Just back from Punta Cana, and we’re not sick!

We just returned from a nine-day trip to the Dominican Republic, spending a very nice week under the sun at Dreams Punta Cana and Excellence Punta Cana. We had excellent service, the food was very good, the beach was large, the ocean was inviting, the pool was crystal clear, and the people were top notch.

But *gasp* it’s the Dominican Republic! It’s on the same island as Haiti! It’s the epicenter of worldwide malaria outbreaks! You can’t drink the water! It’s where pirates were based for Pete’s sake!

Oh my, if I had a nickel for every time someone said to us, as an agency, that they didn’t want to travel to the DR for one reason or another, I’d have quit the business long ago, bought a catamaran, and sailed off into the Caribbean sunset…along with several bagfuls of extra nickels.

I was there with my family (wife, two kids, and parents) for an entire week. And you know what? No one got sick…no one was mugged…no one contracted malaria, or dengue fever, or the plague, or whatever other rumors may be out there… It was just an excellent vacation week in one of the Caribbean’s hidden gems, Punta Cana. And this was my kids’ fifth trip to the Dominican, without even a runny nose.

But *gasp* you’re in the travel business, you know how to avoid the plague, the pirates, the earthquakes! Well, not entirely. I do know how to avoid the pirates, yes, but that’s another story.

No, we all drank the water, we all had showers and brushed our teeth with the water from the tap, we all had some type of frozen drink (using the ice, another terrible rumor…anyway, can you imagine a frozen margarita without ice? *Shudder*). We even, and I love this rumor, ate actual salad that had probably been washed in water!

Yes, it’s true that many people get sick on vacation – and you may be one of them, and it may have happened in Punta Cana. However to immediately chalk that up to unfounded scary rumors about the destination is unfair to the destination, the hotel companies, and maybe most importantly the people working in those destinations. And they are rumors, not facts. Don’t drink the water? Puh-leeze. If that were true, and drinking the water/eating the ice or salad made people sick on a consistent basis, the hotels, and the destination, would have gone under years ago. Seriously…if Montezuma’s revenge struck even 1% of people traveling to Cancun, they’d close up shop before you can say Chichen Itza…or Chicken Pizza.

Think about it…the hotel we stayed at has 600 rooms, and were over 90% full, averaging just over two people per room. That’s (brain ticking and smoking) somewhere around 1,200 people here…each week. At this hotel alone, which is one of over thirty 4-star and up resorts we feature on our site. So (brain still smoking) let’s call it 16,000 people per week (keeping in mind only at hotels we send guests to, so I’m shooting low) during peak time. Keep calculating…call off-peak 60% occupancy (and I’ll have to do the complex math for what weeks are peak…trust me), that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 600,000 guests per year. Guess how many people contracted malaria (the ‘big’ media scare for the Dominican Republic) in the resort areas during the last so-calledoutbreak year” of 2004? 5,000? 1,000? Maybe 600, or one-tenth of one percent? Nope, you’re still a little high. It was 17. Yep, 17. Which is less than one-third of the number of cases reported every year in Florida.

Do you know what causes most sicknesses while on vacation? I’ve actually asked several on-site nurses in different destinations over the years…I’m by no means a doctor, but I sometimes have to play one (along with weatherman) for our clients. Most guest illness is caused by overdrinking combined with oversunning. Yes, the five mojitos at the pool bar, combined with the six beers on the beach, added to the three glasses of wine at dinner, topped off with tequila shots in the lobby bar that night, all heaped on top of that funny burnt smell you’re giving off (SPF-4 will work, right honey? It’s what we use in Wisconsin!) is probably what made you sick. NOT the bad ice, the mosquitoes, the lettuce, not even brushing your teeth in the sink.

Could you get sick? Absolutely. The same way you can get sick at Disney World, or skiing at Aspen, or at the craps table in Atlantic City (don’t ask). We’re not saying you can’t get sick in a foreign country; what we’re saying is in most cases it’s not contaminated food or impure water.

Our advice? Go easy on the booze, heavy on the sunscreen, and even heavier on the water (most of the resorts we handle provide plenty of purified bottled water). Love those mojitos? Who doesn’t – but order one, plus one bottle of water. When you finish the mojito, order the second round while you drink the water. You’ll enjoy your week MUCH better.

Oh, and one last suggestion. Don’t think the burrito you’re getting at the Mexican restaurant is the same burrito you got at your local Taco Bell, and don’t think the jalapenos piled onto your nachos are the same ones you got out of a jar in your fridge. Take the food in moderation, your American stomach may not be accustomed to the ‘true’ local foods and spices.

Your thoughts always welcome!