Mark Rogers, Special to USA TODAY

Punta Cana is the 500-pound gorilla of Dominican Republic tourism. This tourism powerhouse on the country’s eastern coast attracts over four million visitors a year to its white sand beaches and affordable all-inclusive resorts. But earlier this year, reports of at least eight tourist deaths – not all of which happened there – and a pair of brutal attacks cast a pall over the region’s hospitality industry and visitation to Punta Cana plummeted.

The country’s tourism minister Francisco Javier Garcia has maintained all along that the Dominican Republic is safe. In June, he noted that the number of tourist deaths in 2019 was actually lower at that point of the year than in 2011 or 2015 when 15 died.

In the end, tainted alcohol – which was suspected in several cases – was ruled out, as were other forms other foul play.  Autopsies and FBI toxicology reports have since determined that seven of the eight died of natural causes and the eighth is believed to have as well.

Vacationers still hesitant to travel to Punta Cana shouldn’t turn their back on visiting the Dominican Republic altogether. The country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, covers 18,704 square miles and has much to offer beyond Punta Cana, including hotel and shopping bargains, authentic cultural experiences, river and mountain adventures, world-famous golf courses, and beautiful beaches.

The absolute flipside of a beach vacation is visiting the DR’s capital city of Santo Domingo, which is often referred to as the oldest city in the Western Hemisphere. The primary appeal of a visit is touring the city’s historic Zona Colonial, where there are many buildings dating back to the 15th century. The historic district is also filled with alfresco restaurants and cafes, and great sidewalk shopping. There are also one-of-a-kind hotels in renovated colonial-era buildings, such as the 16th-century Hodelpa Nicolas De Ovando, the home of a former governor. Visitors should also take time to stroll the city’s malecón, or seafront promenade, for a dash of local color. (…)

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