Beaches, Blue Lagoons, & Swim-Up Bars in Cap Cana

On Christmas day our family group of 17 met inside the resort of Cap Cana to spend the day together at Juanillo Beach.

Cap Cana is the newest resort/club complex on this portion of the island. Similar to Casa de Campo & Punta Cana, Cap Cana’s development has slowed quite a bit thanks to the recession and subsequent real estate crash. The result is a sprawling complex with three signature golf courses, two resort hotels, dozens of sprawling mansions and a lot of sandy, empty plots.

Since I’ve never stayed in Cap Cana, I’ll refrain from writing an official review. But after enjoying a number of their amenities, here’s what I know:

Playa Juanillo
Playa Juanillo

Juanillo is the ‘public’ beach in Cap Cana – meaning you don’t have to being staying at one of their hotels/villas or be a member of their club to go. You will need to leave your ID with the guard at the gate (we had no trouble retrieving it on the way out), but based on my experience, that’s all you’ll need to do.

Juanillo itself is a pristine beach situated next to Cap Cana’s main, castle-like hotel. The water is calm and clear and you’ll have your choice of a number of wicker lounge chairs. Although there is not an entrance fee at Juanillo, you are expected to ‘enjoy’ the beach-side food and bar services, which don’t come cheap. You’ll also be subjected to the blaring dance music emanating from the main restaurant.

A and I at Juanillo
A and I at Juanillo

It’s really a quintessential ‘party’ beach, and as fun as it was I found myself searching for a quiet spot after just a few hours. Luckily for me, a short stroll to the north and I had found myself my own private stretch of sand. Now, I have no idea who owns this land (though I assume it belongs to Cap Cana) or what is to become of it. But for now I found the overpriced Presidentes at Juanillo worth it to enjoy both the services and this quiet, seemingly secret place.

The 'secret' beach at Juanillo
The ‘secret’ beach at Juanillo

A few days later we returned to Cap Cana to visit el hoyo azul – ‘the blue hole’ – a lagoon situated inside Cap Cana’s ‘Scape Park’. You’ll find several adventure-excursion options based out of this park, including zip-lining and horseback riding. Usually a visit to this particular lagoon is costs US$10 per person, but thanks to my Aunt and her many connections, we were granted access to the lagoon for only $5.

We made our way down the dirt road and arrived at the trailhead just as a large tour group of ATVs pulled up. Six or seven Dominican guides accompanied the group and blared music loudly from their cell phones as we made our way down the trail. One of the guides imitated monkey calls the entire way down, much to the visitors’ delight, and my extreme annoyance (there are no monkeys on the island, by the way). We crossed over a deep, narrow gorge and through a small rock cave before arriving at our destination under a giant limestone overhang. The lagoon was deep blue and breathtakingly beautiful, and yet my heart was breaking into a thousand tiny pieces.

The crowded pool at Hoyo Azul
The crowded pool at Hoyo Azul

The wooden platform overlooking the water was crowded with people, the sparkling water below filled with splashing children. I wedged my way through the crowd to get a better view. Behind me, more ATVers were streaming down the trail.

Bathing with an audience at Hoyo Azul
Bathing with an audience at Hoyo Azul

It’s not that I think these places should be cut off to all enjoyment, or saved especially for me. I know I’m spoiled, single reader, having the opportunity to live and work in the sacred, beautiful, protected US National Parks.

I guess that’s it, I view these natural places and their beauty as sacred, and I believe they should be treated as such. So it breaks my heart to see them transformed to wild, free-for-all moneymakers and attractions. People were jumping and splashing so much in this beautiful water that you couldn’t even really enjoy the color. The crowd sucked away the fresh air and the guides with their obnoxious cell phones stole my solitude. I stood for a long time overlooking the chaos, feeling conflicted and a little bit sad. But eventually I decided to suck it up. I deserved a dip in these fresh blue waters as much as any of the other revelers, so I pushed through the crowds and jumped.

A & I climbing some rocks at Hoyo Azul
A & I climbing some rocks at Hoyo Azul

The water was clean and refreshing and not unlike the lagoons we had visited at the Indigenous Eyes Park & Reserve a few weeks earlier. I swam and I swam and I swam some more until suddenly I realized the place had cleared out and the only visitors left were the ones in my own group.

I felt immediately at ease and then had to laugh at myself. I am one spoiled, selfish gal.

We only had the lagoon to ourselves for a few minutes before an employee told us we had to leave to make room for the next group. By the time I had dried off I felt ready, almost antsy to go. I did not want to see the crowd descend on this place once again.

Finally empty, even more beautiful.
Finally empty, even more beautiful.

Before leaving Cap Cana we decided to check out their more exclusive, guest and club-members only beach. Being neither guest nor club members, we had to pull a few strings to get our large, wet, supremely unglamorous group in. But suffice it say that after just a little fast-talking and name-dropping we emerged through the lobby to the bright, heavenly view of what has become my favorite of all the beaches I have enjoyed during my time in the Dominican Republic.

The exclusive beach at Cap Cana
The exclusive beach at Cap Cana

The private beach in Cap Cana is a small sandy inlet carved out of an otherwise rocky, cliff-lined shore. Linen-cushioned beach chairs lined the sand as linen-clad waiters laid out our towels. Out of all the beaches I’ve visited during this trip, including the supposedly comparable Punta Cana Resort & Club and Casa de Campo, none match the luxury and wild beauty of the beach at Cap Cana.

Unlike Punta Cana & Casa de Campo, the beach here was not completely calm. Turquoise waves rolled in at beautiful, but not unmanageable speeds and sizes. And the sand was totally devoid of the washed up seaweed that has plagued all of the beaches I have seen here. I pouted as the family announced it was time to go, and dragged my feet all the way to the car. But not before diving into their beautiful (and empty!) pool overlooking the sea – and enjoying a pina colada at the swim-up bar.

Dad & Austin enjoy the swim-up bar at the private club in Cap Cana
Dad & Austin enjoy the swim-up bar at the private club in Cap Cana

No, I haven’t stayed at Cap Cana, so I can’t leave you with an official list of pros and cons and overalls. But I think, maybe, should I ever fall into some money and need a place to stay on the east cost of the Dominican Republic – if for the beach alone – it will be here.

Sweet, soft sand.
Sweet, soft sand.

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