Santo Domingo this, Punta Cana that… dear reader, let’s all get on the same page about one thing: there are more than two places to visit in the Dominican Republic that are worthy of your travel time. And smack dab in the center of the country is a city so noble, it’s the name: Santiago de Los Caballeros.
With over 1 million inhabitants, Santiago is the second largest city in the Dominican Republic, and home to the country’s great Monument of the Heroes of the Restoration, the country’s best baseball team, (las Águilas Cibaeñas of course), and the top university in the country, Pontificia Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra. Santiago also has a rich nightlife, delicious restaurants dedicated to the craft of gastronomy, and several ways to leave the hustle and bustle of the city to enjoy its nearby rivers and townships.
Does that introduction already have you checking flights to STI? Then let us do the rest of your planning! If you’re a fan of this site, you already know that there are many fun things to do in the Dominican Republic… but it’s time we show some love to Santiago. Here are coolest places and things to do in Santiago de Los Caballeros!
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Things to Do in Santiago, Dominican Republic
This list is not numbered in any particular order. There are SO many places to visit in Santiago, and also its neighboring towns. So we’re including places, things, and day trips. Santiago is the perfect launching pad since it easily connects to several Dominican ecotourism opportunities accessible by bus, Uber, and/or guided tours.
PS: While you’re in the area, don’t miss our guide to the best things to do in Puerto Plata!
1. Visit Museo Centro León ★
As one of my most frequented locations in Santiago, Centro Leon holds a special place in our hearts. Arguably one of the most notable cultural centers in the city of Santiago, el Centro Cultural Eduardo Leon Jimenes is a hub of cultural preservation, knowledge, and celebration of the country’s intricate history. At Centro Leon, you can find exhibits on local ecology, art, and history. Their gorgeous cafe opens into a garden home to a small collection of animals, statues, and outdoor seating.
2. Take the Los Pepines Local Mural Tour
Alongside stopping by El Son De Keka (more on them to come), you can visit the neighborhood of Los Pepines on this walking tour and witness the picturesque murals of Dominican culture and local arts. The tour starts at the Monument, and you can book here. The Los Pepines neighborhood is regarded as safe, charming, and emblematic of the success of Dominican arts.
3. Embark on the Tobacco Valley Tours ★
Tobacco Valley Tours offers half-day visits of the tobacco plantations just thirty minutes from Santiago de Los Caballeros in Villa González, where you can learn about the art of smoking at an artisanal tobacco factory. You’ll learn about the origin of tobacco production in the country, and the agricultural methods to cultivate, harvest, and manufacture tobacco.
Villa Gonzales is well known for having the best tobacco in the country, and, arguably, the world. You can get a tobacco tour with them here.
4. Go to Casa de Arte
Located on the lively Calle Benito Moncion in the historic center of downtown Santiago, is Casa de Arte and all its creative glory. A studio and gallery space built in a renovated Victorian home, the gallery’s rotating display shows local Dominican artists’ works, and often hosts live music or theater performances in the evening. The building itself is a piece of art, with decadent large murals splattered across its outside walls, a perfect place for photos or artistic pondering.
5. Hike the 27 Waterfalls (Day Trip)
If you’re looking to get your adrenaline pumping, you can plan a day trip from Santiago de Los Caballeros to Puerto Plata, where you can trek to the 27 Waterfalls for an adventure. These Dominican waterfalls are prolific for the intense hike necessary to access them. From the same place, travelers can also do zip lining and four-wheeling. You can book a trip to the waterfalls here.
6. Go Up the Monumento de los Héroes de las Restauración
Created for the late dictator trash-hole Rafael Trujillo in 1953, and ironically named the “the Monument of the Peace of Trujillo”, after his death the monument was renamed to honor the heroes of the Restoration, and has become a symbol of Dominican resilience ever since. The Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration stands tall in the bustling city, so there’s plenty of good restaurants and bars surrounding it. If you want a deeper look, for just a couple of bucks you can get a tour of the inside and walk up the monument for the best view of Santiago. If you’re as lucky as I am, one of your favorite bachateros might pop up in the parking lot for a concert! Looking at you, El Torito!
