About Santo Domingo
City Profile: Santo Domingo. Important Information About the City of Santo Domingo
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The City of Santo Domingo
“Ciudad Primada de America.”
Translated to “First City of America,” the motto of the city of Santo Domingo is an apt description to this Central American-Caribbean metropolis.
The city of Santo Domingo de Guzmán is a distinct city. Established in 1496, it is the oldest European settlement in the Western Hemisphere. In fact, the old city of Santo Domingo is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list since there are many colonial structures that date back to the 16th century that still stand today. It was Bartolome Columbus, brother of famed explorer Christopher Columbus, who founded the city.
The city is the capital of the Dominican Republic. It is also the largest city of the country and is a center of culture, history, education, politics and trade. Santo Domingo serves at the leading port of the coastal city. It is regarded as a Gamma World City.
Santo Domingo faces the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, right at the mouth of the Ozama River. The city’s total area measures 104.44 square kilometers or 40.32 square miles. On the other hand, the metropolitan region measures 1,400.79 square kilometers or 540.85 square miles. The city is elevated at a height of 15 meters or 46 feet above sea level. The island is mostly composed of flatlands and subdivided into four municipalities.
The Ozama River cuts the metropolis into two parts, the eastern and western portion. The western portion of the metropolis is the center of economic activity in the city. This is also the location of the city’s colonial zone, known as Zona Colonial, which faces the Caribbean Sea. At the same time, the Ozama River, which flows out into the Caribbean Sea, is the location of the city’s port, which also happens to be the most important and busiest port of the country of the Dominican Republic.
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The city’s residents are fondly referred to as “Capitaleños” or “Capitaleñas.” The city of Santo Domingo has a total population of just under 1.5 million residents in 2010. This translates to a population density of 14,216.6 individuals per square kilometer or a staggering 36,821 residents per square mile. The urban population of the city is pegged at 2.5 million in 2010. At the same time, more than 3.7 million residents call the metropolitan area of Santo Domingo home. These figures make the city of Santo Domingo not only the most populated city in the country, but also the largest city in the Caribbean in terms of population.
The primary language spoken in the capital city is Spanish. However, as a city used to welcoming tourists, English is also spoken in the tourist areas. Other European languages spoken are Italian, German and French. Those who wish to engage in business while in Santo Domingo may do well to use the services of a professional language translation service provider.
The warm tropical climate of the city is ideal for enjoying the many outdoor attractions of Santo Domingo. The city’s climate is categorized as tropical monsoon; however, the city is exempted from oppressive heat typical of tropical areas due to trade winds. On the average, the temperature in Santo Domingo stays at about 73 °F or a comfortable 23 °C during the daytime, going up to 89 °F or under 32 °C. The coolest months are January and February, wherein the temperatures might drop to as low as below 20 °C or 67 °F, while the hottest month is August. During this period, the temperatures could peak at 31.5 °C or 88 °F.
The city of Santo Domingo basks in an ample amount of sunshine, with as much as eight to ten hours of sunshine each day. Each year, the city receives about 1,445 millimeters or over 56 inches of rain. The wettest month is October while the months of January to April are least likely to receive rainfall. Located on an island, the city is prone to hurricanes, which usually occurs during the months of June to November.
Santo Domingo is accessible by land, air or sea. There are two primary airports that service the residents and tourists of the city. The main airport is the Las Americas International Airport that handles about 3.4 million passengers each year. The second airport of the city is the Aeropuerto Internacional La Isabela, which handles domestic flights. Those who wish to approach Santo Domingo by water will pass through the Port of Santo Domingo. This is located on the Ozama River. Undergoing renovation at the moment, the port would soon feature a sports marina. Also, there is now a state-of-the-art harbor terminal for luxury cruise ships. Four of the city’s five national highways pass through the city.
