A tourist's worst nightmare is to have their hard-earned holiday in the sun ruined by a debilitating stomach upset. If you are soon to be our guest, and are fearful of getting food poisoning in the Dominican Republic, let us help you to avoid it.
You may have heard of the dreaded Moctezuma's Revenge, but did you know there exists a Dominican version? You do not need to fear, though, we have some tips for you to enjoy your stay at this Caribbean popular holiday destination. Yes, you can safely enjoy your dream holiday. And no, you do not need to stay holed up in your Dominican Republic resort hotel room to avoid health problems and unfortunate incidents.
Who was Caonabo?
Every Dominican knows the story of Caonabo , the brave Taino, husband of Anacaona, queen of Jaragua. Upon the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors Anacaona was tricked into extending her hospitality to the newcomers, a decision that she came to regret when she was strangled and her entire village massacred. Caonabo revolted in revenge, but was captured by deceit during a parley to negotiate. He was shipped to Spain as a prisoner but died en route when the ship capsized. Today Caonabo is a symbol of bravery in our country and a national folk hero.
Caonabo's revenge is one of the few things visitors to the Dominican Republic have to fear.
What is food poisoning?
Food poisoning is an umbrella term to describe one or several symptoms of digestive issues caused by the ingestion of spoiled foods or bacteria (often salmonella and e. coli). "The most common symptoms of food poisoning are :
- Upset stomach
- Stomach cramps
"Most often, food poisoning is mild and resolves without treatment. But some people need to go to the hospital. ."
Is it safe to eat in the Dominican Republic?
Nobody wants their holiday ruined by any illness, including a case of food poisoning. For some it is inevitable, not because of infected water, poor hygiene or unusual foods, but simply because some people's stomachs are more sensitive to the unaccustomed organisms found in the water and food in the tropics.
Tropical and warm climate destinations  are the most risky places to become ill from food, both because of the climate itself, and because they tend to be the most visited destinations in the world. Illness and tourist deaths are an unfortunate fact of life, and no amount of safety protocols will prevent everyone who has a heart attack during a holiday from passing away from natural causes. Millions of holidaymakers visit our country every year  – 10 million airline passengers, just last year, mainly in the East, and Santo Domingo, followed by Puerto Plata and San Pedro de Macoris, according to Dominican government officials . So it should come to no surprise that there will be unfortunate incidents.
How to avoid it
But back to our subject, here's how to avoid Caonabo's Revenge. There are some ways to minimize the chance that this happens to you:
- Take it easy the first couple of days. Fresh off the plane may not be the best time to overindulge. Take all the necessary precautions at the start of your visit or al inclusive stay. Eat and drink only things you are sure of. Give your body a chance to adapt.
- Our hot weather requires that you keep well hydrated by drinking plenty of bottled water. This will be provided to you by the hotel and there should always be some left at guest rooms. We do not advice that you drink tap water. For extra precaution, you may want to brush your teeth with bottled water too.
- Try and keep to establishments that appear to keep a good standard of hygiene. This does not mean restricting yourself to high class hotels and fancy restaurants; many modest, local family run places can be clean too. A good test is to inspect the toilets!
- Take the obvious precautions with water, ice, fruit and raw vegetables.
- Avoid most foods from street vendors until you feel you have acclimatized.
- Wash your hands fastidiously, especially before eating, and encourage your companions to do the same . This is very important with little kids, who tend to be all but observant about hygiene.
- Be careful with buffet food!
The last tip may come as a surprise. Many people think that by staying in an all-inclusive hotel they are protecting themselves from food poisoning. Sometimes, the opposite may the case. Buffet food – a popular resort experience – can carry a risk of this happening. Food left out in the open for a long time, in warm temperatures, allows bacteria to multiply. Dishes that contain uncooked egg (e.g. mayonnaise) are the most vulnerable. If you can, show up early for the buffet, and avoid food that seems to have been out for a while. At-risk people may also want to avoid raw salads.
There are more precautions that can be taken - sneeze protection screens, correct refrigeration - that can prevent this from happening, and while the Dominican Republic authorities have become much more vigilant about conditions at all inclusive resorts, there have been some official reports of illness outbreaks, so in recent years, the Dominican authorities have put the highest priority into into making food and beverage protocols at hotels more strict.
Combined with the fact that tourists are more often than not taking too much sun than is good for them, and drinking sickly cocktails from the unlimited bars, the AI lifestyle can be a recipe for trouble when it comes to keeping healthy in a tropical climate! There's no need to panic though, you just need to be vigilant about what you eat, just as you should at home. If you have a weak immune system, you may need to be extra careful, and seek immediate medical attention if you have any or similar symptoms to the ones listed above.
Published Sep 3, 2005, and last revised