The Dominican Republic is a stunning destination with one of the most diverse landscapes and tourism offerings in the Caribbean. It’s also known for being one of the most hospitable, and once you're there it's easy to see why it's the most-visited island in the Caribbean.
Millions of people travel to the Dominican Republic each year without problems, but safety is a concern to keep in mind. Foreigners are often targeted and have been known to be robbed at gunpoint or even picked up and brought to an ATM to withdraw money for their kidnappers. A special tourist police force exists in the most visited destinations, such as Punta Cana, and these areas are generally the safest for travelers, while the capital city of Santo Domingo is considered one of the most dangerous.
Apart from personal safety, travelers should also be alert to the possibility of natural disasters, specifically hurricanes, earthquakes, and riptides. Hurricane season in the Dominican Republic lasts from June to November, although the highest likelihood of encountering a storm is in September and October. Large earthquakes are rare but have the potential to be extremely destructive when then they occur. Riptides are the most common reason for tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic, so don't leave children unattended in the ocean and always wear a life jacket if doing water sports.
- Due to COVID-19, the U.S. State Department has issued a global travel warning to avoid all international travel for an indefinite amount of time.
- Before COVID-19, the U.S. State Department advised travelers to "exercise extreme caution" when visiting the Dominican Republic but not to reconsider travel. This is the same warning level for visiting the U.K., France, Spain, and many other countries.
Is the Dominican Republic Dangerous?
Visitors to the Dominican Republic do need to be aware of certain dangers, especially armed robberies. Never walk around while wearing high-value items since jewelry, designer sunglasses, or expensive clothing can all make you a target for potential thieves. If you do fall victim to a robbery, don't resist or attempt to fight back. Once you're in a safe place, immediately contact the local tourist police by dialing 911.
Avoid public transportation and walking around alone when possible, especially at night. Crimes can happen anywhere in the country, but they are most concentrated in the capital city of Santo Domingo. The main tourist sites in the country, including Punta Cana, the Colonial City in Santo Domingo, Bayahibe/Dominicus, Samana Peninsula, and Puerto Plata, are generally the safest in terms of violent crime, but don't let your guard down to pickpockets and scammers.
One of the biggest dangers in the Dominican Republic is the ocean, and visitors drown every year after getting caught in a riptide or powerful undertow. Many beaches don't have lifeguards but do have warning signs when entering to advise swimmers of current conditions. Don't swim alone on an isolated beach and always keep a close eye on children while they play in the water.
Is the Dominican Republic Safe for Solo Travelers?
Visiting the Dominican Republic alone requires taking some extra precautions, but solo travelers shouldn't overlook the country. Use common sense and avoid walking around alone at night, don't wear flashy items, and be wary when approached by strangers. A person walking around alone may be an easy target for thieves, especially at night and if you're noticeably inebriated. Meeting people to go out with or joining an organized tour group are effective ways for solo travelers to explore safely.
Is the Dominican Republic Safe for Female Travelers?
Female travelers also need to be vigilant, especially when out at night. Never leave a drink unattended and don't accept drinks from strangers, as spiking cocktails is a common method used by potential assailants, even around the resorts and tourist centers. Members of the tourist police force are usually stationed near nightclubs and hotels, so find an officer or dial 911 immediately if you suspect that you or someone else has been drugged.
Catcalling and suggestive comments are also commonly heard in the streets, particularly in the big cities. The best way to deal with it is to do as the local women do, which is ignore them and move on.
Safety Tips for LGBTQ+ Travelers
As a Latin-American country with a prevalent machismo culture and strong ties to the Catholic Church, there's an obvious and deep-seated stigma against LGBTQ+ individuals living in the Dominican Republic. However, big cities like Punta Cana and Santo Domingo also have a burgeoning gay scene, albeit a bit underground. Santo Domingo boasts a few LGBTQ+ bars, especially in the hip Zona Colonial neighborhood, for going out and dancing in a safe space. In resort towns like Punta Cana and Puerta Plata, the vibe is much more relaxed and open than conservative parts of the country.
Sex tourism is a lure for many travelers to the Dominican Republic, including gay men. Sex work itself isn't outlawed in the country, but minors looking for cash often get wrapped up into prostitution as well—which is illegal. A known scam is to bring back someone to your hotel room, only to have them rob you upon arrival, so always use your best judgment when making connections with strangers.
Safety Tips for BIPOC Travelers
The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern half of the island of Hispaniola, while the much poorer nation of Haiti sits on the western half. Dominicans come in every shade of color but, on average, have lighter skin than their Haitian neighbors. Sadly, a long-running resentment toward Haitians moving to the Dominican Republic manifests itself in blatant racism toward people from Haiti, dark-skinned Dominicans, and even Black travelers.
It's not uncommon for Black travelers with dark skin to endure jeers on the street, with one of the most common being taunts about pelo malo—or "bad hair"—for individuals with Afros or natural hair. Black travelers have even been known to be stopped and questioned by the police or not permitted to enter nightclubs for no reason other than skin color. You're less likely to experience this racism in resort towns like Punta Cana or Puerta Plata, but these comments are common in Santo Domingo and other cities.
Safety Tips for Travelers
- Keep expensive items at home or in your hotel, including jewelry, high-priced electronics, and designer clothing.
- If you need to report any type of crime, including theft and sexual assault, call the tourist police by dialing 911.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't require any vaccinations for visiting the Dominican Republic, but recommends hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines to most travelers.
- Carry around and use an effective insect repellant, as mosquitoes in the Dominican Republic can carry the Zika virus, malaria, and dengue fever.
- Ask your hotel to call and reserve a taxi to be sure it's from a reputable company. In most major cities, you can also use your phone to hail a ride from services such as Uber or Cabify.
- Register with your embassy or consulate before traveling to the Dominican Republic so if an emergency does arise, your home country is already aware of your health needs and travel plans.