SANTO DOMINGO, NATIONAL DISTRICT.

The Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo, declared a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, is a “must see” for all visitors to the country. It is a living historic district with the first cathedral in the New World, first European hospital, first monasteries, first university, first mint, the magnificent Columbus Palace… and many other fabulous forts, churches, and colonial-era monuments.

The modern Capital is far, far larger than just the ancient walled Zona Colonial, of course. Home to three million people, Santo Domingo, which was founded in 1496 by Christopher Columbus’s brother Bartolomé, today is a fast-paced world of big business, international finance, and diplomacy.

High-rise hotels and condos line the Malecón, the broad avenue that fronts the Caribbean Sea, and the city boasts two cruiseship docks, a multitude of beautiful parks, the impressive Presidential Palace, Columbus Lighthouse, Botanical Gardens (ranked among the top 10 in the world), National Aquarium, Tres Ojos (once a cave system, the top fell in eons ago, leaving three naturally jewel-colored lakes at the bottom of a tropical mini-Grand Canyon), the Mercado Modelo (a covered souvenir market surrounded by fruit, vegetable, and flower vendors), and hundreds of other attractions, including the country’s top-ranked museums, galleries of art and artisanry, and lively casinos and nightclubs.

Nearby Boca Chica is the district’s most popular beach area; it is just west of the country’s largest international airport, Las Americas. A new international shipping port is being built at Boca Chica, and nearby is a huge Zona Franca (industrial free-trade zone) and the new Ciudad Cibernética, an international center for computers and Internet communication.

To the west of the Capital is another large Free-Trade Zone and port at the mouth of the Haina River.