Visitors to Santo Domingo would be pleasantly surprised by the cultural diversity and historical importance of the city. While the city is progressive, there is still a marked disparity between the rich and the poor, clearly demarcated by rich and poor neighborhoods. Just like visiting other cities, as a traveler or tourist, do observe basic safety precautions when visiting this capital. Being aware of your surroundings and keeping a low profile by avoiding wearing expensive jewelry and clothes are ways to avoid attracting extra interest on you. Avoid using headphones when walking around so that your attention is focused on your surroundings. When heading out, leave your important travel documents and other valuables locked in the hotel safe, ensuring that you have ample photocopies of your credit cards and passports to secure easy replacement in case of a problem. Street crime is common in the city, especially in the tourist areas. More so, criminal activity does rise during the frequent power outages in the city.
Upon arrival be sure to use the taxis at the airport, which are registered, instead of “carros publicos,” which are less expensive but are not as safe. Keep the windows rolled up and the doors locked when traveling since some thefts involve motorcyclists that grab personal items from inside vehicles during traffic stops. It is also best to use cash when in Santo Domingo since credit card fraud is on the rise. In case you become a victim of crime, report the incident immediately. Those who need to take prescription medication should pack along an ample supply for the duration of the trip. Those with a sensitive constitution should drink only bottled water while in Santo Domingo. Overall, those who exercise due diligence while traveling, are likely to find a trip to Santo Domingo quite pleasant and very memorable.
The city of Santo Domingo is poised for growth. In the past, the establishment of the city laid the foundation for the conquest of other Central American countries, as well as the spread of Christianity in the region. Today, Santo Domingo is a city with many opportunities for commercial success. It also warmly welcomes tourists looking for history and culture.
The native settlers in the area that is now Santo Domingo are the Taino people. The Taino natives named the island Quisqueya, meaning “mother of all lands.” It was also named Ayiti, meaning “land of high mountains.”
The Spaniards arrived in the 15th century and forever changed the landscape of the region. When Columbus came to the area, the renamed it Hispaniola, and placed the five chief-ruled societies of Higüey, Marién, Jaragua, Maguana and Maguá under Spanish rule. Hispaniola also included what is today the Republic of Haiti.
In 1496, a settlement was established in Hispaniola. It was christened La Nueva Isabella in honor of the Queen of Spain, Isabella by Bartolome Columbus. Later on, it was renamed Santo Domingo, as a tribute to Saint Dominic and the city became the primary town in the Hispaniola territory. It rose into prominence and strategic importance since the town became the springboard for further colonization of the Americas. Santo Domingo has the distinction of being the oldest continuously European-inhabited settlement in the Americas. Likewise it is the first New World colony of Spain.
Unfortunately, Santo Domingo suffered a massive earthquake in 1502 that prompted the city governor to rebuild on the other side of the Ozama River. This new establishment is site of the modern day Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo, which would earn the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the 16th century, the British seized the city, under the leadership of Francis Drake, which heralded the Spanish rule’s decline in the colony. The French later took control of the western portion of the island, which is today Haiti. Between the 18th and 19th centuries, control of the city transferred between the French and Spanish crown and even the Haitian government. In 1821, Santo Domingo even served as the capital city of Haiti Español, which had achieved the status of an independent nation.
In 1844, Santo Domingo gained independence from Haitian control, thanks to the efforts of one of the nation’s beloved heroes, Juan Pablo Duarte. However, up until the 20th century, even the United States government had control of the city, which occupied Santo Domingo up until 1922. The various countries that occupied the city directly affected the cultural landscape, resulting in a city that is uniquely diverse.
Today, Santo Domingo is a bustling coastal capital city. There is a mix of the new and the old, with colonial homes still in existence, as well as grand hotels, casinos and other modern day structures. The city has some of the best dining options in the country, and at the same time serves as the cultural, educational, political and economic center of the Dominican Republic.
The greater metropolitan area of Santo Domingo has about 3.7 million residents. La Capital is indeed constantly buzzing with activity, but still, there is still a very wide income disparity among the city’s residents.
