Is the Dominican Republic safe to visit? 9 things you should know right now

You’d have to be living under a rock not to have noticed the Dominican Republic dominating US headlines in recent weeks. Or the most frequently asked question this month: Is the Dominican Republic safe to visit?

It all started with a New York couple who crashed their car off the highway at night. Then it continued with a woman claiming she was attacked by a mysterious staff member. Later, a couple was found unconscious at the end of their vacation. It’s been one bad news after next this month, in a series of random, isolated events.

Even my 74-year old dad, when I called him for Father’s Day, said: “Soooo your country’s been kind of in the news lately, huh?”

I was expecting it; my dad doesn’t skip a beat when it comes to world news. I went into explanation mode right away. These are indeed a few tragic and random cases, and they’re still being investigated by the FBI. It’s not even 0.1% of visitors nor 1% of hotels. Hundreds of tourists are not dropping like flies. But that small amount is also not the norm for the Dominican Republic (“DR”) and the DR is taking it seriously.

“Oh, I know, I was just kidding!” my dad quipped.

I wished everyone understood the way he does that things do happen sometimes when you travel and that one can’t get caught up in sensationalist headlines without focusing on the facts. But my dad has extensive travel and living abroad experience. He’s in great part the reason I’ve ended up here, writing about the Dominican Republic and in travel media as a career—he raised a third culture kid who has an unlimited passion for exploring other cultures and places.


The deaths of nine US tourists in the Punta Cana area, three of which were in La Romana, over the space of 12 months (since the media decided to dig back to 2018) — yet reported in four week’s time does appear alarming indeed, especially from a distance. Everyone here on the ground in the DR is as concerned to find out what happened to those who passed in their rooms — was it a preexisting health issue, or something they ingested? One death has since been clarified by the relatives as having resulted from a long-time existing heart condition, while many other tourists are here visiting and returning home safely. 

As a guidebook author and travel journalist who has explored the Dominican Republic extensively for over five years, and as a solo female traveler in the Caribbean since 2008, I’ve become accustomed to news reports painting this region with a broad brush.

I’m also aware of how easily the international media can damage a country’s tourism revenue by spreading fear and misinformation. And I have to admit, I’m concerned and highly irritated at the way in which the media has been sensationalizing the recent resort incidents in the Dominican Republic, despite the country’s solid record for decades, and its still majority positive record with visitors today.

The ensuing ill-informed comments on social media from Americans has resulted in a horrible, unjustified smearing campaign against the DR. It’s made me realize more than ever how much we live in an age of misinformation and believing everything that’s written and said without asking questions. Judging even when one has never been to a destination.

So why am I writing this post?

Because what these unfortunate yet isolated incidents in the Dominican Republic prove yet again is this: in travel reporting and in deciding whether a destination is safe, context is king.

Most of you know that I primarily focus on writing about and promoting independent travel in the DR. I share experiential ways to see the country and the culture, including ways to contribute to the economy by staying with locally owned properties or hotels that make a difference in their communities.

I recommend local tour guides and drivers, and immersive activities. I tell about offbeat corners and places packed with culture.

I know the main all-inclusive resorts here as well, because they are a huge part of the industry, even if I and many others continue to advocate and push for sustainable tourism instead. I’ve written about a select number of brands, even though minimal in number. If someone is adamant on a resort stay and asks me my opinion — as my cousin’s wife recently did for her upcoming multi-family vacation — then I give my opinion on the resort and the brand in question, but I won’t turn them away from the DR. Instead, I’ll advise them how to experience the country outside the resort. They’ll see for themselves there’s nothing to fear and return.

I wrote the first draft of this article as an op-ed that I pitched to the New York Times. The editor replied within the hour, thanking me and commenting that it was an interesting piece, even if he couldn’t publish it at this time. I’ve expanded my thoughts further since his answer last week and I’m publishing it here on my blog.

1. Statistics Matter 

In 2018, 6.5 million visitors flocked to the Dominican Republic’s coastline. Approximately 2.3 million out of six were Americans (from the USA), as confirmed recently by the Dominican Chamber of Commerce and the DR’s National Statistics Office. And per the Ministry of Tourism, surveys completed by tourists reveal that 90 percent said they would vacation again in the DR.

Punta Cana is the primary destination of choice and what most tourists know as the Dominican Republic. Beyond Punta Cana, the DR counts popular resort towns such as Puerto Plata, Cabarete, the Samaná Peninsula, and mountainous Jarabacoa. From all-inclusive to boutique hotels and eco-lodges, there are 80,256 hotel rooms countrywide. Punta Cana alone has over 100 hotels.

