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Santo Domingo (Photo:e2dan/Shutterstock)
2.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, takes up two-thirds of the eastern side of the island of Hispaniola; the rest of the island is shared with Haiti. Altogether, the D.R. is about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined, and it's rumored to be home to Christopher Columbus' tomb. The nation also is home to lots of Taino Indian history, among other things.

About Santo Domingo


Pro

You're only there for a few hours

Con

Few locals speak English, the downtown is dangerous and driving is a nightmare

Bottom Line

Venture to Zona Colonial (the colonial zone), book a tour or stay on the ship


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Located on the southern coast of the country, Santo Domingo is full of culture and, unfortunately, poverty, thanks to the decline in the production of sugar, one of the country's main exports. This region of the country probably isn't a place you'll want to navigate on your own. When you hear about violence, robberies and the like, this is one of the areas of the D.R. where they most often occur. Locals will bombard you with solicitations for everything from jewelry to windshield wipers, but you're likely to encounter plenty of nice and helpful folks, too. It's hot there, and the main streets in tourist areas are clean, but if you venture to other areas of the city, you might find it a bit ... unkempt, albeit colorful.

Ships dock at the Sansouci pier, about a five-minute drive to the Zona Colonial or Colonial City, which dates to 1498, when it was founded by Bartholomew Columbus, Christopher Columbus' brother. It's also a 10-minute drive to the lighthouse and tomb of Christopher Columbus; a 15-minute drive to Mirador del Este, a park that houses the limestone cave of Los Tres Ojos (the three eyes); a 30-minute drive to Boca Chica, a beach town that's a great place to interact with locals and sample their cuisine; and a 90-minute drive to Casa de Campo, a tourist resort in La Romana, where you'll find the famous Teeth of the Dog golf course and various other shore excursion options.

Where You're Docked

You'll be docked at the Sansouci pier, the city's main cruise terminal. Plans are in the works to turn another terminal -- Don Diego, about five minutes from Sansouci pier -- into a facility that can accommodate cruise vessels, but there is no word yet on when that will be completed.

Good to Know

Crime, violence and gang activity are prevalent in Santo Domingo. Always be aware of your surroundings, stay in groups, and don't venture to unfamiliar parts of the city when not on an organized tour or with a reputable guide. As a general rule, leave all jewelry and valuables onboard in your cabin safe, and carry only as much cash as you think you'll need. We recommend a money belt to keep valuables safe while you're ashore.

Also, be sure to pack bug spray; you won't have much of a problem outdoors, but you might use some restroom facilities that don't have air-conditioning, making them perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes -- and they're vicious.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The official currency is the Dominican Republic Peso (check www.xe.com for current exchange rates), but it is rarely a problem to use American dollars. ATM's are available near the cruise terminal and throughout the city; they dispense money in pesos.

Language

Dominicans speak Spanish as their primary language. Some, particularly those who work in tourism areas, speak English. That said, communication can be a problem, so either carry a pocket dictionary or bone up on basic phrases like hola (hello), buenos dias (good day), por favor (please), gracias (thank you), cuanto cuesta? (how much does it cost?) and donde esta el bano? (where is the bathroom?).

Shopping

The Dominican Republic is known for Larimar, a cloudy, pale-blue stone that is only mined on the island of Hispaniola. It's difficult to fake, so chances are good that you'll be snagging the real thing, but don't be afraid to bargain; sellers are used to it, and they often jack up prices with the expectation that haggling will occur. Amber and black coral are also popular, but they're easier to fabricate.

If jewelry isn't your thing, consider Dominican-made cigars and items made from coconut, and natural cocoa or chocolate, but avoid purchasing woven palm hats. They're considered live plants, and they'll be confiscated when you return to your ship.

Best Cocktail

While you're in town, be sure to try some Mama Juana. Made by combining red wine, rum and honey with the fermented roots of the Mama Juana tree, it gives off a strong red wine taste with a spicy cinnamon finish. If you're not a wine drinker, try the Barcelo or Brugal local rum with Coca-Cola, or Presidente beer, which is super refreshing when the weather gets unbearably hot. (You'll also want to pick up some sugar cane juice, which is locally made and owns a reputation as a great hangover remedy.)