My list of top hotels in Puerto Rico is subjective; personal biases and preferences, wonderful experiences, excellent dining and particularly fine customer service have all played a role in what I ended up liking (or disliking). The properties listed below range from stone houses to sprawling resorts, from affordable to extravagant, and from mainland to island. But they share one thing in common: they're my top ten.
1. Horned Dorset Primavera
Leading the pack for me is a place that combines everything I love in a hotel:
- Plush accommodations with stunning decor (Moroccan lamps, duplex apartment-style layout of the suite I stayed in, luxurious bathrooms, private pool)
- Unbeatable location (perched on the edge of Rincón's pristine beachfront)
- The intimacy of a boutique property
- Outstanding cuisine
- Outstanding customer service
- That "escape-from-it-all" feeling, which the Horned Dorset does better than anywhere else in Puerto Rico
2. Hotel El Convento
I have a huge personal bias here, because my sister was married at the El Convento, but that doesn't change the fact that the hotel helped make it one of the most magical and memorable weddings I've attended. The best thing about the luxury property, a former convent restored and beautifully preserved, is how it keeps the spirit of Old San Juan alive.
To stay here is to immerse yourself completely in the romantic charm of the old city. The accommodations maintain this standard while offering every amenity to its guests, and the hotel's restaurants are all solid choices (I especially love the tapas at El Picoteo overlooking the leafy courtyard).
El Convento is a unique place, and the best place to stay in Old San Juan.
3. The W Vieques
Simply put, the stylish W is breathtaking. There's nothing like it on Vieques Island, and little to compare it with on the mainland. What makes it special?
For one, there's the ambience, which exemplifies luxury island retreat. The modern decor is tasteful and island-chic, and practically oozes cool comfort. The rooms are large, minimalist, and exotic, and the twin infinity pools fronting the beach make for a relaxing, pampering day out.
Then there's the restaurant, the Alain Ducasse-inspired MiX on the Beach, which departs from typically heavy 'Rican cooking to offer an eclectic Mediterranean menu that's both innovative and delicious. The W's spa is among the best in Puerto Rico, and its beaches offer sun-drenched privacy for its guests.
4. The El San Juan Hotel & Casino
If the El Convento captures Old San Juan's historic charm, then the El San Juan Hotel personifies its throwback glory days. Home to the original Rat Pack in the 1960s, this storied property has seen an impressive list of A-listers that continues to this day.
A recent modern facelift of the accommodations instantly elevated the hotel's comfort, but it's the public spaces that make it special for me. The timeless lobby bar, one of the hottest casinos on the island, the city's best club, and a privileged stretch of Isla Verde beachfront are justifiably popular not just for hotel guests but locals and visitors alike.
Finally, the hotel is one of the few in San Juan with ample shopping and dining, led by Koco's Caribbean-fusion restaurant.
5. The Hix Island House
I have to put a caveat here; while I think the W is the best hotel in Vieques, my favorite is Hix Island House. The only reason the W comes first is because it offers more to its guests and appeals to a broader group.
But Hix is something completely out of the box. The creation of architect John Hix, the hotel is comprised of stone houses that seemingly sprout up from the ground. The most eco-conscious hotel in Puerto Rico, Hix uses no glass windows, no a/c, and no chlorine in the swimming pool. Everything here has a green touch to it, but the overall effect is not one of roughing it eco-style, but rather a different interpretation of boutique comfort.
Hix is the kind of place you either love or hate. Naturally, I'm all about the former.
6. The El Conquistador
For sheer amenities, you can't beat the El Conquistador Resort & Golden Door Spa. Nobody else on the island can throw out this incredible list of features and amenities:
- A water park
- Championship golf course
- A private island
- Kids' camp
- Award-winning spa
- Water activities ranging from waterskiing to fishing
- Tennis Courts
- One- to three-bedroom villas
- Cable car transportation
7. Renaissance La Concha Resort
Sleek and stylish, La Concha Renaissance has reestablished itself as one of San Juan's hippest hotels. With a modern ocean-cool decor, a great lounge and restaurant, and beachfront access in Condado, it's become one of the neighborhood's hotspots, favored by guests and locals alike.
While all accommodations are quite spacious and well-appointed, the Suite Towers rooms are the way to go at La Concha if you want to spread out and soak in the oceanfront luxury. Plus, with frequent promotions and specials starting at under $200 a night, it's a bargain for the quality you get.
8. Conrad Condado Plaza
The Conrad underwent a total renovation, and the results are terrific. Perhaps the most affordable of all the hotels on this list, it nonetheless gives you large, comfortable rooms in a Caribbean modern style, a casino, terrific lobby lounge, and -- two reasons to really love this place -- two of my favorite restaurants in Puerto Rico: the outstanding Pikayo and the more casual Varitas, by master chef Wilo Benet.
Throw in a pleasant pool area and beach access, and the Conrad offers a whole lot for the price.
9. Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa
By the time I walked out of the Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa, a Wyndham Grand Resort, I'd felt thoroughly pampered. After a wonderful session at the Mandara Spa, an absolutely fantastic dinner at Palio, its Italian fine dining stalwart, and an excursion to nearby Hacienda Carabali, it was hard not to walk out with a smile on my face.
And that's not to mention the serene beach, golf course, kids' club, and other restaurants. The hotel's staff is outstanding, and the rooms are inviting. Located between San Juan and Fajardo, the Rio Mar takes you away from the bustle of the city and invites you to experience a quieter, more relaxed side of Puerto Rico.