The city has a very young population, with a median age of just under 24 years old. Population growth is quite slow, with the current (2010) data only placing it at 1.29% a year. Moreover, people enjoy a long life expectancy of 71.44 years. Over 95% of the citizenry are Roman Catholics, with a small smattering of Protestants. With a large number of schools, and 18 institutions of higher learning, the most number for any of the other cities in the Dominican Republic, literacy in Santo Domingo is quite high, reaching an average of 85%.
The people of the city are mostly of mixed or mestizo heritage for 73% of the population. Whites account for 16% of the population while Blacks are only at 11% of the total demographic. There are also many residents of Haitian origin, most of which still believe in and practice many of their traditional folkloric beliefs and traditions, including voodoo.
The official language spoken in the country is Spanish, although other European languages such as French and German are also used. Residents are also able to speak English in various degrees of proficiency. Those who will engage in business in the city may do well to use the services of a professional language translation service provider.
The city of Santo Domingo is the economic lifeblood of the country of the Dominican Republic. Various products are manufactured in the city, including food items, alcoholic beverages, chemicals, cement, textiles and metal products. Also, the city’s busy port area serves as the main distribution channel for the country’s various agricultural products, which include beef and cattle, as well as sugarcane. The currency used in the city is the Dominican peso.
Tourism is also alive and brisk in Santo Domingo. In fact, it is the main income generator of the country and the city. Thanks to its various interesting sites, ideal location and important history, over 2.5 million foreign tourists arrived in the Dominican Republic in 2000, the majority of which arrived in Santo Domingo. The Dominican Republic has the largest number of hotels in the Caribbean, with over 54,000 rooms available. Over 10% this are found in the Santo Domingo area. Overall, tourism generated some $2.218 billion for the country. Most tourists come from the United States, while other tourists come from Germany, Canada, Spain, Italy, France and England.
Azure Caribbean waters, a thriving economic center of Central America and the reputation of being the oldest colony in the New World are just some of the things that come to mind when the City of Santo Domingo is mentioned.
The historical center of the city is Zona Colonial. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as the neighborhood is littered with colonial buildings dating back to the 16th century and where many of the city’s museums are located. Being here gives travelers a broad view of the city’s colonial past.
In Colonial City is the Museo de las Casas Reales or the Museum of the Royal Houses. This museum houses a spectacular reconstruction of a Spanish court. The Museo de las Casas Reales is a complex of colonial buildings. These include the oldest fort in America, Fortaleza Ozamas, as well as the Palace of the Governors, the home used by the governor of Santo Domingo in the 16th century. There is also the building that was once the Royal Audiencia of Santo Domingo. In Colonial City, travelers get to see the first street built in the Americas, the Calle de Las Damas.
One of the important museums in the city is the Museum of Alcazar, also located in Zona Colonial. The Castle of Columbus is better known as the Alcázar de Colón and is the most visited museum in the city. Alcázar de Colón has the distinction of being the first castle in the Americas. It was used as the primary residence of the Viceroy of the Indies and was built for Diego Columbus, son of Christopher Columbus and his spouse, Maria de Toledo, whose uncle was the Spanish King Ferdinand. The museum in the castle features an impressive collection of medieval and Renaissance art pieces, notably the 15th and 16th century collection of tapestries created by Van Den Hecke, a Flemish family of tapestry artists.
The Catedral Santa Maria La Menor is undoubtedly the city’s premier colonial building. Also called La Catedral Primada de America, it is the first cathedral of the Americas, as it dates back to 1542. It is the shrine of Saint Mary the Incarnation. The façade of the Baroque and Gothic building is lined with coral limestones that are wonderfully gold-tinted. Its high altar was carved out of silver and has a treasury of wonderful pieces of art including silver, jewelry, furnishings and ancient woodcarvings.
The first monastery in America is the Monasterio de San Francisco. On the other hand, the first and oldest convent in America is the Dominican Convent.
