If you’re looking for everything that a typical Caribbean vacation has to offer—swaying palm trees, relaxed breezes, transparent waters, endless beaches—at reasonable prices, you might find yourself flying to Punta Cana.
But once those tickets and hotel rooms are booked, you might find yourself with an unexpected question: Is Punta Cana safe? It’s in the Dominican Republic, which shares an island with Haiti, a nation that has a reputation for danger and crime.
The U.S. State Department’s 2018 travel advisory designates the Dominican Republic as a Level 2 destination, which advises visitors to “exercise increased caution.” The advisory cites the nation’s crime level and states, “The wide availability of weapons, the use and trade of illicit drugs, and a weak criminal justice system contribute to the high level of criminality.” For context, other countries rated at Level 2 by the State Department include France, the U.K., China, and South Africa.
So is it safe to travel to Punta Cana specifically? Crime in Punta Cana is significantly lower than it is in the rest of the Dominican Republic. However, that doesn’t mean that Punta Cana doesn’t have its own dangers, though you shouldn’t necessarily let Punta Cana warnings keep you from hitting its beautiful beaches and resorts. Here’s the comprehensive Punta Cana safety advice you need to know.
Tips for Staying Safe in Punta Cana
- Know where to go and where not to. Though most of Punta Cana is relatively safe for the average traveler, if you stray from the tourist area and end up in other parts of the Dominican Republic, you may find yourself in places known for high rates of violent crime. Even in Punta Cana it’s best to be vigilant, as you should be in every tourist-frequented area, against thieves and scammers—especially on the beach and near the airport.
- Avoid driving in Punta Cana if you can help it. The road conditions and traffic patterns can be dangerous and unpredictable, especially for drivers who are accustomed to navigating U.S. roads. Instead, use a reputable tour company or hire a private driver who comes recommended from your resort or a well-reviewed travel agency.
- Avoid any and all contact with any drug dealers and prostitutes. This may seem like obvious advice that’s easy to follow, but locals like your cab driver or a friendly beach vendor could offer you marijuana or cocaine in exchange for cash. While some might thinks it’s harmless in the moment, the Dominican Republic’s legal system takes drug offenses seriously and comes down hard on anyone suspected of possession—to the tune of a year-long detention even before trial. Punta Cana is also a known spot for prostitution, which is technically legal here—but tourists should avoid all offers of prostitution for their own safety (more on that below).
Top Travel Safety Products for Punta Cana
Safe Places—and Places to Avoid—in Punta Cana
One common question arises for many travelers considering a trip: Where is Punta Cana? It’s located on the Dominican Republic’s easternmost tip, adjacent to Puerto Rico. The crime rate within Punta Cana’s main resort area is low; the beaches and other attractions are guarded by a police force (called CESTUR) that is dedicated specifically to protecting travelers, resorts, and attractions. Tourism is big business here, so the Dominican Republic makes sure that hotels, resorts, and beaches are well patrolled.
Other areas of the Dominican Republic—especially Santo Domingo—are the ones considered by the U.S. government to be “critical-threat locations for crime,” including gang-related violence. But they’re hours away from Punta Cana.
That doesn’t mean that you should let down your guard in Punta Cana. Recent crime statistics show that Dominican Republic’s highest incidents of sexual assault occurred in six specific areas, including Punta Cana. Theft is also prevalent at pools and beaches, as they’re common areas for people to leave their valuables unattended.
Another safety issue in Punta Cana is the sea itself. Popular swimming areas sometimes have dangerous and unexpected undertows. Avoid swimming alone or without a lifeguard present. If you’re planning a swim or surf session, check for beach markers about the undertow or ask your resort’s managers for current information on local conditions.
How to Get Around Safely in Punta Cana
Most Punta Cana warnings and dangers revolve around transit and traffic. That’s because driving conditions across the Dominican Republic are very different than they are in the United States. You’re likely to encounter uneven road surfaces including large potholes and missing manhole covers. Unpredictable driving patterns are another danger. Don’t take the decision to drive here lightly—and if you do choose to drive, do so defensively and cautiously. It’s easy and affordable to hire a driver instead, and most excursions from hotels include transportation.
For safety and convenience, also avoid using public transportation in Punta Cana—which can be privately operated and unreliable. It’s better to hire a professional driver through a reputable travel agency or via your hotel. For intercity travel, use a only reputable tour bus company or taxi service.
Avoid travel out of Punta Cana alone; going with a partner or group is preferable. Even within Punta Cana, stick to popular areas and limit excessive alcohol consumption, as you should in most destinations. Sexual assaults involving date rape drugs in drinks have been reported at hotels. As the U.S. Department of State advises travelers to Punta Cana: “Report any unwanted attention to hotel management.”
Scams and Other Dangers in Punta Cana
As in many areas frequented by tourists, scammers can target unsuspecting travelers in Punta Cana. One scam the State Department warns of, for example, involves a stranger handing you an illegal drug before someone claiming to be a police officer arrives and demands money to let you leave.
To reach Punta Cana’s police in an emergency, you can dial 911 just as you would in the United States. CESTUR can be reached at (809) 552-1060 or via Smartphone app (iOS | Android). Another option for assistance in Punta Cana is to contact the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo.
Punta Cana is at risk for natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. (Caribbean hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30.) Tap water isn’t drinkable for most travelers—stick to bottled water. The Zika virus is of concern throughout the Dominican Republic and the rest of the Caribbean, so mosquito repellent is recommended. If you find yourself needing medicine, ask your hotel; large resorts typically have a stockpile of common remedies since the nearest pharmacy may be far away.
Avoiding Drugs and Prostitution in Punta Cana
As with other destinations, visitors to Punta Cana should never buy illegal drugs. Not only is it inadvisable to be in an altered state in a place you’re not familiar with, but the legal consequences are also severe. Visitors are not exempt from strict drug laws, intended to keep the Dominican Republic from becoming a major drug trafficking transit point. Still, some beach vendors and taxi drivers do try to sell drugs to tourists. Just say no.
Prostitution is technically legal in Punta Cana, but if you encounter a sex worker, you should decline immediately for a wide range of reasons. Even more serious than the drug trafficking that happens in the Dominican Republic is the human trafficking. According to the U.S. Department of State, “The government of the Dominican Republic does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” and women and children have been forced into the trade.
Knowing these warnings for traveling to Punta Cana, it’s easy to enjoy a safe and memorable vacation in this beautiful corner of the Caribbean.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Punta Cana Travel Guide
- What to Pack for the Dominican Republic
- 5 Caribbean Resorts That Should Be on Your Bucket List