Let’s put the recent, unfortunate resort incidents into further context. January and February 2019 welcomed 1.1 million tourists and nearly 40 percent were Americans. During that timeframe, one tourist reported an alleged violent attack at one luxury resort in Punta Cana. Local authorities continue to investigate the case, stating inconsistencies in statements.

In March and April, another 1.1 million came and left. Remember that some destinations’ total visitor number is one million. For the DR, that’s the number over a two-month period.

Nine individuals in resort incidents over a year’s time can appear alarming, until you consider that the majority of 6.5 million tourists, over half in Punta Cana, returned home safely. That’s nearly 30 million visitors in the last five years. Does it mean the incidents shouldn’t be investigated? Of course not. What it means is that the international media painting this whole country as suddenly “dangerous” for tourists is not based on facts nor statistics.

2. Tragedies Happen Worldwide and Investigations Take Time

In no way do I want to minimize the tragedy of those nine individuals who have lost their lives over the past year. I feel deeply for their loved ones and certainly have prayed for those families.

But does that mean there can never be any tourists deaths ever in the DR? Tragedies happen all over the world, in the most visited of destinations, including in New York City.

What’s also egregious are the headlines that “people are dying in DR resorts” as if there are hundreds and thousands of tourists dropping dead or being killed. It has been established that no one has been physically attacked, no foul play has ever taken place and those who passed were found unconscious in their rooms. It also hasn’t been ruled out that it could have been caused by health conditions that were exacerbated while here. We simply do not know yet what happened to those few folks and we won’t know until the FBI and the CDC disclose their findings from toxicology tests.

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Fear is an ugly force, isn’t it? It’s what the media sells. It’s what grips many Americans every day — fear of the « other ». Other countries. Other nationalities. Other languages. The other they don’t know and won’t try to know. It doesn’t matter what atrocities happen on their own soil in the USA (over 100 mass shootings this year so far, not to mention random incarcerations and corruption, and legally kidnapping children from their parents), because to them the foreigner and foreign countries are worse, oh-so-poor, and « crazy ». The facts also don’t matter. The irony! . I’ve spent the past three days reading the absolute epitome of ridiculous comments from Americans and the “danger media circus” about the Dominican Republic — from « they killing Black folks over there » to « they hate Black people » and « it’s so poor over there. » Good Lord, the ignorance is truly frightening. I guess that’s why they say you shouldn’t read comments – the bottom pit of society is what you’ll find there. . Those of us who travel for real know there are good and bad people everywhere. We must be cautious everywhere. I live here and I love it, love Dominicans and their love for community, and their big open hearts for “others” who chose to make their country their home. If I hear of something happening in Belize, Jamaica, Mexico or Fiji, as it has recently, or Costa Rica – will I rule those places out completely without even going, or jump on an online destination smearing campaign? Of course not. . Even when I had a couple of worrisome incidents in Cuba with a hotel manager, I didn’t do that (if you want to read that story I can send you the link). And if you hear of a place where no one is ever hurt and no random accidents or crimes take place ever, please let me know and I’ll move there right away! In the meantime, I’ll continue to live, travel, enjoy my gorgeous home the DR — as many of us are already around the country — and spend more time offline. . Happy weekend y’all! 🌴 ☀️ Keep the fear outside your door. . #travelwithheart #moondominicanrepublic #caribbean #dominicanrepublic

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An expert in the media mentioned that it’s “unacceptable” to wait 30 days for results, but if even the FBI and CDC say it will take that long, then how is it the DR’s fault? The resorts and the government are just as eager to understand the causes, natural or otherwise. If you can beat the FBI, by all means, get on a flight and show yourself.

There are a gazillion death cases in the US that have taken longer than 30 days and years to investigate, but suddenly the burden is on the DR to make magic and find the issue in a shorter amount of time even with the FBI assisting.

The reality is that the DR remains one of the most beautiful and safest vacation destinations in the Caribbean. I feel way safer here than I do in the USA, where a shooter could appear at any moment in any space, in church, at the mall or at the movies.

3. The DR is a Huge Country With Multiple Destinations

The Dominican Republic is the second largest country in the Caribbean after Cuba. Yet many Americans still think Punta Cana is the entire DR. Understandably, it’s the most marketed and successful all inclusive resort region in the Caribbean, and it’s one offering the most attractive range of price points in terms of all inclusive packages. It even has the busiest airport in all of Latin America, despite being a privately-run facility.

