Is Punta Cana safe? That’s what you’re here to find out, right? Well here’s the answer (drumroll please)…yes! But wait, there’s more to it than just that…
“Information is the oxygen of the modern age.”
Don’t run away just yet and take in all the “oxygen” regarding Punta Cana and Dominican Republic safety so that you can have a clearer picture of the actual situation. It may be far from what you’ve seen portrayed by the media…
You may find yourself reading this article because you’re planning a vacation to the Dominican Republic but are unnerved by headlines from last year. Or perhaps you’ve already booked your vacation but are now having second thoughts. Regardless of the reason, you are here to learn is it safe to travel to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
By the end of this article you’ll understand exactly what happened (and is currently happening) in Punta Cana, what the government is saying, and you’ll even pick-up a few Punta Cana travel tips to ensure your next vacation to this tropical paradise is as amazing as you’ve imagined. So let´s get into the nitty gritty!
Dominican Republic News: So what actually happened?
There’s no need to beat around the bush: as of June 25th, 2019, 11 American tourists had passed away during the year while traveling in the Dominican Republic. While these incidents happened all over the country, a handful of these deaths in the Dominican Republic happened while vacationing in Punta Cana.
Being that the Dominican Republic is part of Latin America, it would be easy to assume that these deaths were similar to those which happen in places like Mexico, where the primary cause of death is related to drug cartel violence. However, let’s not be so quick to jump to conclusions…
Of the 11 documented incidents last year, just two resulted from unnatural causes. The remainder of the deaths in 2019 were the result of natural causes, which was confirmed by the State Department and FBI. However, what caused such panic were a series of deaths which happened very close to each other and the media began to alledge that tainted alcohol, contaminated food and/or pesticides were to blame. With news founded in assumptions, the public began to worry whether or not it was safe to travel to the Dominican Republic. While we will cover this in depth later, we can conclude with certainty that the reported tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic last year were not the result of violence and crime, nor did they happen under mysterious circumstances.
Other Dominican Republic safety concerns
While the American tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic last year were primarily related to natural causes, that isn’t to say that the Dominican Republic is free of other safety concerns. While a very safe country overall, here are a few of the other things which tourists should keep in mind when traveling to the Dominican:
- Violent activity – Incredibly uncommon, but like anywhere it can happen.
- Natural Disasters – Hurricanes are the most common, and they generally happen between July and November. Earthquakes also aren’t uncommon, but the country is well equipped to manage them.
- Disease – There have been past Zika Virus transmissions, but there is currently no evidence of an ongoing outbreak. Take the necessary precautions just to be safe.
- Scams – Just like any tourist destination, the Dominican Republic attracts scammers. Be aware and familiarize yourself with these potential tourist scams in the Dominican Republic.
Tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic: The statistics
Now don’t get me wrong, the Domincan Republic isn’t free of non-health related deaths. While just two Americans lost their life last year from unnatural causes, we should take a look at how past years stack up against 2019 in terms of the number of American tourist deaths in the Domincan Republic from unnatural causes:
As reported by CNN, the number of American tourist who have passed away from unnatural causes has decreased in the past four years while the number of Americans travelling to the Dominican Republic has actually increased. In 2014, nearly 1.8 million Americans visited the island nation, while in 2018 the same island saw nearly 2.1 million American visitors. In fact, the odds dropped to 0.58 unnatural deaths per 100,000 American travelers during 2018, lower than both Jamaica (1.04 per 100,000) and the Bahamas (0.71 per 100,000).
Now lets take a look at what exactly is causing the unfortunate loss of life for American citizens during their vacations to the D.R.:
The conclusion we can pull from this graph is that the primary cause of death amongst American tourists in the Dominican Republic between 2014 to 2018 is from motor vehicle accidents, with the second most common being death from drowning.
What was initially concerning from all of this is that last year’s events in the Dominican Republic were deemed as “mysterious” and weren’t represented in this graph. This “mystery,” enhanced by media outlets, has since been clarified as deaths from natural causes and there is no reason for concern regarding travel to the Dominican Republic.
Dominican Republic Travel Warnings
Having covered what happened last year in the Dominican Republic, it’s time to look at what one of the most prestigious and powerful governments in the world currently says about the country. With the Dominican Republic being such a small country, the United States doesn’t offer specific Punta Cana travel warnings, merely one for the entire country as a whole which you can find below:
As shown, the Dominican Republic falls into the Level 2 category which means you should “exercise increased caution.” They have categorized the country within Level 2 due to crime, however they do mention that the concentration of police and 9-1-1 systems in the resort areas make them much safer than urban areas around Santo Domingo.
It should be noted that the Dominican Republic travel advisory doesn’t mention anything about last year’s incidents. This is because the events, while occurring in a short period of time, were nothing more than a series of unfortunate natural passings which don’t align with official travel warnings posted by the United States government.
