PHOTO: Carib Hilton, Puerto Rico. (all photos by Barry Kaufman)
Some properties dazzle you with style that hides a lack of substance. Look beyond the glitz and there’s just not much there.
Puerto Rico’s Caribe Hilton is not one of these properties.
As storied as they come in the Caribbean, the Caribe Hilton layers on the substance while leaving plenty of room for the glitz and glamor to shine. The result is a multi-faceted property with little surprises around every corner. Here are a few that blew our hair back during a recent visit.
PHOTO: Oh, you're hungry? I'm filing this story right before lunch. How do you think I feel?
Even if he hadn’t shown up to dinner wearing a Star Wars chef’s coat, we’d still be impressed with Executive Chef Isaac Pacheco. For starters, he’s a perfect example of nurturing home-grown talent, having begun his career in the kitchens at Caribe Hilton. After years of training, he flew the coop, landing in Orlando where he worked for hospitality giant Loews on several of their Universal Orlando Resort-centered properties.
Finally, he’s come home and has re-dedicated the menu at Caribe Hilton to local sourcing. Thanks to his small army of farmers and fishermen around the island, nearly everything you taste here will be authentically Puerto Rican.
PHOTO: This photo has been clinically proven to lower blood pressure.
I knew that the resort enjoyed a private garden, but it wasn’t until I stepped into it that I realized I’d found my new happy place.
Brilliantly orange koi swim throughout a series of ponds in lazy circles beneath winding branches. A tiny bench provides a quiet spot for reflection beside a rocky waterfall. An entire zoo's worth of birds circulate between the grassy hills and low-lying bushes: peacocks, turkeys, secretary birds, swans, geese and everything in between.
You can lose yourself for hours in this place and never once think of the vacation paradise just outside its borders.
PHOTO: No, I didn't try to get around the gate. That would be irresponsible. And it would involve climbing, something gravity does not make easy for me.
Walk out from the garden, and you’re staring down the Fortin San Geronimo de Boqueron. It’s generally closed to the public, but you can still get close enough to see the cannons that were set in place hundreds of years ago by the Spanish garrison. Venture around the bay on the opposite side of the property and climb around portions of the old city wall, part of a chain that stretches all the way into historic San Juan.
Just a short walking distance away, everything about the old city sings to the history buff. The walls that stare out to sea are punctuated here and there by garitas—the iconic lookout towers that have come to symbolize Puerto Rico. The streets, paved with bricks borne from the ballast of centuries-gone ships, shine in dazzling iron blue in the sunlight. The home and gardens of Ponce de Leon—a figure so prominent in my formative history education, it’s hard to think of him as a real person, much less one whose home still stands.
OK, so this may not be super high on your priority list, but there are truckloads of Magnemites hanging out in the lobby here. I even caught a fully evolved Blastoise over by the conference rooms.
I named him Hilton and I am too a grownup.
PHOTO: Look Magnemite, just because I gotta catch 'em all doesn't mean I need to feed 'em breakfast.
Caribe Hilton has an entire 17-acre peninsula to itself, and it uses every inch of that space.
The wide spaces facing the water alone boast a spacious patio lounge, multiple swimming pools, a basketball court tucked away behind a small food and drink counter, a swim-up bar, a white sand beach, a Starbucks, an arcade with multiple XBoxes and Wiis tucked below, and a short pier that ends on a reef where can spy tons of tropical fish.
PHOTO: Most of which is pictured here.
You can even try out SNUBA, which is kind of like SCUBA diving, except upright. Basically, you wear this giant helmet and stumble around like Frankenstein on the ocean floor.
Water conditions were a little cloudy the day I went out, but we were still able to come in contact with starfish, anemones and other sea life. You look silly, but the experience is definitely worth it.