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Info Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo officially Santo Domingo de Guzmán, is the capital and largest city in the Dominican Republic and the largest city in the Caribbean by population.
The population of the city is of 1,506,233 by 2016 and of 3,891,788 when its metropolitan area was included.
Founded by Bartholomew Columbus in 1496, on the east bank of the Ozama River and then moved by Nicolás de Ovando in 1502 to the west bank of the river, the city is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas, and was the first seat of the Spanish colonial rule in the New World.
Santo Domingo is the site of the first university, cathedral, castle, monastery, and fortress in the New World. The city's Colonial Zone was declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Santo Domingo was called Ciudad Trujillo, from 1936 to 1961, after the Dominican Republic's dictator, Rafael Trujillo, named the capital after himself. Following his assassination, the city resumed its original designation.
Santo Domingo is the cultural, financial, political, commercial and industrial center of the Dominican Republic, with the country’s most important industries being located within the city. Santo Domingo also serves as the chief seaport of the country. The city's harbor at the mouth of the Ozama River accommodates the largest vessels, and the port handles both heavy passenger and freight traffic.
Temperatures are high year round, with a cool breeze around winter time.
|POPULATION :||City: 1,506,233 / Metro: 3,891,788|
|TIME ZONE :||Standard Time Caribbean (UTC – 4:00)|
|RELIGION :||Roman Catholic 68.9%, Protestant 18.2%, None 10.6%, Other 2.3%|
|AREA :||104.44 km2 (40.32 sq mi) / Metro 2,696.69 km2 (1,041.20 sq mi)|
|ELEVATION :||14 m (46 ft)|
|COORDINATES :||18°28′N 69°57′W|
|SEX RATIO :||• Male: 50.02 |
• Female: 49.98%
|ETHNIC :||mixed 73%, white 16%, black 11%|
|AREA CODE :||809, 829, 849|
|POSTAL CODE :||10100–10699 (Distrito Nacional) / 10700–11999 (Santo Domingo)|
|DIALING CODE :||+1809|
Founded by Christopher Columbus's brother Bartolome Colombus in 1496, it is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas and was the first seat of the Spanish colonial empire in the New World. For this reason, the city of Santo Domingo has a really rich historic and cultural heritage that makes any visit extremely worth it. Nowadays, it remains one of the most populous cities in the Central America-Caribbean area, and the main economic and commercial center of this region. The country suffered 31 years of a brutal dictatorship by Trujillo, during which time the city was called "Ciudad Trujillo".
The city is divided into two parts by the Ozama River. The western side is very developed economically, while the eastern part, known as "Santo Domingo Este," has historically lagged behind.
The most important tourist destination of the city is the Zona Colonial or Colonial Zone, on the western bank of the river and facing the Caribbean Sea. To the west of the Zona Colonial lies Gazcue, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, filled with old Victorian houses and tree-lined streets. The city's waterfront George Washington Avenue, known as "El Malecon," borders the Caribbean Sea and attracts many tourists because of its hotels, casinos, palm-lined boulevards and monuments. Surrounding the Gazcue area you will find the Palacio Nacional (seat of the Dominican government), the National Theater, the Museums in the Plaza de la Cultura, and the Palace of Fine Arts.
In the central part of western Santo Domingo lies the economic and commercial heart of the city, in an area known as the "Poligono Central" and delimited by the 27 de Febrero, John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill and Maximo Gomez avenues. This high-income area remains rather unexplored by tourists, despite offering most of the best dining and shopping available in the city. Many of the city's most affluent neighborhoods surround the city's two main parks, the Parque Mirador Sur in the South and the Jardin Botanico in the North.
In the more populated but less developed East Santo Domingo you will find other major monuments and tourist spots, such as Columbus's Lighthouse, where the explorer's remains are buried, the open caves of the Parque Nacional Los Tres Ojos, and the National Aquarium.
This all makes of Santo Domingo a cosmopolitan, vibrant and bustling city with very distinct neighborhoods and ambiances, all worth a visit, and providing the most diverse cultural experiences.
Prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, the native Taíno people populated the island which they called Quisqueya (mother of all lands) and Ayiti (land of high mountains), and which Columbus later named Hispaniola, including the territory of today's Republic of Haiti. At the time, the island's territory consisted of five chiefdoms: Marién, Maguá, Maguana, Jaragua, and Higüey.
Dating from 1496, when the Spanish settled on the island, and officially from 5 August 1498, Santo Domingo became the oldest European city in the Americas.
Bartholomew Columbus founded the settlement and named it La Nueva Isabela, after an earlier settlement in the north named after the Queen of Spain Isabella I. In 1495 it was renamed "Santo Domingo", in honor of Saint Dominic. Santo Domingo came to be known as the "Gateway to the Caribbean" and the chief town in Hispaniola from then on. Expeditions which led to Ponce de León's colonization of Puerto Rico, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar's colonization of Cuba, Hernando Cortes' conquest of Mexico, and Vasco Núñez de Balboa's sighting of the Pacific Ocean were all launched from Santo Domingo.
In June 1502, Santo Domingo was destroyed by a major hurricane, and the new Governor Nicolás de Ovando had it rebuilt on a different site on the other side of the Ozama River. The original layout of the city and a large portion of its defensive wall can still be appreciated today throughout the Colonial Zone, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
In 1586, Francis Drake captured the city and held it for ransom. Drake's invasion signaled the decline of Spanish dominion over Hispaniola, which was accentuated in the early 17th century by policies that resulted in the depopulation of most of the island outside of the capital. An expedition sent by Oliver Cromwell in 1655 attacked the city of Santo Domingo, but was defeated. The English troops withdrew and took the less guarded colony of Jamaica, instead. In 1697, the Treaty of Ryswick included the acknowledgement by Spain of France's dominion over the Western third of the island, now Haiti.
From 1795 to 1822 the city changed hands several times along with the colony it headed. The city was ceded to France in 1795 after years of struggles, it was briefly captured by Haitian rebels in 1801, recovered by France in 1802, and was once again reclaimed by Spain in 1809.
In 1821 Santo Domingo became the capital of an independent nation after the Criollo bourgeois within the country, led by José Núñez de Cáceres, overthrew the Spanish crown. The nation was unified with Haiti just two months later. The city and the colony lost much of their Spanish-born peninsular population as a result of these events which caused a great deal of instability and unrest.