Reverting back to the Level 2 travel warning, it would be interesting to know what other countries in the world also fall into this same category:
- United Kingdom
The list you see above features some of the most popular and heavily visited countries in the world, yet they also fall under the same travel warning category.
We should also take into account what the Canadian government says about the Dominican Republic, another highly powerful and reputable country with many tourists traveling to the island each year:
As can be seen, the Canadian government has placed the Dominican Republic in the second level of a four-tier ranking system, just like the United States. And just like the United States, Canada has placed the United Kingdom and France under the same travel warning as the Dominican Republic.
With both the United States and Canadian governments classifying the Dominican Republic within the “Level 2” category of a four-category system, we can conclude that while the island is not a bubble of safety, it hardly categorizes as a dangerous place to visit.
Dominican Republic travel: What is being done?
As with any delicate situation resulting in the loss of life, quick action must be taken to (a) discover the cause of death and (b) to prevent similar incidents in the future. Three primary bodies were at the core of the incidents which happened last year: the FBI, various authorities of the Dominican Republic and the resorts themselves.
FBI in the Dominican Republic
The FBI, primarily responsible for domestic safety and the safety of its citizens abroad, has confirmed its assistance with the investigation regarding the recent deaths in the Dominican Republic. The U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo requested help with further toxicology analysis, all of which came back as deaths from natural causes.
Beyond the FBI, the U.S. Department of State worked hand-in-hand with local Dominican authorities to ensure that the families of the victims received answers and to ensure future travelers enjoy their vacations to the Dominican Republic.
While the Dominican authorities worked closely with the State Department, the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism also introduced new measures to reassure tourists in July of 2019. A few of the changes included:
- An emergency center for tourists in Punta Cana
- Requirement that hotels must post emergency service contact information in each room
- Adding more hotel inspections which will focus heavily on food and drink protocols
President Danilo Medina also created a new national committee for the tourism sector as a result of the recent deaths. As Danilo explains, the committee is to “design policies, strategies and programs to prevent, detect, prosecute and eradicate threats that jeopardize the tourism industry in the Dominican Republic.” The committee will be comprised of 18 different members and ministries such as the Ministry of Tourism to the National Police which will “contribute to improving aspects of tourism security in harmony with the dynamics of this industry.”
Dominican Republic resorts
While the Dominican Republic is a safe travel destination, the resorts were obviously directly hit by fewer tourists coming to the island. Several took matters into their own hands and altered their daily business activities due to the events. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino for example removed liquor dispensers from minibars within each room, while at the same time required food service employees to wear face masks and provided hand sanitizer to guests.
Another hotel which was under the magnifying glass at the time due to several passings of its guests was the Bahia Principe Hotel. They clarified that, despite false reporting, there is no correlation between the the two unfortunate events which took place. They also maintained that their hotel provides “a safe and welcoming environment for travelers” and that they hold “some of the most prestigious certifications within the tourism industry.”
Other hotels took similar measures to ensure guests were properly looked after, many going further than the new guidelines set in place by the Ministry of Tourism. One such hotel included our very own Natura Park Beach Eco Resort & Spa in Punta Cana. Natura Park doesn’t offer liquor dispensers in the rooms, and has always taken extra precautions to ensure the safety of its guests.
Punta Cana Promise [UPDATE!]
Announced to the public on December 3rd, 2019, the Punta Cana Promise is a consortium of 50 hotels in Punta Cana which have reaffirmed their commitment to a set of security and safety guidelines.
While the hotels have followed strict safety policies for years, this is the first time they have all come together as a consortium to reassure travelers that Punta Cana is an incredibly safe destination to visit. With the goal of rebuilding their reputation and image which was damaged by media outlets recently, the Punta Cana Promise has outlined the following 8 guidelines:
Is it safe to travel to the Dominican Republic?
Having covered what happened (and is currently happening) in the Dominican Republic, what some of the world’s most powerful governments are saying and what has ultimately been done to find the true result of the deaths, there is no question that it is safe to travel to the Dominican Republic in 2020!
With several American tourists passing away on a daily basis throughout the world, and a total of 13 in the Dominican Republic in 2018, the numbers are quite normal and shouldn’t be cause for alarm. In fact, we took a look at other popular tourist destinations and compared them with the Dominican Republic. Below you will find American tourist deaths in 2018 for just a few popular travel destinations according to the U.S. Department of State:
- Jamaica: 17
- Japan: 14
- Germany: 14
- China: 13
- Australia: 11
- New Zealand: 11
With science having solved the “mystery” surrounding the deaths in the Dominican Republic, as well as the largest government bodies working side-by-side to ensure tourists are safe during their visit, there is no need to worry about traveling to the island. As we have already seen, new measures have come in to play which are just another step to ensure the safety of travelers.
