Many years ago, I visited Old San Juan on a long layover between flights and had always hoped to return. Finally, I did so in May 2022. During my stay at Puerto Rico’s El Conquistador Resort, I came to appreciate the island and all it offers.

Note: Puerto Rico was recently battered by Hurricane Fiona, which occurred shortly after the author’s visit. Remarkably, El Conquistador has confirmed that the resort is open as it is located on the east coast of the island and most hurricane damage was in the south and west.

Puerto Rico is home to the Caribbean’s largest cruise port and busiest airport. But it’s also a fantastic destination for a tropical getaway all on its own. And even better: The ease of traveling to Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, is a plus for those seeking a tropical getaway without needing a passport or multiple connections. At least 26 U.S. cities have nonstop flights to San Juan (SJU), served by eight airlines.

Puerto Rico's El Conquistador Resort Aerial

An aerial view of Puerto Rico’s El Conquistador Resort

For the first part of my stay, I checked into one of the island’s most iconic luxury resorts, El Conquistador, in Fajardo on the far eastern tip of Puerto Rico.

Located less than an hour from San Juan’s International Airport, the resort is ideally located for exploring El Yunque National Forest. Culebra, Vieques, and other cays and islets also are easily reached from Puerto Rico’s eastern coast.

Changes since 2017’s Hurricane Maria

Initially opened in the 1960s with more than 700 rooms, El Conquistador previously operated as a Waldorf-Astoria resort, part of Hilton’s portfolio. It closed in September 2017 due to damage from Hurricane Maria and reopened on May 21, 2021.

Now owned and operated by Puerto Rico-based Royal Blue Hospitality, El Conquistador has 374 refreshed rooms with ocean views. This includes 80 remodeled rooms overlooking its private marina and the Caribbean Sea. An additional 300 rooms in the resort’s Las Vistas wing are in various stages of remodeling. Construction will continue throughout 2023.

Night view El Conquistador Marina Level

A night-time view of Puerto Rico’s El Conquistador Resort from the marina level.

Take luxury to the next level by booking one of 42 one- to three-bedroom villas in the resort’s Las Casitas Village. Located above the rest of the resort at the highest point of a 300-foot hill, these include two private pools and private butler services. Villas are especially worth considering if traveling with a multigenerational family group.

Las Casitas Village Villa and Pool

Forty-two villas can be booked in the hillside Las Casitas Village.

Puerto Rico’s El Conquistador Resort: Amenities for all ages

El Conquistador’s impressive amenities include an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, and four beautifully landscaped pools and hot tubs—all overlooking the Caribbean Sea. But that’s only the beginning!

Golf course at El Conquistador Resort

The 18-hole golf course at Puerto Rico’s El Conquistador Resort overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.

Tennis Courts El Conquistador Resort

Tennis courts at El Conquistador Resort.

Pools at El Conquistador Resort

Four pools and hot tubs are available in the main area of Puerto Rico’s El Conquistador Resort (credit: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

A water park and private island for family fun!

El Conquistador guests enjoy exclusive use of the resort’s Coqui Water Park, with three high-speed water slides, a lazy river, and an infinity-edge pool. A funicular cable-railroad system transports guests to and from the marina level park.

And if that’s not enough, water games and arts & crafts are planned daily, especially for the younger crowd.

Coqui Waterpark at El Conquistador Resort

Coqui Waterpark includes waterslides, a lazy river and infinity edge pool.

Water slides at Coqui Waterpark

High-speed water slides and a lazy river are part of Coqui Waterpark.

From the marina, a ferry available exclusively to resort guests travels to and from Palomino Island several times daily. Swim, snorkel, sunbathe, enjoy watersports, play pickleball or volleyball, or learn to make a sandcastle on this private, 100-acre strand of sand.

Enjoying Palomino Island beach

Families love spending time on Palomino Island.

El Conquistador's Palomino Island

El Conquistador’s Palomino Island is exclusively for resort guests.

Casual to fine dining at Puerto Rico’s El Conquistador Resort

El Conquistador resort offers an impressive quantity and quality of food and beverage options. The two-story Palomino Bar and Restaurant, recently opened on the resort’s private island, is the latest of the varied dining choices guests may choose from throughout their stay.

If you’re in the mood for fine Italian dining, book a table at Bóno on the Mirador level. Our group dined there on our first evening and shared several dishes, all “delicioso!”

El Conquistador Bono restaurant dishes

Two dishes from El Conquistador’s Bonó Italian restaurant. (credit: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Ballyhoo, in an open-air setting on El Conquistador’s marina, has been described as “seafood heaven” with flavors from the Caribbean. Or walk a short distance from the main resort to the hillside Las Casitas Village for Spanish-influenced fare at Vinos & Tapas.

Seize another opportunity for al fresco dining at Café Bella Vista, the perfect spot to order a piña colada, Puerto Rico’s national drink, before dinner overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

Brisas Courtyard Cafe

Brisas Courtyard Cafe offers traditional Puerto Rican cuisine.

