colonial, both day and night.

However, Malecon is less safe, therefore you will need to be more cautious walking if you have been drinking or are leaving a casino, bar or nightclub.

Although Gazcue is a quiet residential area, it is poorly-lit with few street lights.

When uncertain about any neighborhood in Santo Domingo, play it safe by taking a taxi.

Can You Drink the Water in Santo Domingo?

No, it is not recommended to drink the water in Santo Domingo as it is untreated and is therefore unsafe.

Travelers visiting Santo Domingo should only drink bottled water or tap water that has been sterilized by boiling.

Is Santo Domingo Dangerous in Any Way?

Yes. Walking around alone at night in certain parts of Santo Domingo can be dangerous.

Santo Domingo can be especially dangerous for those who stray outside of touristy areas that are generally safer because they are patrolled by tourist police.

When walking in Santo Domingo at night, be extra cautious after drinking or leaving a casino, bar or club in Malecon.

Also take care when walking around the quiet residential area of Gazcue after dark, as it is not well-lit with few street lights.

How Much is it to Rent a Car in Santo Domingo?

On average a rental car in Santo Domingo costs US $23 per day.

Of course, car hire rates in Santo Domingo will vary from one rental agency to the next.

In any case, most car rental companies are online, therefore travelers can compare prices and find great bargains before booking their vacation.

Is It Safe to Drive in Santo Domingo?

No, it is generally unsafe to drive in Santo Domingo.

Driving in Santo Domingo is often chaotic and dangerous mainly due to the presence of motorcyclists, pedestrians and animals on the roads, as well as local drivers who do not observe traffic rules.

In fact, Santo Domingo is one of the leading cities in the world with road accident fatalities. Avoid driving whenever possible and instead take a taxi or Uber.

Is There Uber in Santo Domingo?

Yes, Uber services are available in Santo Domingo.

Is It Worth Visiting Santo Domingo?

Many visitors to the Dominican Republic often head straight for the white-sand beaches of Punta Cana or the beautiful Puerto Plata coastline.

However, the charming albeit chaotic Santo Domingo is certainly deserving of a visit.

As the oldest city in the New World, Santo Domingo offers travelers the perfect balance of old world charm and a fun, hip culture that is sure to win you over after just a day or two.