On February 27, 1844 Santo Domingo was again the capital of a free nation, when it gained its independence from Haitian occupation, led by Dominican nationalist Juan Pablo Duarte. The city was a prize fought over by various political factions over the succeeding decades of instability. In addition, the country had to fight multiple battles with Haiti; the Battle of March 19, Battle of March 30, Battle of Las Carreras, and Battle of Beler, are a few of the most prominent encounters, mentioned in the national anthem and with city streets named after them. In 1861 Spain returned to the country, having struck a bargain with Dominican dictator Pedro Santana whereby the latter was granted several honorific titles and privileges, in exchange for annexing the young nation back to Spanish rule. The Dominican Restoration War began in 1863 however, and in 1865 the country was free again after Spain withdrew.
Over the next two-thirds of a century Santo Domingo and the Dominican Republic went through many revolutions, power changes, and occupation by the United States, 1916–24. The city was struck by hurricane San Zenón in 1930, which caused major damage. After its rebuilding, Santo Domingo was known officially as Ciudad Trujillo in honor of dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, who governed from 1930. Following his assassination in 1961 the city was renamed back to Santo Domingo. It was the scene of street fighting during the 1965 United States occupation of the Dominican Republic.
The year 1992 marked the 500th anniversary, El Quinto Centenario, of Christopher Columbus' Discovery of America. The Columbus Lighthouse – Faro a Colón – was erected in Santo Domingo in honor of this occasion, with an approximate cost of 400 million Dominican pesos.
The average temperature in Santo Domingo varies little, because the tropical trade winds help mitigate the heat and humidity throughout the year. Thanks to these trade winds, Santo Domingo has a tropical climate but seldom experiences the heat that one may expect to find.
December through March are the coolest months and July through September are the warmest.
Santo Domingo averages 1,445 millimetres (56.9 in) of rain annually. Its driest months are from November through April, however, due to the trade winds and mountains to the southwest, rain is seen even during these months.
Like many other cities in the Caribbean, Santo Domingo is very susceptible to hurricanes. The lowest recorded temperature has been 13.0 °C (55.4 °F) and the highest 39.5 °C (103.1 °F).
|Record high °C (°F)||32.5|
|Average high °C (°F)||29.2|
|Daily mean °C (°F)||24.4|
|Average low °C (°F)||19.6|
|Record low °C (°F)||13.0|
|Source #1: World Meteorological Organization|
The Ozama river flows 148 kilometres (92 miles) before emptying into the Caribbean Sea. Santo Domingo's position on its banks was of great importance to the city's economic development and the growth of trade during colonial times. The Ozama River is where the country's busiest port is located.
The city is the center of economic activity in the Dominican Republic. It is where most of the country's wealth is concentrated and also where everything related to politics occurs. Many national and international firms have their headquarters or regional offices in Santo Domingo. The city attracts many international firms and franchises such as Ikea, Goldcorp and Barrick due to its geographic location and economic stability.
The infrastructure is suitable for most business operations. A key element that has helped the city grow and compete globally is the telecommunications infrastructure. The Dominican Republic has a modern telecommunications system due to its privatization and integration with the U.S. systems. This has attracted numerous call centers in recent years. Santo Domingo not only has an excellent telecommunications infrastructure but also a sizeable bilingual population that speaks English.
The city's economic growth has been very noticeable in recent years. The construction boom is reflected in luxury residential towers, shopping malls, elevated highways, the metro expansion and an increase in commercial activity.
Santo Domingo has a thriving middle class but it also has pockets of poverty located on the outskirts of the city. Areas of high income families are found in the central Polygon of the city, which is bordered by the Avenida John F. Kennedy northward February 27 Avenue south, Avenida Winston Churchill to the west and Avenida Máximo Gómez to the east, and is characterized by its mostly residential area and its very active nightlife.
Santo Domingo has areas of high development, among them Serralles, Naco, Arroyo Hondo, Piantini, Urb Fernandez, " Ens. Juliet, Paradise, The Prairies, Los Prados, Bella Vista, Sarasota and other sectors, which consist mostly of costly buildings and luxury houses, contrasting with the outskirts of the city as Gualey and Capotille which are significantly less economically developed .
Bella Vista and La Esperilla are currently the fastest growing sectors with large mega -projects. Gazcue belongs to the more traditional southeastern area of the city and is known for its buildings dating from the 1930s to the 1960s.
The city's shopping centers are located primarily on Avenida Winston Churchill, where there are places such as Acropolis Center, Blue Mall, and large supermarkets. It is also the home of the largest commercial banks, such as Banco Popular Dominicano, Scotiabank, Citibank, Banco BHD, Banco del Progreso, Banreservas, among others. February 27 Avenue is very commercially successful and is considered the most important avenue of the city. The oldest malls in the country are Plaza Central and Plaza Naco, the latter served as the first shopping center in the city. Bella Vista Mall is one of the newest malls built in the city, which attracts many high-income families. The city has an established securities market in the late 90s.
The city proper of Santo Domingo is subdivided into incorporated areas (neighbourhoods) called sectores which could be considered as small urban towns. All sectores are serviced directly by the municipal mayor's office.
- Ciudad (city) - applies to the original older parts of town, many of which date back to the colonial times.
- Ensanche (lit. "widening") - usually, but not always, applied to the more "modern" parts of the city.
- Villa (village) - the urban outskirts of both the old city of Santo Domingo and the current (smaller) National District; originally they were separate villages, hence their names.
Prices in Santo Domingo
MARKET / SUPERMARKET
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||$1.90|
|Bottle of Wine||1 bottle||$7.80|
|Dinner (Low-range)||for 2||$30.00|
|Dinner (Mid-range)||for 2||$46.00|
|Dinner (High-range)||for 2||$62.00|
|Mac Meal or similar||1 meal||$7.00|
|Beer (Imported)||0.33 l||$3.30|
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||$2.20|
|Coctail drink||1 drink||$8.00|
|Men’s Haircut||1 haircut||$7.00|
|Mobile (prepaid)||1 min.||$0.20|
|Pack of Marlboro||1 pack||$3.60|
|Toilet paper||4 rolls||$2.45|
CLOTHES / SHOES
|Jeans (Levis 501 or similar)||1||$60.00|
|Dress summer (Zara, H&M)||1||$45.00|
|Sport shoes (Nike, Adidas)||1||$100.00|
|Local Transport||1 ticket||$0.60|
43 $ per day
Estimated cost per 1 day including:
- meals in cheap restaurant
- public transport
- cheap hotel
201 $ per day
Estimated cost per 1 day including:
- mid-range meals and drinks
Transportation - Get In
- Las Americas International Airport (Located: Greater Santo Domingo). (IATA: SDQ) is located approximately 15 minutes from the greater metropolitan area and around 30 minutes from the city center. The airport offers several transportation options, including all major American car rental firms.
