A Peso Saved is a Peso Earned: Major Provisioning in the Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic is a country with food growing or roaming around
almost everywhere one looks. All the essential elements for a
vast and varied diet are produced there, usually
without pesticides, artificial fertilizers and growth hormones,
simply because tampering with nature costs farmers money that they
don’t have. Most other islands in the Caribbean are tiny
and can't grow much food, meaning high prices at the grocery stores.
Stocking up on food where it's affordable can save you many, many dollars in your cruising budget if you know
what to shop for!
however: the trick is to buy stuff that they make in the
Dominican Republic. If you’re a crew that runs on Dinty Moore, snack
cakes, and big bags of potato chips, the DR is probably not a smart
place for you to stock up. Ditto if you're doggedly loyal to only
your favorite brands. It's going to be hard and expensive to find
what you like here. Why are you so boring? This little
write-up will probably be most helpful to crews that are either
health-minded, low-budget, or both of those things. Meaning, you
do a lot of cooking from scratch onboard using simple ingredients, and
you're open to trying unknown brands with labels written in
Spanish. If this is you, you’ll save a ton!
Here's our list
of things we stocked up on while we were anchored in Luperon. All
prices are listed in US dollars, and we did the bulk of our shopping in
Puerto Plata, at a big chain grocery store called La
Sirena ('the mermaid'). Before you buy a lot of something, it’s
smart to buy small sizes of several different brands so you can see
which is your favorite. There can be a big difference in quality
between brands, so taste it first! We’ve listed our
favorite brands here when possible.
Since all sorts of vegetables are grown and canned in the DR, prices
are low and quality is high. In particular, we found the
“La Famosa” brand had really nice crushed tomatoes,
sweet corn, and coconut milk for around $0.80 per can. Also, if
you use canned beans, they cost about the same amount and are good
quality. Excellent value.
coffee here is to-die-for and costs about $2 per pound. The
“Café Santo Domingo” brand is ubiquitous and
wonderful. If, like us, you can’t imagine a morning
without coffee, buy all you can get your hands on here! Vacuum
packs will last longer.
Full-fat powdered milk:
We never used or thought about powdered milk when we lived on land.
But once we got to the Bahamas, regular milk and cream was very
expensive and usually well past its prime. We regretted buying it
almost every time. Crappy powdered milk (Carnation) is an utter
abomination and evaporated milk is depressing. But good powdered
milk is pretty much indistinguishable from the real thing! Our
favorite brand is a Danish one called "Milex", and we use it for cream
in our morning coffee, in white sauces and to make 'cream-of-whatever'
soup. You can also make a pretty tasty homemade yogurt with
If you love baloney, you're gonna love the DR. Behold the salchicha display case!
Extra virgin olive oil:
We use lots, and we are snobs. Happily, we found a
surprisingly excellent import from Spain here (Borges brand) for about
half what it would’ve cost in the States. Store olive oil in a dark, cool place.
Rum and gin:
We’ve heard that throughout the entire Caribbean rum is cheap,
but prices are particularly low in the DR. A standard 750 ml
bottle of rum costs anywhere between $3.00- $7.00, depending on the
maker. We particularly like the Seboney brand. Also,
Bermudez is a Dominican company that makes a “London dry”
gin that we like, for about $8.00 a bottle.
Personal hygiene stuff:
The heat and humidity of the DR made us need more soap than ever
before. But the heat and humidity also sabotaged our usual
soapmaking efforts! Our batches just refused to dry out and cure
properly. Luckily, we found a great natural castile
soap,“Jabón Bébé” (baby soap), for
less than $1 a bar. Also, Dominican toothpaste and deodorants are
way cheaper than their American-brand counterparts and work just as
well ("Frescool" and "Rexona", respectively).
sauce, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, horseradish-
they make all of these here, and the local brands are good and
inexpensive. We generally found the “Ranchero” brand
was our favorite. You’ll notice that we didn’t
include mayonnaise in the list of condiments. This is no
accident. You have been warned.
Soy foods: They
must grow a lot of soybeans in the DR, because we were happily shocked
to find a variety of vegetarian stuff that we hadn’t seen since
New York! Several stores carried soymilk powder, dried soybeans,
TVP (textured vegetable protein) of all shapes and sizes, and
surprisingly excellent canned tofu at great prices. Who
Butter, yogurt, gouda and cream cheese:
These are all very affordable and tasty in the DR. Beware that
local shopkeepers sometimes use the same word,
“mantequilla”, for both butter and margarine, so look at
the ingredients list for “crema de leche” to make sure
you've got butter. Dominican yogurt, regardless of brand, is
amazing and we’ll miss it very much. As for cheese,
there’s a lot of it, but much of it is very ho-hum. Two
exceptions are the cream cheese and gouda-style rounds of cheese made
by the “Sosua” brand. Both of these are versatile,
melt nicely and keep well.
Rice, Dried Beans and Pastas:
One could point out that these things are pretty affordable and
easy to find no matter where you go. This may be true, but
everything is relative. Rice, wheat, and all kinds of beans are
grown right here, and it makes good sense to us to buy things close to
where they came from. Why pay more in places that have to ship
things in? Plus we found brown rice, which we haven’t seen
in stores since the US, and a great whole wheat pasta (the
Fresh fruits and vegetables in the DR are so inexpensive they’re almost
free. Stock up on long-keeping stuff like yellow onions, garlic,
ginger, potatoes, yucca and plantain. Buy the plantains green and
rock-hard, and for a couple of afternoons in a row, put everything else
outside to bake in the sun. This extra drying-out seems to help things
last longer. Be careful to take everything in before the dew falls at
night or if it looks like rain!
the bees here have a great variety of flowers to choose from, unlike
the rest of the Caribbean, and therefore the honey is really something
special. Look for it at small stands along the road or in the smaller
stores to find it raw and unprocessed.
a Luperon bee tree
Powdered Drink Mixes
- these may not be the healthiest thing for you, but for us they make
the somewhat flat taste of our watermaker's water more palatable, so we
stay better hydrated. A huge variety of tropical flavors are
available, including mango, tamarind, gauva, and passionfruit, and
they're only a few cents per pouch.
Toilet Paper - It's
oddly difficult sometimes to find a single-ply toilet paper that
doesn't tax our head too badly. But happily the DR even offers
one made of recycled paper, "Hi-Soft".
Not a food item, but you can save significantly. These can be
refilled easily and very affordably. Oftentimes, sick
people have the money to either see a doctor or to buy medicine, but
not enough for both. Therefore, pharmacies dispense most drugs
a prescription. We replenished our onboard supply of antibiotics
birth control pills at less than half of what they cost in the
Also Stugeron, an excellent anti-seasickness tablet not available in
the US, is sold cheaply. Know the generic names of the medicines
Propane Gas: Another non-grocery store item, but still food related. The
Dominican government subsidizes propane and so it's dirt cheap. Lots
of cars and trucks have been converted to run on it, and so there are
lots of propane stations sprinkled along main roads that look just like
gas stations. If you use propane for cooking on your boat, come with
empty tanks and top them up again before you leave!
Pick up a tankful and scoot on home!