I’ve visited Puerto Rico several times, but have spent most of my trips in San Juan and the Condado beach area. So when a friend mentioned the western side of the island, I was a bit skeptical. I had heard about up and coming destinations elsewhere on the island – Vieques has a fabulous new W Hotel, and the St. Regis just opened an amazing resort in the north – but the western coast remained a mystery to me until my most recent trip.
A few friends and I decided to meet at the Horned Dorset Primavera, near the town of Rincon. I had heard of the resort before, and a friend had stayed there a couple of years ago. This Relais and Chateaux property is a classic destination hotel. People come exclusively to stay here and remain on the grounds for the entire stay – and I easily can see why. The Horned Dorset Primavera is a terrific place to spend a few days or a week relaxing in the Caribbean.
This smart splurge resort has about 50 rooms (many are duplexes and open up right in front of the sea), each tastefully decorated in a North African theme. To call them spacious would be an understatement: The bathroom alone is twice the size of my bedroom in New York City. My room faced the sea (as all do), and it had a lovely terrace overlooking the beach, just steps away (be sure to request a room along the beach). The rooms are comfortable and many have kitchenettes, though I found that a bit odd since it isn't likely one is cooking in the rooms much. Some of the larger rooms also have a pull down bed in the living room, ideal for another couple or larger groups of travelers. Know that the resort is not all-inclusive, so meals are priced separately. For the best value, consider traveling in the late spring or throughout the summer, the island’s shoulder and off-seasons, respectively.
What I like about this type of resort is how uncomplicated it is: Visitors can stay on the property the entire time without making many decisions at all. While it is possible to arrange for a horseback ride or diving excursion nearby, the only activity I chose to exert energy on was kayaking. I took one of the hotel kayaks and paddled around the coast for 40 minutes as daily exercise. The beach itself is rather small (don't expect a wide white sandy beach), but it is perfectly adequate. And the Caribbean Sea is as tranquil as the night sky.
There are a dozen or so chairs available for guests on the beach, but the hotel also has two pools – one in front of the main clubhouse and an infinity pool up the hill. My routine was to spend late mornings and early afternoons by the main pool, move to the beach for the rest of the day, and end the evening watching the sun set over the Caribbean Sea.
Whenever you’re staying at an island resort in a remote town, the resort must serve top notch food. I expected high marks at the Horned Dorset Primavera, because it’s a Relais and Chatueaux property, and it met my expectations. Breakfasts taken on the guest terrace or outside under the trees were very good (though I would recommend adding a buffet), and lunches were delightful in the Blue Room, a casual but elegant restaurant in the main house.
Dinners at Aaron, a French restaurant in the main club house, were more formal: No jeans were allowed (though jackets weren’t required), and the room itself was as commanding and impressive as the food. I particularly recommend the outstanding filet mignon.
We were lucky enough to be at the hotel one evening when a famous local guitarist, Dr. Jose Lopez, performed at Aaron. The event kicked off with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres on the veranda, followed by a concert and a sumptuous four-course meal. As it turns out, my friends and I had our photo taken at the event, and it was published in the local Puerto Rico newspaper – we're famous in the Caribbean!
Finally, the resort staff was exceptionally friendly and helpful. Wilhelm Saks, the general manager, and his owner-partners are delightful. They are proud of the hotel, its history, and its “specialness” – and rightly so. There is a reason why so many guests return to rest up at this Grande Dame.
The only challenge is getting to Rincon. Visitors can fly into Aguadilla (the closest city to Rincon), but flights from New York generally arrive very late at night (mine landed 1:30am) or early in the morning (flights landing in Rincon at 9:30am take off from New York at 5:30am). It is possible to fly to San Juan at more convenient times, but the drive to Rincon takes about three hours on non-highway roads. Even so, it’s well worth the effort to visit the Horned Dorset Primavera and luxuriate in what is surely one of Puerto Rico's most distinct destination properties.