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As the driver expertly drove through the dimly lit grounds of El Conquistador Resort, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, the evening whistles of the elusive Coqui frogs seemed to announce my late arrival. I could sense the wide expanse of the place even in the dark of the night. As tired as I was, I still delighted in the luxury of my hotel room when I finally made my way there after 10 p.m. My anticipation to explore the resort heightened.
The next day, I awoke to the early morning sun crawling its way over the lush cliffs on which the main part of the resort sits. These cliffs gently roll down to a generous shore outcrop, where El Conquistador’s marina, private waterpark (named after those whistling frogs) and Las Olas wing are nestled. They were still dusky when I viewed them — the sun’s golden rays had not quite reached them yet.
It was a scene I had gotten to know well, as I had spent some time admiring the resort’s online gallery prior to my visit. Still, no amount of Internet stalking could have prepared me for the vision before me. You know when you arrive at a resort and realize, rather disappointingly, that it doesn’t quite measure up to the photos you’ve seen on its website? Let’s just say that, without bias, El Conquistador has the opposite effect.
The umpteen number of families, friends and couples that choose to spend their vacations at El Conquistador, however, aren’t there just for the spectacular view. The five-star property is a destination in its own right. It boasts three modern wings, two villages — La Marina and the more exclusive Las Casitas — a spa that offers kid-friendly treatments and 11 on-site restaurants. And then there are seven pools, three of which are in Las Casitas; the 2.4-acre Coqui Water Park that comes with a view and exclusivity; an 18-hole golf course; and a kids’ day camp, where parents can drop off children for a few hours in exchange for some adult R&R.
A mile or two offshore, Palomino Island, the resort’s gorgeous private island, offers a myriad of water and land activities for every age. It’s accessible by a short and scenic complimentary boat ride, and it is ideal and well-equipped for diving, snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing and even simply lounging on a beach chair while enjoying a refreshing cup of Palomino Adventure, the island’s delicious signature drink.
Being the adventurous traveler that I am, not many resorts — no matter how amazing — could convince me to put off venturing off-site. But at El Conquistador, it was hard to compel myself to ever leave. Not when my delicious hotel room, with its bright accents, oh-so-luxurious bed, spacious bathroom and a furnished balcony to boot, hushed my brain into relaxation. And not when the resort’s outdoor offerings were calling, beckoning me to stay and play.
El Conquistador and its private island, Palomino Island, serve as a perfect vacation spot for visiting families. // © 2016 Michelle Rae Uy
The main pool complex at the resort features three pools, a Jacuzzi and a swim-up bar. // © 2016 Michelle Rae Uy
Every spacious guestroom and suite at El Conquistador boasts bright accents, luxurious bedding and a private balcony. // © 2016 Michelle Rae Uy
A private balcony comes furnished and with a beautiful view. // © 2016 Michelle Rae Uy
I compromised with myself and decided to spend an afternoon on Palomino Island. After guzzling down my Palomino Adventure drink (a non-alcoholic version is available for kids), I lazily and blissfully made my way to the water-equipment rental shack, where my travel companion and I borrowed a double kayak and snorkeling gear. In our kayak, we made our way to the nearby islet, famous for its pristine, white-sand beach and the fact that it played a major role in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” and we snorkeled there for a short time. There were other people and other boats in this little piece of paradise, yet it still had a deserted feel.
The paddle back was admittedly more difficult, as the late afternoon tides incessantly tried to veer us off course. Yet despite all our huffing, puffing and clumsy paddling, I was having a blast. As we slowly but successfully fought the waves, I made a mental note to take my family here so that they would be able to experience it for themselves. With room rates starting at around $200 per night during the low season, I knew we wouldn’t have to dole out exorbitant amounts to stay there for a week or longer. We’d most likely pay more than that for a three-star hotel in New York, Los Angeles or Honolulu.
And there was no doubt in my mind that my son, an avid paddleboarder and snorkeler, would adore this resort. Isn’t that alone a good enough reason to come back?