The Zona Colonial – a square-shaped district straddling the western mouth of the Río Ozama and encircled by the ruins of the original city walls – is crammed with monumental architecture, and yet it’s very much a living neighbourhood, thanks to the trendy cafés, local bars and rows of clapboard houses where thousands of people live and work. A multimillion-dollar renovation, begun in the 1970s in preparation for the Columbus Centenary, has brought a number of the historic buildings back to their original state, giving you a real sense of how the city looked when first developed and the piecemeal renovation continues as new businesses occupy the stone mansions and set up shop. Many of the important monuments can be seen in a single day if you keep to a brisk pace, although thorough exploration requires at least two or three. Chances are that you’ll pass through the district nearly every day while in town, since it holds many of the city’s best restaurants and bars. Wandering about you’ll no doubt be accosted by freelance guides, who are generally very friendly and sometimes quite knowledgeable; if you tell them you don’t want assistance (no gracias) they’ll leave you in peace.

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Video: 14 things we love about the Dominican Republic

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