The main dining restaurant, Brisas Courtyard Café, serves breakfast and dinner and offers traditional Puerto Rican cuisine, including mofongo bowls, plantains, and tres leches cake for dessert. Pop into El Cafecito in the morning for Puerto Rican coffee, smoothies, pastries and snacks. Or pick up grab-and-go items at the Market @ La Marina.

But that’s not all! The Oasis Bar & Grill at the Coqui Waterpark pleases families with light lunch fare. And golfers may grab a bite and a brew at the Hills Bar & Grill in the Clubhouse.

Splash Pool Bar at El Conquistador Resort

Splash Bar at Puerto Rico’s El Conquistador Resort (credit: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Mango Mojito at Puerto Rico's El Conquistador Resort Splash Bar

Mango Mojito at the Splash Bar (credit: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Two more venues round out the extensive array of food and drink options for guests at El Conquistador Resort. Swim up to the Splash Bar for drinks and sandwiches.

Or, for stellar views, head to the Hightide Rooftop Bar, a beverage-only spot with a low-key vibe.

Exploring outside the resort

When ready to explore outside the resort, visit the Concierge Desk in the Lobby to book an excursion through SALT Tours (Sea, Air, Land Tours). Excursions to El Yunque Rainforest, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. Forest System, are very popular.

My travel companions and I packed several adventure-filled activities into our stay:

Take a catamaran cruise to Icacos Cay

Arrange for a Getaways catamaran cruise from Puerto Rico's El Conquistador Resort

Take a catamaran cruise to Icacos Cay, off Puerto Rico’s east coast. (credit: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Icacos Cay, Puerto Rico

Icacos Cay is part of La Cordillera Nature Reserve. (credit: Discover Puerto Rico)

From the Villa Marina Yacht Harbor, we boarded a catamaran for a day cruise to Icacos Cay with East Island Excursions. Sometimes referred to as Icacos Island, it’s the largest of the little islands in La Cordillera Nature Reserve off the northeast tip of Puerto Rico. Our relaxing day included beachcombing, snorkeling, lunch, and drinks. Other options include day cruises to the island of Culebra and two-hour sunset sails.

Go ziplining in the El Yunque Rainforest

Ziplining in El Yunque Rainforest from Puerto Rico's El Conquistador Resort

That’s me, ziplining in El Yunque rainforest! (credit: Ed Coleman)

The Yunque Ziplining adventure tour immersed us in the stunning rainforest scenery of El Yunque National Park. Even if it’s your first time ziplining, my advice is: relax! I felt safe as we zipped from tower to tower through eight stations.

Ride horses at Carabali Rainforest Adventure Park

Puerto Rico's El Conquistador Resort can arrange horse rides through the rainforest

Our group following our hour-long trail ride through the rainforest. (credit: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

What better way to explore the foothills of El Yunque National Forest than on horseback? Whether you’ve never been on horseback or are an accomplished rider, you’ll be matched with the right horse. And that’s because size, weight, and experience level are considered for this guided, hour-long excursion. Prefer wheels? Book a one- or two-hour ATV ride.

But before your ride, relax over lunch at Carabali Rainforest Park Bar & Grill.

Tour Laguna Grande’s Bioluminescent Bay

Kayaking in Laguna Grande's Bio Bay

Tour  bioluminescent bay on a night-kayaking tour, only 20 minutes from Puerto Rico’s El Conquistador Resort (credit: Discover Puerto Rico)

The Bioluminescent Bay, located 20 minutes from El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo, is one of three in Puerto Rico and one of only five worldwide. While I’d love to have been able to take a kayak tour at night when motion in the water causes the bioluminescence glows blue, I’ll have to return for it.

Before you leave, visit Old San Juan!

Old San Juan Street Scene

A colorful street scene in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico (credit: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

While day tours of Old San Juan, Casa Bacardi, and other attractions can be arranged upon request, they are an hour or more from El Conquistador Resort. Instead, book a hotel in San Juan for a night or two before or after your El Conquistador visit.

I stayed at the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino, located within 10 minutes of the airport and Old San Juan. But the Sheraton Old San Juan is another option for those who prefer to be within walking distance of the 500-year-old walled city. If time permits, take an Old San Juan Walk & Taste Tour offered by the Spoon® Experience.

Did you know? Puerto Rico was acquired by the United States in 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American War. In 1917, Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory and its people became U.S. citizens

What’s Appealing to the Over-50 Luxury Traveler?

  • El Conquistador Resort offers enough activities and dining choices to please guests of all ages.
  • For those seeking more adventure, the resort is near the El Yunque National Forest and other east coast attractions.
  • Baby boomers traveling with adult children and grandchildren will appreciate the waterpark and other activities offered to entertain younger guests.

Take Note

  • No passport is needed to visit Puerto Rico, the U.S. dollar is the official currency, and no international phone plan is necessary.
  • No COVID tests are currently required for U.S. citizens but check here before you go.
  • Day tours of Old San Juan, Casa Bacardi, and other attractions can be arranged upon request, each an hour or more from El Conquistador Resort.
  • Construction continues at El Conquistador Resort through 2023.

Photo credits: Courtesy of El Conquistador Resort unless otherwise credited above.

Disclosure: The author’s stay was hosted by El Conquistador Resort.


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