7. Visit La Aurora Cigar Factory & Tamboril
Founded in 1903 by the namesake of Centro Cultural Eduardo Leon Jimenes Leon, La Aurora Cigar Factory in Tamboril is a cultural staple of Santiago. For less than $30, you can tour through the oldest cigar factory in the country. The factory is up and running, so you can experience first-hand the daily cigar-making process by people who work there. These Dominican cigars are rolled by hand, with an intentionality and craftsmanship that lends to its success as one of the country’s top exports.
8. Hike el Río Partido (Day Trip) ★
The Cibao region that Santiago de Los Caballeros pertains to has so many scenic, clean, and cooling rivers to swim in. And rivers are always better after a hike to get there! Rio Partido is a secluded river in Salcedo, and you can book a trip to the river here.
Read all about our favorite waterfalls in the Dominican Republic, here!
9. Visit the Breweries: Cibao, Caribe, Gallo PELÓN
Santiago is home to some amazing local breweries. Cibao Brewing Co., Caribe Brewing Company, and Gallo Pelon Mezcaleria are three stops you need to make if you want to get your local Santiago drank game on. While Cibao and Caribe mainly delve into artisanal beer, Gallo Pelon is dedicated to the “artistry of traditional mezcal”, so you will definitely find a range of foreign mezcal options to taste from!
10. Cacao Tour at Chocolate Mountain (Day Trip) ★
Did you know that the Dominican Republic is known as the tenth largest producer of cocoa in the world? Just fifty minutes away from Santiago is Chocolate Mountain, a cacao farm and affordable glamping location that offers comprehensive chocolate tours, covering everything you need to know about cacao, from history to harvest.
11. Visit Orion Wellness Spa
This beautiful spa offers massages, relaxation experiences, and even chiropractic services! The space is gorgeously decorated, and the customer service is one-of-a-kind. They also offer add-ons like fruit plates, champagne, and candle therapy. The perfect break from the hustle and bustle of Santiago city living.
12. Cafe del Yaroa
In Yasica, make sure to stop for a cup of fresh traditionally brewed “campo-style” Dominican coffee in “Cafe del Yaroa.” A truly special afternoon outing for the family to experience the Dominican countryside!
13. Go Shopping at El Mercado Modelo
Located on Calle El Sol in the heart of downtown, you can find the extravagant Mercado Modelo, an accessible and tourist friendly market perfect for buying Dominican souvenirs. Mercado Modelo is a safe place to leisurely sift through the right Dominican gift to bring your loved ones back home. Some classics: Muñecas sin rostro, tamborita, and any piece of jewelry from their many jeweler options!
14. Visit Moca & Salcedo Day Trip
Santiago is very close to two towns you need to make a stop at for the full Cibao experience. In Moca, check out Neoarte Moca for a talented assortment of locally crafted home goods and an opportunity to book demonstrations and lessons with local artists! The space also has an art gallery and coffee shop, El Grano de Caffe. El Molino de La Cumbre will give you some incredible mountainside views and a delicious mofongo. In Salcedo, you can visit the historic home turned museum of the Mirabal sisters, three sisters who remain a symbol of resistance against Trujillo’s regime. You can also check out Bosque de La Mujer for a nice walk and relaxing water view.
15. Hike Pico Diego de Ocampo ★
For those who love hiking and being in nature, only 45 minutes from the center of Santiago is Pico Diego de Ocampo. It is the highest mountain in the Cordillera Septentrional and owes its name to the captain of the black maroons who fought against slavery during the colonial times. Best part? Free access! It’s a 45 minute to two-hour hike, depending on the traveler’s hiking ability. If you’re a fan of birds, there’s a birdwatching trail available to hike!
16. Dance at El Son de Keka
The Dominican Republic is typically known for merengue and bachata, but Santiago has a popular bar called El Son de Keka, where every Sunday at 3:00pm they enjoy a decades-old tradition of dancing what some called the foundation of genres like salsa and cumbia: son! This could be the best way to end your walking tour of the Los Pepines neighborhood!
16. Walk through Calle Boulevard de Los Artistas
Calle Benito Moncion, also known as Calle Boulevard de Los Artistas, gets its nickname for the plethora of galleries, studios, and creativity-sparking cafes and murals meant for the sustenance and inspiration of local Santiago artists and curious travelers worldwide. If you’re an artist or a lover of the arts, this street is the ideal place to kick back and grab a beer or cafecito after your adventures at Centro Leon and the Monument.
