Punta Cana: The Making Of a Caribbean Paradise Learn how Punta Cana grew from humble beginnings to the #1 Caribbean vacation spot in the world. Punta Cana is a boon to the Dominican Republic and a treasure for tourists seeking a warm water vacation and Punta Cana excursions. Punta Cana is now recognized the world over as a Caribbean paradise. In fact, it has grown into one of the most spectacular warm water vacation spots on Earth. The classy accommodations will pamper you, the friendly people will charm you, and the natural beauty will dazzle you. Punta Cana has grown so popular it has outgrown itself and is now synonymous with the entire 39 mile long eastern coastline of the Dominican Republic.What many tourists don't realize is that the Punta Cana tourist mecca we see today began with very humble beginnings. This area was just a little blimp on the radar screen of the tourism industry starting around 1978. In fact, most international travelers had never even heard of "Punta Cana" before 1984. Moreover, the region was not firmly established as a premier destination in the Caribbean until the last 10-15 years. To understand the story of how Punta Cana came to be what it is today, we have to go back all the way to 1969. This was the year that a group of American investors, led by Theodore Kheel, a New York attorney and environmentalist, bought a tract of land on the Dominican Republic east coast. The land at the time was essentially an over-grown coconut tree jungle. It measured 48 square kilometers (18.5 square miles) and included a 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) strip of truly spectacular coastline.An aerial survey demonstrated that the land was certainly one of the prettiest parcels in the entire Caribbean. However, there was a big problem. There was no easy way to access the land it was so remote. There were no roads leading into it or even near it, no natural or man-made harbors for boats, and no landing strips for even the smallest airplane. To develop it for any purpose would require an almost herculean effort.The American investors decided to team up with Frank Rainieri to develop the land into a tropical getaway for tourists. In retrospect, it might appear that the original effort was meager but considering what they had to work with it is a wonder it ever got done. Rainieri was the Dominican pilot who had helped them survey the land. He was also well known in the region and a successful entrepreneur. Kheel, Rainieri, and several other investors including well known Oscar de la Renta and Julio Iglesias, formed a business enterprise which is known today as the Punta Cana Group (more formally, the Grupo PUNTACANA).In 1971, they opened their first hotel in the region called the Punta Cana Club. The hotel included 10 two room suites with a maximum capacity of 40 people. This original property was tasteful and offered a few fortunate people good amenities and a very private getaway but it was not a full scale resort like we see today at this same location and all along the Punta Cana coast.To support the first hotel and plans for more in the future, Grupo PUNTACANA had to build up the basic infrastructure of the region as there was none to speak of at the time. They built a small air strip for small planes, a power plant for electricity, basic roads, clean running water, a solid waste treatment, housing for employees, a school, and a medical clinic. They also had to develop their own private security as there was no law enforcement in the region. In fact, all of the infrastructure in the area was privately funded with little help from the Dominican government. This is another reason this region is so unique.Then in 1978, two important events took place. First, a road from Punta Cana was connected with the road system in the rest of the Dominican Republic. Thus, it was possible to drive all the way from the Santo Domingo Airport, an airport in the capital of the Dominican Republic capable of landing jet planes, to Punta Cana. This was one of the most critical steps in the development of Punta Cana. Second, Club Med of Paris started building a 350 room resort.Between 1978 and 1984, both travelers and investors were beginning to take serious notice of the Punta Cana region. However, the ride from the Santo Domingo Airport took about 4 hours. It also wasn't the most pleasant of drives as it was slow going, very narrow, and full of pot holes. The only other way into Punta Cana at the time though was to charter a small plane which could cost a small fortune.Then in 1984, the most critical event in the making of the Punta Cana we see today took place. The Punta Cana International Airport, capable landing large jet planes, was opened by the Grupo PUNTACANA. The international airport had been a long time in coming as they had been in negotiation with the Dominican Republic government and it was also a massive undertaking as it was entirely privately funded. Given the size of the project, they funded it on a shoe string