City guide

Santiago de los Caballeros

The Monumento a los Héroes de la Restauración, Santiago

Photo: Mikkel Ulriksen

Welcome to Santiago de los Caballeros

Surrounded by mountains, the air is cooler and fresher. This town has a distinctly different feel from the tropical coastal cities of the Dominican Republic.

Here’s what not to miss in Santiago de los Caballeros, according to a local.

Fortaleza San Luis, Santiago de los Caballeros

Photo: Anton Lau

Santiago of the Gentlemen

Two hours north of Santo Domingo, atop a plateau in the Caribbean’s tallest mountain range, Santiago de los Caballeros is the Dominican Republic’s second-largest city.

 

Drawcards for visitors include a cigar factory, historic monuments and access to hiking trailheads. If you’re a traveller, not a tourist, a short stay in Santiago de los Caballeros is a great way to experience a laid-back Latin-Caribbean city at a slower pace than Santo Domingo.

 

Hidden by mountains, with a cooler climate than balmy Santo Domingo and not a beach in sight, Santiago is outside the tourist spotlight, and Santiagueros seem to like it that way. But that doesn't mean outsiders aren't welcome. Quite a few that go there and like to stay on. But if you're here for just one day, here's what you don't want to miss.

La Aurora Cigar Factory, Santiago de los Caballeros

Photo: Mikkel Ulriksen

Things to do in Santiago

La Aurora Cigar Factory

The area of Santiago de los Caballeros is considered the cigar capital of the world. Dominican cigars make up almost half of the world's total production, and ninety percent of Dominican cigars are made right here in Santiago. Free tours of the La Aurora Cigar Factory - established in 1903 and still a working factory - run from 8am to 5pm Monday thru Friday.

 

Estadio Cibao

There are actually two of these. One is Estadio Cibao, home of the Cibao Aguilas baseball team (Go Aguilas! Oh, sorry!). The other is Estadio Cibao Futbol Club, and it's strictly for soccer. Both are a blast with a capital B, and you'll catch the enthusiasm just sitting in the bleachers.  Professional baseball games are held between October and January. Tickets start at 350 pesos. Tickets at the soccer stadium start at 125 pesos.

 

Mercado Modelo, Santiago

Santiago is relatively free of gaudy just-for-tourist gift-shops, but if you're here on a tight schedule and you need to get your souvenirs before flying out of the country, Mercado Modelo is your stop. This indoor/outdoor bazaar is brimming with Dominican handicrafts. Look out for traditional Dominican botanicas selling folk magic preparations like health elixirs and love potions.

 

Centro de Recreo

Enjoy a cappuccino at Cafe Victoria's in ambiance of this beautiful historic building. It's almost 100 years old and in the past was used to hold glamorous balls for Santiago's elite.

 

Fortaleza San Luis

This fort was constructed in the early 1800s to stop the Haitian army reaching Santo Domingo from the west. During the War of Restoration, this was a defense post. The base was also occupied by the US Marines when they came to the country. Entrance is free.

 

Monumento de Santiago

This monument was originally built by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujilo in his own honor, but was later dedicated to the heroes of the War of Restoration. From the base of the monument you can see almost the whole city laid out at your feet.

 

Pico Diego de Ocampo

This peak was named for a rebel warrior, Diego Ocampo. He lived during the colonial era and was of mixed Spanish and Taino heritage. It’s a two-mile trek to Pico Diego de Ocampo, the highest nearby peak in the sprawling Cordillera mountain range (the actual highest peak is Pico Duarte, about forty miles southwest of Santiago).

 

Centro Leon

A beautiful cultural center and historical museum in Santiago. Entrance is 150 pesos. Read more about it here.

 

Once you've finished at Centro Leon, let Google Maps guide you around the corner to Santo Domingo Cafe in Plaza el Paseo Santiago.

Centro León Museum and Cultural Centre

Photo: Anton Lau

Eat, shop and people-watch

Many of the restaurants are small and boutique-style, in contrast with the grocery stores which are modern and sprawling. If you explore the city’s shopping plazas you'll find spas, salons, stationery shops, and clothing stores that are unique to Latin America.

 

To find the best restaurants in the city, take a trip down the Avenida 27 de Febrero (Route CJ) or Carretera Duarte (Route A) and explore some of the side streets.

 

For Dominican cigars:

Saga Restaurant and Cigar Bar is the place to go for atmosphere and outstanding service, with great food and fantastic selection of cigars.

 

For coffee and brunch:

Square One Cafe serves up scrumptious fare in a cozy, clean, colorful setting.

 

For upscale Caribbean cuisine:

El Tablon Latino dishes up delicious Latin and Caribbean meals with great views of the Monument.

 

Tourist-friendly bar for drinking and dancing to live merengue bands

Barajando Bar.

Centro de Recreo, Santiago de los Caballeros

Photo: Anton Lau

How to order a drink like a local

In Santiago, most bartenders can parse an English drink order, if you’re patient and don’t mind repeating it a few different ways. Locally-made rum or rón is cheap and delicious. The two rum brands with the best quality for the price are Brugal and Barcelo. At a bar, a rum and coke is called a Cuba Libre, a rum and sprite is a Santo Libre. Want to splash out on something extra special? Look for a bottle of something extra añejo, aged up to 12 years.

 

Enjoy Santiago and the hangouts of the cibao. And yes, gentlemen (caballeros) still exist there.

Hodelpa Gran Almirante Hotel & Casino

Photo: Hotels.com

The best hotels in Santiago de Caballeros

Camp David Ranch

Set on a mountain top 2,000ft above sea level with a spectacular view of the Cibao Valley, the city of Santiago, and the Central Mountain Range. Camp David Ranch provides romantic sunsets and exciting views of the city at night.

 

Sana El Jardin Secreto

A casual hostel with simple dorms and private rooms, Sana El Jardin Secreto is the perfect place to stay for backpackers and travelers on a budget. Sana El Jardin Secreto features a communal kitchen, laundry room and a pool surrounded by the tropical gardens.

 

Hodelpa Gran Almirante Hotel & Casino

With a prime location in the center of Santiago de los Caballeros, Hodelpa Gran Almirante Hotel & Casino offers polished rooms and suites with great views of the city.  Amenities include a several restaurants, infinity pool and a glam casino.

Pico Diego de Ocampo, Santiago de los Caballeros

Photo: Mikkel Ulriksen

Getting to Santiago

There are direct flights to Santiago (STI) from New York (JFK) by Delta Airlines, and JetBlue, and from Miami (Fort Lauderdale) by Spirit Air and American Airlines from Miami International Airport (MIA). Note that Santiago airport is also called Cibao International Airport (Spanish: Aeropuerto Internacional del Cibao).

 

Caribe Tours run a regular, reliable bus service to Santiago from Santo Domingo.

“Attractions” to avoid

Parque Zoologico Gurabo (Gurabo Zoo)

Many websites list the Gurabo Zoo as one of the top attractions in Santiago de los Caballeros. Unfortunately the animals at this zoo are kept in unacceptably cruel, confined conditions which makes it a rather miserable, pitiful experience. Give it a miss.


Written by G. Abdullah.

 

Published August 2020


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