(Luperón, Dominican Republic)
Luperón is a bustling town in the Puerto Plata province of the Dominican Republic. It is probably most well-known amongst cruisers as ‘the best’ hurricane hole in all of the Caribbean, with many boats packing the anchorage for shelter from June through November.
Since we got a bit of a late start to our sailing journey, having left Naples at the tail end of March, we figured we would probably only make it to Luperón or perhaps Salinas, Puerto Rico by the dirty part of hurricane season. That was the goal at the very least, and here were are after making the >>200-mile sail<< from Provo, Turks + Caicos!
We are still planning to cross the Mona Passage and make it to Puerto Rico in the next couple of days, where we will hang tight for the next few months. Then, after hurricane season wraps up, we will continue on south, island hopping through the Eastern Caribbean as we make our way down to Grenada.
Not a Third World Country!
The Dominican Republic is a ‘developing’ country, not a third world country! That’s according to the United Nations, at least. It may have traits in common with a third world country, but it isn’t classified as such.
Yes, there are many many extremely poor people living in this country and the infrastructure here is terribly minimal (particularly in the non-resort areas). But there is only one Caribbean country that classifies as 3rd world or ‘least developed’…and that’s Haiti.
But I get it.
It can be quite difficult to see past the poverty and rickety buildings, flea-ridden street dogs (who I absolutely adore btw), and loud stinky motoconchos racing down the city streets…to see the ‘real’ beauty of this wonderful city.
If you look past the dirty gutters, you’ll find a city bursting at the seams with energy. Alive with a culture that is palpable before you even set foot on land. Everything here is bright and lively. Walking down one small block as you listen to the sounds of bachata music coming from all around, you will see a group of adults playing dominoes at a card table, barefoot kids playing baseball in the street, someone waving hello and saying “hola” as you pass by. It’s really quite charming.
In fact, the DR is ranked the world’s 2nd happiest country, following Costa Rica who earned the top spot (the U.S. ranked 114th). That certainly might explain why everyone we have met in the DR has been overwhelmingly kind, friendly, and helpful.
But we’re not crazy to think the same problems that riddle any city in the world don’t also exist here in Luperón. Because they do. There’s poverty. There’s crime. There’s drugs. There’s prostitution. And unfortunately, just this week, another young couple we met in the harbor were robbed at machete-point by two young teens while they were camping/hiking in the mountains outside of Luperón. They weren’t hurt, but lost a backpack loaded with their nice camera, both passports, credit cards, cash, and more.
Although Luperón has not felt one bit scary or intimidating ‘for us’ during our time here, we still always exercise utmost caution when visiting foreign countries. For us, that means always locking the boat and the dinghy/engine, not wearing flashy jewelry, not leaving any valuables or electronics in the cockpit, and trying our hardest to minimize my rather large and inconspicuous camera while walking around town since we’ve heard those can be quite the gold mine for poor locals desperate to make a quick dollar.
The joy of ‘checking in.’
Checking in here in Luperón, DR was a total pain in the you-know-what.
It took five or so grueling hours spread across two hot days to successfully check in. Let’s not even begin to talk about checkout. I’m dreading having to jump through those same hoops once again when we decide to leave this beautiful country and need our despacho in order to do so.
Thankfully, Jereme, being el capitan of this ship, is the one who gets the lucky job of checking us all in upon arrival. Oliver and I stay back on the boat while poor Jereme has to trek into town and deal with the various layers of red tape that are required get us squared away at each country we visit.
After dropping anchor the morning we arrived, Jereme dinghied over to the government dock to begin the arduous checking in process. No one came out to our boat before he left by dinghy, which I am thankful for. I’d rather not have to bribe corrupt officials with rum and cookies as they pick through our personal belongings.
Jer tied up at the dinghy dock and walked down the little road leading to town to find a semi-official looking customs/immigration trailer with seven men in street clothes sitting out front. They all just stared at him as he unsuccessfully tried to ask whether he was, in fact, at customs. After a lot of back and forth translation guessing, turns out, those were the guys he needed to see.
