Day Trip from Punta Cana to Santa Domingo

Hello everyone, it has been a while hasn’t it? Well Happy New Year and God Bless. In my first Article for the New Year I have decided to share with you an experience from my recent trip to the Dominican Republic. Yes, I went to the DR 😄.

My brother and I planned a trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and we stayed at an All Inclusive Hotel for almost a week. While there we decided we wanted to go on a few excursions, two to be exact because we only had a few days; the Adventure Boogies which included ATV riding and A day trip to Santo Domingo. I’m sure from the title you already know which one I will be talking about in this article 😊.

A Little Background

Santa Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic and is one of the oldest cities in the Caribbean. It was founded by Bartholomew Columbus the brother of Christopher Columbus in 1496. It sits at the Southeastern part of the Island of Hispaniola ( a Caribbean island made up of both Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and holds some of the oldest Cathedrals in history. It has a population of over 3 million people and it’s a city filled with history and culture.

The Journey

The trip to Santo Domingo was an all day event. We had to get to the pickup up point by 6:30 a.m. so we were basically up at about 4:00 a.m. to make sure we had enough time to get ready and have breakfast before the bus arrived. We were told it would be a 2 hour drive but it turned out to be about 3 hours. Part of the reason, however, was because the bus stopped at another hotel to pick up passengers, but that wasn’t until after a good 90 minutes or so of driving.

The drive was ok, we were on an air conditioned motorcoach with just a few people. We had a tour guide who narrated and was able to give us a lot of information about the country, like, for example, how the country is connected to Haiti and Haitians would come over to seek work. While driving we could see a lot of them by the side of the road waiting to be picked up for work and the guide advised that some would get jobs to work in construction or at the sugar cane factories.

Also, while riding along there was a lot of sightseeing, we were able to see other towns, rivers, universities, sugar cane factories and more. The tour guide was very informative and provided the information to us in 3 different languages; Spanish, English, and what I believe to be French.

Places We Visited

Once in Santa Domingo we were guided to different significant locations. The first place we stopped was the Columbus Lighthouse.

Columbus Lighthouse

In front of Columbus Lighthouse

The Columbus Lighthouse or Faro a Colon in Spanish, is not like any lighthouse you have seen. It is a mausoleum monument in Santa Domingo dedicated to Christopher Columbus. The building is shaped into a cross which is hard to notice standing on the ground but can be seen from an aerial view. Once inside you will find that it is not only a mausoleum, but also a museum and It is said that the remains of Christopher Columbus are there in the mausoleum. So why is it called a lighthouse? my guess is because it has 150 lamps at the upper part of the monument which can project a large illuminated cross across the sky at night.

We didn’t stay long there because the tour guide only gave us a few minutes to take pictures and return to the bus, but if you are planning a self guided tour of the city you will have the opportunity to go inside and observe more closely.

Columbus Palace

Columbus Palace

Afterwards, we were back on the bus where we continued our journey. Our next stop was Columbus Palace or Alcazar de Colon which was once the home of Christopher Columbus’ son Diego Columbus and his wife Maria de Toledo. It is one of the most notable museums in Santo Domingo. The design of the Palace is a combination of both gothic and renaissance flair. From the palace you can view the Plaze de Espana and the Ozama River with the Terminal Don Diego right across the street.

When you arrive you are broken up into groups based on what language you speak, so there was a group for English, Spanish, and there may have been one for Portuguese I believe or French (that one I am not sure of). The guide then gave us a tour of each part of the museum and spoke about its history. During the tour you will discover original furniture, art and more from the 16th century.

By the way this was where our bus left us and for the rest of the tour we had to go on foot.

Museum of the Royal Houses

Carriage located at the Museum of the Royal Houses

Just a short walk from the Columbus Palace is the Museum of the Royal Houses or Museo de las Casas Reales. This was once the Royal Court of the Governor of Spain. Today at the museum you can learn about the history of the Dominican Republic as you travel through different periods of the past with exhibits of slavery, replicas of the ships used during Columbus’ many voyages, historical transportation, and weapons and armory of the past and also learn about the equipment used in sugar production.

