Santo Domingo is the Dominican Republic’s historical capital combining Spanish colonial architecture with a laid-back Caribbean vibe. Most of the five million tourists who visit often stay along the coast and book one of the luxury rentals in Dominican Republic or resorts hardly leaving the tourist areas at all. But they’re missing out on a charming capital with affordable prices, lots of history and plenty of places to grab some Dominican food.
What Makes Santo Domingo Worth Visiting
Santo Domingo is historical. Christopher Columbus’s brother, Bartholomew Columbus, discovered the town in 1496. It has been continuously inhabited ever since. This is one of the oldest capitals in the Caribbean and has an impressive UNESCO-listed Colonial Zone filled with Spanish architecture. Attractions include the Cathedral, Alcazar de Colon, the Panteon Nacional and Puerta de la Independencia. There are also a number of museums dedicated to everything from naval history to 16th-century life. And one thing to appreciate when you’re walking around is that Christopher Columbus at one point walked along the same streets as you. If you’re studying while you travel, you will be learning everyday in such a rich historical destination.
The capital is famous for its nightlife too. You’ll find hundreds of bars and restaurants in the city serving everything from cheap beers to gourmet meals. Budget travellers will want to stick the first one! There are lots of nightclubs that tend to stay open until 3:00 am. However, be aware that regulations in 2006 prohibited bars to stay open after midnight to try to reduce the risk of crime. In recent years, this is more relaxed and more places stay open much later. The best thing to do is to ask a local when you have your feet on the ground.
Whether you’ve quit your job to travel the world or are on a quick vacation, cost matters! Budget travellers should be able to travel comfortably in Santo Domingo on less than $60 per day. If you’re particularly savvy and flexible when it comes to accommodation, the cost drops to $40 or less. Meals at local restaurants often cost less than $5. Public transport is slow, but very inexpensive and will get you around the city to the main attractions.
There’s one thing that catches first-time tourists off-guard. And that’s tax. Restaurants will often add an extra 18% onto the bill for tax and then a further 10% as a service fee charging a whopping 28% extra. Some places include the charges and others don’t, which means you may be faced with a bill almost a third higher than expected. Many hotels also have a 10% charge. Makes sure you’re aware of these before you pay for anything so you’re not caught off guard. Vendors and small local restaurants often won’t charge you this extra fee.
Money Saving Tips
Unfortunately, so many locals see tourists as walking ATMs. The country isn’t wealthy, and many people have to hustle to make a living. Asking a foreigner to pay an inflated price is much easier than trying to rip off a local. Whenever you’re out and about, you always need to be careful when you buy things without a fixed price. This includes souvenirs from the markets, tours and rides. It’s also essential to always ask for a menu before ordering food and make sure you know what the price is before handing over money.
The local currency in the Dominican Republic is the peso. But, when you arrive in the city, you may see people advertising in USD rather than the peso. Don’t be fooled by this tactic. After all, the only people in the country who would consider paying in dollars would be foreigners. And when something is aimed at tourists, the price is much higher. You should always pay using the local currency and be very wary of anyone who asks for dollars.
Taxis are notorious around the world for ripping off tourists. And those in Santo Domingo are certainly no exception. There are lots of unlicensed cabs driving around the streets hawking to the foreigners. Almost all will overcharge. Instead, use Uber. Uber is popular in the capital and the company not only has lower prices, but it’s also much safer.
If you’re visiting the Dominican Republic on a budget, what can be worse than losing your money, phone, camera and passport? Some of the neighbourhoods in the capital are very poor with high unemployment and low prospects for the future. When someone sees a tourist carrying expensive gadgets, it’s all too easy for them to try and snatch. Muggings and theft are commonplace in the Dominican Republic. While the island doesn’t have a reputation as bad as other Caribbean destinations like Jamaica or Trinidad and Tobago, you still need to exercise a lot of caution. The best way to stay safe it to be as low key as possible, which means leaving expensive things at home, and not going out after dark.
Another safety tip is to always take precautions after dark. Many of the streets are poorly lit and gangs like to linger around in some suburbs and neighbourhoods. If you want to go for a drink at the bar or one of the nightclubs, use Uber and avoid walking alone at night. This may sound like common sense, but any gangs who see a drunk tourist are quite likely to take advantage.
Santo Domingo on a Budget
The Dominican Republic is an expensive travel destination for budget travellers. But, if you’re savvy you can find lots of ways to cut costs. Backpackers often find the extra money to be worth it to walk along the historic capital and in the footsteps of Christopher Columbus!