Zona Colonial: A Walking Tour

gateway zona colonial santo domingo dominican republic

At the heart of the Dominican Republic's capitol, Santo Domingo, is the Zona Colonial; a historical gem of the Americas. This historic neighborhood consists of a maze of narrow cobblestone streets banked by a plethora of 16th to early 20th century architectural wonders. As you walk these age-old streets it is easy to travel back in time to the first colonization of the Americas.

Christopher Columbus tried a few times to settle the New World, but it was his brother, Bartolome Colombus, that finally succeeded with the founding of Santo Domingo in 1498. Bartolome was followed by Diego Colombus (Christopher Colombus's son), the Dominican Order, and Nicolás de Ovando, all of which would make their mark on this already historic city to build many of the firsts in the Americas.

Walking Tour of Zona Colonial

Take a walk in the footsteps of the first European colonist in the Americas, as you travel through the winding cobble streets of this historic old town. Sitting at the mouth of the Rio Ozama, and encircled by its original fortifying walls, is the Zona Colonial; the oldest and most prodigious city of old world America.

walking tour map zona colonial santo domingo dominican republic
This walking tour map will take you to see all of the prominent sites in the Zona Colonial.

Listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1990, many of the buildings within the Zona Colonial make up its UNESCO definition. Within in its historic walls stand the first of many things in the Americas; the first university, the first hospital, the first cathedral, the first fortress, and the first monastery.

All of the important monuments within the Zona Colonial can easily be seen in just one day, but for a thorough exploration of its history and tours inside the museums and buildings will take two or three days. You can easily create a self-made walking tour to experience all that the Zona Colonial has to offer, but if you want a little more detail from a guide you can easily find one in the Parque Colón or outside the fortress.

La Puerta del Conde


la puerta del conde zona colonial santo domingo dominican republic
Inside the city looking out into El Parque Nacional.

La Puerta del Conde was once the main gateway into Colonial Santo Domingo and was part of the larger Fort San Genaro. The fortress, started in 1543, was later connected to other fortress by a wall in 1655; encircling the Zona Colonial. The fortress, and its defensive walls, follow the 17th century Italian model and would set the standard for fortresses throughout the Caribbean.

La Puerta del Conde is the site where Francisco del Rosario Sanchez, one of the Dominican Founding Fathers, proclaimed Dominican Independence and raised the first Dominican Flag, on February 27, 1844. Today, in honor of that feat, this gateway stands as the main entrance to El Parque Nacional (just outside the gateway). This park holds El Altar de la Patria, a mausoleum for the founding fathers of the Dominican Republic.

Calle el Conde

calle el conde  zona colonial santo domingo dominican republic
Looking down Calle el Conde at the Palacio Consistorial de Santo Domingo.

Calle de Conde is one of the oldest streets in the Zona Colonial. Starting at La Puerta del Conde, Calle de Conde leads straight through the center of Colonial Santo Domingo to its heart, Parque Colón and its cathedral. One of the few walking only streets in the city Calle el Conde is full of restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, and more.

Dominican Convent

dominican convent zona colonial santo domingo dominican republic
The Dominican Convent was the oldest catholic building in the Americas

The Dominican Convent was built in 1510 as the oldest catholic building in the new world. In the same compound can be found the ruins of the first university in the Americas, opened as a university in 1538. There is also the 18th century building of the Third Order of Dominicans. The convent not only housed the first university in the New World, but it was also the place where Fray Antón de Montesinos made the first call for Human Rights of Native Americans on December 21st, 1511.

Parque Colón

parque colon zona colonial santo domingo dominican republic
Parque Colón is a popular place for locals and tourist to hangout.

Parque Colón is the central plaza of the Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo. In the center of the square is a 19th century statue of Christopher Columbus, in whose honor the square was renamed in 1887. Surrounding the plaza is the Catedral de Santa Maria la Menor, Santo Domingo's Municipal Palace, and Palacio Borgella.

Cathedral of Santa María la Menor

Cathedral of Santa María la Menor zona colonial santo domingo dominican republic
Cathedral of Santa María la Menor is also known as the Catedral Primada de América.

Cathedral of Santa María la Menor is the oldest cathedral in the Americas. It was consecrated by Pope Julius II in 1504 and its construction began in 1514. Construction continued in stages, under different architects, until 1540which is the reason the cathedral shows examples of Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque architectural traits. 500 years later the cathedral is still holding mass.

When mass is not being held you may tour the cathedral. There is a treasury which has an excellent art collection of ancient woodcarvings, furnishings, funerary monuments, silver, and jewelry. The cathedral was once also the home of Christopher Columbus until he was moved.