But the truth is that there’s so much more beyond Punta Cana. I’ve written about and explained this in the past, not just in my book but on my blogs, in videos, in podcast interviews and in travel magazine articles.

“We need to change the perspective of traveling to the Dominican Republic,” says Dalia Susana, Assistant General Manager of Clave Verde Lodge, in the scenic hills of Samana. “The DR has beautiful beaches, mountains, rivers, people, hiking trails. There is a small but growing network of sustainable hotels and always existing family owned businesses. I encourage people to come to the DR on a small scale, come to smaller boutique family owned hotels, seek out those that are passionate about what they do and the environment, explore the towns you visit, eat local, spend time with the people.”

Even this month, I’ve had various people emailing me or commenting online to say they’re planning a trip to the DR. They’re experienced independent travelers who love to explore the culture and the outdoors. They stay in lodges, boutique hotels and in areas where they directly interact with locals and the outdoors. They’re planning a cross-country stay in Las Terrenas, Puerto Plata, Cabarete and Jarabacoa, for waterfalls and mountain climbing. They want to visit the Colonial City in Santo Domingo, where I’m based.

I’ve yet to hear anyone who came here and saw the DR for themselves away from gated walls, and regretted their trip. I remember how a friend of mine put it in his message after returning home from a visit to Santo Domingo: “Wow! I understand now why you live here! What a place, what a people, what energy!” 

If you’re an all-inclusive resort fan and you’re determined to only visit Punta Cana, that’s your prerogative of course. But you’d be missing out on so much more to see and enjoy in the DR.

What’s unfair is to generalize an entire destination based on one corner of the country and one tiny percentage of hotels (less than one percent), even though that corner that has received and continues to receive millions of visitors year after year, 90 percent of which have indicated in exit surveys that they’d vacation in the DR again.

4. Dominicans Care About Their Guests: It’s in Their Culture

If you know Dominican culture, then you know it is one of inherent hospitality, of family and community. Those who have followed my travels on the road while updating Moon Dominican Republic know that even when I’m not working on the book, I choose to be here because I feel a warmth here I have not felt elsewhere in the world.

The DR reminds me so much of Ethiopian culture.  I have stories for days of locals who welcomed me into their home as a complete stranger, who took care of me when I was stranded on the road, fed me or guided me to the right bus, among many other examples.

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Yesterday we visited my friend’s grandmother, who lives in a gorgeous mountainous area outside of Jarabacoa. She recently remarried at 76 (how’s that for living). Her new husband is a farmer and their yard is filled with fruit trees, cacao, oregano, and other medicinal plants. . Here he’s picking oranges for us to take home. It made me think of how often I’ve been to a Dominican’s home and was offered something when I arrive and when I leave: that would be every single time. It also made me think (again) of how often Dominicans are mischaracterized and stereotyped in the American media. That’s why travel is such a blessing – we get to see for ourselves. . Abuelita (my friend’s grandma) showed us her wedding photos and then she made us a frozen fresh mango drink. We sat in the yard and listened to their love story, of how they met (at this age) and got married after trying out living together for a month. It was a wonderful, refreshing afternoon in the Dominican campo! . #dominicanrepublic #caribbean #republicadominicana #travel #jarabacoa

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It’s the people that made me fall in love and the epic, diverse scenery was a close second.  And I’m not alone. There’s a huge expat and immigrant community in the DR  — from Italian to French, Russian, American and Canadian, among others.

That’s why for Dominicans, the few tragedies that have taken place are sad and shocking for them. The last thing any Dominican wants is to have a guest come here and get hurt in any way.

It’s important to share then, that everyone here is concerned with those few deaths, even if they represent less than 0.1 percent of visitors. But defending the DR is also within Dominicans’ rights when people overstep and generalize an entire people, their culture and country for no valid reason.

If people really want to worry about a place where people are dying for real by being killed and attacked viciously, they should look up what’s happening right now in Sudan — and go tweet about that. Or about the increase of mass shootings in the United States.

5. David Ortiz’ Attack Is Unrelated

The shooting of baseball deity David Ortiz on June 9 was shocking, though completely unrelated to tourism. But again, I was baffled that US news reports failed to investigate or even provide context on his exact location in Santo Domingo that night – a major city of approximately three million inhabitants.

I didn’t see a single media news report interviewing someone in Santo Domingo, whether a Dominican resident here or an expat or a journalist with knowledge of the capital.

A huge city and no one has described or investigated accurately where Ortiz was hanging out in Santo Domingo!

