Puerto Rico's El Conquistador Resort: Where the Caribbean Meets the Atlantic
Seamlessly, my son and I race jetskis back and forth between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. This confluence of waters is magical. The colors range from dark and light blue to green and translucent. Our buzzing jetskis create a white foam wake in the perfection. But rather than feel guilty for this motorized disturbance, we yell in exhilaration and push the machines faster. After all, we're just off the shore of Palomino, the private 100-acre island of El Conquistador, a luxurious Waldorf Astoria Resort, on the eastern tip of Puerto Rico.
Palomino is an exclusive tropical playground with something for everyone. We take the ferry from El Conquistador the two kilometers to Palomino and are immediately blown away. This chunk of paradise has a mountain spine and on the south and east shores there's plenty of white-sand beach to quietly lounge and swim. Paddle boarders, kayakers and snorkellers populate the waters close to the coast and, for those that want to make some noise and burn some gas, there's the jetskis.
My 24-year-old son, Alex, and I rip around a kilometer off shore so we don't annoy those seeking solace. To repent for our lowbrow need for speed, we spend part of the afternoon communing with nature by hiking the island's jungle ascents and descents. At the top, the view is spectacular with the Atlantic to one side, the Caribbean the other, and the larger island of Puerto Rico looming in the near distance. We reward ourselves with a late lunch at Iguana's Cafe, so named because the reptiles are plentiful on the island and hang around for scraps. It's a Palomino salad for me, fish and chips, made with fresh island red snapper, for my son.
And to keep it Puerto Rican I have the signature Palomino Adventure cocktail of rum, coconut cream and mint, while my son has the national light beer, Medalla. Back at the four-diamond El Conquistador, which is dramatically set atop a 100 metre bluff, we work up an appetite riding the waterslides, including the scream-inducing death-drop, at Coqui Water Park. Thus a table at Chops Steakhouse for filet mignons and truffle-infused frites is in order.
Next morning I jog before we head to the Waldorf Astoria Spa for scrubs made of Puerto Rican coffee and coffee oil. Smelling deliciously like a fresh-brewed java, we check out so we can drive the hour to the capital of San Juan. But before we can leave, I have to snap a photo of the guy at the resort's Arthur Hill-designed 18-hole championship golf course who is wearing the most wild geometric-patterned pants with red knee socks, orange shirt and cap.
In San Juan we pull up to the 572-room Condado Plaza Hilton, where we'll stay smack dab in the middle of the city. It's an urban resort oasis with Atlantic Ocean beach on one side of the little sliver of land the hotel is on and the Condado Lagoon on the other. We again take advantage of this dual accessibility to two bodies of water and snorkel in the Atlantic one hour and paddle board in the lagoon the next. Once more, we've worked up an appetite so we take seats in the elegant Pikayo, which is not just the hotel's best restaurant, but one of Puerto Rico's finest.
Celebrity chef Wilo Benet, who's starred in TV's Top Chef Masters and has his own cookbook, Puerto Rico True Flavours, greets us and recommends the mixed seafood grill of shrimp, scallops and red snapper accompanied by ample amounts of mashed plantain banana and rice and beans.
“We Puerto Ricans love multiple starches with our seafood,” the chef says with a laugh.
No visit to the city is complete without a tour of historic Old San Juan and its compact streets of multi-colored colonial buildings and forts. While we take in all the requisite sites, our attention again turns to food and drink. So we have lunch in the courtyard at Barrachina, the restaurant where the pina colada was created in 1963. Of course, we start with the pineapple juice, coconut cream and rum cocktail before ordering monfongo, which is more mashed plantain topped with shrimp, pork and sausage.