The beautiful country of the Dominican Republic is a popular destination for a Caribbean vacation. About 8.5 million people visit each year, showing how popular the country is among tourists.
The beautiful beaches and resort towns of the Dominican Republic such as Punta Cana and Puerto Plata are definitely the top draws in the country, but it would be a mistake to end your exploration of the country there.
Check out the historic architecture of the capital, Santo Domingo, which was founded by Christopher Columbus’s brother.
Visit one of the other locations on the island such as Las Terrenas for a taste of local culture, and definitely make sure to sample some local food. Although the Dominican Republic is a popular destination for tourists, many other people are concerned about visiting.
The country has a reputation for being an unsafe place, but how much is this reputation based on stereotypes and how much on reality? Don’t worry — we’re here to help.
This detailed travel guide can help you figure out if the Dominican Republic is safe to visit or not. Keep reading for more information about staying safe, including precautions you can take against crime.
Is the Dominican Republic Safe to Visit in 2023?
The Dominican Republic is definitely a place where you have to take a decent number of precautions to stay safe. As with many other Caribbean destinations, the country has an elevated crime rate.
However, millions of tourists have a safe experience when they visit each year. The primary concern for most visitors to the Dominican Republic is definitely crime.
In fact, it is the primary reason that countries such as the United States list to justify their Level Two travel advisories for the Dominican Republic. Most governments advise their citizens to exercise increased caution in the Dominican Republic due to elevated crime.
Common crimes mentioned in travel advisories for the Dominican Republic include:
- Bag snatching
- Vehicle break-ins
- Armed robbery
- Sexual assault
While all these crimes are present in the Dominican Republic, this doesn’t mean that you will experience or even witness them during your stay.
In fact, tourists in the Dominican Republic are probably safer than locals as the government has invested considerable resources into keeping visitors safe. Resort areas often have special police forces and extra resources for safety.
Besides crime, many people are concerned about accidents in the Dominican Republic. There have been tourist deaths in the country before.
In the first six months of 2019, a whopping 11 American tourists died while on vacation in the Dominican Republic. Some speculated that these deaths were due to poor health standards in Dominican resorts, such as the use of bootleg alcohol in mini-bars.
However, investigations by local authorities and the FBI found that all deaths occurred due to natural causes (some visitors had pre-existing health conditions).
About a dozen Americans die on vacation in the Dominican Republic each year, which is a very small fraction of the nearly three million Americans who visit annually.
While all these incidents are tragic, there is no suspected foul play or danger inherent to the country. The likelihood of something such as this happening to you is very low, but you can still take some precautions to protect yourself if you are nervous.
Talk to a doctor before your vacation, especially if you have preexisting health conditions. Buy comprehensive travel insurance during your vacation.
Finally, it’s important to be aware of the natural disaster risk when visiting the Dominican Republic. The country is in the Caribbean Sea, which has strong annual hurricanes.
According to an advisory from the U.S. Embassy, the Dominican Republic is prone to hurricanes, with storms intensifying from August to October.
Most tourists avoid the country during hurricane season, but others choose to visit to take advantage of lower hotel prices. Know that if you visit during hurricane season, you are risking getting caught in a strong multi-day storm.
Monitor local news and weather reports and cancel if there is a storm predicted. If a storm develops while you are there, stock up on food and water and follow advice about evacuating.
Crime in the Dominican Republic
Crime is the primary concern for most visitors to the Dominican Republic. The country has an elevated crime rate, as with many of its Caribbean neighbors.
Like many other Caribbean countries, the Dominican Republic has a high homicide rate. However, its homicide rate of 8.86 incidents per 100,000 people is lower than many other countries in the region, although still higher than the national average.
Plus, the homicide rate has been steadily declining over the past few years. According to regional experts, the murder rate is indicative of the rest of the country’s violent crime rate.
Violent crime occurs at an elevated rate, but it is not as high as in other places. Organized crime groups, usually street gangs such as the Latin Kings, are behind many of the violent crimes in the Dominican Republic.
These groups are involved in fields such as human trafficking, the drug trade, racketeering, and armed robberies.
While most of these groups maintain territories in poorer areas of the Dominican Republic, thus making it unlikely that you will encounter them on vacation, some have targeted wealthy tourists before for robberies.
People living in the Dominican Republic definitely agree that the country has a problem with crime. The country scores a 71.33 out of 100 on the Numbeo crime index, which is a high value.
Most residents are worried about robberies, drug abuse, petty theft, and violent crimes such as assault and armed robbery. Crime is definitely a problem in the Dominican Republic, but it is distributed unevenly.
Tourists are actually some of the safest people in the country, thanks to the fact that resort areas have lower crime rates than other places and the fact that they have more police than others.
When tourists do encounter crime, it is usually petty theft. Crime is a reality of visiting the Dominican Republic, but as long as you take precautions to keep yourself safe, you shouldn’t experience anything too bad.
