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Dominican Republic Travel Guide

Why Are So Many People Dying at This Popular Caribbean Destination?

What is going on in the Dominican Republic?

It feels as if every few days there’s a new upsetting headline coming out of the Dominican Republic.

A Delaware woman says she was brutally assaulted while staying at the Majestic Elegance Punta Cana Hotel back in January. On May 25, a woman from Pennsylvania died suddenly in her room at the Grand Bahía Príncipe resort in La Romana. Five days later, a couple from Maryland died in the same hotel. (As of Monday, the cause of death in both cases are inconclusive.) And on Sunday night David Ortiz, former Boston Red Sox player and Dominican Republic native, was shot in the back while at a bar in the capital city of Santo Domingo.

All of these jarring stories are enough to prompt even the most casual news observer to ask, “What is going on in the Dominican Republic?” And if you’re a soon-to-be visitor you might be reconsidering any plans you have to the most popular Caribbean destination for U.S. tourists.


Should I Be Worried About Dying in the Dominican Republic?

As far as the U.S. State Department is concerned, not particularly. Their travel advisory for the country currently sits at a relatively common level 2 (“exercise increased caution due to crime”).

And whether or not the recent number of deaths is out of the ordinary is a little difficult to ascertain. The U.S. State Department lists 13 non-natural deaths for 2018, 17 in 2017, and 18 in 2016. Numbers which are more or less on par with other popular Caribbean destinations like The Bahamas and Jamaica, which reported 9 and 17 non-natural U.S. tourist deaths in 2018, respectively. But these numbers only refer to deaths that are the result of non-natural causes, i.e. homicide, suicide, drowning. Deaths caused by heart or respiratory failure like the ones that occurred at the Grand Bahía Príncipe La Romana wouldn’t be included in those statistics. So the number of recent deaths by itself isn’t a cause for concern.

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But the “Mysterious” Deaths Are Weird

What is strange about the 6 “mysterious” tourist deaths isn’t so much that they all happened in the same country, but that they all happened in one of three hotels (two of which are owned by the same company).

David Harrison and Robert Wallace both died at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana. Yvette Monique Sport died at Bahía Príncipe Punta Cana. And Miranda Schupp-Werner, Edward Holmes, and Cynthia Day died at the Grand Bahía Prínce La Romana. All of these deaths happened very suddenly and have been generally ruled to be the result of respiratory or heart failure. Another strange similarity is that Wallace, Schaup-Werner, and Sport are all reported as having had a drink from their hotel minibars before their sudden deaths.

But according to The Washington Post, the Dominican National Police have found no links between the cases. And while the FBI is currently reported to be assisting with toxicology reports (which might provide more details regarding the exact causes of death), the strange similarities between these stories may simply be a tragic confluence of coincidence.

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