Virtuoso Global February 2019 Time to return to Puerto Rico

Time to return to Puerto Rico

Find your calm center at the Positivo Pool at Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve.
Find your calm center at the Positivo Pool at Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve.
The Island of Enchantment casts its spell all over again.

Above the main bar in the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort in Puerto Rico is a mural called The Long Awaited Voyage by Arnaldo Roche Rabell, depicting a traveler canoeing through a tangle of vibrant vegetation.

Rabell was one of the island’s most significant artists, and Puerto Rico was his muse until his death last year. After Hurricane Maria thrashed the island in September 2017, the painter restored his artwork with the same devotion Puerto Ricans have shown in rebuilding their Caribbean home.

More than a year on, the island is again the tropical sanctuary depicted in the artist’s canvas. And there has never been a brighter, shinier, more important time to visit. Two especially enticing draws sit along Puerto Rico’s Atlantic coast: Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, and St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort. Sparkling after multimillion-dollar renovations, the resorts are proof of Puerto Rico’s comeback and launching pads for surprising experiences.

A mural by famed Puerto Rico artist Arnaldo Roche Rabell anchors the bar at St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort.
A mural by famed Puerto Rico artist Arnaldo Roche Rabell anchors the bar at St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort.

Tune into frog songs at twilight.

The new-look St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort is a collaboration between Puerto Rican designer Nono Maldonado and San Francisco-based Hirsch Bedner Associates. It’s light, modern, and organic, with a blue-and-white palette that reflects its surroundings.

Reopened in December, the 139-room resort pleases the hungry, the health-seeking, and the hedonist. Just take a look at the amenities: oceanfront golf course; DecoTurf tennis courts (good enough for the U.S. Open); trails for walking, biking, and running; a raft of water sports; and gold-plated treatments at the Iridium Spa, where guests can tailor their treatments by selecting essential oils and herbs from the Synergy Decanter Table.

The beaches are better than ever in Puerto Rico, including the stretch in front of the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort.
The beaches are better than ever in Puerto Rico, including the stretch in front of the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort.
Designated as a Certified Gold Audubon International Signature Sanctuary for its environmental awareness, the resort is home to two private bird sanctuaries, an in-house “green team” led by a marine biologist, and a garden that supplies fresh produce.

The lush landscape is full of surprises, such as Puerto Rico’s resident coquí frogs. “You can hear them as the night starts,” says St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort general manager José Torres. “We like to joke that it’s our nightly Champagne sabering ritual that gets them going!”

Touch down in a land of calm and culture.  

Dorado Beach reopened in October after an exacting restoration. Set among 300,000 new plantings and miles of bike tracks, the 114-beachfront guest rooms and suites sport floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, infinity plunge pools, and an embajador (ambassador) who provides butler and concierge services. 

The Dorado Beach Suite lets the outdoors in.
The Dorado Beach Suite lets the outdoors in.
“Dorado is a gem,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Troy Hass. “We love the sense of calm luxury as you throw open the doors from your spacious rooms and listen to the surf. I can’t remember when I have felt my blood pressure so low.”

Dial things down further with Dorado Beach’s legendary three-hour Spa Botánico Manos Santos Apothecary Ritual. In a nod to tradition, healers known as manos santos oversee the preparation of fresh herbs, healing oils, and powerful affirmations.
Step into another world at the Dorado Beach Apothecary.
Step into another world at the Dorado Beach Apothecary.
It’s not all chilling out. Soon after the relaunch, Dorado Beach hosted a celebration of the island’s rebirth with distinguished guests, including Questlove, The Roots’ front man and drummer, and Leslie Odom Jr. of the original Broadway cast of Hamilton. In January, more stars arrived to support the month-long run of that beloved musical and to draw attention to Puerto Rico’s role as an arts and culture destination.

“Helicopters, motorcades, great seats … the Hamilton phenomenon showed that Dorado Beach is back not just as a five-star hotel but as a player on a world stage – one that could handle anything,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Victoria Boomgarden.

Join the restoration era.

The spirit of a new day is palpable on the island, and the work to rebuild communities and restore natural areas continues with visitors eager to be a part of the effort. The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort partners with the Soul of Bahia Foundation to facilitate volunteer activities that benefit the environment and local communities.

You can spend the day as a manatee caretaker in the marine biology laboratory of the Manatee Conservation Center, join the resort’s Green Team for a two-hour coastal beach cleanup, or help restore trails in El Yunque National Forest. Animal lovers can bathe, play with, and walk rescue animals, or be on hand to protect vulnerable leatherback turtles when they hatch.

It’s more than work. Pitching in alongside Puerto Ricans opens up visitors’ world. “The warmth of the people and the stories they tell of rebuilding their communities, homes, and families are compelling,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Anne Scully.

Another way to help move Puerto Rico forward is to enjoy it. The list of things to do is long: Tour a rum factory or a coffee plantation, wander the historic towns of Old San Juan and San Germán, explore caves and old forts. Schedule a musical moment, perhaps the Festival of Puerto Rican Music, a celebration of traditional plena and bomba drum music that takes place in November.  

And when you are ready for an adrenalin rush, do as Haas does: Hit the monster zip line at Toro Verde. “It’s the longest in the Americas, at 1.5 miles, and you travel at up to 90 miles per hour,” he says. “It’s a blast.”

The pool at St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort combines luxury with environmental awareness.
The pool at St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort combines luxury with environmental awareness.

Enjoy the silver linings.

A year and half after Maria, there are many pleasant surprises. Boomgarden says one of the big differences return visitors will notice is in the infrastructure. “On my recent trip, there were fewer potholes, less congestion on the roads,” she says. “Things that didn’t always work before – like the electricity – now do. Even the bugs and algae have disappeared!”

For Scully, who joined a group of Virtuoso travel advisors planting trees that now bear their names, the eye-opener was the constancy of nature. “The beaches are amazing; the gardens are amazing,” she says. “The vegetation has flourished, and the island looks lush again.”

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