Cost: 50 RD (0.88 USD)
Hours: 9 am - 4:30 pm

Fortaleza Ozama

fortaleza ozama zona colonial santo domingo dominican republic
This 16th century fort has served many crowns in its long history.

The Fortaleza Ozama is a sixteenth-century castle which lies at the entrance to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, overlooking the Ozama River. This fortress is the oldest formal military construction still standing in the Americas. Constructed in 1502, over the centuries the fort has served as a military garrison and prison, flying the flags of Spain, England, France, Haiti, Gran Colombia, the US and the Dominican Republic.

The most emblematic and oldest building of the fortress is the Torre del Homenaje, an imposing tower with a 60 view of the city. Standing beside the tower is the old powder house added in the 1700's. The fortresses importance for guarding the cities port can be seen in the two rows of cannons that line the river side.

Cost: 70 RD (1.23 USD)
Hours: 9 am - 6:30 pm

Calle las Damas

calle las damas zona colonial santo domingo dominican republic
Here you can see the house of Hernán Cortés, the National Pantheon, and Las Casa Reales on the left.

Calle las Damas was the first paved street in the Americas. The street connects Alcazar de Colón with Fortaleza Ozama and passes all of the prominent government buildings and houses along the way. On this street you will find the houses of many famous conquistadors like Hernán Cortés (now the French Embassy), Nicolás de Ovando, and Rodrigo de Bastidas (now the Trampoline Children's Museum).

National Pantheon

national pantheon zona colonial santo domingo dominican republic
The National Pantheon is a national symbol of the Dominican Republic.

Towering over Calle Las Damas, the National Pantheon stands today as a national symbol of the Dominican Republic and serves as the final resting place of the Republic's most honored citizens. Built it 1746 as a Jesuit Church, it was used as such until 1767. After that it was used as a tobacco warehouse and later as a theater for the pro-independence organization La Trinitaria. In 1956, the structure was renovated to serve its new purpose as a national mausoleum.

Museo de las Casas Reales

museo de las casas reales zona colonial santo domingo dominican republic
Las Casas Reales, and its sundial, overlook the Ozama river and the Plaza de la Hispanidad.

Las Casas Reales is a 16th century building used as the governor’s palace, treasury, and the royal court. It served as a government building, in different fashions, until 1973 when it was restored to its original 16th century appearance and turned into a museum. Now the Museo de las Casas Reales highlight the history, life and customs of the inhabitants of the Spanish colony.

Cost: 100 RD (1.76 USD)
Hours: 9 am - 5 pm

Alcázar de Colón

alcazar de colon zona colonial santo domingo dominican republic
Alcázar de Colón was once the home of Diego Colon, son of Chirtopher Colombus.

The Alcázar de Colón is the oldest Viceregal residence in the Americas and is the Zona Colonials most popular museum. Built in 1512 as the home of Diego Colón, Christopher Columbus' son, this 16th-century viceregal palace was the staging point for many expeditions of conquest and exploration of the Americas. Now a museum, this building houses a collection of the Caribbean's most important ensemble of European late medieval and Renaissance works of art, and representation of the building during the time of Diego Colón.

Cost: 100 RD (1.76 USD)
Hours: Tue - Sun: 9 am - 5 pm

Monasterio de San Francisco

monasterio de san francisco  zona colonial santo domingo dominican republic
The first monastery in the Americas has had a very troubled past. 

The monastery may not be much but ruins now, but it is still a sight to be seen. Occupying large blocks of the Zona Colonial, the Monasterio de San Francisco was built in 1508, making it the oldest monastery in the Americas. The building has had a hard history. It was sacked by Sir Francis Drake in 1586, but rebuilt. Then damaged by earthquackes in 1673 and 1751 and rebuilt. Then used as a mental asylum from the 1880s until the 1930s when it was destroyed by a hurrican and not rebuilt. In 1942 the remains of Alonso de Ojeda and Bartholomew Columbus (Christorpher Colombus's brother) were found buried in the chapel.

Hospital San Nicolás de Bari

Hospital San Nicolás de Bari zona colonial santo domingo dominican republic
This hospital was state of the art when it was built in 1503.

Today a preserved ruin, the Hospital San Nicolás de Bari was once a monument to Governor Nicolás de Ovando rule. Built in 1503, it became the first hospital in the New World and a standard for hospitals built around the Americas. So well built, it survived many devastating events until it was destroyed by a hurrican in 1911.

What were your favorite sites in the Zona Colonial?

zona colonial walking tour santo domingo dominican republic

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