The Caribbean’s Hidden City

Above: Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone (All photos by CJ)

By Alexander Britell

SANTO DOMINGO — Everything here is hidden.

Inside these venerable old structures are great little hotels and restaurants. But you don’t notice them. You walk right by them. Then you backpedal.

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As a city, many travelers walk right by Santo Domingo, heading for San Juan on the next island over or to the beach towns of the north coast of the Dominican Republic.

But it is time to backpedal.

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For this is one of the great places in the Caribbean, with a hidden city of its own: Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone.

It is the extant core of the oldest city in the New World, full of 500-year-old buildings and secrets. But, with all the years that have flowed by, it requires time.

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You will not understand it in an hour or on a tour. Like any great archaeological wonder, it requires digging.

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Above; El Beaterio, a bed-and-breakfast

You start by walking up and down the Conde and stop in for an espresso at Nao Bari, and then some cacao beans at the Museo de Cacao.

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And then you must explore. And not the Columbian structures, the homes of Cristobal’s relatives.

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Above: the ultra-modern Hotel Bellini

It’s about the corners, the quieter corners of the city, where small inns begin to emerge and tiny galleries reveal themselves.

There you find that rare quality in a Caribbean city — quiet.

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But these districts of the Zona Colonial are quiet not because of the dearth of cars, but because the noise is weighed down by the years, the air pulled to the ground by the centuries.

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You walk by, then look inside, then wonder if there’s anything there at all.

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And there is. A rum bar here. A Creole place there. A hotel you swore did not exist a minute ago when you passed by.

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And then you turn around.

— CJ

 

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