On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria landed on Puerto Rico, packing winds with sustained speeds of more than 150 mph. A few days later, in the aftermath, much of the island was a wasteland. The power grid was destroyed, millions of people were left homeless, buildings were flattened, and many industries, including tourism, were wiped out. Long known as an idyllic vacation spot, most of Puerto Rico’s hotels were shuttered, some never to reopen.
Fast forward to today. Puerto Rico is in the midst of a recovery. Local businesses have become less dependent on imports, agriculture is surpassing pre-Maria output, and hotels are back in business. With more than $120 million invested in upgrades and post-storm repairs, the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort and Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve are once again pampering guests with unparalleled service and amenities.
ST. REGIS BAHIA BEACH RESORT
Set on 483 acres, 90 percent of which was decimated, the once-green jungle landscape of St. Regis Bahia Beach was replanted with mature trees, lush plants, orchids, and pops of red and burgundy that have brought the property back to life with more personality and warmth. As a former coconut plantation, the focal point of the resort is the Casa Grande, or the “Big House,” with its grand veranda and a massive front door that perfectly aligns with a floor-to-ceiling picture window welcoming guests with a stunning view across the great lawn down to the ocean. It’s part of the extensive $60 million restoration that includes every guest room and suite; the seaside pool and esplanade; and the new, exclusive St. Regis–brand Iridium Spa.
Casa Grande was entirely redone with a living room–style check-in and a lighter color palette that complements rather than competes with the surrounding nature. Bright shades of white and light blues replace the heavy dark wood tones in what was once a library but now acts as an open meeting place for drinks, tapas, and a more casual lobby bar with its captivating mural, The Long Awaited Voyage, by Puerto Rican artist Arnaldo Roche Rabell. The mural survived the storm but needed some restoration, so Rabell took it back, fixed it, and rehung it on the wall. A new fine dining restaurant, Paros, on the second floor, serves contemporary Greek cuisine, spotlighting fresh seafood, Mediterranean flavors, and sweeping views of the property. At night, fire pits totally transform the plantation estate setting into a romantic tropical island home.
In fact, the entire resort has a very private, residential feel with its 139 spacious, butler-serviced rooms and suites set in garden apartment–style structures built below the tree line. An additional $30 million expansion of 60 oceanfront rooms is planned, boasting the same modern aesthetic and serene color palette of the refurbished rooms, as well as an $85 million condominium development with expansive beachfront terraces that will have outdoor bars and kitchens. Being located on a cove, with no local access, the property features 2 miles of secluded, swimmable beach with the softest sand that’s raked every morning. The renovations along this stretch feature an outdoor pizza oven poolside and the Beach Shak, a beachside bar offering smoothies and local bites.
As part of the Bahia Beach Resort Golf Club community, St. Regis guests have full access to its beach club, which offers more dining options, an adults-only pool, and a new water sports collaboration for surfing, stand-up paddling, and sailing, to name a few. These activities add to the already extensive list of things to do on this Gold-certified Audubon Signature Sanctuary of 64 acres of lakes and rivers. Environmentalism is the sole of Bahia, and the St. Regis has a biologist and an environmentalist on-site to make sure it is adhering to regulations and to offer interested guests an opportunity to learn more about the nearby Espíritu Santo River through kayak tours and more. The property is also working in collaboration with Bahia Beach and its nonprofit organization, Alma de Bahia, on volunteer initiatives and activities that give back to the community and assist those who were impacted by the hurricane. From $599; stregis.com
DORADO BEACH, A RITZ-CARLTON RESERVE
Five hundred thousand new plants, with more being added every day, have restored the natural beauty of this 1,400-acre tropical haven, once the estate of Laurance Rockefeller, who developed it in 1958. “We had almost no devastation in the building structure,” explains Jose Enrique Pedreira, Dorado Beach’s marketing manager, “but all landscaping was destroyed. We were closed because Puerto Rico was closed.”
When Federico Stubbe, one of the largest developers of upscale communities and high-profile projects on his native island, created the Ritz-Carlton Reserve in 2012, he kept the architecture of the old hotel. “Rockefeller developed a master plan that is still working,” he says. “We have adapted that, honored it. We kept the outside but built it with a much more contemporary concept. This is about the tropics and living in a park; it is about how humans interact with nature. We lost a lot of canopies. Everything drowned, all the vegetation and flora. We spent one year bringing this place back.”
Some minimal damage occurred to the 115 beachfront rooms and suites. “We had a lot of water intrusion under the doors,” explains Stubbe. “Things got wet. But it was all five years old by that time, and we are constantly changing and updating.” All guest rooms were refreshed with a brighter color palette, modernized furnishings, and king-size beds in place of queens—enhancing the already exquisite floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, outdoor shower gardens, deep soaking tubs, and private infinity-edge plunge pools.
The showpiece of the property, however, is the redesigned five-bedroom villa and historical estate, Su Casa. Renowned design firm Champalimaud has reimagined the two-story, 8,000-square-foot, 1920s Spanish-style hacienda, which now features an open-concept floor plan and modern amenities like a spa treatment room and a media room with three large TV screens, in addition to custom-designed pieces juxtaposed with original antiques from the earliest owners and artwork from local artists. At $25,000 a night in the winter high season (prices start from $12,000 in summer), Su Casa can accommodate 12 people comfortably and offers all the amenities and services of the main hotel, but with a private chef, a personal golf cart, private beach, and soon-to-be-introduced experience packages. It does not, however, have a traditional kitchen for guests to access, so those looking for a more live-in stay should consider booking one of the 29 private residences in the rental program. The modern white homes with metal and wood interiors offer two to five bedrooms, plus a private pool.
The accommodations, though, are not the only part of the resort that has been updated. The former José Andrés restaurant, Mi Casa, is now COA, a totally redesigned steakhouse with a wine-tasting room and more indoor/outdoor dining spaces. The Asian-style Positivo Sandbar now features an omakase and ceviche bar.
“After Maria, one thing I got everyone to do is to think of this hotel like theater,” says Stubbe. “Puerto Ricans are happy people; the staff shows you their pride. It’s not about square feet, it’s about how you feel when you are in that space. We can be a great alternative to Florida.” From $1,099; ritzcarlton.com