I recently had the privilege of returning to Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico, years after visiting for family holidays. Just an hour outside of San Juan, Dorado is a place of extraordinary raw natural beauty where elegance and adventure dovetail. Originally the home of trailblazer and female pilot Clara Livingston, the Dorado estate was transformed into an eco-resort by Laurance Rockefeller, a conservationist whose vision for the spot is summed up in the mantra “Sea, Sand, Sun and Serenity.” The Ritz has now begun operating Dorado after an extensive renovation. In keeping with Rockefeller’s original plans, as posh and luxurious as the new rooms, villas, pools, restaurants and beaches are (and they truly are great), all the recent development complements the environment instead of overshadowing it.
For example, none of the guest villas rise taller than the luscious palm trees that surround them and, while they are just steps away the ocean, the beach still feels tranquil and private. I felt immersed in paradise right away even from inside the plush room which had cool design features, such as a sliding wooden and glass panel behind the bed, allowing you to enjoy ocean views from anywhere inside. The rooms also offered a fantastic outdoor shower, a huge balcony with a chaise and table to have your morning coffee, a fully stocked mini bar, flat screen TV and the most comfortable bed imaginable. Still missing that bed!
One of my favorite aspects of Dorado is how exotic the locale feels. Exploring the property, you are surrounded by lush flowers and walk under a canopy of amazing trees; from the majestic Ceiba trees that grow up to 200 feet high to the cool El Cupey tree with its serpentine aerial roots- I loved having the combination of the pristine beach and rainforest steps away. The Ritz has even built open “tree houses” where you can enjoy massages floating under their leafy cover. That was such a lovely experience and much more memorable than a traditional spa treatment. At night the elusive El Coqui tree frogs (the loudest mammals apparently) serenade you as soon as the sun sets.
In addition to a Nature Trail there is also an outpost of the Ocean Futures Society, created by Jean Michel Cousteau to honor his father Jacques Cousteau’s legacy. When Cousteau visited Dorado and saw what a wealth of marine life local Sardinera Bay hosted he resolved to show residents and young people the underwater paradise right beneath the sea. The Young Ambassadors of the Environment Program educates and inspires people to protect the ocean and the environment generally; first and foremost by providing them a window through which to fall in love with the sea. The center also offers all types of water sports, from kite surfing to snorkeling, and allows guests to customize their activities.
Of course, beyond all the cultural heritage and natural splendor, Dorado is also a traditional upscale vacation destination with Robert Trent Jones golf courses, tennis courts, fancy gyms and a stunning spa. I personally spent most of my time swimming in the beautiful infinity pools and in the crystal clear ocean. Even though it was a bit warm in July there was always a gentle ocean breeze and it beat being in steamy NYC during this summer’s epic heat wave.
Another wonderful aspect of Dorado was how warm and friendly all the hotel staff was; they truly embodied gracious hospitality. Every guest gets an “Ambajador” for their stay; but you can tailor your interaction to your liking, a.k.a decide how much personalized attention you want. Ours, Jaime, was terrific in guiding us when necessary, and shared a love of traveling as well as lots of knowledge about Dorado and his native Puerto Rico. Another staff member I need to give a shout out to is Antonio at the chic gourmet Mi Casa restaurant. Billed as the best server there, he did not disappoint! His energy and smile were totally infectious and he made sure to make a celebratory birthday dinner extra special. Both nights we ate at Mi Casa we were treated to delicious desserts; the decadent chocolate cake and guava sorbet were standouts, and the tuna tartare appetizer with avocado was the best I have ever tasted. Mi Casa also has amazing views of the shoreline at sunset and features cool art installations. In addition to Mi Casa, another spot to watch the gorgeous sunset and dine outside is Encanto Bar and Grill, which is slightly more casual. And our go to lunch/drinks spot was Positivo Sand Bar, also perched right by the ocean and the pool. I missed dining at the charming Su Casa restaurant of old, possibly one of the prettiest Spanish style homes I have ever seen, where they used to serve food by candlelight with live music. Luckily, we got to take a peek at Su Casa, which has been transformed from a restaurant into a VIP villa/event venue, and it is still as elegant and iconic as ever.
Staying true to its original spirit, the “new” Dorado allows guests and island residents to come together in this beautiful sanctuary, to celebrate their love of nature and life. I have such nice memories of my recent trip and cannot wait to go back!