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TRAVEL Q&A

Safety First, Wherever You Go

Many visitors to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic never leave the grounds of the all-inclusive hotels and resorts.
Many visitors to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic never leave the grounds of the all-inclusive hotels and resorts. (Barcelo)

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By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, August 17, 2008

Q. We are considering a week's vacation in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Is this considered a safe place to travel? Are there any dietary restrictions to be aware of?

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Natalie Aronsohn, North Bethesda

A. Your qualms are understandable, since the Dominican Republic, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti, is a poor country with great economic inequity. Yet Punta Cana is an extremely popular vacation destination, offering great value in hotel rates, meals, tours and activities, and package-tour operators book planefuls of satisfied visitors year-round. Many of Punta Cana's hotels and resorts are all-inclusives, with most visitors never leaving the grounds. To avoid problems, take the same precautions you would when traveling anywhere (including many major U.S. cities):

· Don't carry a lot of cash or wear expensive jewelry.

· Travel on main roads and during daylight hours.

· Don't leave valuables unattended in parked cars or on the beach.

· Take hotel taxis.

· Watch your alcohol intake in clubs and other public places.

As for dietary restrictions, you'll be fine eating hotel food, but stick to bottled water and beverages. For more safety tips, see the State Department's Web site, http://travel.state.gov.

My husband and I are planning on taking our extended family to Yellowstone next summer. Any suggestions on where to stay and which city to fly into, while keeping expenses reasonable? We hope to stay one week and see as much of the park and the area as possible. Any recommendations for things to do?

Sylvia Dean, Woodbridge

Every time we write about this topic we're inundated with e-mails from readers with dissenting opinions, so we'll let Linda Miller of Yellowstone National Park take the heat.

While Miller acknowledges that each of the park's gateway airports (West Yellowstone, Bozeman and Billings, Mont.; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Salt Lake City; and Jackson and Cody, Wyo.) has its appeal, she prefers Jackson. But she recommends that you visit the park's extremely comprehensive Web site, http://www.nps.gov/yell, to compare all the options as you plan your itinerary.

"Jackson is very interesting: sort of small-towny, yet very elegant in its own way," Miller said. "And the drive through the Grand Tetons on the way to the park is a great thing. Even if they didn't stop, but just drove through it, they'd see the mountains and the views. . . . It's just incredibly beautiful." It's about a 50-mile drive from the airport, and you'll enter the park through the south entrance.

Must-sees include Old Faithful, of course, and the rest of the park's geysers, hot springs, mudpots and fumaroles; the spectacular Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone; and Lake Yellowstone, North America's largest high-altitude lake. Miller recommends contacting the park's concessionaire, Xanterra ( http://www.travelyellowstone.com, 866-GEYSERLAND), whose agents not only book lodging but will help you plan your visit, suggesting activities and making reservations for tours and guides.

As for lodging, you're smart to plan now if you want to stay inside the park: The most popular hotels fill up a year ahead, especially if you're looking at July, August and even September, Miller said. Old Faithful Inn and the Lake Hotel are the most desirable spots -- the inn especially, with its distinctive architecture and dining room that overlooks the lake. "It's a special place," Miller said. She warned against using commercial booking agents to make reservations; if you do it through Xanterra, there's no booking fee.

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com)or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and town.


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