By all accounts, Puerto Rico is undergoing a renaissance: Everything from gastronomy to five-star accommodations to recreation is approaching a standard that will likely attract the sort of wealth and glamour drawn to the island in its Hollywood heyday.
As Puerto Rico welcomes an ever-increasing number of private jet travelers to its sunny shores, Travel Editor Tova Syrowicz caught up with Ingrid Rivera, executive director of the island’s tourism board, to find out the extent of what Puerto Rico has to entice ultra high net worth visitors—in addition to the recent spate of luxury hotel openings and renovations, that is.
Elite Traveler: When they travel, ultra high net worth individuals stay in the best hotels, but they also spend a lot on experiential extras like adventure travel. What does Puerto Rico offer the adventure seeker?
Ingrid Rivera: In terms of adventure travel and adventure options, Puerto Rico has the second-longest zip line in the world in Toro Verde, which is right in the middle of the island’s mountainous area, a gorgeous place, highly rated by TripAdvisor. Puerto Rico also has three out of the six bioluminescent bays in the world; visitors canoe or kayak out, and witness a gorgeous light in the ocean, and are able to even swim in it.
We also have striking caves; the Cuevas de Camuy is an adventure in itself—a hidden world within the earth. Arecibo has river kayaking. Rincón is the capital of the surfers: Rip Curl events take place there every year in March.
Little Puerto Rico has an amazing array of experiences in nature, even desert and rainforest areas for you to hike and experience a flora and a fauna that it totally different. On the south side of the island is the Caribbean, a calmer, warm body of water, and on the north side, the Atlantic Ocean, which has a little bit more personality, and as a result, exciting water sporting opportunities.
ET: What sort of a yachting destination is Puerto Rico?
Ingrid Rivera: Puerto Rico has the largest yacht marina in all of the Caribbean, Puerto del Rey. It was recently purchased by a New York-based investor with plans to infuse the facility with capital and completely renovate, extend, expand, and improve it by building a yacht club with restaurants, bars, and retail areas, as well as hotels and condo hotels. The deal was completed just three weeks ago, and the whole concept behind the renovation is that it won’t only be a dock for yachts, but a place that will receive guests from all over the world.
ET: Are luxury travelers coming to Puerto Rico from all over the world?
Ingrid Rivera: We want to ensure that the marina will be world-class, that it will appeal to guests from all over the globe, that it will be a gateway to Puerto Rico. Right next to the marina, there will be other investors opening a new hotel linked to the Four Seasons, so it’s going to be a beautifully refreshed area with international appeal.
ET: What are some of the other investment opportunities in Puerto Rico for ultra high net worth individuals?
Ingrid Rivera: The opportunities are vast and the incentives very attractive. There are new tax benefits and credits offered to investors; of course hotel development has and will continue to be a big draw for investors, and incentives apply to the development, construction, and operational phases. Not only are there opportunities for buying real estate and constructing hotels and other businesses, but also for individuals, there are personal tax incentives that investors can take advantage of.
ET: What’s the shopping scene like?
Ingrid Rivera: Old San Juan houses amazing jewelry stores, gorgeous shops and high-end boutiques, and it’s a cultural haven as well—with museums and art galleries for the avid art shopper to enjoy and experience the works of local Puerto Rican artists.
ET: What about global luxury retailers?
Ingrid Rivera: The Condado area just next door to Old San Juan has an array of luxury brand boutiques including Cartier, Louis Vuitton, and Ferragamo. In this area, there are also exquisite hotels, like La Concha and the Condado Vanderbilt hotel, whose rooms will open in summer 2014. Right now its public spaces are open, a beautiful bar and fine 1919 restaurant.
ET: And on the golf front? What types of courses and settings can linksmen expect?
Ingrid Rivera: Despite its small size, Puerto Rico has 23 golf courses catering to all levels of expertise, from the amateur to the professional. Puerto Rico hosts the PR Open in March of each year, on the PGA-rated Coco Beach course at the Trump International Golf Club. It’s on the east side of the island, right by the beach, and the scenery is beautiful. The tournament attracts new and more competitive players every year. From stunning seaside cliffs, to rivers, to the ocean, Puerto Rico’s courses really utilize the island’s rich, varied landscape as a backdrop for all sorts of holes. In fact, one of our courses at The St. Regis Bahia Beach resort is located within a nature preserve.
Royal Isabela is one of the newest luxury destinations on the island, a golfer’s paradise with 20 gorgeous villas. It has a beautiful course with views of cliffs and the ocean; its natural beauty was recently compared to that of St. Andrews. It’s a 20-hole course, and they’re in the process of adding 18 holes for a total of 38. Royal Isabela is also in the process of building a new hotel, so it’s certainly in expansion mode.
