• close family • small boat • big world •


November 3, 2014

by Greg
At anchor, Luperon, Dominican Republic

Luperon harbor
Thievery. Corrupt officials. Cesspool of a harbor. That's what some say about Luperon. Why would anyone with a boat, one that moves anyway, spend more than a few days here? (A fair number of boats here don't actually "move" anymore.)  Ours moves, but we've been here seven weeks so far and will be sad to leave when the time comes.

Previous boat NORA tied into the man
-groves  in '98 for hurricane Georges
Here's a reason: this is a very protected harbor -  not too many of those on the north coast of the DR - and so is a natural stop between the Bahamas and Puerto Rico, the Virgins, and the rest of the eastern Caribbean. In fact the harbor is so protected that it's one of the safest hurricane holes in the Caribbean. We experienced one hurricane here long ago, and if we ever experience another on a boat, we hope it is here.

Harbor as seen from the defunct "Yacht Club"
But there's a whole lot more: beauty all around, the friendliest people in the Caribbean, it's inexpensive, and it smells great. (I'm not kidding.) This place has a magic that's hard to define and hard to leave. Hard for some anyway, easy for others. People either love this place or hate it. Some sail here, sell their boats, and stay.  Others can't wait to leave.

Let's get past the negatives first. Thievery? There is currently almost no theft aside from the occasional siphoning of gas from dinghies. We have certainly never felt in danger here, and it was the same when we were here in '98. A telling fact is that currently most cruisers don't lock their dinghies at the boat or at the dock.

Dinghy dock. The canted end is
mostly submerged at high tide.

You can find many bad reports from cruisers a few years ago. Apparently things were bad with many boat break-ins. This place goes through cycles, and they depend on who is the Commandante (the local Navy port commander). The one just previous to the current one trained with the US Coast Guard but apparently improvised his own methods when he took over
here; he took thieves into the mountains and did some beating. Crime stopped. That's the local story anyway.

Clearing in includes a visit by the Department of
Agriculture. This is their office.

Corrupt officials?  Yes, there are many stories of cruisers being hit up for bogus fees here and in every other port in the DR. In '98, it took only one or two half-pint bottles of rum to smooth things out. But other than the rum, it didn't happen to us here in '98, and it didn't happen at all here in 2014.  It all depends on the Commandante.

One of the fishing boats that call Luperon home. They
grounded this one intentionally so as to work on the bottom.
Dirty harbor? This harbor is very enclosed, so the flow of seawater through it is limited. The harbor gets runoff from the town, which has sporadic trash pickup, no water treatment, and in many cases no plumbing, so storms bring brown runoff from the town along with a flotilla of trash. However, reports of dirtiness are greatly exaggerated. Fish of all sizes thrive in the harbor as do other smaller creatures like mangrove oysters. I probably wouldn't eat a fish caught right in the harbor, but some out there will tell you that you'll get sick just dinghying around. Nonsense.  We haven't been sick and most other cruisers haven't either.

The marina with haulout and good view of harbor. Harbor ent-
rance is to the right, town is off-picture to the left.
Out building at a mostly defunct
marina. There's supposedly a 
working washing machine in there.
Lack of marinas? Definitely. If you're the kind of cruiser that needs the comfort of a full-service marina, don't even think of coming here. There are docks you can tie to. Some have water at the dock. Some have power, but it cuts out frequently and has also been known to blow inverters. None have gas or diesel pumps. (Papo, a local, will bring it to your boat in his skiff, and anything else you need as well. He's reliable, fair, and honest). The one "marina" with the capability to haul out boats doesn't use a lift. They have a large ramp with a large trailer and a tractor to pull it. If the tractor doesn't have enough pull, they hook up a dump truck to the tractor.

Let's move on to the good things: beautiful, friendly, cheap, and there's a simplicity to life here that is very appealing.

Physically this country is just beautiful. The interior is a lush mix of small farms and forested mountains, small and large. Luperon is surrounded by hills, which is one reason it's so safe. Many of the most beautiful harbors bring views of several thousand foot high mountain ranges.

La Isabella. Mountains of Montecristi
in the distance Haiti beyond.
Pasture land on the way from Luperon to La Isabella

Mountains of Montecristi
The highest peak here is Pico Duarte at 10,164 feet. This is is by far the highest peak in the eastern Caribbean, and temperatures up there drop below freezing In the winter. One can hike or ride mules up to the top. The base-to-summit height is 6,000 feet or more depending on where you start. Whitewater rafting nearby in Jarabacoa and not much farther in Cabarete is best kitesurfing and windsurfing in the world.

Chicken plus "supermarket"
Chicken plus law firm
Most of the farms around here are small family farms with crops plus chickens and some mix of goats, cows, sheep, horses, and burros. Even in the town of Luperon, many houses keep chickens. Out here at anchor, we hear the roosters crowing on shore at dawn.  (Actually, we hear them all night and all day, so I'm not sure where the "roosters crowing at dawn" thing came from.) It is still common to see people riding along the roads on horses, donkeys, or mules, and it's common to have to stop and wait for herds of cattle to clear the road.

Cow plus street
Horse plus street plus Nicole

Our favorite produce market.
Luperon is a small town surviving on fishing, agriculture and a small amount of tourism. There are many supplies that are just not available here. The nearest big grocery store is one hour away. The food that is available here is what's produced locally, and it's good stuff. What we've seen in the small local markets off the top of my head is beef, chicken, goat, lamb, fish, shellfish, cheeses, onions, garlic, potatoes, yucca, tayote, cabbage, lettuce, avocados, guava, pineapples, oranges, limes, guanabana, bananas, plantains,  coconuts, coffee, sugar cane (juiced or for chewing), and some fruits and vegetables I have not yet identified. This is a very fertile place. And the produce is -due to economic constraints - all organic.

One of the daily domino games on the streets

Luperon residents are very warm and outgoing. The houses are small, and it's a community where people hang out on their streets. They know their neighbors, and they see and usually know who walks down their streets every day and night. Aside from the "gringo bars" where cruisers and expats hang out, most people in Luperon don't speak English. Oddly enough, it's really refreshing to be in a country where this is so.  We study our Spanish daily and are improving, but residents are very willing to help us through our sign language and pidgeon Spanish. But even if you speak no Spanish, you will be greeted with a smile and with goodwill by the people of this town.

Water usually clearer - big rainstorms recently
As for the smell, the mountains inland are high enough that after the sunsets, cool air from higher elevations slides down the mountains and out to sea. These katabatic winds bring down spicy smells of earth, wood-smoke, farms, animals, and trees from inland. Days here are very warm, but nights are cool because of these winds.

Make no mistake - this is a poor country by western standards, and Luperon is a small town. If you're accustomed to going from marina to marina, don't even stop here.  But if you are looking for something different, this is a great place to be.