Zona Colonial (Colonial City): Dating to 1498, this area of Santo Domingo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It houses the Americas' first cathedral, hospital and fort, as well as the palace of Diego Columbus, Christopher Columbus' son, who originally governed the Spanish colony there. You'll also find dining options that range from tiny cafes to the Hard Rock Cafe, as well as an array of shops on El Conde, the area's main retail street. It's within walking distance of the cruise port, but it's much easier (and safer) to take a shuttle or taxi.
El Faro a Colon (Christopher Columbus Lighthouse and Tomb): The remains of Christopher Columbus are said to be housed about a five minutes' drive from the cruise dock. (Seville, Spain, also claims to have possession of the explorer's remains. The debate rages on.) The tomb, which is marked by an impressive monument and lighthouse, also served as the site of Pope John Paul II's visit during the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the Americas. His "Popemobile" is still on display there. Both attractions can be reached on foot by ambitious cruisers, but it's not recommended. Instead, grab a taxi or shuttle if you haven't booked a city highlights tour. There is a nominal fee to enter. (Avenida Ana, Sansouci District; open Tuesday to Sunday 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.)
Los Tres Ojos (The Three Eyes): In Mirador del Este Park, you'll find Los Tres Ojos cave. Made of limestone, the cave contains three main clear pools or lakes -- the "eyes" for which the cavern is named. It's just a 15-minute drive from port, and it's very inexpensive to enter. You will, however, have to pay extra to take a trip to the cave's fourth pool, which does exist, despite the cave's name. (809-788-7056)
Local Overview Tours: You'll save money if you take a tour with a local guide like Prospero Guillermo Rodriguez ("call me Chino"), who offers private excursions in Santo Domingo and La Romana (Casa de Campo) for reasonable prices. In addition to English, he also speaks his native Spanish, as well as Italian and French. Call 809-518-1309 (p) or 809-973-0272 (c) to make arrangements. We took a tour with him and were able to book him for more than three hours and tailor the trip to the highlights we wanted to see.
Boca Chica: The town of Boca Chica is about 30 minutes from your ship by taxi, and it's a nice place to spend a day shopping or getting to know the locals on the beach of the same name. You'll find both upscale restaurants and stalls selling traditional Dominican fare. You'll have to take a taxi to get there if you're not on a prearranged tour that includes a stop.
Museo Naval de las Atarazanas (Marine Museum): If you're a history lover, check out this marine museum, which houses artifacts recovered from ships that sank in the 1500's and 1600's. You can also learn all about the history of such shipwrecks, as well as the D.R.'s efforts to recover and preserve them. There is a nominal fee to enter, but children and students are free. (4 Calle Colon, Colonial Zone; open Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., closed Wednesdays)
Casa de Campo: At this tourist haven resort in La Romana, you can golf at the world-famous Teeth of the Dog course, laze on the beach, take part in one of several water sports, go horseback riding or play tennis. You'll also find a beautiful marina, as well as plenty of shops and places to grab a bite to eat. You'll need a full day in port for this one, though; the ride from the Santo Domingo cruise pier is 90 minutes each way. If you're not on a prearranged excursion, you'll have to pay an entry fee, which doesn't include activities at the resort. (Carretera La Romana, Higuey; 855-877-3643; open seven days a week)
Boca Chica: Located in the town of Boca Chica, about a 30-minute drive from Santo Domingo, this beach is great for swimming, grabbing a bite to eat and mingling with locals. There are food stalls, upscale restaurants and shaded tables for dining. Water sports equipment is available for rent. Be careful with your valuables while you're swimming, however.
Juan Dolio: About an hour's drive from Santo Domingo, Juan Dolio is a simple beach that's great if you'd like a bit more peace and quiet than what Boca Chica has to offer. Within walking distance of Juan Dolio is Playa Guayacanes, which offers a similar ambience.