17. Visit Santiago Casa Bader: The First Bar in Santiago
When you’re in the Dominican Republic, you need to make sure to try a nice, ice-cold, jumbo Presidente. And here’s where you should try it: Casa Bader. It boasts being the first bar in Santiago, having been founded in 1939. It’s a go-to place for families to enjoy food like their delicious quipes, cold Dominican Presidente beers, and quality time with each other.
18. Check Out Museo Fortaleza San Luis
Any military history buffs reading? Built in the early 19th century, this yellow-toned fortress has a beautiful, ornate exterior gate with two cannons facing the city. Back in the day, Museo Fortaleza San Luis was a prison. It is one of the oldest forts in the Cibao region, and is now a museum available for viewing 10am-5pm every day except Sunday.
19. Jardín Botánico de Santiago
This botanical garden located in Santiago was created in memory of a beloved conservation and environmental activist who passed away in 2003. Jardin Botanico de Santiago Profesor Eugenio helps maintain record of the biodiversity of the Cibao valley. It is open everyday from 8am-6pm, and features exotic plants, an arboretum, trails for walking and cycling, and a butterfly farm.
20. Visit the Dominican Alps (Day Trip) ★
Known for having the highest peak (looking at you, Pico Duarte!) of the central mountain range, Jarabacoa is only an hour away from Santiago and full of ecotourism opportunities. With local company Jaraventura, travelers can try river rafting, climb towards the Dominican heavens on a Pico Duarte hiking tour, try canyoning, tubing, trekking and more. You can also visit coffee manufacturer Cafe Colao, and enjoy a swim in Salto Jimenoa.
21. Take a Boat Ride Through the Presa de Tavera
If you’re looking for a very chill and local experience, this is the activity! You can catch a boat across the gorgeous dam known as la Presa de Tavera to Rancho Mariano, where you can enjoy fresh fish, Dominican appetizers, and drinks, all with a breathtaking view of the water. You can even rent a jet ski!
22. Have your Empanadas pick!
Santiago has some of the most memorable empanadas, and one particular business is so groundbreaking that it made its way to New York City and New Jersey! Empanadas Monumental began as a street food vendor parked by the Monument, and now even has a restaurant in Washington Heights, aka Little Dominican Republic. You should also check out Tata Snacks and Drinks for some one-of-a-kind empanadas and quipes. And if you can snag a yuca empanada from a street vendor, please do.
23. Explore Río Sonador (Day Trip)
With local excursion experts Finca Papirucho, you can spend a day exploring Rio Sonadar, a vibrantly clear blue river in Yasica Arriba, only about one hour from Santiago by car. To avoid crowds, don’t go to the rivers on weekends.
24. Humedal Laguna Prieta
These wetlands located on the outskirts of Santiago have recently been converted to nature reserves to protect the wildlife and biodiversity of the lagoon. It is a hotspot of environmental activism in Santiago. Read more about it: Que se protege en Humedal Laguna Prieta?
25. Catch a show at the Theatron
This popular venue doubles as a theater and bar, showcasing live music and local Santiago performance artists. From plays, to stand up and drag shows, Theatron is perfect if you’re looking to connect with locals in the performing arts! Keep an eye out on their Instagram for their breakdown of events.
26. Day trip to Puerto Plata ★
If you’re looking for a beach day not too far from the city, head up north to the beaches of Puerto Plata for a calm and refreshing swim. Check out Playa Costambar and Playa Dorada for a day of sun-soaked fun. It’s the 9th largest city in the country, so you’ll find plenty to do, like riding the teleferico (mountain cable cars), taking a tour of the historical center, grabbing a bite at the Mariposa ice cream shop, and exploring the cinematic Fortaleza San Felipe. You can book a transfer there through here.
27. Puerta del Sol Karaoke
If you’re looking for a fun night with the family, try karaoke at Puerta del Sol! This massive restaurant is popular for its lively karaoke nights and gorgeous view of the Monument. If you need to snag an Instagram flick of your time in Santiago, then this is the place to order a cocktail, kick back, and grab the perfect photo with the country’s most important landmark in the background!
28. Dance Merengue Tipico in Barajando Bar
The Dominican Republic birthed bachata and merengue, and those genres have their own subsets too! In Santiago, we recommend you visit Barajando Bar to learn the super quick-paced and folkloric sound of merengue tipico and perico ripiao. The three national instruments, (the accordion, guira, tambora) are all key to these offshoots of merengue. When they come together, your hips will surely want you to get dancing! Barajando Bar is known for their live shows featuring some of merengue tipico’s heavy hitters.