Don’t run away just yet because below we will provide Dominican Republic travel advice to ensure that your next vacation is as memorable and smooth as possible!
Dominican Republic Travel Tips: what to do before you leave home
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Founding Father Benjamin Franklin said it best: we must always prepare, or else we are potentially setting ourselves up for failure. You must do the same when you travel, because failing to prepare can cause numerous problems when abroad. Below we provide pre-travel recommendations for all types of potential issues when it comes to your next Dominican Republic vacation:
- Travel Insurance: We highly recommend buying travel insurance regardless of your travel destination.
- Passport: Make sure your passport is valid and has enough pages for a stamp.
- Personal Health: See your doctor before traveling to ensure you are in good condition to leave the country.
- Vaccinations: While visiting your doctor, ensure you receive the relevant vaccinations for the region you are traveling to.
- Travel Itinerary: It is always smart to leave an itinerary of where you’ll be going and staying with someone back home.
- Local Hospitals and Embassies: Make a list of local hospitals and embassies beforehand (see below for the Punta Cana).
- Register Your Trip: Be sure and register your trip with the U.S. Department of State here.
- Money: While US Dollars are widely accepted, it is advisable to change currency before traveling.
- Language: Learn a bit of the local language (in this case Spanish) before you leave in order to show respect to the locals.
These are all things you should do before any trip abroad, and we certainly hope you take them into consideration before your next trip to the Dominican Republic.
Punta Cana Travel Tips: advice for once you land
You’ve taken our advice and have properly prepared yourself for your upcoming trip to Punta Cana. Now, it’s time to pick-up a few useful travel tips for when you land in Punta Cana:
How to avoid getting sick in Punta Cana
- Water: Don’t drink tap water, plain and simple. Make sure you drink bottled water or trustworthy filtered water from the resort.
- Spiked Drinks: Always watch your drink being made, and never leave it unattended.
- Alcohol Type: Always choose widely known brands which have a good reputation.
- Food: Eating at the resorts is usually very safe as they have strict quality control procedures. However, regardless of where you are you should always wash your hands, be weary of meat that is uncooked, be hesitant of buying food from street vendors and eating dairy products that have not been pasteurized.
- Bug Spray: While you should’ve received all vaccinations before arriving, you still need to use bug spray.
- Sunscreen: The sun is strong, be sure to use sunscreen at all times, and even enjoy the shade every now and then to avoid sun-related illnesses.
- Condoms: If you do engage in sexual activity in the Dominican Republic, be sure to use a condom as AIDS/HIV is very much prevalent, along with other STDs.
General Dominican Republic Travel Tips
- Nighttime: Stay in well-lit tourist areas and don’t walk by yourself. Especially on beaches and in Santo Domingo!
- Stay Humble: Don’t flash cash, phones or fancy jewellery as it attracts attention and is an easy way to make quick money for criminals.
- Money: Use ATMs (and exchange money) at well known national banks.
- Pickpocketing: Secure your belongings, and consider purchasing a money belt.
- Driving: Driving in the Dominican Republic is an entirely different experience all together, so if you choose to rent a car then ensure you are confident and remain aware. Be sure to stay off of isolated roads, especially at night, and use toll roads when possible.
- Haiti: Haiti is more dangerous than the Dominican Republic, so we advise you to (a) be well prepared if you intend to cross the border and (b) keep the topic of Haiti out of the conversation as it is very delicate.
- Taxis: Take taxis from well-trusted companies and order them yourself or ask the hotel to order one for you.
- Drugs: Don’t buy drugs from anyone as (a) they may be laced with something else which may put you in a state of unconsciousness and (b) drug penalties in the Dominican are quite severe.
- Scams: As mentioned previously, scamming is common in the Dominican Republic, so keep your wits about you and read up on what to expect.
- Punta Cana Areas to Avoid: Ask reception upon arrival to your resort and they can clarify this information for you as it can change frequently.
- Common Sense: Just use common sense. If it feels strange, it probably is. Take the same precautions you would in your hometown and you’ll be fine.
