Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic is one of the best vacation destinations in the Caribbean; full of modern sophistication, old world charm and of course the amazing tropical sandy beaches. One of its most interesting attractions is Zona Colonial (also known as Colonial City or Colonial Zone), the first settlement made by Christopher Columbus and the Spanish explorers during their discovery of the New World. This 3 square kilometer section of the city has been amazingly preserved and is home to the Western Hemisphere’s first cathedral, first monastery, first hospital, first university and first court of law. Visitors will enjoy exploring the zone, discovering dozens of historical buildings and sites including forts, palaces, museums and more.
A guaranteed highlight during a visit to the Zona Colonial is the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor; the oldest cathedral in the Americas features a beautiful combination of Gothic and Baroque design elements including a magnificent high altar that has been chiseled out of silver. Some historians also believe that the remains of Christopher Columbus used to rest in the cathedral until being moved to the Columbus Lighthouse (there is also another school of thought that believes his remains are at the Cathedral of Seville in Spain, DNA tests taken in 2003 were inconclusive), a monument built in tribute to him in nearby Santo Domingo Este. Another highlight has to be the Alcázar de Colón (Columbus Alcazar), a palace built under Diego Colón, the son of Christopher Columbus, when he became Viceroy of La Española and the Indies in 1509. During the early Spanish colonial period this mansion was a very important place, with many expeditions of conquest and exploration being planned here. Over time as its influence diminished, the home fell into ruins and by the mid-eighteenth century was in danger of rotting away until it was rescued and extensively restored over two years beginning in 1955. Today, although about half the size it once was, the Alcázar de Colón is the most visited museum in Santo Domingo.
Make sure you check out the impressive Fortaleza Ozama on the edge of the zone as it stands guard overlooking the Ozama River. This sixteenth-century castle, also called La Fortaleza or The Fortress, located at the end of Las Damas street has an amazing medieval style and design with its main tower standing in the center of the grounds. Originally designed to guard the entrance to the port of Santo Domingo, it was later used as a prison until the 1960s when it was restored and opened to the public as a tourist attraction. Zona Colonial was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1990 because of its vast historical importance and the impact it had on town planning in the New World. Its grid pattern design became the model for almost all town planners during this time period. With so many sights to see and a variety of restaurants, bars and shops surrounding you, Colonial City in Santo Domingo is the great place to spend an enjoyable day out and about.