Direct flights from: Atlanta, Boston, New York, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Philadelphia, Panama City, San Jose Costa Rica, San Juan Puerto Rico, Havana, Port-au-Prince, Caracas, Paris, Madrid, Frankfurt, Munich and Düsseldorf and surrounding Caribbean islands.
Airfare to Santo Domingo may vary widely depending on season and demand. A round trip ticket from Boston or New York ranges anywhere from US$300 to US$700, with fares from Miami or San Juan only slightly lower.
Airfare from most cities in Latin America cost between US$400 and US$1,000 and require layovers in Panamá City, Panamá (Copa Airlines) or San José, Costa Rica (Avianca).
- La Isabela International Airport (Located: Greater Santo Domingo). (IATA: JBQ)
- Punta Cana International Airport (Located: Punta Cana / Higüey City). (IATA: PUJ)
- La Romana International Airport (Located: La Romana City). (IATA: LRM)
- Cibao International Airport (Located: Santiago de los Caballeros City). (IATA: STI)
- Gregorio Luperón International Airport (Located: Puerto Plata City). (IATA: POP)
- El Catey International Airport (Located: Sánchez City). (IATA: AZS)
- María Montez International Airport (Located: Barahona City). (IATA: BRX)
Taxis charge anywhere from US$25 to US$40 for the drive from the airport into Santo Domingo.
There is ferry service to and from Mayaguez as well as San Juan, Puerto Rico. It costs around US $200 roundtrip and the overnight journey last 12 hours. For an additional fee, you can bring your car along for the ride. The former company, Ferries del Caribe is now out of business and the new provider is called America Cruise Ferries. [www]
Sansouci is a state-of-the-art terminal that holds up to 3800 passengers+luggage. From there you can get a taxi or a tour, and there is also an ATM, gift shops, a call center, and internet service.
Transportation - Get Around
Santo Domingo was, until recently, a huge city (pop. nearly 4 million people) that was split into 5 independent municipalities: Distrito Nacional, Santo Domingo Este, Santo Domingo Oeste, Santo Domingo Norte and Boca Chica. Fortunately, nearly all tourist attractions and shopping, dining and entertainment venues are located relatively close to each other in the Distrito Nacional, making it easy for you to get around and see the sights.
Santo Domingo is not entirely a tourist-friendly city. It`s often hard to move around if you don't know the city, as many streets lack proper signage and addresses are often reliant on the neighborhood's name more than an actual street address. However, don't be afraid of asking the locals for orientation, as Dominicans are well known for their helpful nature and usually helpful to tourists. It's a good idea to get a street map (there are many city maps online but it's also possible to buy one at any gift shop or book store for no more than US$5).
Walking along major thoroughfares in Santo Domingo can prove quite challenging. First, drivers aren't very respectful of pedestrians, so you have to take extra care when trying to cross a street. Second, some sidewalks can be damaged or under construction, forcing you onto the street.
The Malecon and Colonial Zone are the most walkable parts of the city. They offer multiple pedestrian attractions and are relatively safe areas for tourists to explore. Although it is always wise to use common sense as everywhere.
While exploring the Colonial Zone try hiring a "properly-licensed" tour guide. These talented yet underpaid, multi-lingual individuals will keep you entertained for hours with unprecedented historical insight and humor. You can usually find them at the Plaza Colon in front of the Cathedral. Most are worth every penny. On the other hand, some of them are known to take their customers to businesses that throw them a kickback, so it's up to you to decide whether you really like to act upon their advice on businesses or not.
Unlike most major metropolitan areas, there are very few roaming taxis in Santo Domingo. Even if you see one, it is best not to take a chance, it can be dangerous. In most cases you have to call a dispatcher to have a taxi sent to your location. This isn't a problem and most businesses will gladly call a cab for you. Relatively expensive, usually US$ 4-15 per average trip and possibly more if you use one of the friendly cabs waiting in front of your nice hotel lobby. Again, depending on circumstances, you may find that hiring a cab driver for the day is a good bargain.
Alternatively, go up to the second floor at the Arrivals (at the very end), where a minivan will accommodate up to 8 passengers for a ride (70 pesos or ~ 2 USD, 1/2 hour) to the Zona Colonial (only). For further distances to the center (i.e. to the Caribe Tours Terminal), you will need to negotiate just like you would have with the usual un-metered taxis. To return, the cheapest option is to go to the corner of Av. Sabena Larga with Av. Las Americas (walkable in 15 minutes from Zona Colonial), where this same van may be there, or if not take the bus going to Boca Chica (40 pesos, about 1h); ask the driver to stop before the express route to the Airport, from where you can walk (about 20 minutes, some 2 km). I would not recommend this return during night time, nor do I know if lack of Spanish will hinder this option (hardly anyone speaks English in the bus, around the terminals etc.). However getting to the city center seems more viable, that van was recommended at the Tourist Desk in the airport, and some sort of authority (with a badge) was entertaining the driver while waiting for the car to be filled.
Bottom line: taxis are convenient but expensive.
- Also be sure to never get into stray cabs at night or cabs that aren't sent by a dispatcher, they are not the safest. Another note, some cabs will put several passengers in at once, each paying a separate fare.
All major US car rental firms are available at the airport, along with several local vendors offering everything from subcompacts to late model Hummers, Range Rovers and Land Cruisers. When renting from local vendors be sure to read the fine print regarding insurance coverage; you might think you're getting a great deal on a car, only to get into an accident and find out that your insurance coverage does not apply or that your deductible is as high as US$5,000.
Advice to potential renters: Gasoline costs around US$ 5 per gallon here and people drive fast and furious, breaking every imaginable rule. It might be safer and cheaper to develop a friendship with a cab driver who will gladly become your personal driver, tourguide and concierge for a day rate equal to a fraction of what it would cost you to rent, insure and gas up a rental.
For some unknown reason bus service in Santo Domingo is not very user-friendly and geared more towards locals getting to and from work. It is often impossible to know which bus goes where unless you ask the driver, as neither buses nor routes are clearly marked.
Bottom Line: Inexpensive (around US $ 0.5 and 1.00 per ride) yet complicated. Avoid unless you are accompanied by a local. These are called "guaguas" by locals.
