In late September 2017, a category five 175mph hurricane hit the island of Puerto Rico. It was the island’s worst natural disaster in recorded history.
Two years on from Hurricane Maria, luxury hotels are finally returning to the island after lengthy renovation and refurbishment programs.
Among the finest of properties on the island, situated in the tropical waters of the Caribbean and Atlantic, is the St. Regis Bahia Beach resort, which has undergone a $60million (£45million) renovation since Maria wrought destruction on the property.
The St. Regis is one of around 15 that are either opening brand new or have been extensively renovated since Maria hit in 2017
The hotel is set in lush rainforest and guests can move about the complex along wooden walkways that snake through the foliage
Idyllic: A wooden deck and lawn can be found by the main building. Beyond, there’s a beach where the warm waters of the Atlantic crash
All of the hotel’s 139 rooms along with the surrounding swimming pools and beach area have essentially been rebuilt from the ground up.
Situated about 30 minutes’ drive from the island’s capital, San Juan, we drove through several small villages which were all but abandoned after the hurricane passed through. It means that upon arriving at the beautifully landscaped resort you are essentially in a bubble: one of luxury and tranquility.
The St. Regis is proud of its history. It was started in 1904 by John Jacob Astor – the first property being in New York City. Such heritage is remembered nightly in Puerto Rico as one of the hotel’s butlers uncorks a bottle of Champagne using a sword!
Guests gather on the back lawn of the property just after sunset as the ocean waves crash against the shore.
The entire resort had to be rebuilt and landscaped after Maria’s devastating power destroyed everything in her path
Each evening, a Champagne saber ceremony takes place in which a bottle is uncorked using a sword
The hotel’s main building basks in the glow of a Caribbean sunset, while fiery cauldrons light the way
After a sip of Champagne it was time to feed koi swimming in pools at the front of the hotel. A nearby heron watched closely…
The entire resort is situated in lush jungle foliage with 12 buildings full of guest rooms and each linked by wooden walkways that run through the rainforest. At night the sounds of frogs, called coqui’s, which are endemic to the island, can be heard chirping away as they try and find a mate.
The frogs are rarely seen – but there is lots of jungle wildlife that’s visible around the property. We saw several bright iguanas darting in and out of the foliage and climbing up the trees.
By the time daylight arrives the chirping has calmed down and the full beauty of this resort is bathed in sunlight for all to see.
The rooms have been designed by Puerto Rican designer Nono Maldonado, who decided to accentuate the resort’s proximity to the sea in its design.
Each of the suites and rooms are decorated in soothing blues, whites, turquoises and greys. It makes for a relaxing feel the moment you walk through the door to escape the heat and humidity, even in mid-November!
Some of the rooms overlook the ocean, while we were able to enjoy the garden view. Opening the patio allowed us to walk directly into the beautifully manicured tropical grounds.
The hotel rooms are decorated in a cool and refreshing mix of teal, white and greys
Breakfast each morning is served at the Sea Grapes restaurant, which is just steps away from the hotel’s beach and pools
A vast array of food is laid on with everything from breads and pastries to meat, fish and fruit
Breakfast is served poolside at the Sea Grapes restaurant, with a whole range of cold cuts of meat, fish, fruit, bread, pastries and egg dishes. Food from the restaurant can also be enjoyed throughout the rest of the day poolside.
On the weekend that we were there, the hotel was said to be at capacity due to a wedding, but it never felt full at any point, with plenty of space to be had wherever we were – and more than enough sunbeds.
It’s just a short walk from the pool area, across a lawn, to reach the soft sands of the two-mile Bahía beach. Puerto Rico is so far south that even in the middle of autumn, the ocean water feels like a warm bath.
If sitting by the pool or wading in the warm waters are not your thing there are plenty of other activities guests can enjoy including kayaking through the jungle streams or waterboarding on a nearby lake.
Those wishing to be more active can try their hand at paddle-boarding or even kayaking in a nearby lake
There are numerous pools in which to swim, so the resort never feels too busy
Soft sands lined with palm trees make for the picture-perfect Caribbean beach getaway on the island of Puerto Rico
The wooden walkways allow guests to move seamlessly about the resort and give the hotel a rustic feel
Iguanas can often be spotted crawling around, although they don’t always cross here!
Younger guests can enjoy themselves at a specially dedicated kids club set aside from the main adult areas of the resort.
Come dinnertime, there is no need to leave the resort’s grounds. We had several meals at Greek restaurant Paros where we enjoyed everything from salmon, lobster, branzino and even the children’s spaghetti tasted fantastic.
Local Puerto Rican food can be had at the nearby Beach Club restaurant. I tried mofongo – a dish made from plantains, fried, that are then mashed with salt, garlic, broth, and olive oil.
The staff at the St. Regis are known as ‘Butlers’. Each day they would iron several items free of charge for us. Service is one of the things the hotel prides itself on, and the staff were exceptionally attentive whether we were eating in one of the dining rooms or sitting on a lounger by the swimming pool.
Also on the property is a spa that comes with a sauna, a steam room, a hot tub and a cold water plunge pool. The spa is also located in the most luxurious, jungle-type setting.
After the hurricane struck two years ago, many residents decided to leave the island for good and headed to the relative safety of the United States.
Some joined other family members living in Florida or New York where the Puerto Rican diaspora thrive. But tourism officials are keen that they still draw visitors whether it be to sample the island’s beautiful colonial capital San Juan or simply to enjoy some downtime with guaranteed sunshine, year-round.
Aside from the St. Regis several other hotels were also closed for more than a year but at least 15 hotels covering all budgets are either opening new or have reopened since the storm. From our brief trip to the island it really does seem that things are now well and truly open, and ready for business.
What would a tropical break be without a hammock strung between two palm trees?
The colourful capital San Juan is just a short drive away and has colonial streets that are full of character. This image, of the boardwalk, was taken on October 30 this year
A ruined beach house in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria had struck
Travelers can reach the island of Puerto Rico from the UK easily by flying to Miami and then taking an additional hour-long flight to San Juan at a cost of around £800 on British Airways and American Airlines.
The Puerto Rican capital is also readily accessible to travelers along the East Coast of the U.S. with most major cities served by daily direct flights to and from the island.
For more on the St. Regis, click here.