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Our Expert Guide to Santiago: Top Activities, Attractions & More

M
Maria
9 min read

Santiago de los Caballeros, nestled in the heart of the Dominican Republic, is the country's second-largest city—and it's brimming with character. From its vibrant people to its unique atmosphere, Santiago truly offers a one-of-a-kind experience.

Ready to dive in? Our guide is here to give you the scoop, providing all the insider details for your upcoming adventure..

Arial view of Santiago.

What is Santiago Known for?

Perched in the Santiago province, Santiago de los Caballeros is a gem near the northern reaches of the Dominican Republic. It proudly wears the title “La Ciudad Corazón” or “Heart City”. And trust me, the name is fitting. Once you step foot in Santiago, you'll instantly feel the warm, welcoming vibes from its residents—a testament to its heartening nickname.

This city really comes alive in February with its vibrant carnival celebrations. But it’s not just about festivities; landmarks like the Monument of the Restoration (which you can glimpse above) and a pace of life that's a refreshing change from the hustle and bustle of the capital, make Santiago a truly special place.

Nature & Adventure Near Santiago

Santiago effortlessly blends the pulse of city life with the tranquility of nature. It's a place where skyscrapers and greenery coexist, letting you relish the best of both worlds. And the best part? There's an adventure just around the corner. In fact, some of the region's most thrilling spots are a mere hour's drive (or even less!) from Santiago.

Jardín Botánico de Santiago Profesor Eugenio de Jesús Marcano Fondeur

Imagine a haven bursting with vibrant flora and fauna—welcome to the Jardín Botánico de Santiago Profesor Eugenio de Jesús Marcano Fondeur. Whether you're laying out a picnic atop a serene hill, hiking through farms and trails, or simply soaking in panoramic views of blossoming flowers, tranquil ponds, and towering trees, it's the perfect escape from the urban buzz.

Monumento Natural Pico Diego de Ocampo

Yearning for a sky-high view and the embrace of nature? Look no further than the Monumento Natural Pico Diego de Ocampo. Just a 40-minute jaunt from Santiago's heart, this well-preserved national park beckons to those itching for an escape from the city's hum. As you ascend to its peak, 1,300 meters above sea level, brace yourself for a breathtaking panorama of Santiago—a sight that'll make every step worth it.

Jarabacoa

Venture just a tad over an hour's drive from Santiago, and you'll stumble upon Jarabacoa—a hidden gem in the Dominican Republic's heartland. While the nation is celebrated for its pristine beaches, let's not forget the captivating mountains and rolling hills that dot its interior. In Jarabacoa, the adventures are limitless. Whether you're white-water rafting on the North Yaque River, basking under the cascade of the Baigüate Waterfalls, galloping through sprawling prairies, or soaring on a zipline, there's no end to the thrills awaiting nature enthusiasts. Trust me, this town is an adventurer's dream.

Waterfalls near Santiago.

Best Activities in Santiago

Have Lunch at El Pez Dorado

This is the oldest active restaurant in Santiago which serves high-class and delicious Asian cuisine dishes that will leave your stomach full and your heart happy! It’s a must for first time visitors to the city; even locals regularly enjoy their vast and exquisite menu.

Check out the menu!

Visit El Monumento de la Restauración

This national monument is an iconic landmark in Santiago, and it’s located at the heart of the city. It can be seen from almost every high point in town, making it one, if not, the most recognizable part of the whole city. You can have a picnic on the hill where the monument sits on top of, or simply going inside and climbing the many stairs while reading about its history!

Go to the Cibao Grand Theatre

If you have the opportunity of going to Santiago when a show is presented at the Grand Theatre, don’t think about it twice and go see one! Even though it isn’t a regular thing, it’s not rare either for ballet shows, musicals, orchestras, and sometimes even concerts to take place at a time. Just make sure to check out if any are taking place during your visit. There will always be billboards or flyers near the theatre announcing any upcoming shows.

Go to The Carnival in February

If you have the opportunity to come to Santiago during the month of February, you must go to “El Carnaval”. This fun and colorful festival takes place every Sunday throughout the whole month near the streets of the monument. You can enjoy music, caravans of people dressed up as iconic national characters, food, drinks, and more!

Spend the Afternoon at Centro Cultural León Jimenes Museum

This museum features the perfect mix of contemporary art galleries mixed with some modern pieces. They also have an outdoor area with sculptures and a beautiful garden. They even rotate their main art exhibits every so often, so there’s always something new to look forward to!

Check out their official website where you can see their schedules and more information about the art expositions they offer!

Watch a Baseball Game at the Cibao Stadium

Santiago is home to one of the best baseball teams in the Caribbean, Las Águilas Cibaeñas. Dominican Republic takes great pride in this exciting sport, and whenever it’s ball season, the stadium fills up with people! Especially if it’s the classic rivalry between Águilas and Licey, which is the capital’s home team. You can enjoy the game while eating an empanada, beer, hotdogs, and more! Make sure to bring your favorite team’s flags and colors to show your support.

You can check out this year’s calendar and buy tickets here.

Have Dinner at Camp David Ranch

Camp David is a housing residence located in one of the highest points of Santiago city. However, inside the residence there’s a restaurant where you can enjoy great food and the best views of the whole city. There’s also an area where they sometimes exhibit old-fashioned cars for those who love vehicles. It’s ideal for a romantic evening or simply having a family dinner.

Check out their menu!

Spend the Afternoon at Las Aromas Golf Club

If you love playing golf but also enjoy panoramic views, get yourself ready to the city’s largest golf course! Here, you’ll be mesmerized by the Cibao Valley and its endless mountain ranges while also enjoying the afternoon playing golf with your friends or other golfers already at the course.