He spent the next 3 hours making the rounds from one hot trailer room to the next and painfully watching as official after official very slowly jotted down the same basic boat information on a scrap piece of paper. All while paying fee after fee after fee. Some we were given receipts for. Others we were not. At the end of the day, I’m pretty sure no one really cares who you are or where your from, as long as they get paid.
Fees (total $123):
- Navy $20 (we didn’t get a receipt for this one. Just sayin.)
- Agriculture $10
- Port Authority $10
- Customs $0 (we don’t remember paying the customs guy, but who knows, maybe we did.)
- Immigration $63
- Narcotics $0
- Tourist Cards $20 ($10 per card)
Speaking of paying all those mind boggling customs fees, here in the Dominican, pesos rule.
One way or another, everyone here is trying to earn a buck (or peso really!)…whether it’s selling you something you need for the boat (water, fuel, a mooring, etc.) or offering to drive you to a nearby resort city to sight see…the good news is, things here are cheap!
Before checking in with customs, we hadn’t yet exchanged any of our American dollars. Luckily, all the officials seemed more than happy to accept American money. It is customary, however, to obtain the local currency to pay for pretty much anything else — beer, food, fuel, sightseeing tours, etc.
That meant we had to track down the only bank in town and wait in a super long line to withdraw money from our U.S. bank account. It took about an hour of waiting, but fortunately we had no problem withdrawing funds after showing the bank our debit card and passport.
I still can’t get over how crazy it feels to withdrawal 500 US dollars and get 22,000 pesos. Twenty-two THOUSAND. Having 22,000 of anything in your wallet is just plain weird. And paying 150 pesos for dinner or 80 pesos for a beer seems silly (but that’s actually insanely cheap by American standards).
The current exchange rate is 43 to 1 (pesos to dollars).
In other words, that 150 peso dinner I mentioned was technically only $3.50. We consistently spent about $12 on dinner — and that would be for two large meals and three grande Presidentes (the equivalent of about 6 American sized beers). Now, you can see why we withdrew only $500.
What can I say, we like having access to internet wherever we go. It just makes life easy. (Plus we like updating the blog!) ;))
Here in Luperón, you can easily tote your laptop, iPad, phone, whatever to shore and hook into free wifi at most bars and restaurants. Wendy’s Bar is a well-known cruiser’s haven offering up cheap beers and fast free wifi for cruisers. Wendy’s is pretty hard to miss since it’s the first bar you hit after walking into town from the government dock. We also found the French restaurant (basically just a pizzeria) is a quiet spot to sit and use wifi too!
But if you’re like us and interested in accessing wifi from the comfort of your boat and not having to lug around heavy laptops, we found that you can also purchase a wifi user ID and password from JDI-Max Solutions.
For 500 pesos (or $11.62) a week, you can purchase unlimited wifi service in the harbor. I’m guessing you might need to be anchored close to the government dock to pick up a decent signal (and we just happened to be – thank goodness!). And just a little word to the wise, our wifi service continued to work long after our week had ended.
To purchase the JDI service, you actually have to walk into town and find the JDI Internet Solutions storefront about 3 blocks down on the left-hand side of the main street (it’s in the back of a gift shop, but the signage out front is good). You cannot purchase the wifi service online. The JDI connection overall wasn’t the fastest we’ve had on board, but it was totally fine for what we needed.
We came, we saw, we conquered!
There is TONS to see and do here in the DR. I mean shoot, just walk around town in Luperon and you’ll see more than enough…you know, like random cows and horses moseying on by. ;))
But, if your like us and want to venture outside the Luperón city limits to check out more DR awesomeness, these are some of the ones we enjoyed…
- 27 Waterfalls of Rio Damajaqua – Also known as the 27 Charcos, this half-day sightseeing excursion is well worth the time and money! Nestled in the rolling hills of the Northern Corridor mountain range and behind the long stalks of sugar cane lays a treasure you won’t find anywhere else in the world. It ranks in the top 10 on TripAdvisor for attractions in the DR. I wrote all about our trip to the waterfalls and posted a fun video >>here.<<
Moto to La Isabela + Punta Rucia – Motos are all the rage here in the DR. We hopped on one for a day and toured the northern DR countryside with our cruiser friends. >>You can find our post + video here.<< We motored from Luperón all the way to La Isabela and then to Punta Rucia. The trip was insanely gorgeous passing through fields of sugar cane and banana trees, lots of adorable little towns and villages, and even through a river! If you know how to drive a manual motorcycle, then I would highly recommend renting one while you’re here. There’s no comparison to seeing parts of the country this way .
