Cap Cana, Dominican Republic: You Can’t Escape Politics

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Cap Cana, Dominican Republic: You Can’t Escape Politics

AA loves his new GoPro (you may have noticed from the videos included in a few of my recent posts). It is by far his favorite purchase of the past year – much to the delight of my family who now have enough GoPro–related items to last a number of birthdays. AA is cautious of nature by nature, but can be convinced to do anything for a good shot. So, while I may have given up on hiking, I am slowly immersing him in other outdoor activities – and the set of our latest video was Cap Cana.

In all fairness to the long-suffering AA, while he may still not enjoy hiking, he has discovered a green thumb. After visiting Costa Rica, he decided to transform our apartment into a jungle.

In all fairness to the long-suffering AA, while he may still not enjoy hiking, he has discovered a green thumb. After visiting Costa Rica, he decided to transform our apartment into a jungle. PIC: AA

I have to say, I have mixed feelings about the way we traveled in the Dominican Republic. For this trip, we took advantage of a Groupon deal to an all-inclusive resort in Cap Cana. Now, it is hard to complain about luxury, especially when the price is within reach for an average middle-class American such as myself. Still, it seems only right to patronize local businesses when traveling, and Cap Cana is about as cut off from the surrounding area as possible.

A point for the resort – the zip-lining excursion was a lot of fun!

Apparently many others feel this same ambivalence toward all-inclusive resorts.  A survey conducted by Tourism Concern indicates that despite feeling all-inclusives open up travel opportunities for ordinary folks, a majority of travelers have a sneaking suspicion that this way of travel isn’t the best for local communities.

Still, the tourism industry does grow the economy, at least in the the Dominican Republic where many of the business are domestically owned. But with the all-inclusive model, this growth is often not deeply connected to local communities. Plus, it can come with a host of additional problems.

And then there’s the politics of real estate.

As it turns out, there is a reason our Cap Cana resort was listed on Groupon. Apparently, the development was to be part of a larger masterplan for a privately-owned city of sorts that included luxury condos, hotels, a marina, school district and a large golf course. There was even a deal with the Trump Organization for naming rights on one condo complex, the Trump Farallon Estates. The larger development fell victim to the crash of 2008 and ended up growing weeds out in the jungle. There’s now a whole blog dedicated to the fallout.

The empty streets in the Cap Cana condo complex near our resort.

The saga is not over yet, Trump is trying to revive his old deal and creating controversy in both the US and Dominican Republic in the process. Local news outlets are up in arms over a change in the height restrictions for the new development (the buildings are set to grow from 5 stories to 22). If the above article is correct, buildings in the area were historically not to be taller than a coconut tree. This restriction is certainly more poetic than New York City’s zoning code, but the clash over building height is familiar. It seems some things are the same everywhere…

As I was looking into Cap Cana, I did some poking around for alternative options in case we visit the Dominican Republic again. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a strong push to develop a community-owned tourism sector, at least on the part of the government (although a few Dominicans are building it for themselves). In fact, there is much discontent with a government accused of corruption – and which appears to be more interested in scapegoating Haitians than addressing issues of entrenched poverty.

Still, for anyone looking to travel to the Dominican Republic, there are a few alternatives to the all-inclusive resort – such as the Turismo Comunitario, a collective of communities in Puerto Plata offering local experiences.

But on the bright side, AA did get to take some great GoPro shots.



I was raised in a tight-knit Midwestern family with a strong commitment to service. An architect by training, I currently work in affordable housing finance. Prior to moving to NYC, I lived in Nicaragua for two years and have also spent time in West Africa and the Middle East. I started this blog as a way to catalog musings on travel and everyday life around the world.