Best Hotels in Santiago, Dominican Republic

Since Santiago is a growing city, there’s only really one chain of hotels that offers its guests excellent service, food, and views depending on where you decide to stay.

Hodelpa Garden Court

This is the largest Hodelpa hotel in Santiago. Even though it’s not in the heart of the city, it’s located near Santiago’s airport. It’s also already on the country’s largest highway, which takes you directly to the Capital if needed.

Hodelpa Gran Almirante Hotel & Casino

This hotel is the most central one of all being close to the main areas in Santiago. It’s located right beside T.G.I. Friday’s®, which is perfect if you want quick and delicious American-style food. There’s also a casino for those who want to spend the night playing Poker or Blackjack.

Centro Plaza Hodelpa

This is the cheapest option of the Hodelpa hotels within Santiago. It’s quite cozy and has a casino inside the hotel. Its location is very central, being close to The Monument and the center parts of the city.

As of June 2023, two more big hotel chains are currently being built in the city. One of them is a Marriot Hotel and the other is rumored to be a Hilton. This is really going to promote tourism and more globalization of this growing city.

Dominican flag.

Staying Safe in and Around Santiago

Santiago is a vibrant and lively city, but like any urban center, it's crucial to prioritize your safety while exploring. When it comes to getting around:

  • Public and Private Transports: Santiago has a range of both. I'd advise against relying on public cars, or “conchos” as they're locally known. These vehicles, often in poor condition, tend to be cramped since drivers accommodate as many passengers as possible. Plus, they follow specific routes, unlike taxis.
  • Uber: It's a popular choice in Santiago, but be prepared - many drivers prefer cash payments over the app. Keep some cash on hand to avoid disputes.

While the city pulsates with life and culture, it's not particularly pedestrian-friendly, especially after dark. If you do venture out:

  • Be Wary of Motorcycles: A common strategy among muggers is to approach on motorcycles, particularly if there are two riders. Always stay alert.
  • Travel in Groups: If walking is unavoidable, ensure you're accompanied. While Santiago is generally safe, you're always safer in a group!

Santiago Weather

Santiago's weather is as dynamic as the city itself, and each season brings its own charm. The calendar here unfolds like this:

  • April and May: These months usher in the rainy season, so don't forget that umbrella! While the city is drenched in showers, the warmth persists.
  • October to December: The mercury dips slightly, but "cold" in Santiago still means a pleasant 23°C (73°F). It's a reprieve from the usual heat, making it a delightful time to roam the city streets.
  • The Rest of the Year: Warmth and humidity are the staples of Santiago's climate. The city isn't known for its gusty winds, but the sun? It sure knows how to blaze. A word to the wise: pack that SPF to shield yourself from its potent rays.

Getting to Santiago

Santiago is conveniently accessible by air, with a couple of solid options for travelers:

  • Aeropuerto Internacional del Cibao (STI): Santiago's very own gateway. Though on the smaller side, this airport is a mere 20 minutes away from the heart of the city. With a number of direct international flights, it's often the quickest route to start your Santiago adventure.
  • Santo Domingo's Airport (SDQ): Located in the nation's capital, this larger airport provides a broader range of direct flights from various destinations. It's a two-hour drive via the Autopista Duarte straight to Santiago. While it's a bit farther out, the scenic drive could be a delightful introduction to the Dominican Republic's landscapes.

Discover Santiago

Santiago de los Caballeros, with its rich history, welcoming atmosphere, and blend of urban and natural charm, is a must-visit gem in the Dominican Republic. Whether you're seeking thrilling adventures, rich cultural experiences, or just the chance to soak in the local ambiance, Santiago promises a unique and memorable experience. As you prepare for your journey, let this guide serve as your compass, pointing you toward the best the "Heart City" has to offer. Happy travels!! ¡La Ciudad Corazón te Espera!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Santiago

What's the weather like in Santiago?

Santiago enjoys a warm and humid climate throughout the year. April and May are particularly rainy, while October to December offers slightly cooler temperatures, with lows of around 23°C (73°F). It's always a good idea to pack sunscreen, as the sun can be quite strong.

What are the best ways to get to Santiago?

The most direct way is through the Aeropuerto Internacional del Cibao (STI) located about 20 minutes from Santiago. Alternatively, travelers can land at Santo Domingo's larger airport (SDQ) and take a scenic two-hour drive via the Autopista Duarte to reach Santiago.

Is Santiago safe for tourists?

Generally, Santiago is safe for visitors. However, it's recommended to avoid using public cars or "conchos" for transport, be cautious around motorcycles with multiple riders, and avoid walking alone, especially at night. Always stay aware of your surroundings.

What nature and adventure activities can I enjoy near Santiago?

Santiago offers a mix of urban and rural environments. For nature enthusiasts, there's the Jardín Botánico de Santiago Profesor Eugenio de Jesús Marcano Fondeur, which features beautiful flora, hiking trails, and panoramic views. Adventurers can hike the Monumento Natural Pico Diego de Ocampo for a rewarding city view, or drive a bit further to Jarabacoa for water rafting, waterfall swims, and ziplining.

Why is Santiago referred to as "La Ciudad Corazón"?

Santiago de los Caballeros is affectionately called "La Ciudad Corazón" or "Heart City" due to the warm and welcoming nature of its residents. This nickname captures the city's friendly and inviting vibes, making it a favorite destination for many.

M
Reviewed by: Maria

All of our content at Tourbase is written by experienced travel writers who have visited all of the locations we recommend. And our review board of local tourism experts ensure that all the information we provide is accurate, current and helpful

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