Why you should go: friendly people, a lot to see within walking distance
Top sight: Zona Colonial
When you fly into Santo Domingo, catch a cab to Zona Colonial. This should cost you around $35. The airport is in the middle of nowhere (so it seems), and no buses stop there. You will notice quickly that Dominicans will always try to charge Americans more money for everything. There are many hostels around the town for $10-20 a night. I stayed at Casa Grande for $12 a night. It was huge! It had a rooftop pool, pool table, cable TV and was on a quiet street.
From there, we walked a little bit to Parque Colon, where a tall statue of Christopher Columbus stood in the middle of a park with benches and hundreds of pigeons. There are many locals standing around trying to sell you tours or other services, all which are over-priced, and you can do all on your own, (maybe with the exception of Tres Ojos, but I heard it was over-rated anyway). As I stood there, watching people take pictures, waiting for my turn, I noticed the pigeons weren’t afraid of the humans. People started holding their arms out and the birds would land right on them! So naturally, I had to try… not without my unicorn mask of course!
From there, I walked around on my own just to see what was around. Many locals try to hustle you into museums, and my Spanish isn’t great, so I always ask, “es gratis?,” is it free? Well, they typically are, but I learned in this country that nothing really is free. I started looking around on my own in Panteon Nacional. I tried translating it but was about to give up when a guide came up, and knew English. He immediately started rambling off facts, took pictures of me next to some of cool stuff. That’s when I realized, this bro is looking for a tip. Ugh… But then I thought to myself, I’ll probably learn a lot more this way, so I let him continue. (Don’t feel obligated to use them, there’s plenty of other tourists for them to bug). After I walked through the museum, he didn’t stop following me and guided me where to go next… apparently they will show you around the whole freaking city if you let them.
He told us about Calle Damas (Ladies Street), and then brought us to a Larimar store. The story behind the name of Larimar was interesting. The creators daughter’s name was Larisa, and “mar” means the sea, so he combined the two names to describe the gorgeous blue stone. This is another free place to visit. I probably wouldn’t have otherwise walked into it, but I’m glad I did. The store employee took us into the back to show us how the stones were polished, as well as (EEK!) black coral.
The guide waited for us to look around, probably in hopes of me buying something (and probably getting a percentage of my purchase), but I travel on a VERY small budget. I usually only buy shot glasses. So I left, and he kept following me, telling me more facts. I started to get irritated that I couldn’t be left alone because I prefer to look around without someone hovering over me. So I went to the bank to exchange the rest of my cash (which, naturally, had a MUCH better exchange rate than the airport) and I gave him 500 pesos (about 12 bucks) to leave me alone.
I continued on and back tracked to where I really wanted to go to in the first place, the Fortaleza Ozama (Fort Ozama) (also called “La Fortaleza” or “The Fortress”). I think it was about 80 pesos to get in. You can climb into the fort and see the old cannons. It wouldn’t be a tourist trap in the DR with out someone trying to hustle you out of money, so of course there’s more guides wanting to show you around. Well, I learned my lesson the first time, so I opted out. I walked around on my own and decided to look up the history on it when I got back to my hostel. From the top of the fort, I saw a large statue off in the distance, so I continued my journey towards it.
The Fray Antonio de Montesino Statue stands about 15 meters tall and was guarded, but free to enter. It gives a different perspective of the town. You can see the river and the light house from the top. The river was muddy brown, and filled with trash that washed ashore on the nearby beach. If you need a new pair of shoes, just walk around the shore and you’ll find something in your size.