By public car
You can identify a public car from a regular car because it will have a government seal on the windshield. Public cars usually go up and down a street. You can catch one by standing on the street and signaling if your going up the street or down. Public cars are also safe, except you will probably be riding along with at least 5 other people going the same way you are. Public cars are roughly 20-25pesos.
By collective taxi
These collective taxis or “guaguas" as they are called by Dominicans, stick to a predetermined route (usually up and down a major avenue), picking up and dropping off passengers along the way - often cramming up to five passengers into a twenty year old Toyota Corolla. Very inexpensive, US$0.50 per trip, yet very uncomfortable. By the way, if you happen to be overweight don't be surprised if the driver charges you for two seats instead of one. Safety can sometimes be a concern, so it is best to take guaguas when traveling with locals.
They fit 7 people total, the driver, two in front passenger seat, and four in the back seat.
Santo Domingo has two operating lines: one a North-South axis under the Maximo Gomez avenue, going from Villa Mella to the Centro de los Heroes and the Malecon, passing by the National Theater and the Santo Domingo Autonomous University (UASD), the second along Avenida John F. Kennedy. It costs just 20 pesos per ride (less than US$ 0.6). There's around five more lines in plans of construction for the upcoming future.
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Most transactions in the Dominican Republic can be paid in Cash and credit cards. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted in most stores and restaurants.
The official currency of the Dominican Republic is the Dominican Peso. However most merchants will accept dollars or euros. If you do choose to purchase goods or services in dollars or euros, be wary of the exchange rate. The official exchange rate in the Dominican Republic is set by the Banco Central de la Republica Dominicana and is updated daily.
Foreign Currency exchange services are prominently available at major ports of entry or are located nearby. Some of the most prominent foreign exchange dealers are:
Agente de Cambio Caribe Express and Agente de Cambio La Nacional Caribe Express offices and major banks which include:
Banco de Reservas, Scotia Bank, Banco Leon, Banco Popular Dominicano among others.
Some of these banks are located at
- Gruen Projects -- Art Gallery, Bella Vista (by appointment), 809 707 1967. Gruen Projects exhibits and promotes the work of Dominican Artists, such as Hector Ledesma, Miguel Pineda, Leonardo Sanz, Joaquin Rosario, and Joel Gonell.
The Colonial Zone offers plenty of shopping opportunities, especially if you are looking for Ambar and Larimar, the traditional stones of the DR. Don't forget to haggle, as all the shop owners adjust their prices for this purpose. You will also find a ton of Haitian art for sale everywhere at great prices. If that's your thing, great, just remember its not Dominican. The main boulevard in the Colonial Zone is El Conde, a pedestrian boulevard lined with all kinds of shops and eateries mostly aimed at the locals. Have fun shopping and people watching here.
If you are feeling adventurous, have a cab take you to the Mercado Modelo nearby. This indoor labyrinth of shops can be overwhelming for a new tourist but, don't worry, it is safe. Then again, you might feel safer asking the cab driver to escort you through the maze of shops and kiosks offering every imaginable kind of souvenir, jewelry, stone, artwork, etc.
If you want to experience American-style shopping there are plenty of options but here are the three most popular:
- Acropolis Center (Condominio Centro Comercial Acropolis), Av. Winston Churchill and Calle Rafael Augusto Sánchez, . Mo-Sa 10AM-8PM, Su 11AM-6PM.
- Agora Mall, Av. John F. Kennedy and Av. Abraham Lincoln(Estación Pedro Mir L2),, e-mail:[email protected].
- Bella Vista Mall, Av. Sarasota #62 Esq. Arrayanes, Bella Vista, .
- Blue Mall, Av. Winston Churchill #93, . Mo-Sa 10AM-9PM, Su 11AM-8PM.
- Galeria 360, Av. John F. Kennedy and Bienvenido Garcia Gautier(Estación Pedro Mir L2), , e-mail:[email protected].
- Plaza Central, Av. 27 de Febrero and Av. Winston Churchill, .
No haggling at the malls. Please remember when shopping at the malls, this is an island where practically everything being sold is imported and taxed at 18% (ITBIS or Value Added Tax).
Santo Domingo offers a variety of cuisines from around the world from Chinese, Italian and Mediterranean to Brazilian. You can also find the main fast food franchises like McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, among others.
Be aware that mid-grade and high-end restaurants can be quite costly for third world standards, a dinner with an entrée, main course, drink and dessert can range from US $15-$75 per person, plus 10% mandatory tip plus 16% ITBIS tax. Be careful and ask around as price doesn't always equal quality, especially in tourist areas.
Note: Unless the contrary is specified menu prices don’t include the 10% service charge and 16% sales tax, so real prices are 26% higher than indicated in the menu.
If you want to spend less than US $8 on a decent meal and drink:
- Visit a “comedor” or cafeteria.
Comedores offer a “Plato del Día” or predetermined meal of the day (usually rice, beans, salad and meat or chicken, and a soda) for just US$3 – 8. Cafeterias and Comedores can be found everywhere around the city but specially around business areas and universities, this is where locals eat so is a great way of getting in touch with the culture. “Mimosa”, located on Padre Billini street in the Colonial Zone, offers a great variety of tasty local food during lunch hours. Another great option is Cafeteria "El Parque" which is in front of Eugenio Maria de Hostos Park attached to the "Clinica Abreu" one of the country's best and most prestigious clinic,close to the Colonial Zone and the Malecon, great place for breakfast, lunch and an early dinner.
- Best sandwiches, juice and shakes in the Caribbean
"Barra Payán", located on 30 de marzo street only five minutes from the Colonial Zone, is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. A sandwich cafeteria, the place has been a traditional eatery for more than a half century. Buy a sandwich and a delicious squeezed-to-order fruit juice or milkshake for less than US$ 5.
- Chinese and "Pica Pollo"
At some point in history Dominicans became quite fond of fried chicken and Chinese food, combining both cuisines into fast food establishments known as "pica pollos". These are usually take-out joints run by first or second generation Chinese immigrants, serving up heaping portions of fried rice, plantain slices and tasty (and greasy) fried chicken, along with the usual variety of Chinese comfort food. Very inexpensive. Visit Santo Domingo's China Town, near the Mercado Modelo and not far from the Colonial Zone (Duarte Avenue), a very busy zone where working-class people do a lot of their shopping. If you feel adventurous enough to enter this usually chaotic but very picturesque part of the town it would an experience to remember. Keep in mind, pick-pockets love the crowded streets, watch your belongings closely.
