The idea of a staycation has become a bit of a cliché, but there’s no other way I can describe my recent overnight indulge session at the Boutique Hotel Palacio in Santo Domingo’s historic and always surprisingly dynamic Colonial Zone.
It’s true that I’ve been staying in this city for months, and where I’m staying in the city is not even a 20-minute walk from the Colonial Zone, so a hotel may seem a bit unnecessary. But this isn’t just any hotel, and the decision to stay at this particular property was not made on a whim. I’ve had my little green eye on the Palacio for a long time. All it took was a tiny price drop and my finger hit “book” faster than a Dominican taxi driver can run a red light in rush hour.
But this isn’t just any hotel…
Along with my sister, who was an accomplice in this much-needed staycation, I thought of it as a chance to see the city anew, as if we were tourists in our first week here again. We opted for a room with two queen beds, which turned out to be a good decision, as we ended up with the only non-deluxe room that came with a balcony overlooking the patio of this restored former palace.
When you stay at the Palacio, you can forget about the modern, business-like feel that you might be used to after staying in the major chain hotels. Can you honestly tell the different between a Marriott, a Hilton, a Sheraton? I can’t. The Palacio really stands out. And though the Colonial Zone is filled with lovely, affordable boutique hotels with a bit of old Spanish flair, the Palacio is the best of them, and a favorite for those who like high-quality hotels that happen to be rich in rustic charm.
About the Palacio
Check-in time: 2:30 p.m.
Check-out time: 1:30 p.m. (Yes, you read that right.)
WiFi: Free throughout hotel
Tucked away near the patio of the Palacio is a cafe called Taverna Don Quixote, and toward the front of the hotel there’s a small bar. Breakfast is not included in the room rate, but a menu in our room said it could be ordered between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. for $8.95 plus tax. The menu also listed a number of fair-priced cocktails, such as a screwdriver for $4.50 or a piña colada for $6.00. Not bad at all if you’re used to the prices for food and drinks in American hotels.
In a nod to the area’s colonial history, the Palacio is decorated in such a way that you feel a bit like Spanish royalty from the moment you enter. Just as you would expect from a hotel in the Caribbean, the Palacio is lush and green, mixing that regal feel with the leisurely attitude of vacationers. There’s no bachata blasting here, and even though our room overlooked the patio, we never heard noises or loud voices from the patio or in the halls. The property is serene, private and easy, completely lacking in any sense of urgency.
Just as you would expect from a hotel in the Caribbean,
the Palacio is lush and green, mixing that regal feel
with the leisurely attitude of vacationers.
I was curious about the history of the building, but the only thing I know is that at one point it belonged to Buenaventura Báez, who served five terms as the president of the Dominican Republic between 1849 and 1878.
Though Buenaventura apparently never lived in the palace, his son Dr. Ramón Báez did. The younger Báez also served as president of the country, but just for a short time in 1914.
The building was rebuilt in the 90s and reopened as the Palacio. Since then it has garnered many fans: It has 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor and is listed as No. 11 out of 76 hotels in Santo Domingo.
The two things that really blew me away about the Palacio were our room’s private balcony, home to overgrown ferns and four simple chairs (where we would have had breakfast if we had gotten up early enough), and the hotel’s tiny-but-awesome rooftop pool.
As I said before, I think we got lucky being assigned the room with a balcony, so we made sure to take advantage of it. On Saturday night, after dinner and drinks, when we couldn’t muster the energy to venture back out, my sister enjoyed a quiet session on the balcony while I, scrawled out on the bed, stubbornly fought sleep. The next morning, before she woke up, I snuck in a moment of solitude in our private little outdoor space, breathing in the fresh morning air and listening to the hushed clanking of dishes and silverware as guests finished their breakfasts on the patio below.
While it’s small and occupies a somewhat cramped corner of the Palacio, the rooftop pool is nonetheless perfect in every way. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but my sister and I had such a good time swimming and enjoying the city views that it was hard to find fault with it.
The pool is fairly shallow (not over 5 feet) and a mysterious underwater ledge occupying one corner of the pool turned out to be a great place to sit and gossip with my sister. Chairs scattered around the narrow pool area were great for lying out and drying off. Lucky for us, some of them happened to be in the shade, protecting us from the intense Dominican afternoon sun.
Of course, it wouldn’t be right to talk about the Palacio without mentioning the surrounding area. Anything you could want to see or do in the Colonial Zone can be reached on foot from here, or you can call Apolo taxi to take you.
If you don’t have much time, I recommend at least checking out the Alcazar de Colon, the area’s most famous palace, which was built by Christopher Columbus’ son Diego between 1510 and 1512. Another museum celebrating the area’s history is the Museum de las Casas Reales, which is filled with artifacts and details from the beginnings of the Colonial era.
These barely scratch the surface of the list of museums in the Colonial Zone; on our most recent trip, we stumbled on the Museum of Porcelain, housed in a gorgeous Spanish/Arabian-style 1920s residence, a must-see if you have enough time. The Museum of the Dominican Resistance and the Museum of the Dominican Family are also well-done and interesting.
The zone’s main street, called the Conde, is lined with cafes and eateries, but our favorite for a quick breakfast is La Cafetera, a diner-style cafe and bar that serves excellent sandwiches, natural juices and espressos. It’s just around the corner from the Palacio.
And if you now have your little eye on the Boutique Hotel Palacio, I’ll let you in on a secret: The hotel offers a special rate for last-minute travelers. If you’re OK with checking in after 7 p.m. and checking out the next morning at 10 a.m., you can stay for the rate of $65 plus 28% tax…so just around $100. We paid $140 (including taxes) for our night, so knowing about this beforehand would have saved us a chunk.
Boutique Hotel Palacio
Calle Duarte 106