Often overlooked as a destination, the Dominican Republic’s quietly thriving “second city” is well worth a visit by private jet. Founded by a group of Spanish noblemen, the city retains a slower pace and a more genteel, old-fashioned feel than the country’s capital to the south, Santo Domingo. Full of old Spanish colonial and Victorian architecture, Santiago has much to offer visitors, including a cathedral and numerous museums. El Centro Leon, the city’s cultural heart, features art galleries, shops and other attractions.
As the city transitions from an agricultural to a service economy and undergoes rapid modern expansion, it’s developed an active nightlife with a large number of bars and discotheques. While it has plenty of sights on its own, you’ll find that from the city, you can quickly make your way to some of the Dominican Republic’s spectacular natural attractions. The central mountain range, the Cordilleras, is close by if you enjoy hiking or climbing, and the beaches and resorts of Puerto Plata are just an hour’s drive away.
Must see: The Monumento a los Heroes de la Restauración was constructed in 1944 by dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo in his own honor and renamed after his assassination in 1961. The monument is surrounded by a park that offers spectacular views of the city and mountains, and much of Santiago’s nightlife is concentrated in the immediate area.
Lodging: Hodelpa Gran Almirante–This luxury hotel features amenities like a casino, massages and a gym, and offers convenient access to the city’s attractions.
Cuisine: Dominican cuisine, a combination of Spanish, Taíno and African traditions, is similar to that of other Latin American countries, particularly the islands of Puerto Rico and Cuba, though it tends to be more mildly spiced. A wave of Middle Eastern immigration more than a century ago means that a number of Arab and Levantine dishes are popular as well.
Ground Transportation: Catch a horse-drawn carriage at the Monument for a leisurely ride around the city.
Packing Tips: If you’re a light sleeper, it’s a good idea to pack earplugs. Between honking traffic and the music blaring from bars and nightclubs, the Dominican Republic is notoriously noisy, and earplugs are difficult to find in the country.
Recommended Books: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Dominican-American author Junot Diaz explores, among other things, the history of the Dominican Republic under Trujillo. The novel won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Currency: The Dominican peso is the local currency.
Calling Code: 849
Best Travel Dates: Santiago’s temperature stays fairly consistent year-round. May to October constitute the rainy season, and while Santiago is somewhat sheltered from tropical storms due to its mountainous location, you may not want to visit in August and September, the height of hurricane season.