We recently wrote about why Mexico City should be on your travel bucket list. This week, The Escape Home’s Nicole Perrino writes about another capital city that is often overlooked in favor of all-inclusive resorts (which, yes, are beautiful, but tend to be … culturally bland?).
The Dominican Republic has no shortage of beautiful beaches, all-inclusive resorts and fun excursions, but if you’re thinking of planning a trip beyond just the beach resorts, consider a stay in Ciudad Colonial, aka Zona Colonial. (Also, it’s just a four-hour, less-than-$400 flight from New York City.)
Located in the capital Santo Domingo, Zona Colonial (Colonial Zone) is the first European district in the New World and home to historic buildings, museums, beautiful restaurants, and an abundance of nightlife options. Consider renting an Airbnb or staying at a boutique hotel in the area and experiencing both touristy and local activities during your stay.
The great thing about staying in an Airbnb in the Zona Colonial is that you can experience living in a beautiful historic home and can also cook some of your own meals. After checking in, hit up Supermercados Nacional in El Conde and stock the fridge with necessities. Then, get familiar with your nearest Colmado (corner store) because that’s where you’ll be stopping in for beer, liquor, snacks and water. In the Dominican Republic, you’ll often see a five-gallon water jug in the kitchen with a pump, along with a pitcher to keep some cold in the fridge. Once the water runs out, you can bring the jug to your local Colmado and have a new one delivered.
If a hotel is more your speed, there is no shortage of beautiful boutique hotels in the area. One worth checking out is the Billini Hotel. Located in a 16th-century building, this avant-garde designed hotel boasts a beautiful rooftop pool with views overlooking a stunning church of the same century. There’s also a cute cafe downstairs where you can sit each morning for your daily cappuccino.
Bars & Restaurants
The best part of staying in the Colonial Zone is the walking distance to endless restaurant and bar options. There is also certainly no shortage of teteo —the term locals use for partying and just generally having a good time. There are plenty of clubs and places to dance as well. Some places worth checking off the list:
Maraca. This art deco style Carribean restaurant is worthy of a date night while in Santo Domingo. Every corner of this restaurant is photo-worthy including the bathrooms.
La Alpargateria. If you’re looking for a hidden gem, look no further. This shoe store also boasts a hidden backyard oasis with a tapas bar.
La Casa del Ron Tasting Terrace. This rooftop cocktails and tapas bar overlooks the first church of the Americas, so it’s a great way to sample Dominican rum with a historic view.
Buche Pericho. You can choose to sit outside and enjoy the view of El Conde, or head to the back greenhouse oasis at this contemporary gastronomic restaurant offering Dominican cuisine. Complete with a waterfall and an original oven from when it was a foundry, be sure to look down as there are parts you can look through the glass and see the original flooring.
If you decide to rent a car during your stay, depending on the distance you’re willing to travel, there are a number of beach options on the southern part of the island. The public beaches in the Dominican Republic work a bit differently than when staying at a resort. Rather than lounge chairs, most will have a table with chairs to rent — and you can usually order food and drinks. Be sure to order a fried snapper with tostones at least once during your visit.
Tip: We typically head to another Airbnb in Bavaro, Punta Cana, so that we can enjoy a beach stay for a day or two since it’s a 2.5 hour drive.
Boca Chica. This is the closest beach to the capital, around 40 minutes away, Boca Chica is known for its beautiful blue shallow water and is a popular respite for locals. If you want to avoid the crowded public beach, opt for one of the restaurants where you can jump into the water right after your meal, like El Pelicano Beach Club.
Playa Caribe. If you’re a good swimmer, this half-moon shaped beach is known for its rough waves but picturesque views. Bring pesos or pack a lunch as there is only one spot to order fresh fish and cold beer. It’s just around 15 minutes away from Boca Chica, so you can do both on the same day if you want.
Playa Dominicus. This happens to be my favorite beach of all of the public beaches on the south side of the island. It’s a very small strip of public beach with tables or lounge chairs for rent, and a few restaurants and souvenir shops. The water is the most beautiful blue, and there is far less seaweed than in Punta Cana during the summer months. At a little less than two hours away, the public beach area is nestled between several resorts with private beach access if you want to make a night of it.
Playa Najayo. Located in San Cristobal, this beach is an hour in the opposite direction and will give you the opportunity to see more of the campo (countryside). Here you will find locals lounging in the shade of the various beachside restaurants, enjoying fried fish with ice-cold Presidentes. There are also tubes for rent if you want to float the afternoon away.
Museums and attractions
And of course, the great thing about being in the Colonial Zone is the number of museums and other attractions within walking distance. Simply stroll around and you will easily locate more of the historic forts and landmarks, but some other ideas include:
Kahkow Experience. Learn all about Dominican cacao trees in this 2-hour experience. There are also chocolate-making classes and a Kahkow with drinks, desserts and snacks.
Scooter rentals. All around the Colonial Zone you’ll find scooter rental places where you can rent for around $6 for an hour. This is a fun way to explore the area and see potential places to visit during your stay.
Art galleries. Spend an afternoon strolling the Zona Colonial and stopping into various art galleries along the way.
These are just a few ideas to get you started on planning your trip to the Zona Colonial in the Dominican Republic. Travel tip: Using Google maps is a great way to create a bucket list of places you’d like to visit based on photos and reviews by other visitors.