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tips for experiencing the life and culture of this unique island nation  

Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo

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Guide to the Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo
The Zona Colonial (colonial zone), officially known as the Cuidad Colonial (colonial city) is the historic heart of Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic. There are over 300 historic buildings and museums, giving an unrivaled glimpse at the first European city of the New World. Strolling through the narrow cobbled streets is enough to transport you to a bygone era.

Santo Domingo was founded in 1498 on the banks of the Ozama River, by no other than Christopher Columbus. A large statue of the explorer (by French Sculptor Gilbert XIX) can be seen in the heart of the colonial zone at the Parque Colon (Columbus park). Surrounded by historic buildings and sidewalk dining, the park is a great place to grab a drink or a bite before exploring the historic area. The nautical inside of the Hard Rock Cafe makes for a relaxing place to enjoy a Presidente beer. There is also a gallery of exquisite amber jewelry on the park.

From Parque Colon, head down the bustling Calle del Conde. Once the social hub of Santo Domingo (the city’s first discoteques were along this street), the pedestrian-only El Conde is now a popular commercial center of souvenirs, Dominican and Haitian art, and clothes stores.

Close to the Parque Colon is the historic Catedral de Santa Maria la Menor, the first cathedral in the Americas (construction began in 1514). A fine example of Spanish colonial architecture, the inside is a blend of gothic, Spanish renaissance and baroque design.

After strolling down El Conde, meander along the Calle Las Damas (Ladies Street), past some fine colonial buildings. The Romanesque Nicolas de Ovando Hotel once lodged colonial governors, and is now home to a fine Sofitel hotel.

At the end of Las Damas is the large Plaza de Espana (Spanish Plaza), with the monumental Alcazar de Colon, once home to the Diego Columbus, the explorer’s son, and such famous conquistadors as Pizarro, Cortes, Balboa, and Ponce de Leon. The house contains a museum of colonial artifacts. The plaza itself makes for another great place to relax and grab a drink, and stare out to the Faro a Colon (Columbus lighthouse).

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