Mark O’Flaherty reviews Puerto Rico
Travel writer Mark O’Flaherty describes why Puerto Rico is such a fantastic destination for your next luxury holiday to the Caribbean…
“Puerto Rico!?” My friend laughed as she said it out loud. I’d said I was heading to the Caribbean and she’d asked which island.
There’s no denying that this corner of paradise has something of an image problem – a hangover from the days of West Side Story and gang crime. There’s still a lot more urban grit in pockets around San Juan than you might find on the likes of Mustique, but this really is a destination on the up. And not just for the thousands of people who flood into beautiful, candy coloured old San Juan when their cruise ships dock for a day.
Since my last visit ten years ago, a whole new food scene has developed: Santaealla, in the bustling Placita district of San Juan, is one of the chicest restaurants I’ve been to in years. The cuisine gives unique Puerto Rican twists on classic dishes (spring rolls have a morcilla filling; baby octopus comes stewed with chorizo and chickpeas in sherry), and the cocktails are fantastic. Close by, José Enrique’s eponymous no-reservations dining room commands waits of several hours on weekend nights, but it’s no hardship to wander the market area for a rum punch or three.
Resort life around Puerto Rico has undergone a massive upgrade – the St Regis Bahia and The Ritz-Carlton Dorado Beach are world class properties. And if you’re looking for fly and flop (as many New Yorkers are, with flight times of just over 4 hours from JFK), these are standout places.
You need to hop on a ferry for a Cape Air puddle jumper for 15 minutes to get to Vieques, but it’s absolutely worth it. The W Resort brings a touch of urban cool to an island that, for years, was partially occupied by the US military. And the new El Blok hotel is filling the pages of design magazines and blogs with its concrete curves and dramatic shadow patterns (and Jose Enrique’s restaurant).
You can find the kind of solitude and beauty on Vieques that rarely exists anywhere in the Caribbean anymore – the military occupation means that miles of beaches are undeveloped and raw, reachable only by jeep. And the bioluminescent bay, which sparkles like diamonds in a moonless night, is the brightest and most spectacular in the world.