There’s nothing like hearing first-hand experiences from travelers just like you. Here are just a few travelers who openly spoke about their recent trip to Punta Cana:
“We never felt unsafe at the resort. We ate at all of the restaurants and never got sick. My parents even have some food issues and they were fine.” –Kimberley Terre, South Carolina
“Our experience was great. It’s a beautiful island. Just err on the side of caution. Just don’t do anything you don’t want to do, anything that doesn’t feel safe. Always have a cautious mind. I would certainly go back to Punta Cana and I would stay at the same resort again.” –Joshua Rodriguez, New York City
Just as it is important to hear opinions and travel experiences from people just like you, it is also important to hear what authority figures have to say regarding the matter. These are people within our society who have extensive knowledge about Punta Cana travel, and are highly regarded when it comes to advising others. Hear what they have to say regarding travel to Punta Cana and the Dominican Republic:
“The issue of safety and crime in the Dominican Republic has been inflated in the news and makes visitors cautious, but safety should be a concern no matter where they are visiting. When the news first broke about the incidents that happened recently in the D.R., there were many assumptions made, but further investigation by the F.B.I. validated the findings by the D.R. authorities that all the tourists died of natural causes.” –Roshine Varghese, co-owner of Travel Tom
“People don’t understand that the media only reports on things that will bring in viewers, that will up their numbers. When we started hearing about issues in D.R., the media coverage was enormous. Every news outlet talked about people dying on the island. Once the F.B.I. announced the results of their investigation, there was hardly any media coverage on the topic. Why? Because it wasn’t shocking enough and not breaking-news material.” –Patrycja Kobak, OK Travel Agency
“I talked to guests at the hotel and everyone was having an amazing time. I ate and drank from the mini-bar and had no issues. The people in the D.R. were so welcoming. I really hope the media stops. They are really hurting the economy of this beautiful country.” –Susan Collins-Peavy, Travel Advisor
“It’s not an overly dangerous place. I would still consider the Dominican Republic a safe place to go. I don’t think people should distrust Dominican officials, they’re working with what they have. Like they said, 2 million Americans visit DR (Dominican Republic) every year and only a handful have died. These incidents, while recent, in my mind don’t indicate Dominican Republic is any less safe than it was before, I would tell people to continue with trips.” –Matthew Bradley, former CIA agent and current Regional Security Director of International SOS
“We have always worked hard to create a safe environment and will continue to be vigilant with comprehensive programs and amplified standards that bolster the well-being of the six million tourists that visit the Dominican Republic each year.” –Francisco Xavier Garcia, Dominican Republic Minister of Tourism
“[The Dominican Republic is a] tranquil, peaceful destination and the safest in the region.” –Francisco Xavier García, Dominican Republic Minister of Tourism
“[The news reports on the deaths were an] unfounded negative campaign. I implore you, the responsible journalists, to tell the truth about these issues. (My family), we have been traveling all around the Dominican Republic and I can tell you that never was there a point that I thought my life was unsafe.” –Robin Bernstein, U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic
What to do in case of an emergency
We’ve talked about preparation, and this is another piece of the puzzle. Here you can find useful information regarding where to go or who to contact in case of an emergency in Punta Cana. Be sure and take note of this information before leaving for your next Dominican vacation!
Punta Cana Emergency Contact Information
|General||9-1-1||n/a||General emergency number.|
|Police||+1-809-686-8227||24-hour stations near Sitrabapu and Punta Cana Galerias bus stations.||n/a|
|Punta Cana Medical Center||+1-809-552-1506||Avenida España No.1,
Punta Cana 23000, Dominican Republic
|Near Plaza Bavaro. Multilingual staff. In-house pharmacy. Offers a 24-7 emergency service.|
|Hospiten Bávaro||+1-809-686-1414||Carretera Higüey – Punta Cana,106
Punta Cana 23000, Dominican Republic
|Fully-equipped hospital. Multilingual staff. Open 24-7 for emergencies.|
|U.S. Consular Agent – Punta Cana||+1-809-552-8990
|Palma Real Shopping Village Business Center
Second Floor, Suite 1
Bávaro, La Altagracia
|Provides all U.S. Citizen Services with the exception of adults applying for their first passport.|
So…is it safe to travel to Punta Cana in 2020?
We imagine you’ve already come to your own conclusion, but in case you haven’t, or you want some reassurance, let us tell you:
Yes, Punta Cana is safe to visit!
The biggest concern from last year’s events stemmed from the “mystery” surrounding the deaths. However, multiple government agencies worked hand-in-hand, with the help of science, to determine that the incidents were unrelated and an unfortunate series of natural deaths.
Robert Quigley, a cardiovascular surgeon and senior vice president of International SOS which offers medical and travel security risk services to individuals and companies, recently explained to The Washington Post that, “Travelers suffer health problems for a variety of reasons: they engage in activities they don’t normally do, take more risks, try new foods and drink more than usual, making people with preexisting conditions vulnerable to medical complications.”
The Dominican Republic experiences one of the lowest rates of unnatural American tourist deaths in the Caribbean, making it safer than places such as Jamaica and the Bahamas. So then why was there such a concern regarding the island nation? Well, the media played a big role…
Luis José Chávez, president of the Dominican Tourism Press Association recently told The Washington Post, “We can see that many international media outlets are just going for it as news, just to get the headline, and they are not really getting into what’s going on. The caricatures have been made, and some in media have done a lot of damage. The whole country is trying to get over this and gain back the image of what we really are.”
The Dominican Republic is a truly picturesque, tranquil and safe travel destination. While we’ll leave you to make your own decision, there is nothing to fear when traveling to Punta Cana as long as you use common sense and take on board our travel tips!