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Introducing Santo Domingo

This is a deeply Dominican city – an obvious statement but no less true. It’s where the rhythms of the country are on superdrive, where the sounds of life – domino pieces slapped on tables, backfiring mufflers and horns from chaotic traffic, merengue and bachata blasting from corner colmados – are most intense. Santo Domingo (population 2.9 million), or ‘La Capital’ as it’s typically called, is to Dominicans what New York is to Americans, a collage of cultures and neighborhoods, or what Havana is to Cubans, a vibrant beating heart that fuels the entire country.

At the heart of the city is the Zona Colonial. And at the heart of the Zona Colonial is Parque Colón. And across from the park is one of the oldest churches in the New World. And a block from the church is one of the oldest streets in the New World. And on this street is the oldest surviving European fortress. And so on and so on. Amid the cobblestone streets reminiscent of the French Quarter in New Orleans, it would be easy to forget Santo Domingo is in the Caribbean – if it weren’t for the heat and humidity.

But this is an intensely urban city, home not only to colonial-era relics and New World firsts, but also to hot clubs packed with trendy 20-somethings; museums and cultural institutions, the best of their kind in the DR; and businesspeople taking long lunches at elegant restaurants. Santo Domingo somehow manages to embody the contradictions central to the Dominican experience: a living museum, a metropolis crossed with a seaside resort, and a business, political and media center with a laid-back casual spirit.