A Walking Tour of Santo Domingo’s Old Town

April 21, 2011 by

Caribbean, Walking Tours

Santo Domingo teems with Spanish Colonial History, and nowhere is this more evident than in the city’s Zona Colonial, the district that comprises Santo Domingo’s Old Town. Here, cobblestone streets reminiscent of the French Quarter in New Orleans wind their way through this historic treasure trove of monuments, churches, and museums. Here, you’ll stroll down Calle Las Damas (Street of the Ladies), the first paved street in the Americas. Here, the sights and sounds of this thriving Dominican city come alive. To really get a feel for this area of the Domincan Republic, plan to spend at least a half a day seeing the sights, more for extended visits, shopping, and dining.

A View of the city from Fortaleza Ozama


Begin your tour of Zona Colonial at Fortaleza Ozama, set on a steep hill along the Rio Ozama. Built in 1502, this is the oldest colonial military building in the New World. One of the most impressive buildings inside the walled fortress is the Torre del Homenaje (Tower of Homage), a castlelike structure whose roof provides a breathtaking panoramic view of the city.

fortaleza ozama

Fortaleza Ozama

Across the river you can see the El Faro a Colón (Columbus Lighthouse), where some say the bones of Christopher Columbus are buried. If you have time, the lighthouse is worth a visit.


A Stroll along the Calle Las Damas

Exit Fortaleza Ozama and head north on Calle Las Damas, the oldest street in the New World. It’s an awe-inspiring street, to be sure, as it’s lined with some of the most stunning colonial buildings in Santo Domingo. At the north end of the street stand three buildings worth seeing. On your left is the Panteón de la Patria, built in 1747 as a Jesuit church. Today it holds the remains of many of the Dominican Republic’s political heroes and martyrs. Across the street is the Capilla de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, with its stately brick façade and triple-arched belfry. Just north is the Museo de las Cassa Reales, which holds tapestries and artifacts, tracing Santo Domingo’s history from 1492 to 1821.

Onto Alcázar de Colón

From Calle Las Damas, head west on Calle Las Mercedes, then turn north and wind your way up to the Alcázar de Colón (Alcazar of Columbus), the most extraordinary structure in Zona Colonial. The Gothic-Moorish palace was built around 1500 by Columbus’s son Diego, and now houses an astonishing museum filled with paintings, jewelry, tapestries, and 16th-century antiques. Downhill from the castle is Puerto de San Diego, which was building in 1571 and served as the main entrance into Santo Domingo. Just north of Alcázar de Colón is the Museo de las Atarazanas, which displays recovered treasures from hundreds of years of shipwrecks.

Alcazar de Colon

Alcázar de Colón

Shrines and Sites on Calle Arzobispo Meriño

Walk west two blocks from Alcázar de Colón to Calle Arzobispo Meriño. A walk north will take you to the Iglesia Santa Bárbara, a church and towered fortress that serves as a place to honor the military. Head south to visit a real treasure, the Amber World Museum. Inside, marvel at the engaging and oddly fascinating collection of animals and insects preserved in amber, as well as stunning amber jewelry and other trinkets. Nearby, on a hilltop, are the ruins of the Monasterio de San Francisco, the oldest monastery in the New World.

Keep walking south until you reach Parque Colón, the heart of the Zona Colonial. Across the park is the oldest cathedral in the Americas, the Catedral Primada de América. Embellished with a gold coral limestone façade, the Gothic church was begun in 1514 and finished in 1540. Just behind the cathedral is the Museo del Larimar, a museum dedicated to larimar, which is a blue pectolite stone found only in the Dominican Republic.

If You Have More Time…


Want to spend more time in Zona Colonial? Head down Calle El Conde, a bustling street that traverses the middle of Old Town. As you walk west, you’ll find a plethora of boutiques, galleries, jewelry stores, shops, restaurants, and street vendors. Inside the old buildings, shops sell a booty of local crafts, including wooden masks and carvings as well as local paintings. Walk west until you reach Parque Independencia, a popular gathering spot for locals.

– William Travis

Planning a trip? Browse Viator’s Dominican Republic things to do, Dominican Republic attractions, and Dominican Republic Recommendations.

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