As Puerto Rico’s luxury-hotel landscape goes ever more upscale, angling to lure travelers from St. Barts and the British Virgin Islands with a new level of cachet and the always-appealing conveniences of American currency and proximity to the U.S. mainland, the island’s newest resorts have also become contenders for the best nature-meets-luxury experiences anywhere.
The 28,500-acre El Yunque rain forest, otherworldly bioluminescent bays and a host of tropical fauna (you will know the coquí frogs’ chorus by day two of your vacation) provide some of the region’s most unique natural attractions. A handful of tucked-into-the-palms resorts supply the chic accommodations, excellent cuisine and polished service that are redrawing the map of the Caribbean’s top hotels and putting Puerto Rico on high-end travelers’ radars. To see why the island is one of our favorite hot spots this year, go now and check into one of these three properties that seamlessly blends luxury with nature.
The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, Puerto Rico
The luxe factor: A newcomer in 2010, this sprawling St. Regis property offers something for everyone on its verdant grounds. There is the oceanfront Robert Trent Jones Jr. golf course and the indoor-outdoor Remède Spa that incorporates local products such as rum, coffee and even gold into its treatments. The celebrity chef who’s put down stakes here is Jean-Georges Vongerichten, with Fern restaurant. And guest rooms pay exceptional attention to detail, down to coconut turndown treats (including the delicious coconut kiss cookies) that recall the resort’s past life as a coconut plantation. Topping it off are those only-at-St.-Regis celebrations—a daily iced-tea ritual, champagne sabering and koi fish feeding.
The nature factor: The sole St. Regis in the Caribbean is also the region’s only Certified Gold Audubon Signature Sanctuary. For a primer, set up a custom bird-watching tour with a resort naturalist or join a scheduled nature or kayak tour; you’ll learn all about the three onsite islands that double as bird sanctuaries. Beyond beaches, the property’s 438 acres also offer miles of rivers and trails, and a boathouse where you can take out kayaks, sailboats, paddleboards and equipment for catch-and-release fishing. The boathouse also hosts a touch tank for kids as well as the resort’s bird-rescue program.
The luxe factor: W Retreat & Spa, Vieques Island will have you at hello: The resort runs a W Welcome Lounge at the Vieques airport (the island is eight miles off Puerto Rico’s southeast coast) so you can have a drink while your bags are loaded for the quick drive to the property, one of only four W Retreat & Spas in the world. (Find the others in Bali, the Maldives and Koh Samui, Thailand.) Stocked with W staples such as Bliss spa products, the modern guest rooms— designed by Patricia Urquiola, the eye behind Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona’s look—are reminiscent of the brand’s city hotels, but with beach, pool and garden views. Two ambassador-staffed beaches beckon, as do the Vieques-inspired menus at Away Spa and Sorcé restaurant. (Think noni-fruit facials and, at Sorcé, mofongo with chicken, steak and shrimp.)
The nature factor: Besides pristine Caribbean sand—until 2003, much of Vieques was a U.S. Navy base, and today that land constitutes the Caribbean’s largest National Wildlife Refuge—Vieques’ most famous offering is its bioluminescent bay. A post-dusk kayak trip and dip into these Mosquito Bay waters, which glow with your every movement, is truly one of the world’s unique experiences. W Retreat & Spa, Vieques Island is also home to a Black Beard Sports outpost that will arrange your scuba dives and hiking, biking and kayaking tours. Or check out complimentary kayak and snorkeling equipment, including prescription masks, and explore the resort’s clear waters at your leisure.
Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve
The luxe factor: Opened in 2012 as the first Ritz-Carlton Reserve in the Americas and the second in the world, Dorado Beach’s 114 rooms and suites—and one 8,000-square-foot presidential mansion—feature over-the-top amenities such as private plunge pools and not one, but two rainforest showers (indoors and out). Personal embajadores (ambassadors) take care of every request, making your vacation on this secluded stretch of shoreline feel effortless, from securing reservations at signature restaurant Mi Casa by José Andrés to indulging in a massage (using oils infused with herbs grown onsite) at Spa Botánico. We recommend reserving one of two tree house treatment platforms for an elevated hammock massage overlooking the spa’s five wild acres.
The nature factor: Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve was designed with LEED certification in mind and is keen on connecting guests to the environment. Fittingly for a resort built on land first developed by conservationist Laurance Rockefeller, nature-imbued options abound, including the eponymous 11-mile Rockefeller nature trail. Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment program immerses adults and children in Puerto Rico’s natural wonders; the lengthy activity catalog runs from a nighttime snorkeling adventure through coral reefs to an “ecochefs” class in which kids visit the resort’s chef’s garden and prepare snacks in a solar oven.