Even if he’s Big Papi, the reality is that most celebrities in the world don’t just hang in a sketchy neighborhood’s local bar, regardless of the “rich” people (with questionable sources of wealth) who choose to hang there.

Numerous stars of Big Papi’s caliber and beyond visit the Dominican Republic year round, year after year, and own homes here. Nothing happens to them.

Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Sammy Sosa, Julio and Enrique Iglesias, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Vin Diesel are just a few. Most recently, Cardi B posted in her stories that she spent three weeks back home in Santo Domingo and had a fine time. Do these celebs have security and avoid sketchy areas – more than likely; that’s the celebrity life wherever one goes.

So back to Ortiz: where was he? He wasn’t in the Colonial City, or Downtown. He was at a bar on the east side of the capital on Avenida Venezuela, a well known local nightlife area surrounded by two low-income barrios, and with bars where fights have been known to break out. Some Dominicans might tell you Avenida Venezuela is “culture.” Many more will tell you that you wouldn’t see them hanging in that area, not just because anyone and everyone has access to this open air streetside bar area, but because of the low security in that neighborhood and the type of people who hang there.

Even though I’m a huge fan of street foods and colorful local scenes, that whole avenue has never felt right to me. It’s just a gut thing and I’ve learned to trust my gut over my traveling decades. Heck, I’ve hung out in “drinks,” as they call clubs here, in the Cristo Rey barrio in the capital and they felt less creepy. But I also knew by the end of the night that it was potentially unsafe.

Without geographical and cultural context then, the media reported Ortiz’s location as “Santo Domingo,” which is the equivalent of saying all of New York instead of the Bronx. 

I’m not even going to touch the rumors that have spread about the real motive behind his attack. By now you’ve also heard details that are fit for the best of telenovelas. One thing is for sure: whatever is happening with Ortiz has nothing to do with tourism, nothing to do with Santo Domingo tourist safety, and nothing to do with the hundreds of thousands of hard working Dominicans in this industry, whether in the capital or in other areas. Santo Domingo overall has seen major improvements in infrastructure and management; we have a dynamic young mayor, David Collado, who’s getting things done, restoring parks, monuments and public areas, among other initiatives.

Lastly, if Big Papi’s life hadn’t been saved that night — thanks to his friend who rushed him to the hospital in his car and the Dominican surgeon who operated on him successfully — I’m sure the world would have blamed the whole Dominican Republic and its tourism industry, or trashed its “poor health care system” as well. Aah! the burden of being a developing country, held to different standards.

6. Visitors’ Choices Matter

Most inexperienced or first-time travelers don’t realize that making a poor decision on vacation can prove fatal, whether due to a lack of research or being lulled into a false sense of “paradise.”  

The New York couple found dead in a car crash were driving past midnight from the Samaná Peninsula on the northeastern coast all the way south to Santo Domingo’s international airport. A nighttime cross-country run is something even locals avoid. As reports later revealed, the couple had found a good resort deal, and they hadn’t checked to see that their resort was located on an opposite coastline, two hours away from their airport. They navigated a highway they didn’t know at midnight, to catch a 2am flight on the other side of the island.

If I were the government, I would ban flights leaving out of Santo Domingo after 11pm. It’s simply too risky having tourists on Las Americas Highway at night.

Back in February, two Italians—one residing in Las Terrenas and the other visiting—decided to ignore visible warning signs and went diving into a closed off underwater cavern area at Laguna Dudu, a recreational park on the north coast. There was no way they could have missed the huge danger and “death if you proceed” signs, yet they went ahead anyway and never made back out alive. It took weeks for the handful of internationally certified cave divers here in the DR to retrieve their bodies while risking their own lives in the process and closing off the popular, safe venue. It has since reopened.

Accidents and sexual assaults have happened in resorts in the Caribbean and in other countries, but these are rare within the confines of DR resorts and we must wait for a complete investigation on each case before making judgments.   

Even in the case of Big Papi, common sense says you don’t hang in potentially sticky places at night, as a celebrity or otherwise.

7. Travel Today Mandates Planning and Expert Guidance

Bad things can and do happen in beautiful destinations, sometimes in succession. Recent incidents around the world are easy to dig up. This month alone, a random bar shooting took place in Playa del Carmen, while a couple died mysteriously within days of each other in Fiji. Jamaica, too, has had issues with sexual assaults of women in a resort chain over the last years. Then there’s Costa Rica, where solo female travelers were turning up dead one after the other last year (hey, since people are busy digging up the few 2018 incidents for the DR). And New York, too, sees random tourist deaths — like being killed for no reason while waiting for your Uber.