budget but somehow pulled it off with style. This airport is now considered a real feather in their cap and a tremendous boon to the Dominican Republic economy. The Punta Cana Airport is located on the same property as their original hotel near the south end of the Punta Cana coast.The Punta Cana Airport served only 3000 people that first year in 1984 but the growth in air traffic each and every year has been phenomenal. In fact, the airport and the region itself is such a success story, especially considering it was the only privately funded airport of this size anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, it has received a great deal of publicity. Today, the Punta Cana Airport serves more than 4 million people a year! It was and still remains the most essential ingredient to how popular Punta Cana has become today.Coinciding with the launching of the Punta Cana International Airport in 1984, Barcelo Hotel & Resorts of Spain opened their first world class resort in the Bavaro area of the north Punta Cana coast. After this, the writing was on the wall so to speak and the "land grab" was on! Investors, including the biggest resort chains in the world, were buying up properties along the east coast of the Dominican Republic as quickly as they could. Once they bought the properties, they rapidly built 4 star and 5 star world class resorts on these properties. Most of the resorts in this region are built to be all-inclusive self-contained vacation spots.The Punta Cana Group's first hotel has now grown into a full class resort and it is now known as the Punta Cana Resort and Club. The region's first golf course was built at this resort. Designed by none other than the world renowned Pete Dye, it is a stunningly beautiful golf course. 14 out of 18 holes has a gorgeous view of the ocean, with 4 holes directly on the water. The course uses Seashore Paspalum grass instead of Bermuda grass because it can survive the salt water. As a nice tribute to the area, the golf tees are made out of coconut shells. Golf Magazine named it the number one golf course in the Caribbean.In fact, the Punta Cana coast has attracted some of the best golfers in the world to put their name and influence on the design of other premiere golf courses in the area. Jack Nicklaus was instrumental in developing another course as was Tom Fazio. Punta Cana is definitely becoming known the world over as a premier destination for golf.In the telling of the Punta Cana story, one could get the impression that all of this happened by accident. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that the original investors in the area had a real vision for the place. They also had the perseverance to turn this vision into reality. They have had over the years surrounded themselves with excellent partners who could add a great deal of valuable input.The Punta Cana Group has shown a dedicated effort toward corporate responsibility in their plans, incorporating sustainable business practices and stewardship for the Dominican environment and the local culture in both their everyday practices and in their planning stages for new developments. These "eco-conscious" practices have attracted a certain "brand" of tourist to their properties that may not have otherwise been attracted to them.They have adopted a zero waste policy. As such, they have an extensive door to door recycling program and they compost extensively. They also grow organic produce for the local resorts which provides 40 full time good paying jobs to Dominicans. They have also provided jobs for Dominicans who were previously working in the charcoal mining industry which plays a crucial role in deforestation and also to fishermen who were previously dependent on fishing the reefs that are now badly degraded. They incorporate other sustainable practices as well. They use biodegradable detergents and have developed programs where tourists can give back to the communities. For example, they have established a "leave a book" program.In 1999, the Punta Cana Group founded the "Punta Cana Ecology Foundation" also known as the "Fundacion Ecologica Punta Cana" in Spanish. Within this framework, they have many partners including local businesses, tourist volunteers, and academics conducting research. There is a nature preserve, a petting zoo, and a biodiversity lab where scientists are looking for natural anti-cancer chemicals in tropical plants and animals.In Punta Cana today, there is an increasing trend toward developing properties that are even more luxurious. This is especially true in the region of Cap Cana. Donald Trump has build a property called "Farralon Trump." Hopefully, this trend will not replace the now value-priced luxury resorts which make it possible for so many to enjoy a trip to the beautiful east coast of the Dominican Republic.Alexander Tilanus' Punta Cana excursions consistently get ranked the highest in the country. Click on the link to learn more about these amazing excursions or check out his home page.