Other than an upset stomach or sunburn, most travelers to the D.R. don't experience difficulties with their health. However, before winging your way to the island, you should be aware of some health risks. Most visitors at some point come down with at least a mild case of diarrhea, the número uno illness for D.R. travelers.
Travelers to rural areas of the island, especially the provinces bordering Haiti, are at risk for malaria. There is little risk, however, if you stay in the major resort areas such as Playa Dorada or Punta Cana.
Another plague, schistosomiasis, is a parasitic infection found in fresh water in parts of the D.R. Don't go swimming in freshwater rivers. Hepatitis B is also commonplace in the D.R.
To find out about current U.S. Department of State travel warnings about the D.R. or the Caribbean in general, check http://travel.state.gov.
Travel Health Online (www.tripprep.com), sponsored by a consortium of travel medicine practitioners, may also offer helpful advice on traveling abroad. You can find listings of reliable medical clinics overseas at the International Society of Travel Medicine (www.istm.org).
What to Do If You Get Sick Away from Home
Finding a good doctor in the Dominican Republic can be a problem once you leave Santo Domingo and the big resorts such as those at Playa Dorada or Punta Cana. You should be in fairly good health before venturing into the hinterlands. However, most doctors, once you get one, have been educated in the United States and speak English.
If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before your departure. For conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, or heart problems, wear a MedicAlert identification tag (tel. 888/633-4298; www.medicalert.org), which will immediately alert doctors to your condition and give them access to your records through MedicAlert's 24-hour hot line.
Contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) (tel. 716/754-4883, or 416/652-0137 in Canada; www.iamat.org) for tips on travel and health concerns in the countries you're visiting, and lists of local, English-speaking doctors. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (tel. 800/232-4636; www.cdc.gov) provides up-to-date information on health hazards by region or country and offers tips on food safety.
Warning: Malaria Alert
The Centers for Disease Control currently posts a malaria warning for parts of the D.R., especially for the resort areas in Altagracia province. That's the southeastern part of the island country. It is recommended that all travelers to the area, including infants and children, begin taking antimalarial drugs before arriving on island. Chances are you, like thousands of other visitors, will be fine, but why chance it?
Crime & Safety
Foreigners should review their security practices and maintain a low profile. Protests, demonstrations, and general strikes occur periodically. These disturbances have the potential to turn violent, with participants rioting and erecting roadblocks. In the past, police have used deadly force in response to violent protests. Although these events are not targeted at foreigners, it is advisable to exercise caution when traveling throughout the country. In urban areas, travel should be conducted on main routes whenever possible. Street crowds should be avoided. Additional advice about strikes and other security issues in the Dominican Republic may be obtained from the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo or by visiting the embassy's website at http://santodomingo.usembassy.gov.
Petty street crime involving tourists does occur, and normal precautions should be taken. Visitors walking the streets should always be aware of their surroundings to avoid becoming victims of crime. Valuables left unattended in parked automobiles, on beaches, and in other public places are vulnerable to theft. Cellphones should be carried in a pocket, rather than on a belt or in a purse. One increasingly common method of street robbery is for a person or persons on a moped (often coasting with the engine turned off so as not to draw attention) to approach a pedestrian, grab the cellphone, purse, or backpack, and then speed away.
Passengers in private taxis (known locally as públicos) are frequently the victims of robbery. In some instances, the taxi drivers themselves have been known to rob riders. We know at least one American passenger on a motoconcho (motorcycle taxi) has been robbed by the driver. Sometimes crooked taxi drivers will turn down a dangerous street where a robber will jump into the car and steal a victim's wallet or purse. The taxi driver himself might have set up the robbery in advance, perhaps with, say, his brother-in-law. Visitors to the Dominican Republic are strongly advised to take only hotel taxis or taxis operated by services whose cabs are ordered in advance by phone and can subsequently be identified and tracked.
The overall level of crime tends to rise during the Christmas season, and visitors to the Dominican Republic should take extra precautions when visiting the country between November and January.
Note: Men traveling alone here will find themselves solicited more often by prostitutes than anywhere else in the Caribbean. Prostitutes are at their most visible and aggressive in such relatively unmonitored tourist zones as Cabarete and within the bars and lounges of most of the deluxe hotels of Santo Domingo, especially the Jaragua.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.