I’m sure I could dig up more tragic events in different destinations, but what would be the point? There’s an inherent risk in travel and things happen anywhere. I choose not to focus on it.

What I do know is that times have changed, and in this current volatile political and racial climate we live in around the world, planning is absolutely essential for travel and expert advice is key. Yes, even if you think you’re just signing up for a resort stay. 

Canceling trips based on a few random incidents hundreds of miles away from your chosen destination or in another unrelated resort makes no sense. Here are some basic tips to start with:

i. Research the location(s) you want to visit; know the geography and history; ask questions on forums.

ii. Don’t wander alone at night, for any reason, anywhere in the world.

iii. Learn a few key Spanish phrases, it’s the right thing to do as a visitor.

iv. Get a medical check up before your trip, and sign up for travel insurance that includes evacuation and consume within reason, even if you feel it’s paid for.  

v. Don’t wild out in resorts if you’re not doing that at home. Whether it’s walking around topless within view (against the law and not the culture here) or mixing meds and alcohol, or anything else that could invite trouble. It doesn’t matter if that’s what the brand advertises. You are abroad – be smart.

vi. Read a knowledgeable source on the country —  an established blogger, journalist or outlet — one that’s able to place a situation in context. Do your due diligence and research online to see if the writer lives there, or has lived there long term in the past and visits frequently. That’s what social media is good at showing. There are many writers who report on places in the DR and other countries without leaving their desks or based on a single weekend hop. Beware.

vii. Familiarize yourself with the current political climate on the ground and stay away from rumors and conspiracy theories that can’t be confirmed (like the ones swirling around that Trump isn’t happy that the DR signed a trade agreement with China). Rely on established facts.

For my picks of great areas in the DR for first-timers, as well as additional safety tips that can apply anywhere, read this post.

8. Numerous US Media Outlets Don’t Fact Check or Investigate

There’s so much misinformation, lack of information, lack of fact checking and fear mongering in the news media that it makes my head spin.

The sloppy reporting and discrimination is particularly applied to foreign countries (read = majority brown countries) with an official language other than English.

My most recent outrage came when I read this sentence in a recent CBS Boston news article about where David Ortiz was hanging out the night he was shot:

“Dial [Bar] sits in a wealthy and relatively safe section of Santo Domingo… .”

Wow! I stood out of my chair, yelling: what the… ! Anyone overseas would believe this statement, unless they knew Santo Domingo well and knew that Dial Bar is actually in a shady area east of the city – not even close to a wealthy or safe area. This is a tiny example of the media lies being fed to the public in the US.

And then there are the click bait titles: “Why are American tourists dying in the DR?”

You’d think Americans were being serial-killed. Did you know that DR hotels have over 80% occupancy rate year round? The highest of any Caribbean destination.  

Then there are plain false facts being printed. For instance, foreign outlets published that Manchester United footballer Marcos Rojo cut his vacation short and abandoned the Hard Rock Punta Cana last week or “fled” the country after news of an unexplained death at the resort.  Meanwhile, Rojos posted on Instagram on the day of his scheduled departure, thanking the hotel staff for his amazing stay.

Local media and hotels sure have their work cut out, disproving the lies in the international media. Unfortunately, their articles don’t reach most US readers because of the language barrier. I wish they’d hire someone to translate every single one of their media articles on this issue into English. It’s so important.

Here’s how the owner of the environmental award-winning Tubagua Eco Lodge explained the situation to a guest who just canceled her trip this morning:

Hi [name omitted], so sorry to hear that you’ve decided to cancel and that you are going through all the trouble and expense to plan a new trip.

It’s understandable how things can look scary from so far away. But most people have no idea of the size of the Dominican Republic. The incidents in the news took place 260 MILES away from your chosen destination, Puerto Plata.
Not visiting Puerto Plata is like not eating at the McDonalds down the street from your home in Tacoma WA – over reports that someone got poisoned at Burger King 100 miles north of Vancouver BC!

If you’d like to talk about it let me know. Perhaps I can help you with a more reasoned and less dramatized perspective than that provided by TV news bites. A voyage to any foreign place can be a delight – or a tragedy – so much depends on who we choose as our guide.

But if your mind is made up I do understand, and I wish you the best for a great vacation this year.


Tim Hall
Prop. Tubagua Ecolodge

Fear-based news and poorly-researched media articles — from journalists who couldn’t differentiate the Dominican Republic from the next island over — have cheated this customer out of a lifetime experience in the mountains of Puerto Plata (if you don’t believe me, read this article I wrote for Transitions Abroad; I’ve returned multiple times to Tubagua Lodge since that time). The dedicated staff there are also missing out on work and wages that would have trickled their way for themselves and their families.