- Fast food
A McDonalds combo costs around US$ 5, Taco Bell, Wendy's and Pizza Hut around US$ 6. There are also several very good local franchises like Pizzarelli where you can have pasta, pizza or a salad for no more than US$ 10, and others like Pollos Victorina. Also, don't miss some good Dominican "empanadas" at De Nosotros Empanadas. Interesting note: you can walk into a McDonalds in Santo Domingo and order a value meal with a Presidente beer instead of a Coke. How cool is that?
- Adrian Tropical Food, Avenida 27 de Febrero, (809) 472-1763. A unique, quality and "affordable" dining experience. There are three restaurants in the city, the coolest one is literally built on the water in the Malecon. Best known for its "Mofongo" dish. This plate is made out of mashed plantains.
- El Conuco Very touristy and rather affordable restaurant in Gazcue, where you can enjoy live traditional Dominican dances.
- Lincoln Road On the Abraham Lincoln avenue, this restaurant has recently been remodeled.
- Yokomo The Dominican Sushi franchise. Enjoy the most unique and inventive Dominican-fusion sushi, such as sushi with sweet plantains.
- Falafel In the colonial zone, a good and affordable Near Eastern restaurant specializing in, as the name suggests it, falafel.
- Atras and Cinnamon in Plaza Orleans, two contiguous open-air restaurants. In this plaza you can order from any restaurant while sitting in the courtyard.
- Buen Provecho Middle range restaurant serving different types of food, a good place to get the "Dominican Flag" of meat with rice and beans.
- Red Grill A very trendy grill with several locations in the city. One is located in Plaza Orleans, another one has its own bar on top. Pricier, but not a splurge.
- Chef Pepper Also very trendy, and it just opened a new branch in Bella Vista. If you're craving a hamburger or a steak and cheese sandwich, this is a good place to go.
- L'Osteria A mid-range but very high quality Italian restaurant, facing the national theater.
- Sapore d'Italia Another mid-range, very good Italian restaurant.
- La Lasagna And yet another good Italian restaurant, very good and pretty affordable.
American and international midrange franchises include:
- TGI Fridays, Av. Winston Churchill, Acropolis Center, . Mo-Th 12PM-12AM Fr-Su 12PM-1AM.
- Tony Roma's, Av. Sarasota #29, Bella Vista, .Su-Th 11AM-12AM Fr-Sa 11AM-1AM.
- Outback Steak House, Av. Winston Churchill, Acropolis Center, . Su-Th 12PM-11PM Fr-Sa 12PM-12AM.
- Hard Rock Cafe, Av. Winston Churchill, Acropolis Center, . Su-Th 12PM-12AM Fr-Sa 12PM-1AM.
If you have to ask how much, you can't afford these places. The following are very tourist-friendly:
- El Vesuvio The oldest and finest Italian restaurant on the island, bar none, located on the Malecon
- Pat'e Palo Colonial Spanish/Mediterranean brasserie style restaurant, situated by the "Plaza de Espana" overlooking the "Alcazar de Colon" frequented by locals
- La Briciola Fancy Italian restaurant in a Colonial Garden
- Mesón de la Cava An expensive average restaurant whose chief gimmick is being located within a natural cave underground.
The following are not very touristy, mostly being frequented by locals. However, if you want to explore how the wealthier classes dine in Santo Domingo, these are the places to go:
- Pepperoni Grille Upscale, modern Italian.
- Sofia's Mediterranean cuisine.
- Any of the restaurants around Gustavo Mejia Ricart Avenue
- David Crockett The most expensive steak house.
- Mesón de Bari One of the classiest restaurants for Dominican cuisine
- Porter House Grill Steakhouse
- Marocha Very popular cafe/restaurant, especially because of its "Churros"
- Lupe Right next to Marocha, Mexican Restaurant
- La Marrana Very trendy Spanish restaurant
- Cane, Jaleo and Tangerine Three contiguous "Dominican fusion" bar/restaurants
- Aka Possibly the most popular Japanese restaurant
- Fellini's Fancy Italian
- Don Pepe Fancy Spanish restaurant, very pricey
- Mitre Chic restaurant and wine bar
- Tabu Bambu Asian Fusion
- Scherezade Middle Eastern/Mediterranean restaurant, with a lunch buffet on Sundays.
- Michelangelo Restaurant (Winston Churchill and Roberto Pastoriza, Plaza Las Americas). The average price is about six to fourteen dollars a plate, an international menu that includes, imported seafood, imported pasta and cheese, imported steaks and some of the most popular Dominican cuisine. The decoration is artistic, with Michelangelo's finest works on the walls but at the same time very modern and chic all in white, with a outdoor terrace to enjoy frozen cocktails and wine overlooking one of the most popular avenue in the city. The restaurant products are mostly imported and they only cook with bottle water, making it one of the most safe place to eat.
- Sixteen Cuts Restaurant & Marine Lounge. This is by far the best kept secret in Santo Domingo. Offers one of the most exclusive views of the Colonial Zone. Has an excellent international menu, being its main courses the Black Angus and US Certified Cuts, divided in: 16 Tapas & Entrees, 16 Greatest & Newest Cuts, 16 Ultimates Sides. All this complemented with a delicious offer of Seafood Meals, Fresh Salads and "More Great Cuisine”, all harmonized with their Wine Selection. Avenida Miguel Barcelo #1, Marina Bartolome Colon, Tel. 809-827-0660, 809-594-9634.
Sights & Landmarks
Despite boasting a rich cultural, architectural and artistic heritage, Santo Domingo has not been exploited for all its tourist potential. You're pretty much on your own to discover this fascinating city. Make the most of your time there.
