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Source: Travel Binger

I’ve traveled to Dominican Republic several times over the past decade, and it’s one of the most predictable, no-frills beach destinations in the Caribbean. You can always expect tropical weather, white-sand beaches and dozens of resorts ranging from budget to extreme luxury.

Dominican Republic recently experienced a dent in its reputation, which I’ll discuss below. I needed to visit the country to see if all was back to normal. The good news? I didn’t once run into any issues. The bad news? Rates and vacation packages will likely increase since the crowds will soon return. If you’re looking to book a vacation in Dominican Republic, it’s a good idea to do so soon. As always, for any destination you travel to, travelers should make an effort in light research to determine whether it’s a fit.

Dominican Republic attracts 2.7 million American tourists every year, and the island also caters to a strong European, Canadian, Latin and Russian market. The country isn’t for everyone — but for those who want to literally do nothing in tropical paradise, it’s the perfect destination.

It’s also one of the places I receive tons of questions, since not a lot of people know a lot about it. In fact, they’ve heard of “Punta Cana” but many have no idea it’s in the DR. Dominican Republic shares the same Caribbean island of Hispaniola as Haiti (on the western side), and Puerto Rico is its neighbor island, and that’s something a lot of people don’t realize. For this reason, I put together a list of commonly asked questions, which can help you plan your next trip.

1. Is Dominican Republic safe to visit? 

Last year, 11 American tourists suddenly, coincidentally and unexpectedly died in the Dominican Republic, several at the same resort, raising safety concerns. The deaths were determined to be from “natural causes” or “health-related issues,” since there was no evidence of foul play or signs that the deaths were connected.

These incidents brought Dominican Republic under a media microscope. Many people began to speculate tainted or bootleg alcohol as the culprit of deaths (one tourist “fatally collapsed” after having a drink from the mini-bar in front of her husband). Three victims had fluid in their lungs and respiratory failure, and though alcohol doesn’t seem likely as the cause, since there would have been more fatalities, it was ruled out. 

Additionally, dozens of travelers reported disturbing moments of sudden illness last year, which hospitalized many and even caused death.

In September 2019, to put the issue to rest, Javier Garcia, Dominican Republic’s Minster of Tourism, said new safety measures were put in place to address safety at resorts.

The Dominican Republic has been focusing on mending its reputation and image. Many Americans are taking trips to the DR to prove it’s a safe destination, and 10 resort chains have joined forces to introduce Punta Cana Promise, an initiative to prove anyone traveling to the destination is safe and secure. Punta Cana Promise includes various assurances, like working with trusted vendors and in accordance to global food safety management standards; 24-hour security; employees undergoing rigorous background checks and training; and excellent service. 

The unfortunate fatalities seem to have been a matter of coincidence among older individuals, many of of whom have had prior health problems, and media during the time seemed to start a frenzy.

There has been no reported cases of mysterious death or illness from tourists this year.

So, is it safe to visit Dominican Republic? It’s safe as any other island destination you visit.

2. Are all the resorts all-inclusive?

Dominican Republic’s reputation precedes it: the island is a magnet to budget travelers looking to spend as little as possible, so naturally, it’s brimming with all-inclusive resorts to get bang for your buck. Since I was little, I would see the travel ad section in the newspaper, and Dominican Republic was one of those places you could have an all-inclusive vacation package for as little as $300 a week. This has not changed. There are more than 50 all-inclusive resorts on the island, and several tour operators do packaged vacations (including flights) with ridiculously cheap rates. 

The value is worth it. You can book an all-inclusive resort for as little as $100 a night (depending on the deal you land), and this will include all meals on property, all activities and even booze. Some all-inclusive resorts are more premium, so you’re not limited to extreme budget options.

For instance, at the new Hilton La Romana Adult All Inclusive Resort, which I checked into this past week, offers spacious suites, almost a dozen unique restaurants, infinity pools, a private beach, free activities and liquor. You can even splurge for Premium class, which gives travelers a separate check-in, a dedicated lounge, access to a private pool and section of the beach and premium alcohol. Rates start around $350 / night, which is worth it if you don’t mind the crowds (there are 350 rooms, meaning there can be about 700 people on property when it’s full). 

However, while Dominican Republic is mostly known for pandering to travelers who want all-inclusive vacations, there are a handful of resorts that are not all-inclusive. These resorts are more luxurious, like Eden Roc, a Relais & Chataeux property, which is tucked away in Cap Cana and incredibly private. It’s on a white-sand beach exclusive to guests, has two infinity pools, and the resort has luxurious rooms spread throughout the property, from villas to beach houses. There is also Amanera, an Aman Resort, which helped bring luxury travelers to the island.  

