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These dozen blocks are the heart and soul not just of Hispaniola but of the entire Spanish Caribbean. Many an island claims to have a fascinating, historic town, but this time believe it, and make time to see the 16th-century stone houses on the narrow cobblestone streets that housed Columbus, Cortés and Ponce de León. Disney must surely have modeled Pirates of the Caribbean on this.
ALCAZAR DE COLÓN
Plaza de España, Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo
Enhance your experience of the Zona Colonial by touring this early-16th-century Renaissance, Moorish and Gothic castle of coral and limestone. Its interiors have been re-created in impressive detail so they are just as Columbus’ son Don Diego Colón had them—it’s wildly atmospheric.
ALTOS DE CHAVÓN
3 miles east of Casa de Campo, East Coast
Tel: 809-523-2424 (amphitheater)
This Spanish Colonial cultural center is so much more than a village with crafts or some tourist souvenir joint. There’s an arts school attracting up-and-coming painters, ceramicists, textile artists, dancers and musicians from all over who sell their work here, a 5,000-seat amphitheater with a Cirque de Soleil-meets-Carmen Miranda spectacular called Kandela, a museum and several restaurants.
LIGA DE BÉISBOL STADIUM
You can catch the next Sammy Sosa on his rise to fame at a pro Winter League game (October through January) in the capital's Liga de Béisbol Stadium, featuring not only Dominican and Puerto Rican Triple-A hopefuls but also Norte Americanos major leaguers.
CASA DE CAMPO
Everyone does a sunset canter down the beach—you can do something quite different. The 250-acre Equestrian Center at the island's premier resort hosts international polo matches during the October to June season, but it also gives private polo lessons for a remarkably reasonable rate. If your horsemanship isn't up to it, you can take a carriage ride for two—or enjoy a sunset trail ride on the beach.