For some fine art, the Museo Bellapart has an interesting collection of 19th and 20th century fine art pieces. It is a private museum where the entrance is free. The collections are divided into four sections and include art pieces done during the neoclassic, impressionist and romantic periods. There are also paintings from the first Dominican artists in the modern era, refugee artists from Europe and 1950s and 1960s Dominican artists. The Museum of the Casas Reales has an impressive collection of items, including ancient weapons from the colonial period. Those interested in pre-Columbian history would greatly appreciate the Museum of the Dominican Man. This museum chronicles the Taino civilization, while the Larimar Museum is the best place to learn about the rare blue-colored precious stone larimar that is indigenous to the country. Also in the city is a private museum showcasing the fascinating history of amber. Amber World Museum was founded by the owner of Amber Factory AMBASA in 1996. This is a wonderful place to understand and trace the history and know the scientific findings about this ancient gemstone and look at how jewelry made of amber gets processed and mounted in silver or gold settings. This is also a good place to buy real amber jewelry.
Travelers with children are sure to enjoy the time they would spend at the Museo Infantil Trampolin. This interactive science museum teaches children of various ages about biology, natural history and the ecology through various displays. There is even an earthquake machine and volcano simulator. Another interesting site for children is the Acuario Nacional. The aquarium is where visitors would be able to view stingrays, sea turtles and various other marine creatures. The aquariums main attraction is a giant manatee named Tamaury.
Those interested in fauna should go to the Santo Domingo Botanical Gardens, which is also known as the Jardín Botánico Nacional. The Santo Domingo Botanical Gardens also happens to be the largest of its kind in the Caribbean, with a land area of two million square meters. A small train goes around the gardens and takes travelers on a tour of the garden and view areas dedicated to various palm trees, orchids and indigenous plants. A carefully manicured Japanese garden, thought to be one of the most beautiful outside of Japan is within the botanical garden. One of the largest floral clocks in the world could also be found here.
Dominican Republic National Zoo or the Paque Zoologico Nacional is one of the bigger zoos in Latin America. The zoo boasts of a large collection of big animals such as rhinos, as well as colorful flamingos, playful chimps and the endangered solenodon.
The Altar de la Patria is a monument erected in 1976 as a tribute to the nation’s heroes who bravely fought for the country’s independence in 1844.
The Columbus Lighthouse, or the Faro a Colón, was erected in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. The cross-shaped structure built specifically for the El Quinto Centenario cost 400 million Dominican pesos. The remains of Christopher Columbus were deposited in this memorial structure. It would also be a good idea to visit the Los Tres Ojos. This is a collection of three lagoons ringed with thick vegetation and stalagmites inside a 50-foot deep cave.
The Malecón on George Washington Avenue is a boulevard facing the waters. The coastal park is the location of many of the large luxury hotels and premiere casinos in the city. There are also a number of restaurants, cafes and shops lining the avenue.
Santo Domingo has its own museum dedicated to rum. The Museo del Ron Dominicano showcases the evolution and history of rum production in the country. It becomes very interesting and lively when the museum turns into a bar when evening comes.
Juan Pablo Duarte, the founding father of the Dominican Republic has a museum dedicated to his life and works, aptly named the Museo Casa Duarte, located at his former house.
Santo Domingo is a homogenous melting pot of cultures. Spanish, Latin American, Caribbean and French influences could be seen and felt all over the city, thanks to their colonial influences at different times during the course of history of the Dominican Republic. These varied colonial influences shaped and added a lot of color and uniqueness to Santo Domingo’s culture that continues to be enjoyed by the locals as well as visitors to the city today.
The Plaza de la Cultura is undoubtedly the cultural center of the city. It is here that various cultural venues are located, such as the Teatro Nacional or National Theater. The Palacio de Bellas Artes or Palace of Fine Arts is here as well. It also serves as the home of the National Symphony Orchestra. The Palacio National or the presidential home of the Dominican Republic’s President is also located here. Plaza de Cultura is also the location of various museums, such as the National Museum of Natural History and the Museum of the Dominican Man, so travelers could simply go here for a condensed look at the culture of the city, whether it’s fine arts, the performing arts, architecture or history.
