The first of these was the island of Hispaniola, the eastern two-thirds of which comprises the Dominican Republic while Haiti occupies the western part. The capital of the Dominican Republic is the city of Santo Domingo which proudly claims to have been the first permanent city established by European settlers in the Americas. Christopher Columbus visited Hispaniola on his first visit to the Western hemisphere in 1492 and established a small community in what is now Haiti, followed by one further east on the north coast the following year. But it was his brother Bartholomew who founded what is now called Santo Domingo in 1496 when he led 1300 Spanish settlers to establish a permanent settlement on the south coast. Today Santo Domingo is a vibrant city of approaching 2.5 million people – the largest city in the Caribbean.
|Christopher Columbus' statue dominates the main square|
Like most Caribbean islands, the Dominican Republic is not a wealthy nation and the contrast between the well-kept squares and buildings in the heart of the old city and the crumbling buildings only a few blocks away is quite dramatic.