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City Guide: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Level 1 - NGMI
Welcome to Santo Domingo! Well, well! Another free post related to a city! So. You already get the idea.
It isn’t as bad as places like San Francisco or Baltimore but… Not exactly a place where you want to put down roots. The main issue is pretty consistent with a lot of the Caribbean. Harsh weather conditions, not enough land for *significant* farms and of course the standard short-term thinking due to struggling economies. It isn’t Haiti but it’s not pretty.
The plus is really Punta Cana, but that’s more of just a hotel resort where you go in and out of a Truman Show type bubble environment.
The focus here is on Santo Domingo.
Part 1: General Overview
Since Santo Domingo is the major city for the country, it has everything from extreme poverty to the “wealthy areas”. Piantini is the main well off area of the city, similar to saying Polanco is the wealthy place in Mexico city.
The difference? Well that is really all there is in terms of a high-end area.
When you stay in Piantini one of the weird things you notice almost immediately is the number of nanny’s that accompany all the wealthy families. It’s hard to explain until you visit. Just check out one of the higher end shopping areas/restaurants and it will be visible. This is distinctly different from the USA, where the wealthy have cleaning/service staff. In the case of the Dominican Republic you’re looking at nanny’s/caretakers walking with them in malls and helping them carry shopping bags!
As you settle in you’ll generally feel like you’re in a typical latin American country, with one big issue mentioned in the first paragraph. Your choices are limited. You’ll basically be forced into a 3-4 mile circular area and other than that you’re only leaving to see the Zona Colonial and other tourist attractions (honestly they are underwhelming as well).
If you’re still reading we can move on.
Part 2: Doing it Correctly - Short Trip It
As mentioned, stay in Piantini. You’re getting an Airbnb there or you’re staying at one of the better hotels such as the JW or Intercontinental. We’re sure there are others but those two are going to pop up on any quick search for the city. The easiest way to figure out where to stay is to look up the Blue Mall. Go ahead and draw a 3 mile radius around that pin point. Just imagine whipping out one of those ball bearing compasses where you place the metal pin at the dot and twirl it around. Congrats. You’re set!
The Map… Really This Small
That’s really what you’re looking at.
Red: This is where you’ll spend the vast majority of your time. There is no real reason to leave the area. The hotels are nice, the mall is nice and you have a ton of restaurants within about a 10 minute radius from the center of the circle.
Now we’re sure there is some nice stuff just outside of the red area or some far away location but we’re talking about someone simply visiting.
Blue: This is the area where the majority of the tourist stuff happens and where a lot of the tourist/nightlife is. To say this is a hard pass would be an understatement. Look up “luxury night club” in Santo Domingo and you’ll get the picture quickly.
Nothing luxury about it. Nothing you’d want to participate in.
As a note this likely leads you to really question anyone who enjoys going to the Dominican Republic for partying. There is a small cohort of people (primarily age 55+) who might like it simply due to the weather and proximity to beaches.
Part 3: Anything Good?
Well there is something strange about the Dominican Republic, it has a lot of high quality Italian food. No this isn’t a troll. The big joke on the east coast is that Santo Domingo has “the best Italian food in New York City”
If you type in top Italian restaurants you’ll get a bunch popping up right around Piantini. We purposely highlighted one here the #2 ranking called “La Cassina”.
We’ll give this spot the stamp of approval.
If you’re not into Italian food, there is also Don Pepe which is a well known place primarily focused on Seafood. That’s another good one which is a whopping 5 minutes from the Blue Mall (once again everything is within that Red Circle).
Part 4: Going Out and Other Party Stuff
The best way to phrase this is as follows: “You won’t be inspired”
If you land in a place like Moscow or Miami, you’re immediately ready to hit the nightlife scene just based on the people out and about. When you go out in Santo Domingo for your dinner, you’re just not going to be “feeling it”. Not only that, it doesn’t really have a big drinking/party vibe, it feels more like the rich people keep to themselves and remain low-key with a goal of avoiding tourists.
If you must roll the dice you can head over to Ciudad Colonial and the general tourist zone (big party vibe here). Your best option for meeting cool and fun people to hang out with will be based on other tourists and perhaps some sort of event that drags out the best of the best (we give this a 1/52 chance since it probably happens a grand total of 7 days for the full year).
The more likely scenario is that you head out and are so uninspired you have a drink maybe some empanadas or something small and just b-line it back to your hotel. The hotels are probably nicer and once again maybe you get lucky and meet other tourists who rolled the dice to visit Santo Domingo.
Part 5: Fixable?
We’re not really sure. One of the other things we didn’t mention in the intro (since 95% of you will have checked out by now) is the extreme poverty you see on the way to Piantini. It just isn’t pleasant. Not sure what the long-story history is.
What we do know is a massive gap exists between the “haves” and “have nots”. It is honestly rough to see. Lots of people even travel by motorbike with two people seated on the same motorcycle.
Once again, we’re unsure why the economy is so imbalanced but that’s how it is.
Our guess is this won’t be solved any time soon in the foreseeable future. Go for the food and get out would be our recommendation.
Part 6: Rating?
Around a 4/10. The only reason it doesn’t register lower is due to the food and existence of some nice hotels and beaches if willing to drive out and chill. Other than that you don’t need more than a weekend here and will probably be set. Perhaps if you really got it going, you can fly in and out just for a lunch and dinner.
Unfortunately for us, that’s not possible due to current homeless status.
Back to the tent.
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