Violent crimes may make the headlines, but as a tourist, you are far more likely to be victim to a mundane, non-violent yet inconvenient crime such as bag snatching or pickpocketing.
Petty theft is very common in the Dominican Republic, and thieves often target tourists due to their relative wealth compared to the local population.
According to the Canadian government advisory for the Dominican Republic, petty theft is a risk pretty much anywhere in the country.
It is more prevalent around areas popular with tourists, such as beaches, resorts, and bus terminals, and during times when more tourists are in the country such as U.S. school holidays.
A common form of bag snatching according to the UK government advisory is drive-by robberies. Thieves, usually young men, will drive by on motorcycles and snatch bags right from the shoulders of pedestrians or through the open windows of cars.
To prevent this form of theft, always carry your bag on the side of your body away from the street. If you are in a car, always roll up your windows and lock your doors.
You should always be vigilant around your valuables while you are in the Dominican Republic. Never leave your valuables unattended, including at the airport, or anywhere where they are easily accessible.
Don’t flash valuables that might single you out as a lucrative target and only carry just as much money as you need for the day. Research your hotel ahead of time for security information.
Occasionally, travelers to the Dominican Republic are victims of more violent crimes. The Australian government advisory for the country singles out assault as the most common crime affecting visitors.
Assault can happen in a few different ways. Most tourists are assaulted after trying to resist a robbery. Since most robberies and assaults occur at night, limit your movements after dark to areas that you know are safe.
Don’t arrive in the country or depart from the airport at night as thieves often target cars on the road to and from the airport. Many robberies and assaults occur in taxis. Make sure that you are only taking licensed, reputable taxis, especially after dark.
If you do experience a robbery, don’t resist as victims are often assaulted if they show signs of resistance. Focus on getting away safely. Female travelers are additionally at risk of another form of assault, sexual assault.
While the nightlife is a popular draw for visitors to the Dominican Republic, you want to enjoy it responsibly.
Always go with a group and never venture anywhere alone, even to the bathroom. Never accept drinks from strangers or leave your drinks unattended as drink spiking is unfortunately common.
Avoiding Bad Areas
Certain areas of the Dominican Republic are more dangerous to visit than others. Avoiding those parts can help you stay safe.
The capital Santo Domingo experiences the most street crime, which makes sense as it is the biggest and densest city. You can still visit but stick to popular tourist areas that are safer.
Avoid poorer, more dangerous neighborhoods such as:
- La Duarte
- Arroyo Hondo
- Cristo Rey
- Villa Agricola
- Los Guandules
Resort areas tend to be safest from violent crime due to high levels of police presence.
However, they have higher rates of tourist-related crimes such as petty crime and sexual assault. Even if you are in a nominally safe area of the Dominican Republic, make sure that you take precautions to keep yourself safe.
Things to Consider
Here are a few additional safety tips for the Dominican Republic:
- Don’t drink the tap water. Most locals don’t drink the tap water because it is unsafe. Drink bottled or filtered water only.
- Take medical precautions before visiting. Get advice from your doctor before traveling if you have chronic health conditions. The Dominican Republic has mosquito-borne diseases such as zika, so ask your doctor about necessary vaccines or medicines that you should bring with you.
- Fraud and scams are common. Never let your credit card out of sight and only use reputable ATMs due to the presence of card skimmers. Beware of common scams such as gambling games both on the street and in the casinos.
- Road safety standards are probably lower here than at home. Be careful when driving or crossing the street.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few common questions that people have asked about the Dominican Republic before:
Is it safe to go to the Dominican Republic as a tourist?
As a tourist in the Dominican Republic, you’ll probably be safer than many residents. Although you should still take basic precautions, most tourist areas have additional protection in the form of tourist police.
Is Punta Cana Dominican Republic safe for tourists?
Punta Cana is one of the safest destinations in the Dominican Republic due to the many other tourists and special police force. Violent crime rates are fairly low, but tourist-targeted crimes such as pickpocketing and even some violent crimes such as sexual assault are common.
It is safe to walk out in the Dominican Republic?
It is safe to walk in the Dominican Republic during the day (as long as you watch out for cars and motorcycles). However, don’t walk around a lot at night and don’t walk around at all if you are alone.
Is the Dominican Republic safer than Mexico to travel to?
Mexico has an overall lower crime rate than the Dominican Republic. However, recently there has been a wave of violent crime targeting popular tourist destinations within Mexico such as Cancun, while tourist areas in the Dominican Republic remained safe.
Why is the Dominican Republic so cheap?
The Dominican Republic is affordable for a resort destination. The cost of living in the country is low, keeping the cost of even resorts lower than in other areas.
So, Should You Visit the Dominican Republic?
The Dominican Republic is not as dangerous as its reputation may be. You definitely have to take some precautions due to the country’s high crime rate, but as long as you take those precautions, you should be safe. Happy travels!