There's nothing quite like the El Conquistador Resort in Puerto Rico. Perched on a bluff in the coastal town of Fajardo, the sprawling resort is divided into no less than five villages (forget buildings!) and features deluxe amenities like its Golden Door Spa, an 18-hole golf course designed by Arthur Hills, an astounding 10 room types, a casino, private island, water park, and marina.
During my two stays, I haven't had the chance to experience to enjoy everything the resort has to offer, but I can certainly talk about what I did get to do. And I can give you 5 reasons why you might want to stay here too.
Puerto Rico is full of beaches, and I've been to quite a few of them. But even I was blown away by the pristine beauty of Palomino Island, the only private island owned by a resort (that I'm aware of) in Puerto Rico. A courtesy ferry departs from the El Con's Marina routinely to the island, making the small paradise the exclusive domain of its guests.
It's a truly idyllic spot, outfitted with beachfront eateries, kiosks offering all manner of water sports, bars, lounge chairs, a volleyball net, towels, and, perhaps best of all, the even more gorgeous island of Palominitos just a short swim or kayak away.
For my money, Palomino island is the most beautiful asset El Con has to offer.
The Coqui Water Park
If Palomino Island is the resort's most dazzling jewel, the Coqui Water Park wins our vote for its most entertaining. Complete with numerous pools, a lazy river, tube slide, rope bridges, and a heart-stopping 60-foot slide tower, this place can easily delight the whole family for the day.
As for the slide tower, named after Yokahu, a native Taino deity, you've got to experience it to appreciate the thrill of the near-vertical drop. The picture doesn't do it justice.
Like Palomino Island, the water park is for the exclusive use of the guests of the resort. Unlike the island, there is a $15 entrance fee per guest at Coqui.
The El Con has plenty of retro chic charm, and this extends to the guest rooms. Spacious (the sumptuous bathroom alone, with its sunken tub, walk-in closet and plenty of space to move around, is larger than some New York City apartments), decorated in white and neutral tones, and featuring stylish modern amenities like flat-screen TVs and iPod docks, the rooms have a tropical elegance with shades of early Bond.
If it's comfort you're looking for, the rooms at El Con certainly measure up well. The only thing you might not like is the long trek you'll have to undergo to reach the rooms by the marina.
The Stingray Cafe
The El Con has over 20 options for those who want to step out their room for their meals. But, to be honest, some of the places I went to at the El Con fell short of expectations. However, if it's fine dining you want, head straight to the Stingray Cafe. The food here (inspired by the same culinary team that brings you Perla at the Renaissance La Concha in San Juan) combines fresh, gourmet ingredients in sophisticated preparations. In particular, the grilled prawns with a risotto cake (pictured here) and panko crusted sole with a lobster beurre blanc was outstanding.
Okay, how many of you know what a funicular is? I sure didn't, until I first visited El Con and learned that it was an incline cable railway that ran from the main pool level down to the lowest levels of the hotel. Even if you're not staying in this part of the resort, chances are you'll hop on the funicular at least once to get to the marina, the water park, the Stingray Cafe, or the ferry to the island.
If you're staying in the rooms on this level, the novelty of the funicular might wear thin after a few days (it led to endless funicular jokes from our group after Day 2), but it's certainly an eye-catching mode of transport and one that makes the El Con unique.