The names are synonymous with style, luxury and superlative service: Ritz-Carlton, Waldorf-Astoria, St. Regis and the W. These are some of the elite hotel chains that have set up beautiful properties in Puerto Rico. Along with a few select luxury boutique hotels, they make up the top tier of lodging options on the island.
Travelers looking for the best of the best will find that these top hotels aren't clustered in San Juan but rather dotted around the island. They can be found along the splendid Caribbean and Atlantic coast, nestled within the ancient heart of the island, and even on remote and rustic Vieques Island. Take a closer look at these elite hotels in Puerto Rico.
I have to start with my favorite hotel in Puerto Rico. But personal preference doesn't land the Horned Dorset on this list. Rather, it's the magnificent setting on the shores of western Puerto Rico, the romantic and luxurious rooms with Moroccan touches (some with private pools), simply superlative service, and the simply divine dining options courtesy of chef Aaron Wratten.
The Relais & Chateaux property has an envious collection of accolades and awards, and is one of three hotels on Condé Nast Traveler's Gold List for 2013.
The Ritz-Carlton Reserve
After years of hype, planning and anticipation, the Ritz-Carlton Reserve -- only the second such property in the Ritz-Carlton portfolio -- finally opened in December 2012 at Dorado Beach. And when Forbes says you're the must-see resort of 2013, it's a good sign you're among the elite.
With every guest room facing the beach, four championship golf courses, and Mi Casa restaurant, helmed by the world-renowned José Andrés, it's not surprising that the property has set the travel world buzzing. The Reserve restores the bygone glamour of RockResorts, the original property built by Laurance Rockefeller in 1958.
It's fantastic lobby continues to be one of the best hangouts in all of Puerto Rico, and its shopping gallery, multiple restaurants ,and outstanding nightlife add to the experience of staying here.
The second of three hotels on Condé Nast's Gold List for 2013, the St. Regis is considered by many top critics to be one of the best places to stay in Puerto Rico (it's been awarded AAA Five-Diamond status). Just a half-hour by car from the bustle of San Juan, the resort manages to feel like it's light-years away, a remote enclave built on a former coconut plantation. And plantation living is redefined at this hotel, which combines old-world style with top-notch Puerto Rican cuisine at Fern and a gorgeous golf course.
It was a bold move by the W to open it's first-ever Caribbean property not in mainland Puerto Rico, but rustic and remote Vieques Island. That move proved prophetic; the W has settled in beautifully, its trademark cool style blending with its pristine natural environment and an isolated stretch of beachfront. The lobby invites you to hang out, the infinity-edge pools invite you to relax, and your rooms have a funky-cool vibe that may end up keeping you indoors longer than you want.
Another spot that will always hold a special place for me is El Convento. My sister was married here, and my memories of this hotel are nothing short of wonderful. The former Carmelite convent has retained its centuries-old architectural elegance while upgrading its quarters to world-class standards. It's the only hotel on this list without direct beach access, but with the wonders of Old San Juan just outside its doors, who needs the beach?
No hotel offers more than El Conquistador. Seriously... a water park (which no other hotel in Puerto Rico can boast); a private island (ditto); a funicular (ditto again); and 10 different types of accommodations headlined by the ultra-luxurious Las Casitas cottages (third on the Condé Nast Gold List for 2013), it's the place to be when you don't want to be any place else.
The newest elite hotel on the island (at least, as of this writing), is a rebirth of what was once Puerto Rico's first luxury property. The Vanderbilt was built in 1919, and after a $100 million renovation and restoration, reopened for the first time in 2012 (guest rooms to open in 2013). Already dazzling in its opulent detail and Spanish revival architecture, it's destined to become one of the premier addresses in fashionable Condado.