Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
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The Dominican Republic’s capital, Santo Domingo, is the largest city in the Caribbean and also the oldest in the Americas, established by the Spanish in 1498, more than a century before the first colonies in North America. Hispaniola, the island that includes both the Dominican Republic and Haiti, is where Christopher Columbus landed on his first voyage to the New World; it later became the seat of the Columbus family’s power when they served as Spain’s governors for the region. Modern Santo Domingo is a vibrant, sprawling metropolis where vestiges of the early city can still be found in the Colonial Zone, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along the narrow, cobblestoned streets are numerous examples of 16th-century Spanish architecture. Some of the most notable include the Basilica Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, the hemisphere’s first cathedral, and the Alcázar de Colón, its first castle, built for Columbus’s son Diego. The 16th-century Ozama Fortress, at the entrance to the Colonial Zone, would later be used as a prison by the 20th-century Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. The area is more than just its historic sights, however, and many of the city’s top restaurants and hotels are found here, too.