Drugs, gangs & natural disasters in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republican is very strict on drug offences, and penalties can range from large fines to long jail sentences.

The Dominican Republican is very strict on drug offences, and penalties can range from large fines to long jail sentences. It doesn‘t matter how much or what you‘re packing -- the authorities impose severe penalties regardless. Don‘t think the jail will be like your resort.

Prisons in the D.R. are tough and poorly-maintained. The country is either getting stricter or those carrying drugs are getting more careless, as the rate of arrests of foreign travellers for drug offences has risen dramatically since 2006.

Officials from the Dominican Drug Enforcement Agency often have their sniffer dogs at the airport to catch foreigners carrying drugs right as they step off the plane.

Even if you‘re clean as a whistle, some shady strangers may try to plant drugs on you. In what‘s called the “dishonest cop scam,“ a chipper local will come up and shake your hand, then place a bag of cocaine or other illicit drug in your palm. A police officer then steps in and “arrests“ you, but says you can get off by paying a fine.

Even if you don‘t participate in it, drug activity is something you might see being conducted by dealers or gang members. Gangs do exist in the D.R., most notably in the Capotillo, Guaricano and La Cienega areas of Santo Domingo. Members can sometimes be seen hanging out at the mall in that city.

Any violence they commit will usually involve rival members, but occasionally, their initiation process includes harming a random stranger. Gangs, and other local residents, may carry weapons, and sometimes they are visible. There are drug cartels in the D.R., but they are mostly a stopping off point for getting drugs to Europe or the States.

Natural Hazards and Disasters

Several serious illnesses abound in the Dominican Republic. A cholera outbreak currently plagues the country, with 279 confirmed cases of the illness and four deaths since October 2010. Malaria also lurks and is most prevalent near the Haitian border. Only occasional outbreaks have occurred.

The country has one of the higher global rates of HIV and AIDS infections with 1 in 50 adults affected, which is about three times more than the United States.

More than 550 cases of rabies in animals have also been reported since 2009. This may be due in part to the population of wild dogs on the island, which, fortunately, mostly avoid humans.

The large and varied insect population in the Dominican Republic can carry diseases like dengue fever, a mosquito-borne infection that produces fevers, body aches all over and rash.

There are also lice, gnats and sand flies transporting diseases like leishmaniasis, also called “flesh-eating disease.“ Typhus, filariasis and oropouche virus are other fun ailments you can get if you come in contact with a bug. Never forget your insect repellant wherever you go.

Other creepy crawlies on the island include tarantulas, which can appear in woodsy areas. Sea urchins can also crop up on the beach and prove painful to step on.

Many travellers reported that Punta Cana has a lot of litter and trash strewn about. A traveler to Santo Domingo said to avoid street food at all costs, as the cooking methods are questionable.

They‘re not kidding when they say, “Don‘t drink the water.“ Many travellers posting on a popular travel site said they got diarrhea and stomach ailments from letting some unfiltered water pass their lips, even when it‘s just from brushing their teeth.

The Dominican Republic is prone to hurricanes and earthquakes. The hurricane season usually runs from June to November. Flash floods and landslides are aftereffects of such a disaster.

Power outages occur frequently throughout the Dominican Republic, sometimes as a result of severe weather. Looting and petty crime can increase during these periods.

The water can also be dangerous to swim in, with tourists reporting strong currents and large waves. Anything involving rafting, swimming near waterfalls or cliff diving after a heavy rain is very hazardous. An American couple, protected by helmets and life jackets, died at Charcos/Damajagua waterfalls in 2009 during flooding that occurred after heavy rains.

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