Millions of Americans visit the Dominican Republic each year without problems, however, crime remains a serious problem in this Caribbean nation. Violent crime only rarely touches visitors, but property crimes are much more common and sometimes tourists are specifically targeted. Credit-card fraud is a particular concern.
As with any travel to a new destination, there are certain precautions that travelers should be aware of and certain steps that may be taken to lower the risk of being a victim of island crime. The Dominican Republic Crime and Safety Report is published annually by the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security and should be consulted before embarking on your trip.
Types of Crime in the Dominican Republic
The overall threat of crime in the Dominican Republic is high, and although security tends to be better in tourist areas, you should never let your guard down, because no place within the country is immune from crime, violent or otherwise. For example, the top five most violent cities in the Dominican Republic include Samana, which is home to thousands of humpback whales during the winter season, and is very popular with tourists at that time, while the rate of assaults was highest in La Romana, which has a high rate of all-inclusive resorts.
The types of crimes most often targeting visitors include:
- Drive-by robberies remain the most commonly reported crime. Most often, robbers will ride on motorcycles or scooters and snatch valuables from unsuspecting tourists and ride off with no trace. Visitors are advised to keep their valuables close, and out of sight at all times to avoid such thefts. Thieves also operate in hotel restaurants and other public areas, looking to steal purses or briefcases. Pools and beaches also are also prime locations for such crimes, so never leave valuables unguarded, or if you must, consider purchasing a diversion safe that keeps your items locked away in what appears to be everyday items such as a mock sunscreen bottle. Your best bet, as with most trips, is to always leave your valuables at home and carry as little cash as possible.
- Credit and debit card thieves may attempt to steal your password when you are using a cash withdrawal machine or ATM. Some gangs have been known to kidnap people and force them to visit an ATM and drain their accounts of cash. Try to avoid using public ATMs as much as possible, and use credit cards rather than debit cards to ensure the protection of your money should a theft occur.
- Prostitution is legal in the Dominican Republic, but some prostitutes act as lures to facilitate property crimes, either from the customers themselves or from their hotel rooms. Use discretion when interacting with strangers, especially outside of obvious tourist areas.
Tips for Staying Safe
Avoid walking in public parks or areas that are isolated at night, such as Parque Mirador del Sur, and areas that surround Santo Domingo's National District, such as Santo Domingo Oeste, Este, and Norte. Also be cautious in certain areas within the National District, including East of Avenue Maximo Gomez, Simon Bolivar, Luperon, Espaillat, and Capotillo; South of Parque Mirador del Sur, West of Avenue Luperon, Avenue George Washington, Paseo Presidente Billini, and Avenue del Puerto.
If confronted by a criminal with a weapon, hand over your valuables. Items can always be replaced, but resistance can lead to violence or even death.
Should you need help from the authorities, you should know that police response to crime may be slow, and misconduct from officials remains a problem within the national police force. Soliciting and accepting bribes, such as for traffic stops, is not unheard of.
Road Safety Tips
The highway network in the Dominican Republic is generally good, but driving conditions can be dangerous in urban areas and even on highways. Traffic controls and enforcement can be lax, and drivers are often aggressive. Visitors are advised to avoid public transportation in favor of hotel-dispatched taxis or, for intercity travel, reputable tour bus companies. Travel at night should be avoided, even on major highways. Consider hiring a local driver that comes recommended by your hotel's concierge.
Other Non-Crime-Related Hazards
Hurricanes and earthquakes are facts of life in this part of the Caribbean, especially during hurricane season, which falls between the months of June and November. Be sure to inquire about your hotel's emergency plan in case of a natural emergency upon arrival, especially if traveling during hurricane season.