- Cable Car at Mount Isabel de Torres – We spent one fun-filled days checking out all the touristy spots in Puerta Plata, which is the closest ‘bigger city’ about an hours drive from Luperón. Our first stop that day was at Mount Isabel de Torres where we took the 30+-year-old cable car to the top of the mountain to see the famous Jesus statue.
- Brugal Company Rum Factory – Nothing is more Dominican than street dogs, baseball, and sugar cane. Except maybe Rum! We also toured the Brugal Factory while in Puerto Plata, and did a little taste-testing after the tour. And may or may not have purchased a few bottles. Just saying.
- Museo del Ambar – Those interested in learning more about Puerto Plata’s nickname “the Amber Coast” should take a tour of the Amber Museum. This museum in the heart of Puerta Plata houses a unique collection of valuable Dominican amber. It’s a little on the smaller side and kinda warm inside the dark museum, but still charming and ultra cheap at 25 pesos per person.
We have blog posts in the works for all of our ^^fun pit stops^^ in Puerta Plata.
You won’t go thirsty here in the DR.
Presidente (grande). Need I say more? ;))
The local brew of choice, Presidente, is cheap and good. And, here in the DR, it comes in oversized 22 oz. bottles. The ‘other’ Dominican beer, Bohemia, is a tad cheaper in price, but a tiny bit less tasty if you ask me. We started off our time in the DR loving these ultra cheap yet oversized beers, but after a week or so of thoroughly enjoying ourselves (maybe a little too much), we had to cut back and switch to Coca-Cola Light (there’s no American style “diet coke” here).
The food on the other hand, left a little something to be desired.
Honestly, the local food is one area I wish I could speak more highly of. After months of frozen or fried food offerings throughout the Bahamas, I was so ready to indulge in lots of authentic homemade Dominican food.
Sadly, after asking cruisers as well as locals for the best authentic restaurant/food-stand/whatever recommendations, the places we dined at were so-so at best. And, believe me, we tried quite a few different places. I kept getting the feeling that all the restaurants were trying to make their food more American, when what we were really after was the ‘real deal’ Dominican fare. Kinda a bummer, but that’s okay.
And we may or may not have gotten a case of the bolognese (as we’re lovingly referring to it) after dining at one spot in town. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. ;)) But let’s not go there.
As for the good spots…La Casa de los Jugos (or the Juice Shop) was a nice little lunch spot for sandwiches and fresh squeezed juice. Their limonada and melón jugo were muy delicioso. Their pork sandwich was pretty awesome too!
There was also a great spot just a block down from the government dock (on the main road) that was basically serving authentic Dominican fare out of their home-turned-restaurant. This family served some of the most authentic food we found around town!
Luckily, after just having left a marina in Turks + Caicos and having sailed the majority of the way to the DR, our diesel tank was pretty darn full when we arrived. Gotta love it when traveling is free!
We had heard a few mixed reviews regarding the fuel quality in Luperón, and since there are no marinas where you can easily fill up, we were quite grateful to not have to top off our diesel tank and only needed a little extra gasoline for the dinghy. When you need fuel in Luperón, there are a handful of guys tending to all the boats in the harbor (like our friend Papo!) who will gladly sell you fuel and bring it to you on the boat.
We mostly just relied on Papo’s services to refill our water tank and clean our bottom. The water we purchased from Papo was bottled and sealed and referred to as “drinking water” so it’s gotta be decent enough to shower and wash dishes with, right? We never drink our tank water so we weren’t overly concerned about the water we were buying here. Plus, having someone bring it to your boat so we don’t have to lug around jerry cans is an added bonus in my book!
And that’s pretty much life in Luperón.
Our time here has been great, but we are ready to pull up our anchor chain, clean the heck out of it after almost three weeks in a rather murky and nutrient rich harbor (that’s a nice way of saying totally dirty), and head on to Puerto Rico. It will take us a few days to journey through the Mona Passage, but we are SO ready!
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