Those looking for Dominican art are sure to relish the many displays at Boulevard 27 de Febrero. This promenade is where many local artists and sculptors have their work on display. There are also a number of important museums in the city, such as the Museum of Alcázar, the Museum of the Casas Reales, Museum of Modern Art, Museo Pre-Hispanico and the National Museum of History and Geography.
Citizens looking for some recreational areas should go to the Mirador Norte Park, Colón Park, and Independencia Park. Other options to enjoy some greenery and open space include Parque Nuñez de Caceres, Enriquillo Park and Las Praderas Metropolitan Park. For a park with a view of the water, there is El Malecón. The country is also fast becoming an eco-tourism destination, so many travelers arrive at Santo Domingo ready to go hiking, biking or go exploring.
When it comes to sports, the most important venue is the Centro Olimpico Juan Pablo Duarte. This sports complex was the venue for the 2003 Pan American Games. Many renowned baseball players hail from the city, such as David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.
Travelers who want to go shopping would find the best brands at Acropolis Center. If you are after luxury brands, you could find them at the high-end shops at Blue Mall. Novocentro, Bella Vista Mall and Diamond Mall are other shopping options in the city.
Visitors to Santo Domingo would discover that the country’s cuisine is typical of many Latin and Caribbean countries. It is tasty, colorful and uses a variety of ingredients. One of the most popular signature dishes is la bandera or the flag, because it contains the various colors found in the country’s flag and represents the best of Dominican cooking. It is a dish of beans, meat, vegetables and fritos verdes or green plantains served with white rice. It is also apparent that Spanish influences are incorporated in their cooking, with dishes such as Dominican Sancocho or Dominican Stew similar to Spanish Cocido. Pan de Maiz is their version of cornbread. Other must-try items are Pasteles en Hojas, which is Dominican Tamales wrapped in banana leaves, Dominican black bean soup, Cassava bread and chicharrones de pollo or fried chicken.
There are also many cosmopolitan dining choices available all over the city. Many of the best restaurants are found in the Colonial City, the Malecón, uptown and Gazcue. Various cuisines from all over the world are readily available in the capital city.
The Capitaleños know how to have fun. When the sun sets, the locals go dancing Merengue, Bachata and Salsa in various clubs and discos in the city. One of the most popular dance clubs in the city is Guacara Taina, a multi-level underground dance club in Mirador del Sur Park. After work, the locals head to the bars to have a drink and unwind, most of which are located at Avenida Abraham Lincoln, Roberto Pastoriza, the Malecón and Gustavo Mejia Ricart. Gambling is also available at hotel casinos.
Two major festivals are hosted in the capital city each year. The first is the Carnaval held in the spring, usually in the month of February and the second is Semana Santa, or Holy Week / Lenten Season. Carnaval has the distinction of being the biggest and most colorful celebration in the city and in the entire country, with more than 100,000 participants in the capital city alone. This is an unrivaled celebration that culminates on February 27, which coincides with the Independence Day of the country. Residents wear masks to represent spirits and don elaborate costumes while dancing down the streets of El Malecón. They also hit other celebrators with inflated bladders of cows and pigs as part of the merrymaking, to symbolize spiritual purging.
The people are passionate about their music and dance, especially Merengue and Bachata. Other folkloric dances are the Barcarola Criolla, a type of serenade, and these performances could be seen at the city’s performing arts venues. At the start of the year, there is the Cocolo Festival. Here, performers donning colorful costumes and are called “mummers” do street dancing to entertain the crowds. There is also the annual Merengue Festival held during the summer season around the last week of July, a festival that the city has been celebrating for more than three decades. Top merengue bands in the country perform free concerts to celebrate the country’s official dance, Merengue. When it comes to music, one of the biggest celebrations is the three-day Latin Music Festival held in the city every June. The Santo Domingo Olympic Stadium is the venue of this annual event.
It is very apparent that religion plays a central role in the lives of those living in Santo Domingo. Each area has a Fiesta Patronales, to honor their patron saint. San Miguel is regarded as the most important saint in the Dominican Republic and his feast day falls on September 29. Aside from Carnaval, Semana Santa is another honored holiday. The departed loved ones are remembered every November first on all Saint’s Day. Also, there are a number of churches in the city, such as the Iglesia de la Regina Angelorum, Iglesia de Santa Clara and Iglesia de San Lazaro.
