SANTIAGO DE LOS CABALLEROS

The identifying symbol of this city is the Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration of the Republic, which dates back to the 1940s when it was elected as the "Trujillo Peace Monument". This solid white marble structure is 67 meters tall and has small museums in its interior.

Santiago de los Caballeros, with its quaint Neoclassic and Victorian buildings, is the second most populous city in the Dominican Republic. Frequently in the past, its residents vied with Santo Domingo’s to dominate the country politically. It was here that many of the wars of Independence were fought against Haiti, and most of the battles in the War of the Restoration from Spain—the city’s central Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration pays tribute to all the region’s patriots who lost their lives in the name of freedom.

From the Monument, you have a panoramic view of the city, nestled in a vast valley surrounded by the towering mountains of the Cordillera Central to the southwest and the Cordillera Septentrional to the north. At Carnaval time, the Monument is the place to be for all the colorful action every Sunday in February—two of Santiago’s neighborhoods vie every year to see which can make the most demonic “Lechón” masks and costumes.

More must-see places are the Regional Folkloric Museum of Tomás Morel, the ruins of the original colonial city of Santiago, and the Botanical Gardens and the ruins of the fortress at Jánico; the fortress was founded by Christopher Columbus himself in 1494. The mountains to the north of Santiago are riddled with amber mines, where some of the highest quality amber in the world is found, including the world’s only known blue amber.

Many of the pieces contain ancient fossilized plants and insects (even very rare lizards and frogs) between 15 and 20 million years old. In the science-fiction book and movies about Jurassic Park, it’s Dominican amber from which cloneable dinosaur genes are extracted from blood preserved inside a fossil mosquito. The movie’s popularity caused the price of amber to soar on the world market. To the south, in the foothills and mountains of the Cordillera Central, can be found pockets of Dominicans with high percentages of Taíno ancestry, the descendants of “cimarrones” who ran away from the Spanish-dominated regions of the country to settle around today’s Baitoa, San José de las Matas (the thermal springs here are popular with locals), Inoa Abajo, and Caobanico, among others. To the far south is the vast Armando Bermúdez National Park, where Pico Duarte lies, the tallest peak in all the Caribbean.

The province of Santiago, with its wide stretches of fertile Cibao Valley, is the region where merengue, the country’s national dance, evolved, a rich agricultural region dedicated to tobacco, sugar cane, and rum.