Shopping in Santo Domingo is plentiful, and it’s the main hub for most expats who otherwise live in other parts of the country. You’ll find discount fashion shops and lots of shoe shopping all along Calle El Conde, in the Ciudad Colonial. Arts and crafts, as well as souvenir and jewelry shops, are also well represented all over this area.
Arts and Crafts
Galería de Arte Maria del Carmen (Arzobispo Meriño 207, Ciudad Colonial, tel. 809/682-7609, 8am-8pm daily) is a charming 30-year-old gallery, hosted in a restored colonial home, carrying original and certified works of art from Dominican artists such as Luis Oviedo and Miguel Gomez, as well as Cuban and Haitian works from Bernard Sejourne. The paintings come in all sizes and are each breathtaking, from abstract to vibrant portraits. You could easily miss this gem of a gallery as it’s up a side street from Parque Colón and has no sign on the outside. Ask lovely host Nuri Jacob to show you her own paintings—they’ve been exhibited at the city’s top museums, including Museo del Hombre Dominicano. Shipment is available by FedEx.
On a parallel street tucked away in the corner of Plaza Maria de Toledo is Galería Toledo (formerly Bettye’s Galería, Calle Isabel la Católica 163, tel. 809/688-7649) selling both Dominican and Haitian art, including pieces by Luis Oviedo. The store also carries souvenir trinkets, handmade purses, and jewelry.
Tucked away from the pedestrian throngs of the Ciudad Colonial, yet a block away from the action, Galería Bolos (Calle Isabel La Católica 15, tel. 809/686-5073, 9am-8pm daily) is a fantastic place to get a unique, handmade piece of Dominican or Haitian art, sculpture, and crafts made across the country. From recycled wood mirrors to paintings depicting Dominican scenes prepare to spend quite a bit of time in this colonial building. They also have carnival devil figurines made of papier-mâché and handmade purses. Bring your wallet.
La Placita Mercadito Colonial (Calle Isabel La Católica 151, Ciudad Colonial, tel. 809/686-2406, email@example.com, 9am-10pm) is a large, lively souvenir store where you’re sure to find a classic DR gift for every member of your family from Dominican rum to mamajuana (you can sample them), T-shirts to cups, larimar jewelry to art. Walking through the store alone is sheer fun. It stretches far enough that it takes at least five minutes to get to the back, where you’ll end up on a different street.
Galería de Arte Nader (22 Rafael Augusto Sánchez, tel. 809/544-0878, 9am-7pm Mon.-Fri., 10am-1pm Sat.) showcases work by Dominican artists.
Spare at least thirty minutes for a colorful, lively Dominican experience shopping at the Mercado Modelo (Av. Mella, Mon.-Sat. 9am-6pm, noon close on Sun.), originally built in 1942 by Rafael Trujillo as one of Santo Domingo’s first tourist venues. On the northern edge of the Ciudad Colonial, you’ll go up a flight of yellow-painted stairs and end up in an old covered market building filled with souvenir stalls selling all things Dominican—from larimar jewelry to wood carvings and carnival masks, including some Haitian art.
Be sure to bargain hard, and prepare for various vendors to call out “mi amor” and insist on you viewing their wares. Politely decline if you’re not interested. Note that the prices here are some of the best you’ll find after you bargain, and you would be supporting the locals. Head to the back of the market for the food section—from fish to fruits and obscure “cure-alls” or love potions—and watch Dominicans doing their own haggling, amid banter and passing traffic. The neighborhood isn’t so safe at night, so stick to daytime hours. It’s an easy walk back to the Ciudad Colonial from here, if you continue up a couple of blocks from the market’s front entrance and turn right on Calle Duarte.
La Sirena (Av. Mella 258, tel. 809/221-3232, 8am-8pm Mon.-Sat., 8:30am-3pm Sun. and holidays) is the DR’s version of K-Mart—you can find absolutely anything here, from a fully stocked supermarket to apparel, electronics, and household items. There are at least a dozen locations throughout Santo Domingo, but my favorite is the large one across from the Blue Mall, complete with a food court.
You can watch a tabaquero roll cigars by hand in the Dominican style at La Leyenda del Cigarro (Calle El Conde 161, corner of Calle Hostos, across from Mercure Hotel, tel. 809/682-9932, www.laleyendadelcigarro.com, 9am-9pm daily). Sample a variety, and sit and enjoy your cigar purchase with wine or rum at the back tables or out on the sidewalk. Brands unique to the store are El Secreto Cubano. There are artisanal cigars you can buy as singles, if you prefer not to purchase a whole box. Hats and larimar jewelry are also for sale.
The ChocoMuseo (Calle Arzobispo Meriño 254, corner of El Conde, tel. 809/221-8222, 10am-7pm Mon.-Sun.) is a great place to get a quick, free taste of Dominican cacao—one of the country’s four largest exports. It’s not a museum by any stretch of the imagination. Instead it’s a store where you can get some background on organic cacao farms in the country and sample some organic chocolate made right here in the DR. Chocolate bars and other treats are on sale.
La Casa de los Dulces (Calle Emiliano Tejera and Arz. Meriño, tel. 809/685-0785, 9am-5pm Mon.-Sat.) displays over 20 different types of Dominican desserts and sweet-tooth snacks on its shelves, just like a supermarket. Choose from dried fruits to blocks of dulce de leche and mini coconut cakes. Get a cultural lesson while you indulge. You can also shop for reasonably priced souvenirs.
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Dominican Republic.