One of the oldest settlements in Spain’s New World empire, Santiago is the country’s second-largest city, spilling over its original border, the Río Yaque del Norte. This sprawling city churns out rum and cigars, feeding off the large-scale tobacco and sugarcane plantations that make up much of the topography of the surrounding valley floor. The Cordillera Central to the west and Cordillera Septentrional to the north hem in the city, which is bifurcated by Highway Duarte, the country’s primary north-south thoroughfare.
Overlooked by most travelers, Santiago is a good place to familiarize yourself with the ordinary Dominican’s way of life. Typical of poor barrios throughout the country, Santiago’s are a maze of haphazardly constructed homes made with corrugated iron roofs. Meanwhile, just east of downtown is the neighborhood of Cerros de Gurabo – surely one of the wealthiest in the DR – where the roads are lined with enormous mansions concealed behind high walls. But all strata of society cheer for the hometown baseball team and come together around the Monument, the city’s raucous nightlife center.