9. Be fair to places where lives depend on tourism

Whether you’ve visited the DR in the past and loved it, or whether you’re heading to a tourism-dependent country — the Caribbean being the most tourism dependent in the world — the public must understand why we can’t generalize and smear destinations based on a few incidents.

Won’t you join me, then, in sharing this message? That we must wait for the FBI investigation to be complete before spouting off accusations online against innocent Dominicans and a Dominican tourism industry that has done nothing but serve millions of vacationers and done so successfully for years?

Won’t you join me in encouraging friends and contacts to not live in fear based on a few incidents — just as they go about life in the US despite daily accidents, mass shootings, missing persons cases, immigrants being held in what look like concentration camps and children being separated from their parents?

Because, you see, the livelihood of hundreds and thousands of Dominicans employed in resorts and their families depends on us sharing the correct message.

Dominicans* who work up to 12 hours a day while making in a month’s salary what a resort tourist spends in a day. Dominicans who have not attacked a single soul in any of these cases and where no foul play has been found. Dominicans who don’t have an American or European passport to leave the country visa-free when they’re suddenly out of jobs for no good reason. Dominicans who have solidified and maintained the thriving tourist industry through sweat and tears at the expense of their family time. They are the backbone of this tourism industry. Even the foreign-owned resorts in Punta Cana would not achieve their numbers and wealth without Dominicans.

Should the people’s reputation be smashed in the press then, and local businesses countrywide — including streetside vendors in tourist areas — go down over a few incidents at a tiny number of mega-resorts over 200-300 miles away?

Boca Chica Beach – Frituras vendor

It’s time people think twice before sharing sensationalist, inconclusive headlines and articles that have the power to prevent actual human beings from putting food on their table with the little they earn for no valid reason at all.

The FBI/CDC analyses on the mystery deaths will soon be shared and the issue resolved, for the families’ sakes and for Dominicans’ sake as well. I’m eager for the results to come out and for the DR to grow beyond this adversity and this unjustified attack on the country, based on less than 0.01 percent of traveler incidents.

In the meantime, we must value context and accuracy in making travel decisions. We must be fair, patient and compassionate for all involved, on both sides of the pond.

The best thing you can do right now? Go through with your plans to visit the Dominican Republic — explore one of its numerous stunning and diverse regions, interact with the locals and the culture, and see the country — for yourself.

For additional expert information on the Dominican Republic, visit my Dominican Republic website, read the DR articles on this blog or my travel media articles published over the years on CNN, Lonely Planet, AFAR, Sunday Times Travel and Orbitz, among others. You can also grab a copy of Moon Dominican Republic 2019 edition releasing in October to plan your trip to the DR, with every detail from taxi drivers to tour guides and accommodation reviews.

*Edited 06/24: An important detail which I forgot to mention is that aside from Dominicans, over a million Haitians are also employed in or benefit from tourism, legally as residents or illegally as immigrants across the DR’s many beach towns and mountain towns.

*Addendum 06/30: I’m thrilled and honored to share that I am quoted in this new article in OPRAH Magazine about travel to the Dominican Republic right now, written by Dominican freelance writer Moraima Pichardo. She interviewed me a week before I left for Boston and just as I was publishing my now viral blog article on this issue. We talked for 1.5 hours. I spoke, in part, about the fact that DR is so much more than Punta Cana.

Two clarifications I must make because these details I shared in the interview didn’t make the print, yet are important facts: 1) Where it says “houses” I had said guesthouses and lodges, and 2) I mentioned Punta Cana being removed from many other parts of the country, however it IS connected to Santo Domingo by highway which allows for cultural experiences there but that didn’t make it in (likely lost in the editorial process). The writer has graciously offered to contact the editor for that correction.

A big thanks to her for reaching out to credible sources on the ground, unlike mainstream media.
And an even bigger thanks to my friend and Travel Channel TV host Oneika the Traveller for recommending my work to Oprah Magazine. It’s a dream come true to be forever linked and referenced on Oprah’s platform!


Lebawit is an award-winning, independent travel journalist, author and speaker specializing in global tourism. Her reported stories on sustainability, equity, destination management, hospitality, responsible marketing, and climate action have appeared in consumer and trade publications, including Bloomberg, Skift, and Conde Nast Traveler. Read more about Lily here.

