Part Two: The Bad
OK, everyplace has its good and bad, and the Dominican Republic is no exception. Their reputation has been pretty rough in the past. I know I would have liked some current information prior to going there. So, even though I try to focus on the good stuff typically, I’ll try to share the straight dope here.
All in all, I don’t have too much bad to say about the Dominican Republic (DR) or Luperon in particular. We enjoyed our time there, and felt perfectly safe and secure. Security risks were a big concern going in, based on reports from cruisers in years past. Apparently things were bad in 2006-7. These concerns were completely unfounded in 2016. We had no issues, and the community seems to understand the connection between keeping the harbor safe and the cruisers coming there and spending money. They take pains to keep it safe and friendly. We took reasonable precautions, but saw no reason for elevated concern while we were there – or while we were out of the country having left the boat there on a mooring.
Check in / check out requirements are the one serious problem/hassle. The rules and regulations are randomly applied by capricious and ever-changing officials. They won’t keep me from returning to the DR, but I may go by air instead of boat!
Before arriving in Luperon we were worried about officials demanding bribes or tips. This was a problem in the past. We did not encounter this. We gave soft drinks or coffee to all who helped us, beer to one official, and monetary tips whenever someone went above and beyond in helping us. All of this was completely voluntary, and even the commandant made sure we knew that.
We stayed in the Dominican Republic for three and a half months. All told, in and out, we paid a bit over $330 in fees to port authorities, customs, immigration, agriculture, and – well – I’m not even sure who else! My belief is that if, like the Bahamas, the DR would just say how much it would cost all in, cruisers would be happy to pay it. However, with the confusing and unclear administration of the fees currently taking place, one can’t help but feel they are being taken advantage of in some way, whether it is true or not.
Some things were just infuriating. It was particularly annoying to have to purchase a new tourist card at the airport when we flew back from the states, even though we already had current ones. Also, upon leaving the country, we were assessed a fee for un-enrolling and re-enrolling our boat since we left the country by air for a while – even though no one did any actual enrolling of any sort, and the boat stayed in the DR, anyway. Additionally, Luperon harbor charges “harbor fees” that are questionable, at the rate of $20 per month; not a huge deal, but so annoying to feel like you’re being taken advantage of.
As we were starting to think of leaving, the new commandant started trying to force a “cruising permit” on boats staying longer than 3 months, even though the law he referred to was not intended for cruisers, but rather for commercial boats. The requirements and expense for this permit were astronomical and unworkable, including a haulout and survey in Santo Domingo (!) and translation services. To their credit, the tourism office got involved and smoothed things out a bit for those of us in Luperon at the time. Ultimately, no telling what will happen around this requirement. I am happy we got out in time. Ultimately, this developing issue caused several boats to leave at the first opportunity. The lost dollars to the city/country would be significant if calculated. I hope someone puts a calculator to it when deciding how to handle this type of issue in the future!
On a day to day level, permission is required to move from port to port, or even just to go for a day sail. This is pretty annoying, and if the commandant decides to be a pain, he can make it miserable. The commandant when we first came to Luperon was very good and understanding. The next one, not so much. Apparently, Luperon is a “punishment” posting for these guys, and the commandant is changed frequently. Your experience will depend on the personnel in place when you get there.
I am definitely willing to pay the fees required to visit other countries, and happy for the opportunity to do so, but I’d feel so much better about it if they were clear ahead of time and consistently administered. I think all cruisers would. The question is whether anyone in the DR is listening?
Next time – Part 3: The Delicious! Because we had a lot of great food in the DR!