A series of recent tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic has left many potential visitors wary of vacationing in the Caribbean destination—but should travelers who have already booked, cancel or change their plans?
A number of health scares and mysterious deaths still under investigation by the FBI, State Department and Center for Disease Control among others has plagued the island in recent months. Two high-profile incidents of violent crime — the beating of an American tourist at a resort and the shooting of former baseball star David Ortiz — have brought further scrutiny on the country, which the U.S. State Department rates at level 2 for safety, which means visitors should “exercise increased caution due to crime.”
However, the island, which is about a 2.5-hour flight from Miami, remains a popular getaway, with 2.7 million Americans, and 6.5 million foreigners total, visiting each year.
“Of that amount, the number of incidents that have made headlines this year represents less than 1% of travelers,” says Kyle Valenta, Executive Editor for expert travel review site Oyster.com, who adds, “The odds are incredibly good that you’re going to have a great vacation without any speed bumps.”
While there’s no guarantee of avoiding the wide-ranging, if rare, situations recently reported, if travelers do choose to go to the Dominican Republic, there are steps they can take to stay safe and healthy.
Before You Leave
1. Register Your Trip. Consider registering your visit with the U.S. State Department. “This will provide the government agency with contact and itinerary information that can make things like providing aid or facilitating evacuation easier, should it become necessary,” says Travelzoo Senior Editor Gabe Saglie.
2. Educate yourself. He also notes, that it’s a good idea for tourists to educate themselves about local laws and rules before they depart. “It helps make sure travelers stay out of trouble.”
3. Copy documents. It’s also a good idea to make backup copies of important documents, especially passports, he says.
4. Book the right hotel. All-inclusive resorts are generally safest when it comes to avoiding crimes like robbery because they typically have on-site security and don’t allow non-guests on the property, according to Kyle Valenta, Executive Editor for expert travel review site Oyster.com.
5. Go with a group. Saglie advises that visitors should never wander in unfamiliar places alone, “especially in areas you’re not familiar with, or where you don’t know the language.”
6. Stay in tourist areas. Well-populated, tourist-friendly areas are a good bet. “Walking around alone, after dark, in cities like Santo Domingo is going to be riskier,” says Valenta. But, he notes, “that is true throughout the world, including in the United States and Europe.” The State Department notice also says that the “development of a professional tourist police corps, institution of a 911 system in many parts of the country, and a concentration of resources in resort areas” makes them safer than cities.
When Eating and Drinking
At least eight American tourists have died after falling ill in the Dominican Republic —and dozens more have gotten sick in the past year according to the U.S. State Department. Some of those cases may have involved tainted alcohol according to authorities. While there’s no sure way to avoid this, there are precautions you can take to stay safe from foodborne illnesses.
7. Skip the buffet. Eating and drinking at an all-inclusive resort is typically safer than staying in a city and eating street food, says Valenta. But, he says, “Buffets are often the biggest culprit when it comes to tainted food, so opt for only steaming hot a la carte fare if you’re particularly concerned, and avoid garnishes, salads, and anything that hasn’t been thoroughly cooked.”
8. Bring an antibiotic. “If you’re particularly concerned, ask your doctor for a course of antibiotics to carry with you should you develop symptoms of food poisoning, says Valenta. While this is more common when traveling to destinations like India and Southeast Asia, he says, it can’t hurt to be prepared.