Resort: El Conquistador, Puerto Rico
Sitting on the North-East coast of Puerto Rico inside a 300ft mountain with views across the North Atlantic Ocean is the El Conquistador Resort which falls under the umbrella of the world-famous Waldorf Astoria Resorts. On a trip to Puerto Rico this resort would be my home for six days (and aside from activities/excursions associated with the resort), would be my only experience of the island.
The resort itself is around an hour’s drive from San Juan Airport (SJU) and the first view is of the mile long palm tree-clad driveway overlooking the golf course. I would, later in the week, take a walk to the end of the driveway and back (which is on a fairly steep slope) and even in late October realise how warm it is here.
I arrived at night and met extremely friendly staff at the check-in desk in the lobby, who welcomed me to the resort. Soon, a second friendly member of staff appeared at my side, grabbed my suitcase and walked me to my room. I’m not sure if it was the 30 hours travel or the fact that I had been on three different planes that day, but the route to my room seemed fairly complex. This resort was huge.
Around the resort
The resort offers various accomodation options including La Marina (located at the base of the mountainside in a private Marina area), Las Brisas (located in a gardened area with ocean views), Las Olas and La Vista villages (with either Ocean or Garden views) and Las Casitas Village (the Resort’s elite accommodation offering). I found myself staying in the La Vista Village accomodation, in a large room with two Queen-size beds, private balcony and stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. Every morning after sunrise, there would be three or four giant birds that flew over the water in eyeline from my room (I never did find out what type they were) like a scene from Jurrasic Park (apt as some of the film was indeed filmed in Puerto Rico).
Despite the room being large (500-600 sq.ft.) and extremely comfortable, it did have a slightly ‘worn’ feel and could perhaps do with being updated. Also, a minor bugbear is that there is no water provided in the room which would be a useful addition, especially when it temperatures are so high during the day.
Room with a view
Inside the room
The list of dining options here are almost as large as the resort itself. In my time staying at the resort (which involved passing a white parrot in the lobby that squawked “hola!” at me everyday) I managed to visit the following:
- Chops Steakhouse – Fine dining, excellent steaks
- Ballyhoo Bar & Grill – Located at the Marina area
- Cafe Bella Vista – Casual Dining, up from main pool, great sandwiches and pizzas
- Iguanas Cafe – on Palomino Island
- Las Brisas Restaurant – Buffet breakfast, Ocean views
- Cafe Caribe – Slightly more laid back, American & Caribbean cuisine
And also bar options:
- Twenty One Bar (in main lobby area, giant screens showing sporting events)
- Drake’s Martini Bar (Pool table, huge drinks offering)
A friendly greeting!
Aside from the dining options, the strength of this resort (in my opinion) is the huge offering of activities and excursions, and I was lucky enough to get involved in a few of them.
Visitors can take the funicular service from the main resort area down to the private Marina to board a Catamaran to sail to the resort’s own private Palomino Island. The sailing is around 10 minutes (the boat leaves every 30) and when the island is reached you are greeted by palm trees, white sands and a real sense of ‘paradise.’ This small island offers a variety of activities including watersports, horse-riding, snorkeling, or just laying in the sun. You will almost certainly see many of the iguanas that roam the island, strolling in the sun. It is said that flights out of Puerto Rico are often delayed due to these creatures laying on the runway to take in some of the heat.
Paradise on Palomino
Meeting the locals
Another interesting activity is to travel to El Yunque Rainforest National Park. Here you can take hikes around the rainforest (these are paved paths of varying difficulties) and I would advise taking a poncho or waterproof – although very hot, it can also be very wet as the name suggests! It is fun to keep an eye out for wildlife (made known by the constant noise of birds and insects) although I only managed to see one lizard and a transparent slug. There is an information centre in the park where a 91-year old man sat handcrafting wooden instruments for sale. Lastly, it is good to climb the Yokahu Observation Tower for breathtaking views over the forest.
Hiking in El Yunque Rainforest
View from the Yokahu Observation Tower
Finally, the last activity from the resort I was involved in was perhaps, one of the ultimate “bucket-list” trips – riding on the Bio Bay Kayak Tour. This involves taking a nighttime kayak (in the pitch black, the trips usually starting from 5-6pm onwards) through a winding mangrove-clad river, following only the small glowing lightstick of the kayak in front of you, to an open bay. Here small organisms (Pyrodinium Bahamense to give them the proper title) glow when they are disturbed giving a mindblowing blue-green colour. If you scoop the water in your hand, the water ‘glows’ as it trickles down your arm. Unfortunately it is impossible to photograph this phenomenon easily, and most pictures on websites are photoshopped to show the effect.
En route back to the starting point, my kayak tipped and I was thrown into the water. The fear of what may have been swimming there made me jump out just as quick!
Other than the activities I was involved in, there is also the option of trips into the capital San Juan, visting the Coqui Water Park, visting the Bacardi distillery, Scuba Diving, Spa, and many, many shopping services throughout the resort.
Some further observations about the resort are that it when you are visiting, it feels very private. This may be a good thing for people who want an ‘escape’ but it also feels like you are very far away from anything else (and as a result, I didn’t venture anywhere else in Puerto Rico for my trip). Naturally, you would expect a resort of this standard to be expensive, but the prices, especially in the bars, seemed much higher than we expected.
Pondering Along Review
Overall Rating: 4/5
Definitely a resort of a very high standard accommodation however the rooms do feel slightly worn, more than you would expect from a resort of this level. Huge range of amenities and activities, although can be expensive. A map would definitely be useful during check in! Stunning ocean views, great food and a real feeling of paradise.
Don’t Miss: Palomino Island
Some Useful Links
El Conquistador Resort
Bio Bay Kayak Tour
El Yunque Rainforest