Your guide will meet you at your hotel in Punta Cana and transport you by comfortable coach to Santo Domingo – the Dominican Republican’s capital and its largest city. Founded in 1496 by Bartholomew Columbus (Christopher Columbus’ brother), who colonized the indigenous Tainos, Santo Domingo was the first Spanish settlement in the ‘New World’ and is regarded as the oldest continuously inhabited European city in the Americas!
Discover the riches of the colonial city on your sightseeing tour, starting with Los Tres Ojos (The Three Eyes) – thee lagoons, or ojos, located in an open-air limestone cave in Parque Mirador del Este (Eastern Lookout Park). Climb the rock staircase to the lagoons and follow your guide on a walkway through the cavern – one of the country’s most popular attractions. Admire the beautiful colors and mineral formations amid lush vegetation surrounding the cave as your guide informs you about its natural features.
Next, head to Ciudad Colonial (Colonial City) – known as Zona Colonial – Santo Domingo’s historic central neighborhood, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, visit the Columbus Alcazar (Alcázar de Colón), a Spanish colonial mansion built around 1510 by Christopher Columbus’ son, Diego, when he became viceroy of Hispaniola and the Indies. Once housing fifty rooms amid gardens and courtyards, the restored palace boasts an impressive museum collection, including period furniture and Caribbean works spanning the 15th to 17th centuries. Hear from your guide about the Spanish expeditions and conquests planned onsite, and learn what happened when explorer Sir Francis Drake came to the island.
Continue to the Catedral Primada de América, more commonly known as Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, completed in 1540 and the oldest cathedral in the Americas. Located next to Columbus Park, the coral limestone walls appear to be tinted with gold. Admire the Gothic and Baroque architectural styles and the lavish treasury filled with old woodcarvings, silver, jewelry, furniture, sculptures, retablos (devotional paintings) and even tombstones. (Please note: Shoulders and knees must be covered to enter this national monument.)
Afterward, stop at the Columbus Lighthouse (Faro a Colón), a 680-foot (207-meter) concrete monument built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first colony in the Americas. Then, head to Calle de las Damas – the oldest street in the ‘new world.’ Bisecting the middle of the Colonial Zone and following the shoreline of the Ozama River, the street was named alter the 30 or so ladies of the Spanish court – including Maria de Toledo, the niece of King Ferdinand – who strolled up and down the avenue on their way to mass. Your guide will point out other historically significant landmarks as you travel down this famous street before returning you to your hotel in Punta Cana.