For the luxury portion of our Puerto Rico vacation, we checked into paradise, officially known as the El Conquistador Resort, a Waldorf-Astoria property. It has that Latin America laid back culture, but quite posh at the same time.
The resort property is massive, with a little bit of everything. Just getting there involved driving through the enormous golf course (slight pun intended). There are several pools on each level, complete with poolside cafes, and many different restaurants. The engineering geeks (us) were very excited for the funicular, an inclined plane cable car, to carry passengers safely up & down the steep incline from the Lobby to a lower room level and the marina.
There is an enormous water park, complete with pirate rope suspension bridge, and massive water slides. And there is a private island, of course.
Palomino island is the private island for resort guests. The private ferry departs every 30 minutes and guest merely present identification cards to board for the ~7 minute ride. On the island there is another restaurant, rum cocktail bar, and plenty of activities. Guests can ride horses around the property, hike the circumference or summit the hill, play (almost) “Harry Potter” sized chess, boccie ball, soccer, snorkel, swim, kayak, and just relax. An even smaller island, just meters away, is the now-famous Palominito island where a Jack Sparrow scene was filmed for Pirates of the Caribbean.
The Resort, and specifically Palomino Island, is a popular wedding destination. With multiple wedding areas around the island, there were multiple brides running around on Saturday preparing for their ceremony.
The local Scuba tour & dive shop is located on the resort property marina. Reservations are required and 2 of my scheduled dives were cancelled when we did not meet the minimum guest requirements. I was ready to hijack the dive boat, when they wisely took a small group of us out for a 2 tank dive. We stayed close to the resort, at 2 locations just past Palomino Island. We swam with Sea Turtles, Eagle Rays, and colorful fish. My dive buddy captured these great videos of our dives, you can see my bubbles (I was swimming below him). It was worth the wait to dive these waters.
Some sources only consider this resort a 4 star property, in my opinion it is on par with my two favorite resort properties Zilara Resort in Cancun, Mexico, and the Park Hyatt Aviara in Carlsbad, California. Similar resorts in Maui are at least double the price, and do not come with a private island! And during our recent stay, it was sold out. Affluent Puerto Rican locals come here for weekend getaways, weddings, honeymoons, and people like us looking for less expensive luxury vacations. I met people from New York to Louisiana and all along the East Coast that are regular visitors to the island. Now I know why.