18 thoughts on “Is the Dominican Republic safe to visit? 9 things you should know right now”

  1. I’m so happy to read a fair article on what’s going on in the DR right now. These incidents are unfortunate and require investigation of course but to tarnish a country’s reputation on the basis of 9 unfortunate events over 1 year out of several million visitors each year is sensationalism and extremely poor reporting. I hope the country’s reputation and arrivals aren’t hurt too much by it.

    • Thanks so much for your feedback, Rochelle! And for your well wishes. We all hope the deaths are clarified and that the media will get some sense in them, but they’ve already done some damage with their sensationalism.

  2. Thank you for this great article. I’ve lived here for 19 years and it breaks my heart to see what is happening now. I can’t wait for the truth to come out, whatever that finally is, but of course a terrific amount of damage can be done in the meantime.

    • Some damage has already been done for sure – as you can see from my post with the example of the guest who canceled. Though now the media is turning their message around and saying “nothing out of the ordinary is happening” it’s too little too late. The poor journalism out of the US side and sensationalist reporting has been shocking to witness from this side. I do hope the families find closure once the investigation is complete, and that the media stops publishing inaccuracies without doing the hard work of investigating, interviewing sources here or even – shocker – coming here to do so.

  3. Love your report, so true fake news always prevails. I was there last year 5 times and so far once this year and Thx God nothing happened to My Wife & I.

  4. These deaths are suspicious! If statiestics matter – then so do the statistics when comparing the weirdness of these deaths to any other tourist destination. These types of deaths rarely if ever happen. Many of these people were very healthy. A few had full physicals before leaving. AND a couple at same time die and were found – how is that a normal heart attack? So they both died at same time by coincidence … or logically more likely got very sick and died from the same cause -poison! All the evidence points to some kind of poison. Be it the alcohol served, legionarres, pesticides … something!! The filling up with fluid in the lungs is the bodies response to get rid of an invader (poison). Nothing to do with natural heart attacks. And the DR is being way to sensitive about this. INSTEAD they should have willingly eagerly worked with everyone to solve this … then everyone would be more willing to travel there. By trying to sweep evidence under the carpet and these incidents as some kid of US mass histeria campaign they are only hurting themselves. Because this is a very valid situation when you get beyond the emotion. PREVENTION is key. KNOWING not guessing what happened in each case is needed. The autopsies DID NOT include toxicology. A VERY basic MUST in an autopsy in any situation! Late guy today who died – DR officials wanted to cremate his remains!!! Against his familys requests. That is criminal!

    • IN response to Brenda:
      1) I’m not sure why you’re screaming – please keep it civil. 2) If you read my piece, then you know I said that we all look forward to the few cases being resolved by FBI. 3) Your answer is a great example how tabloids have irresponsibly been printing stories without fact checking. Papers like The Sun, The Mirror, The NY Post have huge holes in stories and don’t fact check b/c that’s not the business they’re in. They print for ratings. Better to read established, reputable media, but also ask experts on the ground which many have not. 99% of outlets have been sensational+ omitting statistics. 4) If you read my article than you know that I said investigations are not complete, and YES toxicology tests ARE being conducted, the FBI IS HERE! I am on the ground here, and have extensive contacts; the tests are complete on 3 out of 5 cases, and when all 5 are done, officials will release. I’m telling you this as a known fact to me from a higher up source; investigations are not rushed in the US either, they take time for accuracy; 5) You asked for statistics on deaths in other countries: it was obvious to me that way more deaths happen in resort areas overseas, especially the US. But here you go below – verified and courtesy of’s research:
      *Comparison of similar size city destinations violent crime rates:
      Las Vegas, U.S. 36.83 per 100,000 people
      New Orleans, U.S. 36.87 per 100,000 people
      Santo Domingo, DR, 8.66 per 100,000

      American Tourist deaths per year comparison
      Las Vegas 1,100 per year
      Mexico 238 per year
      Costa Rica 31 per year
      Dominican Republic 19 per year

      In Las Vegas, of 1,100 visitor deaths, most are found dead in their hotel rooms. 6% (66) no cause of death could be determined.
      In the 50 most dangerous cities in the world index, 43 are in the American Continent, 5 in the United States, none in the Dominican Republic.
      The reported 10 U.S. tourist deaths by natural causes have occurred in the DR in a one year period, not in 3 weeks as reported by U.S. media. Deaths by natural causes have occurred in 5 separate resorts, in 3 different destinations separated by 300 miles. Not in the same 2 resorts as reported by U.S. media. There is not one single case in the DR, where cause of death has not been determined. Heart attack is the determined cause of death for 1 in 4 of all Americans who die inside U.S. territory.
      I urge you to select the right sources and think before you believe stories like someone being cremated without authority. That’s my last point – as a lawyer (10+ years) I know for a fact that the US Embassy would never allow disposal of an American’s remains without family authorization as a legal matter. Dominicans have no say at all in any of that after a US citizen dies on their soil – even if you harbor prejudice about Dominicans being capable of it.