29. Learn about Dominican women in Museo a La Mujer Rosita Fadul
I believe that the tell-tale sign of a good trip is finding at least one discrete and small museum that shows you an intricate and specific history of the place you’re visiting… Such is Museo a La Mujer Rosita Fadul, a new museum built in Santiago de los Caballeros that celebrates and honors Dominican women born in the Cibao region. The museum is named after Rosita Fadul, a prolific Dominican politician and lawyer who passed away in 2020.
30. Kickback in San Jose de las Matas aka Sajoma
Explore San José de las Matas, a municipality of Santiago de Los Caballeros, that has diverse swimming options to jump in such as Aguas Calientes, Salto El Gallo, and Campo Verde. You also can get an amazing view of the mountain ranges from Mirador del Arte Restaurant. It is also home to the Arroyo Hondo Theme Park, a government-sponsored local park offering kayaking, zip lining, and a natural swimming pool. And there’s a beautiful blue church called El Milagro.
31. Adventure with Jamao Al Norte
With local ecotourism company Jamao Eco Tours, you can spend your day kayaking, camping, hiking, and canyoning the gorgeous landscape and crystalline waters of Jamao Al Norte. This town is located in the Espaillat province of the Dominican Republic, notable for its decadent rivers. Don’t miss the Cola de Pato Hike (advanced hikers only) or El Hongo Magico (rapelling). Give Jamao Eco Tours a follow for more information.
32. Visit Centro de Convenciones UTESA
When I was living in Santiago and doing research on film, one of my favorite Dominican film actresses, Nashla Bogart, was giving a talk about her career and the Dominican film industry at Centro de Convenciones UTESA. I was taken aback by its massive event spaces, and even happier to find it was a museum of Dominican culture. They have an excellent exhibition of each province in the country and their history. From some rooms, you can get a glimpse of the glorious Monument.
33. Take a Day Trip to Sosua Beach
Since Santiago is the landlocked heart of the country, there aren’t any beaches to find in the middle of the Cibao region. However, for a small price, you can take public buses like Transporte Espinal, Caribe Tours, and Metro Tours up to the northern coast of the island to access Sosua Beach. There, you can take a snorkeling tour or a surfing class, or simply float on crystal blue waters in one of the most coveted beaches in the Dominican Republic. If you have the time, we also recommend surf lessons at Cabarete beach, not too far off!
34. Try a Riki o Yaroa
Not only do the rikitaki and yaroa have arguably the best names in Dominican cuisine, but they also hold it down as Santiago’s go to nightlife bite. The popular street food began in Santiago, tracing back to the 1990s. The Yaroa is an integrated dish with french fries, meat, melted cheese with ketchup and mayonnaise as dressings. If you think that’s giving poutine, you can substitute the fries for a root mash or platano maduro. If burgers are more your thing, try the chopped-cheese adjacent rikitaki. Both dishes are available at Oche a tu gusto, a Santiago food truck credited with creating the first yaroa.
Restaurants in Santiago de Los Caballeros You Can’t Miss
Santiago de Los Caballeros is infamous for the restaurants in neighborhoods like Los Jardines and Villa Olga. Its local university, Pontificia Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra, has a gastronomy program that graduates Santiago locals into experts of food, nutrition, and presentation. These recommendations will show you exactly what we mean:
- Saga Restaurant & Cigar Club $$$: This luxurious restaurant is perfect for when you need a visual-worthy high-end dining experience coupled with the most fire photos of you and your friends smoking the finest cigars.
- ★ La Taberna de Pepe $$$: This is one of our favorite places to eat not just in Santiago, but in the Dominican Republic! The food here is simply phenomenal. Try their modern sancocho soup dish. The drinks are lovely, too.
- ★ SCORY $$: This is our favorite place for a Dominican breakfast or lunch. The prices are affordable. It’s always busy, which means the food is more freshly prepared. And the coffee was amazing!
- Noah Restaurant & Lounge $$$: This restaurant and lounge is a high-end gastronomical experience. Each dish captures a piece of Dominican culture, with a tinge of luxury and tasty creativity.
- Campuno Master Gourmet $$$: This restaurant is dedicated to an elevated campo-style dining experience, taking typical Dominican home dishes and turning them into gastronomical art. I’d say check out their Instagram, but you might want to take a bite out of your phone. The food looks as good as it tastes!
