A Peso Saved is a Peso Earned:  Major Provisioning in the Dominican Republic

The 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!    

One caveat, 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.

Canned Stuff:  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:  The 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 it. 

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).

Condiments:  Hot 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 would’ve thought?

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 “Romulo” brand). 

Long-Lasting Produce:  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!

Local Honey:  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".

Prescription medicines- 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 without a prescription.  We replenished our onboard supply of antibiotics and birth control pills at less than half of what they cost in the US.  Also Stugeron, an excellent anti-seasickness tablet not available in the US, is sold cheaply.  Know the generic names of the medicines you need.

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!

Happy shopping!