- Colonial Zone. Santo Domingo was the first major European settlement in the New World. Christopher Columbus walked these streets! Check out the many examples of 15th and 16th century architecture in the Colonial Zone. Don't miss the Ozama Fort, theAlcazar de Colon and the Cathedral, all built in Columbus' lifetime. You can also check beautiful churches and convents, such as the Iglesia Regina Angelorum and the Convento de los Dominicos. Don't miss the Panteon Nacional, where the national heroes are buried, located in the Calle Las Damas, the New World's first (European) street! Also, walk up the Calle del Conde, a very old pedestrian shop-lined street that used to be the commercial heart of the city. This street leads to the Puerta de la Independencia, where the Dominican Republic proclaimed its independence from Haiti, and the Parque Independencia, where the country's founding fathers' remains are kept. On Sunday evenings, check out the Ruinas de San Franciscofor live bands playing Merengue, Bachata, Salsa and Son, in a wonderful weekly show where both locals and tourists dance, drink and enjoy themselves. This would be an unforgettable experience! Also check out La Atarazana street after dark for a variety of romantic outdoor cafes with a spectacular view of the Alcazar and bay area. One such brasserie, Pat E Palo, has operated uninterrupted since 1505. Check out the house where Ponce DeLeon lived before he embarked upon his quest for the fountain of youth and ended up discovering Florida.
- Santa Maria la Menor Cathedral. An important landmark because it is the first cathedral of the Americas. First built in 1514, its construction was not finished until 1540.
- Ozama Fortress, . The oldest formal military construction still standing in the Americas. Cost of entrance is about $30 pesos per person and about $200 for a guide to take you. The guide is recommended because he will explain much of the historical background. The fortress itself is not very large, but within the perimeter you will find a large open area with a park and an exhibition of military vehicles and weapons, most of them relatively modern.
- Malecon (George Washington Avenue). This waterfront boulevard is home to several huge hotel/casino complexes and dozens of small restaurants, clubs and cafes. Go there to people watch, take a romantic carriage ride or just have a few beers. Site of many festivals and concerts throughout the year. Parallel to the Malecon you will find Avenida Independencia, a tree lined street full of shops, bed and breakfasts and affordable restaurants with a nice mix of locals and tourists. For a unique dining experience check out Adrian Tropical, a traditional Dominican restaurant literally built on the water, or San Gil, a more formal eatery occupying the ruins of a colonial fort. The Malecon Center, located on the far end of the Malecon, is a new and still under occupied high-end shopping center/hotel/condo complex with a Botero sculpture out front that reportedly cost US$1 million.
- Plaza de la Cultura (Walk all the way down the Malecon to Avenida Maximo Gomez and take a left. Walk past the McDonald's and Pizza Hut.). This amazing complex is home to the National Theater and five museums, ranging from the dilapidated and mundane, to the crisp, modern Museo de Arte Moderno (Museum of Modern Art), the largest in the Caribbean and home to exhibits by artists from Jamaica, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and of course, the Dominican Republic. Other museums include the Museo de Historia Natural (Museum of Natural History),Museo del Hombre Dominicano (Museum of the Dominican Man) and Museo de Historia y Geografía (Museum of History and Geography). The entrance to the museums will cost anywhere from 5 to 20 pesos. If want a nice beautiful garden to read or talk this is your place also.
- Eco-tourism. Find your way to the Parque Mirador Sur, an impressive park overlooking the coast. It gets closed for cars on weekdays between 5 and 8AM and pm, as well as on Sundays, enabling it to get filled with families playing with their children and exercising. Bike rentals are at your disposal.
Also, you can visit the Botanical Garden, a vast, beautiful and lush park situated near one of Santo Domingo's most exclusive neighborhoods. There you can experience different ecosystems from a rain-forest to a Japanese garden!
- Eastern Santo Domingo. Referred to as Santo Domingo Oriental, this separate municipality is not very tourist-friendly. Fortunately, most of its attractions are very close to the Colonial Zone and easy to get to. Check out Los Tres Ojos, or Three Eyes, a series of open-roof caverns and underground lakes for the whole family to explore (with a local this part of Santo Domingo is the most poverty stricken and can be dangerous!!!!). Head over to the Faro a Colon, a huge lighthouse and monument built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the Americas in 1492 that is thought to house his remains and doubles as a museum. Check out the Santo Domingo Aquarium, a small but impressive showcase of the local aquatic life. If you're looking for some shopping, you can go to the Megacentro, Santo Domingo's largest shopping mall.
- Sun Dial/ Reloj de Sol (on Calle Las Damas). Most impressive and beautiful sight. Built in 1753 its one of the oldest sun dial in the Americas.
- Upscale Santo Domingo. If you want to see the cosmopolitan, upscale side of Santo Domingo, head to the Piantini and Naco neighborhoods. Streets like Gustavo Mejía Ricart and major avenues like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill are lined with high end boutiques, shopping plazas, expensive cafes and restaurants offering a huge variety of international cuisines and just about anything money can buy, from cigar shops to Ferrari and Bentley dealerships. The Holiday Inn Hotel has recently opened in this area, which is very likely to bring much more tourism into what is the actual "downtown" of Santo Domingo. Don't miss Acropolis Center, an ultra-modern shopping center/office building where you will find everything from TGI Friday's to Prada. Just opened is Blue Mall, which has the most expensive shops in the city from Louis Vuitton, Ferragamo, Cartier, Tous & L'Occitane to more casuals like Zara and Adidas. Also just opened is Novo-centro which opened in a glass tower which was originally going to be a bank, but turned into a 2 story shopping center featuring a Fine Arts Cinema and some high end restaurants and gelaterias. Further away you can find Bella Vista Malland Diamond Mall, two other big shopping malls in Santo Domingo. If you're looking for more open-air plazas lined with smaller boutiques, you should check out Plaza Andalucia. For bowling, you can go to the Plaza Bolera, which has recently gotten a face-lift. If you're in this area in the early afternoon, you should check out trendy cafes such as La Cuchara de Madera, where you can enjoy delicious deserts such as their dulce de leche "Piramides", and Marocha & Grappa for dining and definitely to high-end nightclubs and bars like Fellini or Praia.
There are many parks around the city of Santo Domingo. One of the most popular parks are called Los Miradores, which are located on various sections of the city. These parks are very cozy for a picnic, to bike ride, a quick jog, or a long walk to enjoy nature and relax with friends. They’re a quite huge and can be a bit unsafe if wandered during the night, because it lacks street lights. Although Santo Domingo is surrounded by beautiful parks it does lack recreational facilities accessible to the public. Some of the parks that can be found:
- Mirador Sur Park (Parque Mirador Sur), Av. Anacaona. located in the southwest section of the city
- Enriquillo Park (Parque Enriquillo), Av. Duarte and Calle Ravelo, Villa Francisca.
- Columbus Park (Parque Colón) (in the center of the colonial zone).
- Independencia Park (Parque Independencia).