ET: And what’s unique or special about what Puerto Rico offers in terms of spa?
Ingrid Rivera: Puerto Rico has a variety of serene, beautifully appointed spas. Of course the newest one is Spa Botánico at The Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Dorado Beach. The spa really takes advantage of its natural environment—you can get your massage in a tree house, enveloped by the tropical ambience, the trade winds, the aroma of the ocean, the local flora. The spa at The St. Regis Bahia Beach near Río Grande is also unique as it’s located in a nature preserve. Both offer a true opportunity to disconnect from the world, and take in what Puerto Rico has to offer.
ET: It’s no secret that elite travelers like to eat well. What’s in store for the epicure in Puerto Rico?
Ingrid Rivera: We have top world-class chefs on the island, with amazing restaurants, which is usually a surprise to our high-end visitors. Among the chefs is José Andres, who came to Dorado Beach, and just fell in love with The Ritz-Carlton Reserve. Here he opened a unique restaurant that combines the flavors of Puerto Rico and its ingredients with Andres’s savoir faire in the world of Spanish cooking. Another top chef, José Enrique, was awarded the Food & Wine title of “Best New Chef” this year.
In Old San Juan, restaurants have special personalities and great dishes. An array of flavors and nationalities fuse to make Puerto Rico’s gastronomic offerings. But when you’re in Puerto Rico, you shouldn’t miss a meal at Pikayo, Augusto’s, José Enrique, and Santaella. At Augusto’s and Pikayo, you’ll be able to experience international flavors with a mix of Latino and Puerto Rico-based ingredients. I personally love the fish dishes at Augusto’s; the chef incorporates local ingredients like cilantro, mango, and guava for a real tropical taste.
Part of the Puerto Rico experience is to be among the locals, and Santaella and José Enrique offer just that. They’re located in an up-and-coming area, a plaza where during the day, people can purchase fresh produce, but at night, it transforms into a very happening place. People are drawn to these two restaurants, run by two very well-known Puerto Rican chefs, who have taken our local cuisine to a very different level.
ET: What’s the scoop on luxury hotels?
Ingrid Rivera: We have amazing hotel accommodations as well as new hotel projects: The Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Dorado, The St. Regis Bahia Beach, the Horned Dorset Primavera Relais & Châteaux, the W in Vieques. Dorado hosts a lot of high-end Hollywood weddings, and the Kardashians have visited. Vieques Island is 45 minutes from Puerto Rico by boat, or 15 minutes by plane, and has pristine, white-sand beaches and a laid-back, slow-paced grace about it. El Convento hotel in Old San Juan is a Small Luxury Hotel of the World that was once a convent. It’s surrounded by cobblestone streets and centuries of history, which gives guests the experience of living in a different era. The Condado Vanderbilt is nearly 100 years old, but has been renovated to its original splendor, particularly the glamour of the 1920s, when Puerto Rico received many world-renowned visitors. It’s a beautiful spot for oceanfront weddings.
ET: With the influx of luxury hotels in recent years, have you seen the amount of private jet travel to the island increase as well?
Ingrid Rivera: We are definitely seeing an increase in private jet traffic to Puerto Rico. The Isla Grande Airport, which caters primarily to private jet travelers, is currently being expanded to be able to accommodate more activity.
ET: Anything else you’d like to add?
Ingrid Rivera: Puerto Rico is a very unique, all-inclusive island. It has the infrastructure, the investment opportunities, the gastronomy, the culture, a fascinating history, the luxurious hotels, and Isla Grande Airport is just a flight away from mainland United States.
It’s also an entertainment destination. The Coliseo—very similar to the American Airlines Arena in Miami—attracts top stars from around the globe, from the Rolling Stones and Beyoncé to Ricky Martin and Marc Anthony.
The infrastructure makes it easy for the traveler, and yet it’s also a very exotic place, where you’ll be able to forget about your day to day. From paddling to surfing, there’s all manner of water sports, plus fishing and nature trails. Here you have the big city experience and happening nightlife, but if you really want to get away from it all, you have mountainous regions with boutique places to stay, small towns with tiny restaurants, bakeries, and ancient little churches in quiet plazas, and the laid-back experience by the beaches.
Sometimes even people with a lot of money want to get away from it all and experience the local culture. They don’t necessarily want to go to the ritziest place, they want to get the experience of excellent food in an environment that reminds them they’re in a very different place. Puerto Rico is a very comfortable, convenient place to visit, so close to the US, yet a world away.