The Caribbean island of Hispaniola was colonized by the Spaniards in the 1490’s, back when Christopher Columbus was yachting around the world trying to find India and thinking the next island he landed on would probably be IT. Columbus, Columbus, Columbus. I already told you. NEVER TRUST WAZE. And so the Spanish crown established the first ever European settlement in the New World, Santo Domingo being the oldest European city in Latin America. Hooray? And then the French came to join the fun.
I guess this was the early version of Pokémon Go, except that these Caucasians were capturing lands. The island was split between the Spanish and the French 200 years later, with the latter claiming the smaller western part and naming it Saint-Domingue, which is just the French version of Santo Domingo. Creative. Of course, that part of the island is now called Haiti. A few years after its independence, DomRep was annexed by their Haitian neighbors. Suffice it to say that these two hate each other. Blame history.
But past is past. The Dominican Republic is way better off than Haiti now, and is the de facto holiday destination in the Caribbean as of press time. Punta Cana! But I wasn’t in the mood for the beach and I already convinced myself that this pit stop will just be a chill stop, working most of the time and just checking out Zona Colonial during one of my free days. Finding an Airbnb place at Palo Hincado proved to be strategic. I only had to walk around to see the colonial area. All in all, it was very chill. No, it was hot.
I always say how I miss the weather back home, but the tropics can be really harsh when it comes to heat and humidity. Santo Domingo is very Manila, alright, in terms of climate. This must be a case of TMI but I rarely shower when I travel, but here, I think I showered thrice a day just to feel comfy. It was just so humid. Make sure you drink lots of water too. Dehydration is not something you’d like to experience, nor should you. An umbrella is also handy if you don’t want the mandatory tan.
I started the day taking a stroll along the Malecon, which is what most Spanish-speaking nations in this area call what we refer to as Bay Walk. This one was dirty and full of trash, which I guess is to be expected because this is not the main beach, and this zone is a residential area to boot. You will see ships passing by, although I don’t think they really dock there. There is a nice park with benches and pigeons but only three people were there that time because it was really, really hot.
The good thing about the raging sun are the photos you end up taking. They are always awesome! But you can’t have it all, so you just have to suffer from the heat and humidity. The highlight of the walk was that phallic obelisk at the middle of the road, which had colorful paintings on all three sides of women doing stuff. By doing stuff, I mean reading a book, waving a flag. All that propaganda that promotes nationalism. Err, what did you have in mind? This is Santo Domingo, not a porn flick. Pervert.
The plan after that was to walk along the coast until I reach that part of the city bisected by the river. The problem was every other local on the road was following me. You know, those wannabe tour guides who want to show you the city for whatever donation you can give them. That’s cool, I appreciate hard work. But sometimes a tourist just wants to walk around undisturbed. And so I decided to go back inland to avoid them, which ultimately led me to the colonial zone. Are you ready for 1490’s ‘Merica!!!
Nah, most of them were churches. Watch the agnostic in me cringe. But they were impressive pieces of architecture, even now. Imagine the grandeur they had back then, when all that surrounded them were humble abodes made of whatever it was that you won’t consider modern. And of course, cobblestoned streets! Wear some comfortable footwear because walking on those roads can be such a real pain. As is always the case in Hispanic town layouts, there’s always a plaza next to the church. People watching!
I suggest taking this tour a little late in the afternoon before the sun goes down. Or maybe take photos while the sun is still up, and then chill at the plazas after sundown. That way, you don’t get barbecued alive. One structure that you shouldn’t miss is the Catedral Primada de America, said to be THE oldest one in the New World. I don’t think it’s all original, though. Rumor has it that an earthquake destroyed the first one, and that this one has been restored or something. The beige exterior goes well with the sun.
Oh wait, I have to tell you how amused I am handling a currency that is almost in parity to the Philippine Peso! DOP1 = PHP1.05. I don’t think I’ve encountered a currency in the last few years that I’ve been travelling that came that close! By the way, Uber is available in Santo Domingo but I’ve noticed that it’s more expensive than it should be. Still, it is a good way to go around the city if you don’t want to familiarize yourself with the various guagua routes, which can be confusing most of the time.
[DISTRITO NACIONAL] The Oldest in the New World