3. Celebrate Carnaval—Dominican Style. The month-long celebration, which ends on or near Dominican Independence Day (February 27), mixes African traditions with Catholic rituals. If you miss it, check out the masks and costumes and learn about the traditions at the TomásMorélFolkloreMuseum on Calle Restauración.
4. Try the sancocho. This thick stew found throughout Latin America is served with rice and avocado and traditionally made with yucca, plantains, yautía, and sweet potatoes. The Dominicans give it a special flair with seasoned beef, chicken and pork. Try it at El Pez Dorado restaurant on Calle del Sol.
5. Dance Merengue. Dominicans live and breathe merengue, a blend of Spanish and African rhythms played on accordion, guitar, tambora, guira, and marimba. You can join the dance, which was officially named a symbol of national identity during the reign of Rafael Trujillo (1930 to 1961), at Francifol on Calle del Sol.
6. Explore Calle del Sol. Spend an afternoon hunting for bargains on one of Santiago’s most fascinating streets. The artisan shops of Mercado Modelo offer a variety of rustic handicrafts. Keep an eye out for larimar, a light blue, semi-precious stone found only in the Dominican Republic.
7. Enjoy a Panoramic View. The Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration stands 230 feet (70 meters) tall on a hilltop overlooking the city. Originally constructed by Trujillo to honor himself, and renamed at the fall of his regime, it boasts murals by renowned Spanish artist José Vela Zanetti.
8. Go Back in Time. A horse-drawn carriage ride is the perfect way to take in the city’s Victorian and Spanish colonial architecture. Two must-see sights include the Catedral Santiago Apóstol, built in the late nineteenth century, and the Centro de Recreo, formally a gathering place for Santiago’s high society.
9. See Contemporary Art. El Centro León on Avenida 27 de Febrero is one of the premier spaces to see the diversity of Dominican art—both old and new. Beyond the exhibits depicting traditional Dominican life, it offers many classes and workshops for the public.
10. Stroll through Parque Duarte. Popular among locals, this small plaza is a great place to sip a refreshing yun-yun (a Dominican icee) and watch the day unfold.