Feb 9, 2014

Visiting Santo Domingo - first permanent European settlement in the Americas

Sometimes we are very lucky when we book a hotel and that was the case with our hotel in Santo Domingo.  The Hotel Atarazana is a boutique hotel that was once a private home but the best part was its location in the colonial center of 
Santa Domingo so it was a short walk to all the places we wanted to visit. Also, the owners, Susanne and her husband, along with the entire staff were very helpful.  Susanne was especially helpful in hooking us up with a private driver, Jesus, who was able to connect us smoothly from our resort to the hotel and to the airport.

I think it is amazing to walk the same streets walked by Christopher Columbus.  We say that Columbus “discovered America” but, of course, there were people living in the “New World” before the Europeans arrived and Columbus never made it to what is now the United States. Regardless, his voyages changed the world. 

We took the train-like trolley tour of the colonial center.  They

advertise 500 years of history in 45 minutes.  It was a good overview and told the complicated story about Columbus’ current burial site which they claim today is in a huge building called The Lighthouse.  Jokers like to say Columbus did most of his traveling after he died. There is a statue honoring Columbus in the Parque Colon that faces the Hard Rock Café – 500 years of history! There are also several restaurants with patio dining making it a great people-watching area.  Yes, there were vendors but they were not annoying.  Mostly they were selling paintings – too big to pack in a suitcase.  What were they thinking?

We toured the home of Diego, Columbus’ son, who was Viceroy to the Indies and the Museo de las Casa Reales, which originally housed the royal court and other administrative offices. The bottom floor is mainly a museum devoted to the founding and development of the Dominican Republic.

There is a great chocolate museum where visitors can learn about
chocolate and its relationship to the Dominican Republic. There are several shops (some try to call themselves museums) that feature amber, lamier (a turquoise-like stone) and cigars. The main street through the colonial center called El Conde is closed to vehicular traffic so it is a great place to just wander and window shop. 

One day we hired a taxi to take us to Los Tres Ojos (The Three Eyes in English). It is a large limestone cave with three little lakes in Mirador del Este Park. Luckily our driver told us that hiring a guide was not necessary. There really was nothing to explain we understand stalagmites and stalactites.  There were a lot of steps so we could mosey along at our own pace.  At one spot there was a raft-like boat to take us to another lake.  It was a cenote or sinkhole. It was like a paradise with sun shining and the area draped in greenery. 

In the late afternoon we would stop at one of the restaurants on the El Conte and order take out.  Back at Atarazana we would take our food to the roof where there were café tables and chairs and huge lounges.  We could see Diago’s house and the Lighthouse across the river. It was the perfect place to relax, cool off, and watch the sun set.