That’s the question I asked myself all weekend while touring Puerto Rico as a guest of Discover Puerto Rico. I’ve been all over the Caribbean and Mexico, but this island has never really been on my radar and I don’t know why. From the moment I arrived until the moment I boarded my flight home, I was entranced by how exotic this island was and still be a part of the US; meaning no passport required to travel there.
On arrival we were whisked off to the Royal Sonesta San Juan for the night. The hotel proved gracious hosts with a delicious opening banquet with my first of 3 opportunities to eat what can must surely be an island favorite meal of roasted pork stuffed with yucca and wrapped in bacon. Accompanied by a lively salsa band and rum punch, it was a great way to start the weekend. Waking up Friday morning to stunning views of the ocean made the early start a bit easier.
Our second day was filled with touring one beautiful hotel after another: The Caribe Hilton, The Condado Vanderbilt and the Renaissance La Concha. Each one icons in their own right due to their exquisite architecture and stunning ocean views. The Caribe Hilton is a light, airy, bright and was the first Hilton Hotel built outside the mainland US. It also happens to be the home of the *real* pina colada (more on that later). With 65,000 sq. ft. of total meeting space and their largest ballroom coming in just over 12K sq. ft. It’s an ideal location for a smaller meeting or event wanting to be downtown and close to the vibrance of downtown San Juan.
From there we it was on to The Condado Vanderbilt Hotel and the Renaissance La Concha. Located next door to one another these hotels provide an ideal location to host a conference or incentive in the heart of Old San Juan. The Condado is definitely the luxurious “grande dame” on the block while the La Concha is the vivacious “party gal” with a lively lobby bar and pool located just off the lobby. Both hotels have recently come out of full renovations with the majority of rooms overlooking the crystal blue water with a long stretch of beach in front of the La Concha.
Our hosts were kind enough to offer us a mid-morning “break” by taking us to visit Casa Bacardi – the largest rum distillery in the Caribbean. We were offered a short tour that discussed the history of the Bacardi family where I realized we have all been saying the name Bacardi all wrong. It’s not “Ba-CAR-di” but “Ba-car-Di” – our guide was quite adamant on that. I stand corrected. 😊 After our pronunciation lesson, it was on to the main attraction – the mixology class. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I loathe pineapple. I am well aware I am in the minority with this aversion, but it’s always been a bit too sweet for me and therefore I avoid drinks with its juice. The lesson on making a proper Pina Colada was a game changer for me. Instead of being the thick, sweet, sugary frozen concoctions we’ve all experienced a properly made pina colada is nothing like that. It’s a silky, frothy concoction that allows you to taste the golden rum and the crème of coconut with the slight acid from the pineapple juice providing an unexpected balance. I am a convert and will be whipping these up on my deck all summer long. Email me if you want the recipe!
Fortunately, we had lunch afterwards to soak up the pina coladas and mojitos and then it was on to the Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve Resort for two nights. Located around 25 minutes from the San Juan airport, it is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Located at the end of a tiny isthmus on a stretch of beach called “Coco Beach” it is an idyllic incentive location for those who want to get away from it all. 579 gorgeous rooms located in two story bungalow buildings. The resort also offers multiple pools, 17 dining outlets, a gorgeous spa and two PGA golf courses and 40K sq. ft. of meeting space. The recently renovated (2019) rooms are large with patios offering beautiful garden views, strong Wifi and a very short walk to the beach. Our dinner that evening was overlooking a lovely pool called “La Mina” which is surrounded by 97 brand new luxury suites ranging in size from 800-1500 sq. ft. Sadly we didn’t get to see any of them since they were all occupied that night.
Our final day included seeing the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar and the El Conquistador Resort. Both are located at the eastern end of the island just a stone’s throw from the magnificent El Yunque National Forest. The Wyndham Grand has a wonderful outdoor pool complex overlooked by 400 guestrooms either with rainforest or ocean view. They have a one-mile-long stretch of beach access and a sizeable amount of meeting space at 40K sq. ft and two golf courses. The rooms are a bit on the small size, but they are recently renovated and have all the conveniences you would expect.
Our last and final stop on our whirlwind trip was the venerable El Conquistador Resort. This hotel is legend on the island and has changed hands many times in the last decade or so, but it is now finally receiving the loving facelift is has so needed. At 750 newly renovated rooms with 110,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, it is the largest resort on the island. Perched on a cliff overlooking the point at which the Atlantic and the Caribbean join all the rooms offer stunning views and, on a clear day, you can see to St. Thomas. The hotel also has another 250 casitas in its inventory increasing the bookable inventory to 1000 rooms. The meeting space is simply phenomenal and well laid out. It all flows easily from the main building and the 16 breakout rooms are stacked on a atop another on 2 levels and measure in at nearly 1500 sq. ft. EACH. Perhaps most unique is the fact the hotel owns a private island that is a short 20-minute ferry ride away that can accommodate up to 2000 attendees for private events during the day and at night.
At the end of my time on the island, I was left again to ask myself why I have never been to Puerto Rico. Perhaps it didn’t see “exotic” enough or perhaps, like so many, I didn’t think it had fully recovered from Hurricane Wilma in 2017 to be an attractive destination. At every turn, I was met with warm island hospitality, amazing food, gorgeous scenery and a real sense of “place” that sets is apart from other Caribbean islands. So, now my answer is why haven’t YOU been to Puerto Rico? Maybe it’s the perfect place for your company’s next incentive trip! Let’s talk about how I can help you get there!
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