- Columbus Park (Parque Colón) (in the center of the colonial zone). This park is most popular among locals and visitors alike. It is a beautiful plaza which surrounds a monument of Columbus to which the park is named after. It is visited by people who would like to relax, families who come to enjoy the park with the kids and couples who enjoy the scenery and its wonderful restaurants. Because the park is very popular you will find plenty of vendors selling CD's of local music, hand made trinkets, rosaries and food. You will also find many tour guides hanging around ready to give anyone who wishes a guided tour of the cathedral and the colonial zone at a price. Taxis ready to take you anywhere will also be hanging around the park. A typical taxi fare within the city will rarely exceed $200, as of January 2012.
- The Malecón. A cityfront coastal park running along the sea side of the busy street of Ave. George Washington. It is a nice and relaxing place for a walk. Along the road you can enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Caribbean sea, people hanging, and if you are by the Colonial Zone small kiosks selling goods and restaurants. There are many benches where you can sit and admire the view.
- Dominican Republic National Zoo (Parque Zoológico Nacional Arq. Manuel Valverde Podestá), Av. La Vega Real, Arroyo Hondo, , fax: , e-mail: [email protected].A cityfront coastal park running along the sea side of the busy street ofAve. George Washington. It is a nice and relaxing place for a walk. Along the road you can enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Caribbean sea, people hanging, and if you are by the Colonial Zone small kiosks selling goods and restaurants. There are many benches where you can sit and admire the view.
- Dr. Rafael Ma. Moscoso National Botanical Garden (Jardín Botánico Dr. Rafael Ma. Moscoso), Av. Republica de Colombia, , e-mail: [email protected]. Mo-Su 9AM-6PM.Adults: RD$70, Children: RD$50.
- Parque Ambiental Núñez de Cáceres, Av. Núñez de Cáceres.
Museums & Galleries
In the Colonial Zone:
- Alcázar de Colón (Museo Alcázar de Colón), Plaza España, Zona Colonial, . Tu-Su 9AM-5PM; closed M.Visit this stunning villa, built in 1510 and retaining period furnishings and other items owned by Governor Diego Colón, first-born son of Christopher Columbus.
- Museo Naval de las Atarazanas), Calle La Atarazana, Zona Colonial, .Mo-Su 9AM-5PM. Located across the plaza from the Alcazar de Colon on Calle Atarazana, the oldest street in the Western Hemisphere. (
- Museum of the Casas Reales alt=Museo de las Casas Reales, Calle Las Damas, Zona Colonial, . Mo-Su 9AM-5PM. Another great museum featuring collections depicting life in 16th century Santo Domingo. Located on Calle Las Damas, walking distance from the Alcazar de Colon and the Naval Museum.
- World of Ambar Museum. An impressive collection of amber stones.
- Museum of Duarte. A collection of artifacts and writings regarding the Dominican Republic's founding father, Juan Pablo Duarte. Located on Calle Isabel La Catolica, a few blocks west of the above museums.
- Museum of Rum and Sugar Cane (Museo del Ron y la Caña), Isabel la Catolica #261, Zona Colonial, 809-685-5111. 9AM to 5PM (bar is open during the museum hours with limited service) daily. Closed Sunday.. This museum is free and is very new. It holds all the history of rum making in Dominican Republic. In the front of the museum you will find all the Dominican rum for sale at reasonable prices. There is also a very nice bar inside where you can enjoy a nice drink of rum or any other drink you like. In the after hours it turns into a bar (read below). Free.
- Museo Memorial de la Resistencia Dominicana, Calle Arzobispo Nouel #210, Zona Colonial, , e-mail:[email protected]. Museo Memorial de la Resistencia Dominicana (Memorial Museum of the Dominican Resistance) presents an ample presentation of 20th century history of the country, and the ordeals endured under the Trujillo regime. RD$150.
In Plaza de la Cultura:
- Museum of Natural History
- Museum of Dominican Man (Museo del Hombre Dominicano), Avenida Pedro Henríquez Ureña, Plaza de la Cultura, Gazcue, . Tu-Su 10AM-5PM; closed M.
- Modern Art Museum (Museo de Arte Moderno), Avenida Pedro Henríquez Ureña, Plaza de la Cultura, Gazcue, , e-mail: [email protected]. Tu-Su 10AM-5PM; closed M. Adults: RD$50, Students/children: RD$20, Children age 5 and under: Free.
- National Museum of History and Geography (Museo Nacional de Historia y Geografia), Avenida Pedro Henríquez Ureña, Plaza de la Cultura, Gazcue, . Tu-Su 09:30AM-5:00PM; closed M.
Festivals and events
Two of the top festivities of the year occur in Santo Domingo. The annual Merengue Festival in the summer and Carnival in the spring. Each of these is held on the city's main seaside main road, El Malecon, but tend to spill over into hotel ballrooms, beaches, patios and even parking lots. This is a great way to emerge oneself into the Dominican culture, as well as meet new interesting people from the city. The Merengue Festival takes place between July 26 to 31. The festival is a celebration of Dominican Republic’s main dance, merengue. They invite the top merengue bands to perform free concerts to the crowd. The festival begins with a parade, but later becomes a concert. There are art exhibitions, food fairs, and games that occur at the same time. The main activity that is done during the festival is dancing merengue, so be prepared to be spun uncontrollable when you decide to dance with a local. The other amazing festival is The Carnival, which takes place during the entire month of February, but reaches its peak on February 27, the Dominican Independence Day. The Carnival also takes place in El Malecon, where masks, which symbolizes spiritual spirits;elaborate costumes,and intriguing dances parade down the streets while entertaining and sometimes scaring the crowd.
Santo Domingo has an amazing variety of night life options. Unfortunately, most bars and clubs must close at midnight from Sunday to Thursday and at 2AM on Friday and Saturday. This is a regulation imposed since 2006 intended to curtail the escalating crime in the city. Therefore, it is not uncommon for people to start partying at 8PM on the weekends. Happily, the regulation is suspended on holidays and the last two weeks of December for Christmas partying. Usually the clubs located inside major hotels are exempt from this rule, although they aren't usually much fun.
As of November 2007, there are a couple of bars that are open until 3AM on weekends since August 2007.
The Malecon is home to several options as well, depending on what's in style at the time.
Check out Jet Set on Monday nights for live Merengue and Bachata shows from the most popular top bands.
