St. Regis Bahia Beach, Puerto Rico
Traveler who arrive at the St. Regis Bahia Beach will – unless they take great pains to avoid it – quickly find themselves holding a glass of rum punch. The resort's omnipresent staff takes pride in providing guests with a constant stream of intoxicants and luxuries, helping visitors check in from armchairs with ocean views and providing directions through the network of wood-planked paths overhung with flowers that connect the property's suites. The bellhops are even quick to clarify that what seems like birdsong is actually the sound of coquiacutes, inch-long frogs endemic to Puerto Rico. The staff embraces the Bahia Beach's split personality, a mix of old-guard luxury and nature-first ecotourism. Welcome to the jungle.
Luxury first. Stop by the resort's main building – called the Plantation House in a nod to coconut harvesting days – in the evening for the nightly champagne sabering. (No, they won't let you try.) After a bit of alfresco drinking, head upstairs to Jean-Georges Vongerichten's restaurant, Fern, and order the black pepper octopus, which is grilled until it's almost buttery. Drink a bit more rum and fall asleep to the amphibious crooning.
The forest and the ocean wake early. Head toward the two-mile beachfront and watch the sun slowly rise over Puerto Rico's picturesque northern coast while you decide whether you want to lay in the beach chairs, soak in the massive pool and drink cocktails, or play 18 holes on a rainwater-irrigated golf course, or seek out some exotic flora and fauna.
The 483-acre hotel property also serves as a nature preserve – the only certified Audubon Gold Signature Sanctuary in the Caribbean. The coconut palms are long gone and a riot of local plants have sprung up in their place. A team of staff naturalists tends to on-site environmental needs and helps tourists experience the local ecosystem by guiding kayaking tours down man-made rivers. Birds are everywhere, but the chances of being hit by a hooked drive are slim at best.
The resort works hard to strike a balance between incorporating the oceanside habitat and overburdening it. When endangered leatherback turtles return to the beach each year to lay their eggs, the staff quickly cordons off the area so no one accidentally tramples the eggs. When the baby turtles finally hatch, a staff member calls guests so they can watch the rare creatures make their way into the world. Guests watch in awe, occasionally taking a break from thoughtful silence to sip on some rum punch.
More information: The St. Regis Resort Bahia Beach is located a half hour's drive from San Juan to the west, and to the east, 20 minutes' drive from Luqillo, one of Puerto Rico's most beloved beaches. It's a few miles north of El Yunque National Forest. The hotel has 139 rooms, including 35 suites; rooms start at about $500.