3. Are the beaches nice?

Dominican Republic beaches are equally as nice as many Caribbean islands I’ve been to, and I’ve been to 80 percent of them. If you’re lucky, your resort will be on a white-sand beach. 

The water is generally Kool-Aid blue, like bath water certain times of the year. Beaches are not rocky, and the sand is fine and white. So, basically, the images you see of Dominican Republic beaches online are accurate. The majority of white-sand beaches against crystal clear waters are in resort towns, like Punta Cana, Bavaro and Cap Cana. 

Bavaro Beach outside Punta Cana is the most famous. It’s a long stretch of beach hugging the coast, where plenty of all-inclusive resorts are located. It’s not very private since it’s the busiest, and you can find water sports and activities around here. 

Some beaches have golden sand (not powdery white) like Cabarete Beach, a favorite for locals. This beach is wide with relatively calm, shallow waters. 

Juanillo Beach in Cap Cana is public (mostly to those staying in Cap Cana, since you have to show ID, fill out some paperwork to access it otherwise), and the white sand against the turquoise waters reminds me of the Maldives. I love it here. It’s also one of the quieter beaches if you want to make an effort to escape the herds of beachgoers in Bavaro. 

4. When is the cheapest time to go?

NOW. March to May is when the crowds start disappearing, but the weather still remains perfect, near 80 degrees, and you dodge rainy and hurricane season (June to November). Throw in the factor that Dominican Republic lost a good chunk of travelers, about 25 percent, due to last year’s incident, you can still get great deals. 

5. Is Dominican food safe to eat?

Dominican food is Latin focused. Rice, beans, plantains, tropical fruit and meat and fish. A lot of the food is fried, and most dishes are likely heavier than what you eat at home. The food is safe to eat. I particularly like Dominican breakfast, which usually includes rice, beans, a fried egg, fried cheese and coffee. 

6. Is there life outside Punta Cana?

Here’s the biggest thing about Punta Cana. The place that the majority and hordes of tourists go to is Bavaro, not Punta Cana.

Punta Cana originally started as Puntacana Resort & Club, essentially a company brand created in the early 1970s (and later opened Punta Cana International Airport). Tourism built around it, along Bavaro Beach, because Punta Cana is private, so the majority of resorts in Dominican Republic are in Bavaro, not Punta Cana. Like Cap Cana, Punta Cana is a small resort community, and it’s very upscale, unlike Bavaro Beach. For this reason, people simply call this area Punta Cana, not Bavaro.

So, to clarify, when you see a resort like “Hard Rock Punta Cana,” it is actually not in Punta Cana, but Bavaro Beach. There are actually only 3 resorts in Punta Cana.

There is life outside Bavaro Beach. Head to the west coast to La Romana (where Hilton La Romana is located) or just outside Punta Cana, like Cap Cana. The beaches are equally beautiful, the resorts just as nice and the weather is the same throughout the island due to its low elevation. 

One of best ways to determine where to stay is to decide what type of resort you want to book, and also what kind of beach allures you the most. 

If you’re adventurous, there are some “locals only” towns in places outside Punta Cana and La Romana where you can explore the local areas, but it’s generally limited to a handful of bars.

7. Is Punta Cana Airport a nightmare?

Punta Cana International Airport receives 7.6 million travelers a year, making it the 2nd busiest airport in The Caribbean (in comparison, San Juan International airport received over 8.4 million, so it’s not far behind). 

We all know airports in The Caribbean are small, and Punta Cana International Airport is no exception. However, unlike other airports, there are two terminals, which helps with any congestion. I flew into Terminal B on Delta (while my friend flew through Terminal A on WestJet), and both our experiences were pleasant because we upgraded to the VIP Service. This service helps streamline your customs and immigration (no lines to wait in, whatsoever) and there’s also a lounge. There are a lot of Europeans and Latin people coming, so there are smoking sections, and there is an outdoor pool (the only airport pool in The Caribbean), all starting at $75 per person for the VIP Service. 

However, because I flew business class, I was already one of the first off the plane. While I did use the VIP Service, it wasn’t necessary since I was the first through the immigration line and the first through customs. These areas had plenty of workers, so even if I was at the back of the plane, I wouldn’t have waited long. The airport is a breeze and not chaotic.