Are you sailing to Luperon in the Dominican Republic?
This article will answer the following questions:
- How do I enter Luperon Harbor?
- Where is the best place to anchor in Luperon?
- Who is the best person to call for help?
- How do I clear into Luperon?
- What Fees or Bribes will I need to pay?
- Will someone board my boat?
Over the past year of Sailing, Satori and crew have spent more than 6 months in Luperon and the Dominican Republic. We have cleared into the country twice, cleared out twice, received numerous despachos and been involved in WAY too many conversations and even an official meeting regarding this topic. A topic that, sadly, keeps hundreds of cruisers each year from visiting this amazing and interesting place.
In this article, I would like to share our experiences with the sailing to Luperon, the check-in process, provide some clarity on what might be considered “illegal fees” and hopefully help you decide whether the dreaded Luperon check-in process is enough to keep you from experiencing one of the most interesting places we have visited yet.
Since we have only checked into Luperon, the place where most cruising boats make their arrival, this is the only port of entry I can share my experience.
Entering Luperon Harbor
For your first visit to Luperon, I suggest you time your arrival for the morning daylight hours. If coming from Turks and Caicos, staging at Big Sand Key, this means leaving in the mid to late afternoon to take the 16-18 hour overnight sail to Luperon.
There have been reports in the past of the channel into Luperon Harbor being poorly marked, but thanks to a resident cruiser in the harbor, the channel is now very well marked. We have had no issues inside the markers, even at night. That said, upon our departure, we did have a friends boat get caught up in a mooring or fishing line causing them to cut themselves loose at night. Our last departure was in December of 2018.
Once you round the corner and enter the main part of the bay, you will find a large, deep channel leading all the way to the town pier where the commercial fishing boats tie up. Immediately to the right, you will see a large anchorage area marked with yellow buoys. At the far west side of this anchorage is Puerto Blanco marina, which is the unofficial home base for all the cruisers in the bay. This anchorage has 3 shallow areas you will want to avoid and should be well marked on most charts. The restaurant and marina are very welcoming and accommodating, as are almost all the cruisers.
A little further and to the left is another marked anchorage just in front of Luperon Marina (formerly Tropical Marina). Luperon Marina is primarily a service marina, though they do have some dock slips.
Help and Services
Once you enter the marina you have two options:
1. Find a place to anchor in an open area or among the many installed moorings.
2. On VHF channel 68, call one of three service boats in the harbor. Papo, Handy Andy, or my go-to guy Domingo. Any of these guys will help you find a mooring to rent and save your ground tackle from the growth and the mud. At the time of this article, the going rate is $2/day or $50/month. Satori owns the closest mooring to Puerto Blanco Marina and it is managed by Domingo. He can also deliver water, fuel, beer or do a gentle but thorough bottom cleaning for your vessel.
Luperon Government Dock
Once settled, make sure your Yellow Quarantine flag is flying (you should have done this before entering the harbor). Then take your dinghy up to the town dinghy dock. It is still maintained by whatever cruisers are in the harbor and are willing to help. As the Captain, I went solo, though I don’t think there would have been an issue if Kelly were to join me in the check-in process.
I suggest locking your dinghy when at the town dock, though we never felt the need when tying to the dinghy dock at Puerto Blanco Marina. At the entrance to the pier, on your right-hand side, you will find a row of dilapidated trailers that house the 4 offices you need to visit.
- Port Authority
- Department of Agriculture
Visit Each Office
Start with the Customs office (closet to town) and work your way down the line. Not all of the officials will speak English, but they know why you are there.
Keep in mind that many of these officials are uneducated by U.S. standards and often simply writing down your information is a task. They may ask you to do it. Their “method” of record keeping is a bit archaic and consists of stacks of forms and still use carbon paper. Just be patient, polite and understand that this is just how things are done.
There have been reports of made up fees in the past, but we did not experience any of this upon our check-in. There is, however, some argument on whether some of the fees are considered illegal and meant for commercial vessels only. Also, some fees may not be charged in other harbors, which is where some of the confusion and frustration comes in. Just know that both times we have checked in the process was relatively smooth and the fees were posted in the office, in some form or another.
We paid the following for each office:
Customs – $0
Immigration – $4000 pesos (about $80). $2500 for the boat, $750 per person. This includes a tourist card which is good for 30 days in the country. There is also an overstay penalty you must pay upon departure and the amount depends on how long you stay.
Port Authority – $10 USD for entry to the harbor.
Department of Agriculture – $10 for (Arthur) our dog. They did check his International Heath Certificate
Expect to pay each official separately. Fees can be paid in Dominican pesos or U.S. dollars. They will give you a pretty good exchange rate on your dollars (about 49 pesos/dollar)… better than the marina will.
They May Board Your Boat
Once you have completed your check-in, you are free to return to your boat. You may, or may not have the Comandante come and visit your boat with a few other intimidating figures. The Comandante is the head of the harbor Navy. He will most likely bring one or two of his uniformed cadets. He may also bring and a man in street clothes claiming to be Dominican Intelligence. When we departed, two men held this position in Luperon, Lauren (not to be trusted) and Richard who has proven to be quite helpful. They seem to cycle the Comandante in/out about every 3 months.
My first arrival, I was stopped by Lauren and asked to wait for them. At this point, the navy did not have their own boat, believe it or not. This forced them to hitch a ride with a local fisherman or have a cruiser shuttle them out… it’s almost comical. I waited patiently with the impression that I was giving them a lift, but they hopped on another boat and went to inspect another vessel. Because I had no plans to wait around, I went to Satori. I suggest you be polite, but allow them to find their own ride. Since the navy now has an operational boat, this should not be an issue.
Three officials eventually made their way to Satori and came onboard. They sat in the cockpit and took pictures of my check-in paperwork and our passports. As they left, they took a picture of the boat. The “inspection” took about 5 minutes and at no time did they ask for a “tip” or bribe. They were friendly and courteous. It was uncomfortable having uniformed men board Satori, but I now know that its just part of how they do things.
I have heard stories of officials soliciting “bribes”, but mostly in other harbors along the coast. Mostly, these guys just want a coke, a beer, or some cookies. It sounds silly, but it is that simple. It’s intimidating for us to have an official ask for something extra because we don’t really know how to react or what to give. Just like having a guest over to your house, especially someone of “importance”, you serve him or her refreshments. This is most likely the reason they will come to your boat. If you look at it that way, have a few beers or sodas and treat them like guests. Or, politely say no, and they will go on their way.
Now Enjoy a Giant Beer!
Once finished, make your way up to Puerto Blanco Marina and have an ice cold “Grande” beer in a bamboo cooler. Enjoy the breeze and talk smart with some other cruisers.