- El Tablon Latino $$: Directly in front of the Monument is a restaurant with mouth-watering global dishes like flan de coco, pastelitos, burgers, tacos, skirt steak, and of course, classic Dominican cuisine. They also offer pretty and delectable Instagram-worthy chocolate bombs.
- Square One $$: Square One is a lively restaurant tucked away behind a gas station across from the city’s main university campus. It’s a popular diner with a vast variety of food and drink options from several cultural cuisines. This is the go-to brunch spot in Santiago for young adults and families alike! The omelets are the perfect cure after a night out in the city.
- Foodtropolis $$: This is not so much a restaurant, but an assortment of high-end food trucks located on Calle Leon Jimenez in front of Bella Terra Mall. We recommend Papacon, Gronchi, and Bald Buddha! Each truck at Foodtropolis exemplifies Santiago’s culinary excellence.
- Camp David Ranch $$$$: This restaurant’s main highlight is that it sits atop a mountain, granting you epic views of Santiago de Los Caballeros. You can also find a collection of the historic dictator Rafael Trujillo’s previously owned Cadillacs on site.
Where to Stay in Santiago de Los Caballeros, Dominican Republic
Are you looking for a place to rest your head from all the Santiago and Cibao region fun? From luxury apartments in the city to tents and cottages atop mountain ranges overlooking all the Cibao region has to offer, Santiago de Los Caballeros has so many possibilities for the perfect accommodations. Here are just a few to get your search started:
- Perla Negra Ecolodge: The remodeled shipping container craze meets the Caribbean! This shipping container turned mountainside Airbnb is the most picturesque place to stay in Santiago if you want a private swimming pool and a modern, luxurious, and affordable sleeping arrangement.
- W Hostal: In the corazón of the Ciudad Corazon, you’ll find a hostel two minutes away from the Monument that will meet all your solo travel needs. For as little as $29 a night, you can have direct access to one of the most vibrant areas of Santiago, all while connecting with travelers and locals alike.
- Hodelpa Gran Almirante: If you’re more of a classic hotel person, you can’t go wrong with staying at the five-star Hodelpa Gran Almirante hotel in Santiago. It has a swimming pool and three restaurants. Make sure not to miss the breakfast buffet at Boka!
- Bohío Santiago: This gorgeous apartment is located in Los Jardines and is within walking distance to several restaurants and bars. It has three bedrooms, a fully stocked kitchen, can host up to seven people. It’s also close to the Monument and airport, making it the perfect accommodation for that Santiago vacation #girlstrip!
Dear reader, Santiago de Los Caballeros may not be footsteps to the beach or home to the historic colonial zone, but it is the heart of the Dominican Republic. Its kind and generous people, mouth-watering food and culinary mastery, impressive cultural institutions, and accessibility to so many local ecotourism activities makes Santiago de Los Caballeros an essential stop to your next Dominican Republic trip. Recall this article when you first touchdown in STI, and we guarantee you an amazing time in Ciudad Corazon.
Written by: Greisy Genao
Greisy Genao (they/she) is a writer, poet, educator, and filmmaker from Queens, NY with a BA in English Writing and Film Studies from DePauw University. Greisy was also a former Fulbright U.S Student Researcher, conducting research on folklore and cinema in the Dominican Republic. They have been published in the anthologies “Ritmo Que Late” and “Ni de Aquí, Ni De Allá” from the Dominican Writers Association, and Sarah Lawrence College’s “Lumina Journal.”
As a multidisciplinary storyteller, Greisy seeks to explore the intersections of their own identity as a nonbinary, first-generation Dominican artist.
Curated by: Jenny Checo
Jenny Checo, travel and tourism content creator, has a degree in Tourism Business Administration. She is CEO of Atlas Travelers, practicing sustainable tourism by offering innovative tours and projects that facilitate cultural exchange.
As a cultural curator, she travels and shares her adventures around the world, bridging cultures, creating understanding, and promoting responsible tourism.
Editor & Founder: Gerry Isabelle
Gerry is Dominican Abroad’s founder, editorial director, and head content creator.
Dominican Abroad provides educational travel, culture, and lifestyle guides. We believe in intentional and informed travel experiences. That means that we practice being mindful of local cultures and traditions so that our readers travel with knowledge and respect.