What’s going on in the Dominican Republic? [bad news]

Mysterious deaths at America’s favorite destination

There is a weird I-know-what-you-did-last-summer-vibe floating over the Dominican Republic right now. Nine American tourists have died so far, one was violently assaulted and dozens have reported getting ill on the island, a very popular vacation site for Americans. The FBI finally stepped in and is investigating the horrific “coincidences”.

Caribbean paradise is under suspicion now

Eight of the nine deaths have  similar circumstances: the tourists have suddenly fallen ill and passed away. Some of them seem to have had a heart attack but even that is being questioned now. It is known that at least 5 of the passings happened at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana and Bahia Principe resorts.

A team from the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has headed to the hotels and is conducting tests at the Bahia Principe hotels where three of the victims died. According to the State Department, the FBI went to the island to run a deeper toxicological investigation.

Violent assault of a mom

The first of the horror news in the generally known as a “paradisiac spot” came to public by the end of May. Tammy Lawrence-Daley, a 51-year-old mom from Delaware, shared her story on Facebook. While vacationing in the Majestic Elegance resort, in Punta Cana in January with her husband and friends, she was brutally attacked for around 8 hours. The resort claimed no responsibility though Lawrence-Daley says her attacker was using the resort’s uniform and the resort refused to collaborate in her rescue.

Just after this story shocked travelers and non-travelers everywhere, a series of deaths of American tourists on the island popped out.

The deadly victims at Dominican Republic in chronological order

1. Yvette Monique Sport, a 51-year-old woman from Pennsylvania, died at Bahia Principe resort in Punta Cana last June. Her causa mortis was registered as a heart attack at the time of her death. Her sister says she had a drink from the minibar, went to bed and never woke up.

2. David Harrison, 45, of Maryland, died a month later, in July, at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana. He was on the island to celebrate his son’s wedding. Harrison had supposedly died of a heart attack.

3. On April 14th, almost a year after Harrison’s passing, Robert Bell Wallace, 67, of California, passed at the same Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. He had a glass of scotch and died in a hospital three days later.

4. A few days later, on April 21st, another death, but it seems not related to the previous strange episodes. John Corcoran, brother of “Shark Tank” investor Barbara Corcoran, fell ill and passed. Corcoran stated, on Instagram, her brother had an existing heart condition and the family believes he died of natural causes.

5. But then a month later, on May 25th, another death derived from a drink in the minibar. Miranda Schaup-Werner, 41, of Pennsylvania, collapsed at the Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville in La Romana. She was celebrating her 10th wedding anniversary.

6-7. Five days later,  on May 30th, Nathaniel Edward Holmes, 63, and Cynthia Day, 49, a couple from Maryland, were found dead in their room at Grand Bahia Principe hotel in San Pedro de Macoris, 60 miles from Punta Cana. According to the RD’s National Police, the couple died of respiratory failure.

8. On June 10th, Leyla Cox, of New Brighton, also passed under unknown circumstances at the Excellence Resorts in Punta Cana. She went to the island to celebrate her 53th birthday.

9. So a few days ago, on June 13th, Joseph Allen, 55, of New Jersey, was found dead in his hotel room at Terra Linda, in Sosua. He was vacationing there to celebrate a friend’s birthday. He started to feel unwell at the pool and didn´t wake up the next morning.

Poisoning alerts

Last year up to only 10 people reported feeling ill at the Dominican Republic, according to the website Iwaspoisoned.com.  The site tracks food-borne illness outbreaks reported by the own individuals. But from March to the beginning of June, more than 70 reports had been registered.

Besides, a Colorado couple Kaylynn Knull, 29, and Tom Schwander, 33, filed a lawsuit against Grand Bahia Principe Hotel La Romana earlier this year. A doctor diagnosed the couple with insecticide poisoning while vacationing there last June.

How to stay safe in the Dominican Republic

Around 2 million Americans go on vacation on the Dominican Republic every year, which means a third of the island overall tourists. The island is currently on a Level 2 travel advisory from the US State Department, which means “increased caution” while visiting the country. The US State Department information page calls attention for violent crime, including robbery, murder, and sexual assault, which are considered “common” there by the US authorities.

Safe recommendations include basics like:

  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Do not physically resist any robbery attempt.
  • Do not display signs of wealth, such as wearing expensive watches or jewelry.
  • Follow the advice of resort and tour operators regarding local safety and security concerns.

Other safe recommendations worth keeping in mind are:

  • Never be disrespectful to locals.
  • Don´t play tough with locals or the police.
  • Avoid misunderstandings, negotiate anything clearly and upfront.
  • Female travelers should make clear at the very beginning they are not interested in a gentleman’s approach (in case they are not, of course) and cut it right away as harassment and verbal abuse can just happen the next minute.
  • Don´t go remote places by yourself. Go with an experienced guide or friends.
  • Take very good care of your belongings as petty crimes, like pick-pocketing, are quite common.
  • If you fall victim to crime, report it immediately to the local tourist police (CESTUR) at 911 or 809-200-3500 and contact your embassy.

What’s to see in the Dominican Republic

Map of Caribbean

The DR is the most visited destination in the Caribbean, that region with an unbeatable magnificent sea. Around six million tourists visit the island every year seeking its heavenly beaches, warm weather, natural diversity and music that makes bones move, like bachata and merengue. Without tourists the island has around 10.7 million inhabitants and shares land with Haiti. Besides the closeness, relations are not super amicable between them.

According to Minube, a huge community of travelers, the 6 best beaches at the Dominican Republic are:

  • Cayo Levantado – From January to March you can see humpbackwhales there.
  • Playa de Bayahibe – In the Southern area, it’s a fishermen spot, reachable from Santo Domingo.
  • Playa de Semaná-Playa Rincón – More difficult to reach, less touristic.
  • Isla Saona – A small island to reach from Punta Cana.
  • Playa Bávaro (Punta Cana) – Probably the most touristic area, full of luxurious resorts.
  • Playa Macao – The surfers’ beach.

Besides the beaches, the Dominican Republic has an interesting capital, full of cultural and historical attractions. Santo Domingo is located in the Southern coastal area and was the first settlement of the Spanish conquerors in Americas, in 1498. If you’d like to know it better, check out this tour around Santo Domingo.