Getting all guagua’ed in Santo Domingo

The flight to Santo Domingo, DR, was a breeze, lasting only two short hours from Miami. Sitting in seat A1 on an American Airlines flight, I was too preoccupied with hot, lemon-scented towels, warm nuts, real silverware, individual cheese and charcuterie plates and premium cocktails served out of glassware to even notice we had taken off. The flight was one of only two times that I’ve flown first class (er, business class as they call it nowadays).

We landed in Santo Domingo, the capital, in the dead-heat of the afternoon. Thick, damp, heavy heat. Zika warnings in English. Vacationers’ tax line: Spanish. Customs & Immigration line: English. A cluster of taxi drivers: Spanish. Dominican Spanish, at that. Mi guagua esta por aqui (my guagua is this way). Guagua? The Dominicans don’t speak Spanish like us Mexicans, and there’s a big difference, I realized. Guagua (wah-wah) means a minivan taxi or small public bus.

It took us approximately 30 minutes in an old guagua with no air conditioning, a crazy driver and Merengue blasting from the radio to get to our destination. We had arrived.  The oldest permanent European settlement in the New World, the Colonial City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and right in the center of everything—where we wanted to be. A historical neighborhood, it’s both charming and gritty.

Experiencing la Zona Colonial

The Colonial City is always buzzing with energy. Calle del Conde is a pedestrian-only street that stretches the length of the neighborhood. Restaurants, bars, coffee shops and souvenir shops line the street, making it the perfect strolling spot for families, couples, dogs, cats and mostly pigeons.


The beautiful, tree-lined Calle del Conde guides you to the Malecon from the Colonial City.


Chad and I posing in front of Diego Colon’s old house

For about $10, we got a private tour of the Alcazar de Colon. It is a palace built for Diego Colon, the son of Christopher Columbus, when he became viceroy of La Espanola in 1509. Apparently, the structure is now only half the size of what it once was (thanks, Wikipedia).


Chad and I acting zany in Diego Colon’s ballroom


Calle las Damas (ladies’ street) is known to be the first paved road in the New World

Leading right into the Plaza Espanola, Calle las Damas got its name from the women of the court who would take their evening stroll along this route. Plaza Espanola (not pictured) features a lot of cool outdoor restaurants where you can grab a delicious dinner and drinks and people watch. It seems like everybody in town comes to Plaza Espanola around dusk to just walk, ride bikes and hang out.

Eat Like a Local

Villar Hermanos wasn’t nearby at all. It was just outside the Colonial City on Av. Independencia, in a quiet neighborhood tucked behind two big hotels that faced the Malecon (long street that faces the ocean). It’s not fancy, but it’s also not shabby. Somewhat cafeteria style, dishes are presented behind a glass counter, and you tell them how many scoops you want of whatever. You pay at the register, get your drink and take a seat. It was our first dinner in the Dominican Republic, and this is where we were told to go for good, 100% authentic Dominican food. And it didn’t disappoint.


The before: Chad’s mofongo

A dish borrowed from Puerto Rico, the mofongo is deeply rooted in the Dominican culinary culture. This one consisted of smashed plantain and bits of chicharron inside. It tasted how you might imagine—unsweetened plantain with meaty bits of fried pork. It was interesting, new and good.


The after: Chad’s mofongo

Boutique Hotel Palacio

We stayed at the Boutique Hotel Palacio, the residence of President Baez’s family from 1812-1914ish. At only $85 a night, this was one of the very few hotels in the Colonial City with a pool, AC, bar and lush, quiet courtyards.


The courtyard in our hotel, a relaxing place to lather on the OFF and have a drink before venturing out.


Chad enjoying the pristine pool with turf grass on the rooftop of our hotel.


The view from the rooftop pool. Old, whitewashed buildings, cobblestone streets and personal gardens are quintessential Dominican.

Santo Domingo is full of new experiences—Avenida Venezuela for nightlife, coffee at Calle del Conde, drinks in the Zona Colonial, grabbing fruit at a bodega. We had so many more experiences that I didn’t catch a picture of, but I hope to return again someday with a real camera in tow and lots of blogging on my mind.


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