At the Museum of the Royal Houses, we were also broken up into groups and had a tour guide, but I got left behind because I was so caught up in observing the different artifacts. I could not find my group and most of the staff standing around couldn’t speak English very well, so I did the rest of the tour of the museum by myself.

Pantheon Of the Fatherland

Inside View of Pantheon of the Fatherland

After leaving the Museum of the Royal Houses we were lead on a tour down the streets of the Colonial Zone or Zona Colonial also called Cuidad Colonial meaning Colonial City. So named because this is where Columbus Settled in the New World. We walked down historical streets, viewed notable buildings and visited major churches.

The first church we visited was the Pantheon de La Patria or in English Pantheon of the Fatherland, it is actually a mausoleum that was once a Jesuit Church. Inside has the look of a church, but you will also find tombs on each side. Don’t worry there are no bodies in them but there are names written on them of significant people who played a part in the building of the Dominican Republic. It became the DR’s national Mausoleum in 1956.

First Cathedral of the Americas

The next place we went was to the oldest church, the First Cathedral of the Americas or in Spanish Catedral Primada de las Americas and that’s just one of its names. It goes by a few other names and longer names. Although over 500 years old, this cathedral is still a prominent place of worship in the city of Santo Domingo. It’s believed to be the oldest church in the Western Hemisphere. The first stone was laid by Diego Columbus in 1514, but due to delays it was not completed until 1541.

Inside view of The First Cathedral of the Americas

Outside of the Cathedral you are given small transmitter devices, some in English and some in Spanish. The devices are for when you enter to narrate about the different objects and sections you will find inside. As you tour the inside of the church you will find, smaller chapels off to the side, images of Jesus, tombs, art work and you can’t help but gasp at the design of the building itself especially the ceiling. Ladies are not allowed to go inside with with shorts or minis, if you have that on, one of the attendants will give you a piece of cloth to wrap around your waist.

The building has three doorways, one of which opens up to Columbus Park or Parque Colon where you will find a statue of Christopher Columbus pointing into yonder.

Buche Perico Restaurant

The highlight of the trip for me was the lunch that was included. We went to a small restaurant called Buche Perico located around the corner from Columbus Park. While the food was decent the ambiance of the restaurant was even better. It was as if we were sitting and eating in a garden, with the sounds of water cascading down the rocks. I even picked up a new recipe.

After enjoying a lunch of rice, chicken, with a side of salad and dessert, the tour guide told us we were going to “the market” which I thought would be a big place with multiple vendors selling different items, but was just a huge store where you can buy all the gifts and souvenirs you could find.

National Palace

Once we were finished shopping we walked for a bit more to wait for our bus. Once we were back on, we drove some more around Santo Domingo until we arrived at the National Palace or Palacio Nacional. The National Palace is the governmental seat of the Dominican Republic. The house of the President, however, per the tour guide, the president does not live there but goes there for general affairs. We were not able to go inside, but had to observe from outside the gates, the property was heavily guarded.

Outside of the National Palace

When we were finished taking our pictures we headed back into the direction of our hotel, except we had one last place to visit. We visited Mabel Chocolate – Choco Punto in La Ramona where we got to sample chocolate and someone came in and told us about the different types and how they are processed. There you can make purchases of the different type of cacao products available. In another section of the store you can also find natural products for hair and body and just next door in the same plaza there is a Vega Fina Cigar Factory. The Vega Fina Cigar brand is actually made in the Dominican Republic.

So that is how we spent our day in Santo Domingo, learning about the history while we toured the Colonial City on foot. While touring we also got to see what the people were like. We came across vendors that wanted to make some money, just keep and eye on them because they can come off a bit aggressive. We also saw school children on field trips, spotted a Pizza Hut and realized that they deliver their pizzas on bikes unlike here in the U.S. and we also saw the beautiful ocean. While there are no beaches in Santo Domingo the closest beach in Boca Chica is not very far away, it is approximately 19 miles east of the center of Santo Domingo.

The country does have some fine chocolate and their national drink is the Mama Juana – an alcoholic beverage made by infusing spirits with herbs, tree bark, and honey. Also everywhere we went someone was selling a piece of jewelry with the DR’s national stone called Larimar.