Head over to the upscale side of Santo Domingo (Naco, Piantini) if that is your scene. There are a ton of options there, including perennial favorites such as Trio Caffe, Praia and Montecristo. Be aware that those kind of places can have a rather strict admission policy, you usually have to look white enough and rich enough to be admitted. This discrimination hasn't go unnoticed, the Embassy of United States directed all resident official U.S. Embassy employees to refrain from patronizing Loft one of the most popular and exclusive nightclubs in the city, responding to the actions of Loft management in selectively denying entry to African-Americans embassy on July 22, 2007. [www]
In this upscale area of Santo Domingo, consider:
- Amika Dance club and lounge
- Cinema Cafe (within Plaza de la Cultura, adjacent to Museo del Hombre Dominicano), 809-221-7555. Monday thru Thursday 11AM to 1AM, Fridays 11AM to 3AM. Saturday 4PM to 3PM, Sunday 5PM to 1AM.A meeting place of artists, students, young professionals, music and movie-lovers. It is a place to listen to good music, poetry and to see theater performances. Nice ambient, presents local rock bands on the weekends. In case of concert there is a $15-20 cover.
- Dock Very trendy Bar at the Acropolis Center. Open air, electronic music.
- El Barcito Very nice ambiance, mostly rock music. The owner is always present and very friendly.
- Fellini Fancy Italian restaurant, becomes bar later at night
- LED, Ave. Independencia & Abraham Lincoln (inside the hotel Hispanola), 809.476.7733. Wed-Sat. A nice Club with House music, where some well known DJs are invited. Students love this spot because of its spacious dance floor and popularity. It may be a bit costly than the other bars/clubs, make sure to call for entrance fee ahead of time.
- Level 2 On the second flour of the Holiday Inn Hotel. Also check out the rooftop bar and pool!
- Maruja New, trendy open air bar, close to La Marrana and Margo
- Mix Right next to the Mix Restaurant, another popular bar.
- Praia The fanciest club, currently moved to the Holiday Inn Hotel.
- Rua Open air bar in front of Aka
- Shots Mostly rock music, very young crowd. Ave. Roberto Pastoriza.
- Plaza Uris located on Ave. Roberto Pastoriza
This plaza has become one of the capital’s top weekend destinations with five very popular bar/clubs with Zambra-809.683.7373, Vié 809.227-2503, Shots(829) 886.1208, Sinatra 809.368.1155 and Taboo Bamboo 809.227-2727all in the same plaza. This is a favorite spot for locals and especially visitors because it reminds them of the states. Because of its proximity you can bar hop until you find the one that fits you. Music ranging from rock, hip-hop and Latin. When in the plaza the drink to try is definitely Omega shot. Make sure you have a designated driver or number to a taxi.
If you you are more into the bohemian scene check out the Colonial Zone for great bars and cafes, as well as a vibrant gay nightlife scene. Here are some hints:
- Bio. Modern eclectic music from regueaton to Latin rock, very young public. Famous for serving drinks from buckets. Calle Sanchez and Padre Billini
- Bocanegra Currently the trendiest place in the Colonial Zone
- Cacibajagua.. Great rock music, nice decor, adult crowd. Sanchez #201.
- Casa de Teatro Enjoy live jazz and rock concerts, pretty bohemian.
- Doubles Good Latin dance music.
- El Beduino New Hookah Bar on a rooftop in the Colonial Zone.
- El Sarten this is a vintage Latin bar frequented by a mature crowd of experienced dancers. Drop in if you want to see some serious merengue and salsa steps. Located on Calle Hostos #153, Zona Colonial # 809.686.9621 – Open every night
- Encuentro Artesanal. The decor is definitely the best in the Colonial Zone highly selected electronic music, frequented by artists and publicists.
- Misifu. New bar in the Atarazana street. Very trendy at the moment.
- Museo del Ron. The daytime museum turns into a very cozy bar, offering a wide range of Caribbean rums to taste, as well as some of the best rum based cocktails in the city. Nice lounge music, beautiful patio.
- O' Brien's Supposedly an Irish Pub, and although there's nothing of a pub about it, it is a very trendy place.
- Ocho Puertas Rock, alternative and electronica with live music also, very beautiful place. Jose Reyes #107
- Parada 77. Latin rock, Spanish songwriters some merengue and salsa, people in their mid thirties and forties.
- S Bar. Mostly rock music, can enjoy some falafels too, you would love the owner Isaac. Calle Sanchez and Padre Billini
- Segafredo. A franchise, lounge music, Italian food and good coffee.
Whatever you do, don't leave Santo Domingo without visiting La Guacara Taina, the only nightclub in the world inside a huge natural cave. Descend several hundred feet into a fantasy world of lights and sound. You have to see this place to believe it. Located (under) the Mirador Sur park mentioned above. It can be empty if you go early or on weekdays.
Things to know
Government and politics
The national government of the Dominican Republic is located in Santo Domingo. The National Palace houses the President of Dominican Republic, and the National Congress. The National Police (Policía Nacional) and the Tourist Police (Policía Turística) are in charge of implementing the city safety. The national police station is located in Av. Leopoldo Navarro #402, you can also contact 809-682-2151 for the central line, but in case of an emergency dial 911.
Safety in Santo Domingo
Poverty, though not as bad as next door Haiti, is still rampant and it is best you take precautions. Do not flash obvious wealth in poorer or middle class sections of the city (lots of jewelry, expensive camera, big watches, etc.). Keep your bag away from the street when walking as it can be snatched by kids on mopeds and keep a firm grip on it. Keep your passport at your accommodation and in a safe.
If you are Caucasian (no matter how you are dressed), expect to have a lot of insincerely friendly people on the streets follow you and strike up conversation with you. They are only talking to you in order to get money from you. They inevitably steer the conversation towards money and are looking for handouts or, worse, 'protection money' to protect you from the more undesirable elements of society. When walking on the side walk do not stand too close to the street. There are robbers on mo-peds/motorcycles that will pass by and yank your purse from you. Note that some men and maybe even women carry a gun on them; do not let this alarm you. You will see men in civilian clothes relaxing on their patio or on the streets playing dominoes, with a gun they could be security guards.
Walk confidently. Don't dress like a tourist. Be yourself but if yourself is flashing Gucci and Prada where ever you go, maybe you need to dress down a bit. If you get lost at any time ask a local person walking by for directions. They are always more than happy to help foreigners at everything. Do NOT follow anyone that offers to take you to your destination. They will usually expect some payment for their effort. Even worse, they could be setting you up.
Do NOT drink the tap water. It is not processed to be ingested by people. You can get sick. Bottled water is really cheap and sold every where. Ice is okay.