      I wish you well and hope you’ll reconsider spreading the fake news until a definitive, official FBI response is released on those few deaths.

  5. Thank you for this great article. If you’re in Sosua, call in, would love to meet you. I have had 5 cancellations for the summer following the recent media frenzy. Interestingly, not one returning visitor has cancelled (probably 70% of customer base). Only new visitors – their loss frankly. If this frenzy brings the flight prices down, it could even help increase independent visitors this summer – a good kind of karma. Finally if you know of any articles (1,000 words or less) that could be published if translated – let me know. I am a professional translator too.

  6. Having been to the Punta Cana areas on several trips, I found your above article excellent and to the point. The most important thing you mention is to be safe…and to be careful….anywhere you travel anywhere int he world!!! Of Course! Thank you for thaking the time to explain statistics and let those who ignore safety at least see a great place to vacation from the USA and using common sense is extremely safe. Walking at night or worse yet driving unknown roads late at night can always be dangerous..even here int he USA much less in a foreign country..Think about it!!! Again…even in my little town of Lititz, Pa I know there are places even here in my Lancaster county where I dont go at all….i know its not safe….drinking too much…maybe not safe at my age and my health conditions….be careful..and for goodness sake..enoy relaxation and sun and beach and food and friendly nice people whereever you end up!!! Bon Voyage!

  7. I think that these stories have been able to gain traction so easily by Americans is because of the other issues that already overshadowed the D.R. From the alleged mistreatment of Haitians to reports of high crime in some cities, many African Americans in particular, already had doubts about traveling there. Some people just seemed to say “hey, here is one more reason to not visit the D.R.” I think the tourism board will have to put some extra effort into regaining the trust of American tourists while waiting for this to blow over.

    • High crime in which cities? That’s definitely not as high here as the US. As for the Haitian case, again, people are making judgments from a distance not knowing the complexities of the issue on the ground, and never having been here at all. Does the government have bad immigration policies for Haitians – yes, but does that mean Haitians working and living in DR, as well as Dominicans, should all suffer based on a rush to judgment? And does it mean the Haitian government isn’t responsible for their people (see the recent violent protests in the capital in response to the revelation that Moise had been stealing Venezuelan money for YEARS that meant for the country). If that were the case that we should judge places without going, we wouldn’t be able to travel to more than 50% of the world based on the concept of boycotts, including USA. But as you said, one just has to show rather than tell. Check out the statistics for vegas I posted in response to a comment… I was floored. In any case, I hope the families affected get closure and that people are more fair in their judgments of others.

  8. I am an American who has visited the Dominican Republic 28 times. I do stay at a all inclusive hotel Iberostar Hacienda but also hang out with the locals and have stayed in their homes. I feel every safe in this country and don’t belive in the news until I hear the truth of what really happend .

    I have a question why is it only Americans that are dying ? When I go to hotel Americans are not the minorities so how is it no one else has this problem. I will continue to go to the Dominican Republic And will share this post in hoping people will not stop going or wanting to go there. And whoever lives in a safe place with no problems let me know I will move there. Thank you for your post.

  9. I have been renting a condo in Punta Cana long term now for over 2 years! Single widow from Canada!
    Never ever have I had a bad experience here with
    Any Dominican people! They are friendly, kind and
    Always willing to help a tourist!
    The important ingredient is to be friendly and honest
    With locals, always smile and be respectful!
    It’s my paradise now!

  10. Dear Lebawit Lily Girma,

    I just wanted to thank you for your article. I am a Dominican residing in the US and it hurts me the way some people trash my country without facts. I feel for the loved ones of those who lost their lives and i hope the find the closure the deserve. I just want to say that there are more deaths in the US on a daily basis than in the Dominican Republic and I do not see anyone rushing out of the US. To those people that love to follow the tabloids and that still believe that reality TV is not scripted please do some reading before destroying the reputation of a country and with it the primary form of income of its people.

  11. Is the Dominican Republic Safe to Visit: 9 Things You
    Should Know Today –
    Everything is very open with a very clear explanation of
    the issues. It was really informative. Your website is useful.
    Thanks for sharing!-


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