Despite the heavy influence of Catholicism in the lives of the Capitaleños, folk beliefs are still rampant. Voodoo is still a major influence in the country, thanks to the large population of Haitian descendants, although it is not openly practiced, especially in the tourist areas.
The city of Santo Doming recognizes many national holidays to remember a number of important historical and cultural events in the country. Duarte Day is a national holiday, which celebrates the birth date of the country’s founding father every January 26. May 1 is recognized as Labor Day in the country. Every August 16, citizens celebrate Restoration Day, which commemorates the Declaration of War against the Spanish conquistadors. The discovery of the Americas is commemorated every October 12 as Columbus Day, with many celebrations occurring at the Faro a Colón and at the Santo Domingo Cathedral. Diversity is recognized every United Nations Day on October 24, while Constitution Day is every November 6, wherein the signing of the country’s first constitution in 1844 is remembered.
Many tourists find that one of the most festive times of the year to visit the city is during Christmastime. It is the peak season for Dominicans from around the world to come home and also the time when many weddings are held in the city. The city celebration of the holiday season is a month long, beginning in early December and ending on the Feast of the Three Kings during the first week of January. However, the most important religious celebration is the Procession of Our Lady of Altagracia-Higüey, which happens every January 21. Finally, New Year is celebrated with a lot of Salsa and Merengue dancing, partying and merrymaking.
There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the city of Santo Domingo. For more than five centuries, the city has played an integral role in the history, culture and economy of other countries in the Americas. Here are some interesting facts about Santo Domingo that would make you appreciate just how amazing this city is.
• The city of Santo Domingo is a city of many firsts. It is the first European city in the Americas. At the same time, the oldest university in the Americas is found here, as well as the oldest house, hospital and street. The first cathedral of the Americas is Catedral de Santa Maria la Menor, which dates back to 1540. The son of Christopher Columbus, Diego Columbus laid the first stone in the building of the church back in 1514.
• The city of Santo Domingo is known by many names. It is the Gateway to the Caribbean. The city was also briefly named Ciudad Trujillo, after the dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, between 1930 to 1961.
• Santo Domingo played a crucial role in the further exploration and colonization of the Americas. It is from the city that explorers set forth to discover new worlds. Ponce de Leon’s expedition took off from Santo Domingo, which led to the colonization of Puerto Rico. It was also from the city of Santo Domingo that Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar started his expedition that later led to the colonization of Cuba and the starting point where Hernando Cortés set forth to conquer Mexico. The expedition of Vasco Núñez de Balboa, which led to the sighting of the Pacific Ocean, also used Santo Domingo as the springboard.
• The country has one Archdiocese and a 500-person clergy. There is one priest for every 10,000 people in the country. This is the fourth highest clergy-to-citizen ratios is all of Latin America.
• The city is the center of education in the country, with the city of Santo Domingo having the most number of residents in the country with a higher education degree. The most number of universities in the country is in Santo Domingo, with 18 different universities in the capital city. Santo Domingo boasts of the oldest university in the region, the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo. The public university opened in 1538.
• Famous people who come from or have called Santo Domingo their home at one time or another are: actors Dania Ramirez, Aimee Carrero, Mirtha Michelle, Omahyra, José Guillermo Cortines and Amaury Batista; director Alfonso Rodriguez; musicians Chichi Peralta, Juan Luis Guerra and Julio Sabala; and world-renowned fashion designer Oscar de la Renta.
• Santo Domingo is a sister city or twin town to the following notable cities around the world: the cities of La Muela, Madrid, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Pontevedra in Spain; Sarasota and Providence in the United States; Toronto in Canada; Taipei in the Republic of China; Haifa in Israel; the European cities of Bern and Paris; and Latino cities of Bogota, Buenos Aires, Caracas, Curitiba, Guadalajara, Havana, Manaus and Quito.