On Puerto Rico’s north shore, just west of San Juan, lies Dorado Beach, a coastal stretch of rolling palm groves and white-sand beaches that is a thriving scene of resorts, golf courses and residential communities. Among the more touted, the Ritz-Carlton Reserve is a hideaway destination with a history for excellence and distinction in the Caribbean.
In 1905, a Jamestown, New York physician, Alfred T. Livingston, visited Dorado and was so taken with the area that he took up residence, purchasing 1,700 acres to cultivate coconuts and grapefruits for export, and called it Finca La Sardiniera. Dr. Livingston passed on his prosperous export business to his daughter, Clara, in 1923. Just 22-years-old when her father died, Clara managed the property for over two decades and completed two significant construction projects, her residence, Su Casa, and her private airport. Su Casa was built in 1928 after a hurricane destroyed the original wood house, and is still on the premises today as a four bedroom villa for rent. An avid aviatrix, Clara built a runway on the property to give flying lessons. Amelia Earhart was a close friend of Clara’s and visited the island, staying at Su Casa, where copies of the original photographs from those visits are on display.
In 1955, Conservationist Laurence Rockefeller purchased La Sardiniera from Clara, introducing the world to the first Caribbean luxury eco-resort on December 1st, 1958, and hosting a collection of A-list celebrity friends, such as Joe DiMaggio, Joan Crawford, Ava Gardner, Gerald Ford, Dwight Eisenhower, Henry Kissinger, John F. Kennedy, to name just a few. This latest addition to his famous Rockresorts chain was named Dorado Beach for the golden color of the beaches, and the hotel’s logo was an old alchemist’s sign for gold. Over the years, tennis courts and two golf courses designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. were added, and Clara’s private airstrip was used to shuttle guests on the short hop between San Juan and Dorado Beach.
The resort was a victim of the financial turmoil of the 1980’s, but in 2012, after a $342 million renovation, Dorado Beach made its grand return as the first Ritz-Carlton Reserve hotel and residences in the Americas (and only the second in the world). With a beachfront restaurant by chef José Andrés, a five-acre spa reminiscent of something you would see in Thailand, a $12 million water park and lazy river fashioned after a traditional Puerto Rican sugar mill, Dorado Beach has been transformed into a vacation destination for families and honeymooners alike.
The list of things to do is endless. Upon check-in, we received our local transportation, a creaky (but charming) beach cruiser bike, that we rode on Rockefeller Trail, a three-mile loop that took us alongside the beach, then inland to the tennis and volleyball courts for the residences of Dorado Beach East. Circling back toward the beach, past more tennis courts and a fitness center for residents and resort guests (where we attended zumba classes in the mornings, aka Latin dance parties), we passed the former airstrip. Closed in 1996, the former airstrip was transformed by the Ritz into Livingston Park, an aviation-themed children’s playground in honor of Clara Livingston’s love of flying. It includes play airplanes, a runway plaza and a hangar housing some of her memorabilia. During out weeklong stay, we spent most of our time bouncing between the beach and the Watermill, with a few detours to the spa, which is not to be missed. Every detail in the resort is exquisite, and you will be hard pressed to find a reason to leave.
For foodies and travel junkies, don’t miss out on the second annual Dorado Beach Culinary Getaway at Dorado Beach, from November 3-6, 2016, where José Andrés, Eric Ripert, Anthony Bourdain, and Tim Love team up with local chefs to bring cooking demonstrations and interactive events to the resort. You know how much I adore Tim Love! We actually saw Eric Ripert while we were there…maybe he was doing some advance work. If you attend, let me know how it goes…I may put it on my list for my next visit to PR! xoM
Dorado Beach, a Ritz Carlton Reserve
100 Dorado Beach Dr.
Dorado, 00646-2000, Puerto Rico