AYCJ Day 17: A proper tour of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

IMGP5451Wander around the square outside the cathedral the Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo for more than a couple minutes and the layers of touts become quickly apparent. They even go so far as to wear appropriate uniforms depending on exactly what they’re shilling for. The guys in pink are all selling tchotkes, for example. On the plus side, that does make them rather easy to identify and avoid.

One of the groups working the square is a collection of volunteer guides (blue shirts), willing to show tourists around for “free.” Even knowing that it was not really free, I decided to take Manuel up on his offer to walk me around the Zona for an hour. Odd are he knew more about what I should be looking for and I was too lazy to do any research of my own. Besides, while my walkabout yesterday was pleasant enough, I really had no idea what I was looking at.

IMGP5458IMGP5461So we set off together to explore the oldest city in the Americas. Because of Santo Domingo’s position as the oldest city it has many other “oldest” designations as well. Oldest cathedral? Yeah, we got that. Oldest hospital? We saw that, too. Oldest stone house and oldest military installation were covered, too.

The cathedral is actually quite impressive. The cornerstone was laid in the 1520s and construction was completed in the 1540s. They’ve done a fantastic job of maintaining the interior of the facility. Other parts are more recent – the bell tower is from the 1600s – but still quite impressive.

The exterior of the cathedral tells the history of the island as well. There are statues and carvings that reflect a few different European occupations of the area. Some are original and some are replicas, such as the six stone works that replaced bronze statues melted down to make cannon balls at one point.

We wandered over to a couple old homes from the early days. Many have been restored in one form or another. The original tax collector in town had quite a nice setup for his living arrangements; it is now a children’s museum. The original representative of the royal court was rich enough to have his own chapel adjacent to his home. That has been restored into an art gallery. Others are hotels or government offices.

IMGP5476There was also a stop in to the building housing the eternal flame honoring great Dominicans that have honored the country in some way. From past presidents to the pair of women responsible for writing the national anthem, there are scores of honorees in the building and an honor guard keeping an eye out for all of them.

The ceiling of the facility was to me even more interesting than the memorial at ground level. There was a large chandelier that was a gift from General Franco (I think; Manuel was very excited and talking very quickly at this point) and also a pretty awesome painting representing life and death.


Wandering a bit further up towards Place d’España we saw a replica of a pretty cool sundial – two faces for telling time in the morning and afternoon – as well as a wedding party taking some photos. Both rather cool scenes.


And then a trip to the shopping street. Typical process of showing the process first – in this case stones being polished for jewelry – and then the shop next door selling the wares. It is good to know that some things truly are the same the world over.

And then my hour was up. I set the deadline, not the guide, and I think he was just as happy to have me out of his hair. He again reminded me that he was a volunteer and that I was welcome to pay him a small sum as a thanks for the tour I received. Apparently my idea of a small donation and his were rather different.

Maybe it wasn’t really a “proper” tour in the truest sense of the word. Still, I managed to see a bunch of things that I probably would not have otherwise. All in all a pretty good deal. Definitely better than being in one of the groups of 30 I watched being marched from gift shop to gift shop around the square later in the afternoon.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.