Visiting Santo Domingo during the holidays? You won’t be disappointed. The lively capital is even more abuzz at the end of the year–so much that it’s hard to keep up with all the events.

Below are my top 10 picks on how to spend the final two weeks of December 2017 in La Capital and get some culture along the way–from midnight mass at the Cathedral to live merengue concerts, and plenty of (free) outdoor fun.

1. Ballet El Cascanueces or The Nutcracker at the National Theater (December 14–17)

If you’re lucky enough to get tickets, the Dominican version of the famous Tchaikovsky ballet “The Nutcracker” or Ballet Cascanueces to welcome Christmas, is performed at the stunning national Theater building at Plaza de la Cultura. Over 300 hundred youth from around the country perform, including international dancers. tel. 809-687-3191.

2. Midnight Mass on Noche Buena at the Cathedral in the Colonial Zone (December 24, Christmas Eve)

It’s the oldest cathedral in the Americas–Catedral Santa Maria La Menor, towering over Parque Colon–and it’s magical when mass is held, especially this time of year. Arrive by 8pm if you want to find inside seating. The mass usually starts around 10pm.

3. Fun on the Malecón from sunset to evening

The seaside parks at Plaza Juan Baron, Guibia, and the newly remodeled space east of Guibia are all abuzz on the weekends and at sunset. But that’s even truer this time of year. Head there for some local vibes starting at 5pm, and live concerts (usually announced last minute) and dancing by the sea. There are lots of fast food vendors and bars on site. It’s also a good chance to see some of the renovated portions of the city’s famous waterfront boulevard (advancing, slowly but surely). Easy walking distance during the day from the Colonial City. After dark, catch a taxi or Uber.

4. Funky cafes with live music or readings

The Colonial Zone’s list of cafes is ever-growing, each one offering a different ambiance and menu. Affogato Cafe has live music on Friday after-work hours, and cocktail specials like sangria, at happy hour prices. Another pick if you love books and readings, is Libreria Mamey, also with a full service cafe, bookstore, and Spanish courtyard ideal for December’s cool evenings. Meander over to Plaza España afterwards, where the giant Coca-Cola Christmas Tree gathers crowds all night long.


5. Christmas forest and colorful deco at Agora Mall

They call it the Magic Forest or Bosque Magico–even if you’re not into malls (heck, you likely come here to get away from all that), it’s an impressive set up and can fun for kids. Pick up local arts and crafts here (there’s a fair Dec 16-17). There area also several decent restaurants and cafes at Agora, including a movie theater with the latest peliculas (in English and Spanish). Agora Mall is located in the Piantini area, or what we call downtown, so expect more traffic and avoid rush hour.

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6. Fiesta Sunset Jazz every Friday night

A special December series of live jazz at the Dominican Fiesta Hotel on Fridays, starting at 8pm. Throw in fine dining, cigars, wine–all on site.

7. Live merengue on Monday nights at JetSet Nightclub

It’s a year-round tradition–live merengue at Jetset on Mondays (yes, people party on the first day of the week here). But during the holiday season, JetSet amps it up by hosting big name Dominican recording artists. I just recently missed one of my favorites, the ‘prince of bachata’ Frank Reyes. But it’s not too late to catch others–upcoming this Monday 18 December is Hector Acosta.  Check their IG page for location and upcoming artists.

8. Theater and tapas at the new Microteatro

A brand new theater concept for the city, and for the Colonial Zone. Watch a single 15-minute play, or up to four of them in one evening, with rotating seatings. RD$200 per play per person. Thur–Sun. Grab cocktails and bites afterwards. Theater just got a whole lot cooler. Calle José Reyes #107, Zona Colonial. 7pm–midnight.

9. New Year’s Eve parties at Santo Domingo hotels

Several of the city’s big hotels host new year’s eve parties in their event rooms–to name a few: Hotel El Embajador and Sheraton Santo Domingo–complete with an open bar, buffet dinner, and live music. Tickets usually range around RD$3,500 to RD$5,000 per person. Expect to dress up and mingle with the capital’s ‘well-to-do.’

10. 2018 Countdown on the Malecón (free)

The biggest midnight countdown takes place on the Malecón, when the entire city seems to gather on the waterfront at Guibia, for a live concert featuring Dominican artists, and lots of fireworks at midnight. (Actually, expect to hear fireworks throughout December at random times!)

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A few safety tips:

Like every other big city in the world, stay vigilant, and know where you are headed–it’s the holidays and there’s a lot of drinking going on! Don’t carry or wear valuables–leave behind the big purses ladies–while walking around. It amazes me how many people still go out with lots of credit cards, passports, and the like.

Make sure you have a way of getting back to your hotel without having to walk at night (Use the Uber app–it works great here; or call Apolo Taxi 809-537-0000–for tips on how to order a taxi here in Spanish, check out this latest episode on Youtube).

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There’s definitely NO place like the capital to party it up during the holidays. But wherever you end up in the Dominican Republic this month, all you likely have to do for some fun is step outside–everyone is out and about mingling with drinks from sunset onwards, on their doorstep, balconies, colmados (bodegas), central parks, or on the waterfront.

Happy Holidays!

Lebawit Lily Girma

A former corporate attorney, Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning travel writer, photographer, and author of several Caribbean guidebooks for US-publisher Moon Travel Guides, including Moon Belize, Belize Cayes, and Moon Dominican Republic. Originally from Ethiopia, Lily calls herself a “culture-holic”–fluent in four languages, she has lived in eight countries besides the U.S., including Belize, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. Her articles and photography focusing on the Caribbean region have been published in AFAR Magazine, CNN, BBC, Delta Sky, The Guardian, and others. She is the recipient of the 2016 Marcia Vickery Wallace Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism from the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

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