How Safe to Travel is the Dominican Republic? [A Dominican Girl's Perspective]
Let’s make things clear: the Dominican Republic is NOT a third world country but a developing country. That makes all the difference, doesn’t it? And I’m not saying it’s super safe everywhere but keeping some basic safety measures in mind, you’ll be able to enjoy all the good stuff this beautiful country has to offer.
Having been colonized by Spain and mixed with our Taíno natives (long gone) and later with Africans and Europeans, we’ve built our land on a rich cultural diversity and we come in all colors and skin tones. We have a background of machismo, we are loud, hardheaded and a large part of the Dominican population is sadly, still uneducated and superstitious. But we’re also friendly (sometimes too much), we love our food, music and dancing. We are hard working and family always comes first...!
...and we all live together on a wonderful island. Fertile soil, rich vegetation, fresh sweet fruit, mountains, caves, beautiful national parks, always warm, the best beaches in the world, lakes, dunes, you name it... it has it all (well, almost all).
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Lately it has come to my attention that people normally don’t realize how much potential there is in the Dominican Republic and that tourists only know ‘life’ inside of the all inclusive beach resorts in Punta Cana and Bávaro. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a great way to spend a holiday, I go there too! But guys, trust me, take it from someone who’s lived most of her life in the Dominican Republic, going on family trips ever since she was a kid... THERE’S SO MUCH MORE!
I’ll only get started by saying that there is something for everyone, whether you’re young or old, if you’re adventurous, a nature lover, like watersports, parties, exploring, hiking... Do some research and you’ll find out all the possibilities.
Safety in the Dominican Republic
One big thing to take in consideration when traveling should be safety. Accidents happen and you might accidentally go swimming in a pool of crocodiles but don’t take safety to the extreme or you just won’t ever leave your home. I’m all for “happy mediums” and I try to live by it as much as I can.
Let me tell you a bit about safety measures you can take if you ever decide to travel to my beautiful home country, the Dominican Republic. Don’t be alarmed because most of it is basic safety 101 tips.
Getting around in Santo Domingo
While in the city and in big towns everything will be busier, louder and more chaotic. Especially watch out for traffic, whether you’re walking or driving because apparently, traffic laws are too complicated and nobody bothers to comply with the rules. Fact: Traffic in the Dominican Republic is dangerous. It's the only thing that you should really look out for when you travel to the D.R.
Just be more alert than normal and don’t take any rules for granted. If you decide to rent a car or motorbike in Santo Doming to drive yourself, you’re brave…
To get around, I wouldn’t recommend renting a car or motorbike unless you have a lot of experience and good reflexes and I know it’s hot in the streets but use a helmet! You can always opt for public transport, it’s cheap and even taxis are inexpensive compared to other countries. We also have a subway.
Dominican drivers won’t stop, all they think is "GO, GO, GO!". They will barely stop for a red light so, if you’re crossing a street by foot, do it anywhere as long as it feels safe. If you’re driving, try to follow the rules; keep your doors locked and don’t leave valuables on the seat if your windows are opened. Wear your seatbelt and don’t drink and drive! Act sensible and drive safely as you should in any big city in the world.
The only thing that’s absolutely not safe in the Dominican Republic is traffic!
Bribing the police
In the past, I can remember a few occasions when my family and I got stopped by a police officer —sometimes more than one— who would discretely ask for money. My dad is a good talker but when he had some change he would ‘donate’ around 100 to 200 Dominican pesos. The only thing to understand here is that the regular policemen in the D.R. earn only around $200 US a month but this doesn’t justify asking for bribes; thankfully though, these days bribing the police isn’t a big problem anymore.
Occasionally there will be military police with big guns in and around the city at night; if they ask you to pull your car to the side —they look really intimidating but don’t freak out— they will only ask you a few questions and have you show your ID and car papers. This is a random routine inspection that happens anywhere in the Dominican Republic after 10:00 pm.
Other suggestions would be to be alert when taking money out of an ATM and don't go walking on your own in some parts of the city, especially when carrying for example a laptop, phone or jewelry. But this is the case in any big city.
In general, most Dominicans are very friendly and outgoing. A lot of us speak English, so don’t be afraid to ask around if, for example, you’re lost. But don’t be naive! Avoid talking to shady people and don’t blindly follow anyone in to a shady place or alley. If you feel unsure or worry about your safety and you want to get out of a weird situation, just smile and say someone is waiting for you somewhere...
I’m a morning person so I can’t give you much advice on nightlife. Just like you should do anywhere else, drink responsibly to avoid trouble and... have fun! If you’re a girl, be especially careful with being misled. Don’t take drinks from strangers and unless you want to be looked at inappropriately, dress appropriately!
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How about safety in Punta Cana and Bávaro?
Of course Punta Cana is safe! For tourists, the most popular destinations are the all inclusive resorts at the beaches of Punta Cana which are a great choice if the purpose of your trip is relaxing and enjoying yourself in an easygoing way.
Hotels and resorts in Punta Cana and other popular destinations are very safe. I’ve been in different hotels with my family and never ‘lost’ anything or had any problems. If you’re traveling with expensive electronics or other valuables, just use the safe in your room or carry a travel safe when traveling, like we do. On the beaches owned by resorts in Punta Cana and other popular destinations it's pretty safe to bring your belongings to the beach.
I know you want to get tanned, but don’t forget to use sunscreen in the mornings and afternoons even if you’re in the shade. Being exposed to the UV light for long periods of time can be quite unhealthy specially if you have light colored skin.
Hotel grounds are regularly fumigated, so you don’t have to worry about mosquitos or any mosquito transmitted disease. Do remember that it is the tropics so you might want to bring bug spray. The worst thing you will see is a cockroach and if it’s in your room, you’re entitled to complain immediately. Just keep in mind that it’s impossible to keep all the bugs out in a tropical environment.
And something you will always see at any beach hotel is palm trees. As pretty as they might be, they can also be surprisingly dangerous... watch out for the coconuts! Although these trees are normally stripped from their coconuts for your safety, they sometimes fail to do it in time and then something like this might happen.
If you’re one of the adventurous ones, you will probably end up going off road and into less touristic locations. If you want to book a tour, contact a tour company but even going on your own is’t dangerous. Again, when you’re in a car, bus or taxi use your seatbelt at all times. While traveling around in the Dominican Republic is safe, Dominican drivers can be quite hasty and don’t follow the traffic rules.
A little something you shouldn’t forget when exploring the island is bug spray. It can get really hot and humid and you want to protect yourself from malaria, dengue and zika and other mosquito transmitted diseases in some areas of the Dominican Republic. Check here to find out where there’s a higher risk of getting infected.
Like when going anywhere else, keep your belongings close and your valuables closer.
The Dominican Republic is a pretty safe place to travel as long as you use your common sense. Just be alert like you would when visiting any other country but do be aware of traffic!
Enjoy my country and I'd love to hear what you like most about it!
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