Onsite Review: Puerto Rico

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Royal Isabela in northwestern Puerto Rico.

There are certain destinations in this world where from the moment you arrive you feel as if you’re home. Puerto Rico made me feel that way when I visited this past February. So what is it about the so-called “isle of enchantment”? Ask Puerto Rico Tourism Company’s executive director Ingrid I. Rivera Rocafort and she says it’s a combination of things, including the people of Puerto Rico. “The people have a lot to do with why visitors enjoy the destination. We are friendly; we like for everyone to feel welcome.” But, she points out, it’s also the “natural beauty, the diversity of that natural beauty—with a rainforest, a dry forest, gorgeous beaches; the large variety of hotel options—from B&Bs to luxury options; and the ease of getting here—no passport needed and air connectivity.” Your clients will also like the fact that English is one of the official languages and is widely spoken; and the currency is the U.S. dollar.

And the visitor numbers are proof that Puerto Rico is indeed “enchanting” people. There’s been a steady growth in visitor numbers year-to-year, and, says Rivera Rocafort, “Based on what we saw this past fiscal year, we know for sure that the visitors for 2014/15 will go up to 4.6/4.7 million at least [from 4.455 million]. In fact, that number has even been estimated to go up to 4.9.”

Swanky Stay & a Golf Getaway
One of the accommodations that these visitors can call home is Condado Vanderbilt in San Juan, where I stayed during my visit. This new dame is making a name for herself in the swanky Condado neighborhood, although she isn’t necessarily a new dame, as she first came on to the stage as a hotel back in 1919. This 360-room hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and although the hotel pays detailed homage to the 1920s era, it still feels very contemporary. The rooms are spacious, elegantly designed, but not over the top, and with a well-thought-out bathroom configuration. A few things we suggest your clients shouldn’t miss include the hammam experience at The Spa at Condado Vanderbilt; a dip in the infinity pool that overlooks the rock-laced shoreline; lunch at Ola Beach Front Bistro; a cocktail at Vanderbilt Court; and “locally-rooted” cuisine at 1919.

For clients who golf and who are looking to spend some time away from San Juan, recommend a stay at Royal Isabela, located in the island’s northwestern region. Although intimate, with only 20 casitas, it’s an expansive resort with one of the most beautiful golf course settings I’ve ever seen, featuring native grasses, natural sand dunes and deep canyons as well as a gorgeous Atlantic Ocean shoreline in the backdrop. The casitas, at 1,500 sq. ft., offer stunning ocean vistas and are drop-dead gorgeous.

Don’t Miss
For shopaholics, San Juan is the place to be, with fashionable boutiques in Old San Juan selling stylish jewelry and clothes designed by local designers. And this past year saw the opening of The Mall of San Juan, home to high-end stores such as Agent Provocateur, Gucci and Tory Burch. Those who’d rather have an outdoor adventure can head to Toro Verde, an Ecological Adventure Park that, according to Rivera Rocafort, will debut the longest zipline in the world this coming November.

On Your Radar
Cruising is huge for Puerto Rico, with over 1.5 million passengers arriving in Puerto Rico via cruises in the 2014/15 fiscal year. Currently, Puerto Rico welcomes 16 cruise lines, and new cruise home ports for 2015/16 include Disney Wonder, Carnival Dream, Carnival Glory, Carnival Liberty, Carnival Sunshine, Carnival Triumph, Crystal Cruises and Silversea’s Silver Wind.

“When these ships are in town,” says Rivera Rocafort, “we make sure the city is prepared with restaurants opening longer hours, extra shopping, activation of the different plazas—you see the music, the culture, artisans, salsa lessons. We activate Old San Juan in a way that is very unique.” Unique—that’s what makes Puerto Rico such an enchanting island—there’s no other place quite like this Caribbean “all-star.”

Contact Information
Condado Vanderbilt: (787) 721-5500condadovanderbilt.com
Puerto Rico Tourism Company: seepuertorico.com
Royal Isabela: royalisabela.com