We’re basecamping at the Hacienda Campo Rio venue just outside San Juan for adventurous group activities including off-roading, kayaking, ziplining, horseback riding and cave viewing. This is just one of the many ways that planners can use Puerto Rico to create powerful networking programs combining culture, adventure, Caribbean cuisine and groovy green lodgings.
For one event, I was so excited, all I could say was: “Who gets to be the driver?” We all teamed up in twos and hopped on new side-by-side all-terrain vehicles provided by Tropical Trail Rides for a trip into the rainforest filled with hold-onto-your-seat hairpin turns. We sped through flat open fields and zoomed up steep hills wracked with huge rain-filled ruts that will change you into a muddy mess in a “splash” of a second.
For groups up to 100 pax, teams of 20 can do any one of these activities and then switch. I don’t think I stopped laughing the whole time. We ended our adventure with a zipline tour through the tall palm trees right into El Mojito Bar, to cap our day off with pina coladas and hammock time.
Later that evening, we gathered at the beautifully renovated 1930s hacienda to enjoy live music with 200 corporate attendees enjoying a huge pig roast and a Puerto Rican fiesta. All of this is just 10 minutes from the airport.
MUSEO DE ARTE DE PUERTO RICO
The arts are alive, both in the museum and the kitchen! The 130,000-sf Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico is one of the most comprehensive museums in the Caribbean, filled with 17-20th century art collections. Start the day off with breakfast beside the museum’s gorgeous gardens overflowing with hundreds of thousands of local flora before hosting a presentation at the 400-seat Raul Julia Theater.
On a gorgeous Puerto Rico morning, 50 meeting planners gathered for a splendid breakfast sponsored by the extremely accommodating Puerto Rico Convention Bureau. Chef Mario Pagán is proud to use local ingredients like fresh eggs, homemade muffins, and locally grown fruits and vegetables at his museum restaurant, LAUREL Kitchen.
Take a docent tour to learn about the museum’s range of painters such as Campeche, the island’s most famous classical artist. Meanwhile, fiery new forms of contemporary art give the museum extra attitude, like the room with delicately decorated hub caps on the wall and leaf-covered barber’s chairs. During lunch, local actors played characters based on the museum’s artwork, like when a pious Virgin Mary in full costume scolded the village floozie while walking among our tables.
The brand new, uber sustainable and utterly luxurious 140-room St. Regis Bahia Beach is an oasis in the tropics that’s seriously committed to green meetings. Much of the lush foliage from the 483-acre original coconut plantation was preserved, contributing to its status as an Audubon International Certified Gold Signature Sanctuary—the only one in the Caribbean. You travel to and from your sumptuous rooms on raised boardwalks designed to protect the local plants and fauna, and the unique native maritime forest adds to the serene and sensual nature.
For total exclusivity, this is a private haven for walking and biking the trails, golfing, sailing, playing tennis or just sunning. The 26,500-sf meeting space is elegant and complete with all the high-tech amenities you could want.
Book two islands on one master by pairing up with the new W Retreat & Spa-Vieques Island, located a quick 20-minute flight away. Stay tuned for our upcoming “On Location” story.
The smooth, sultry lighting in the 570-room Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza is ever so inviting. Dim orange/reds and the misty blues throughout the hotel instantly relax the mind and body. The lobby and its bar open up to a spectacular oceanfront verandah overlooking a beautiful lawn, perfect for small events. Love how the sound of waves breaking over the rocky seawall can be heard from throughout the beachside hotel, setting a relaxing atmosphere even in the 39,000 sf of meeting space.
The hotel does an especially great job serving local eats. Enjoy enchanting flavors of Puerto Rican fare at Varita, one of two signature restaurants in the Conrad owned by the charming and multi-talented homeboy chef, Wilo Benet. His flagship 150-seat Pikayo restaurant serves an exotic fusion of selections from around the world. Foie gras with ripe plantains and black truffle honey, anyone? Locals rave about Benet’s churrasco too.
On a Saturday night, stop by the one of the most popular bar scenes in town at IceBar in the Eternal Lobby Lounge. Parking at IceBar is nearly impossible once the seductively dressed chic locals begin to saunter in, so feel lucky and take advantage if you’re staying in the hotel.
ISLA VERDE BEACH
As expected, the 420-room InterContinental San Juan Resort & Casino is located on the most popular beach in the area. We like the boardwalk overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, which serves as a high-wattage evening event space.
Local musicians playing island tunes enticed us to sway in the delightful ocean breeze while sipping on delicious daiquiris and eating an assortment of locally caught fish, chicken barbecued in chipotle sauce, fried plantains and dozens of delectable desserts. There’s fabulous meeting space; the rooms come with balconies (book the oceanview side); and there’s the impeccable service IHG is known for. Meeting space is 18,800 sf with 13 breakouts, and I can’t say enough about the landscaped beachfront area for outdoor galas and receptions.
RIO MAR BEACH
The lush green grass along the Mameyes River is the setting for the Greg Norman River Course—a gorgeous entry into the 672-room Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa. In the distance, El Yunque Rainforest hovers over the horizon.
Yes, you’ve reached another slice of paradise. The ocean course with its gentle breezes and sounds of breaking waves is just yards away from guestrooms. The soft terracotta colors, natural lighting and native plants throughout the grand hotel are soothing. The high ceilings give a bright and airy complexion to the public spaces. And a general excitement set in as we entered the 48,000-sf conference center. This was one of the freshest, most colorful banquets I’ve ever seen with stations of mangos, pineapples, yogurt parfaits, omelettes with just-picked veggies and strong, pungent Puerto Rican homegrown coffee.
Rio Mar received the 2010 Green Hotel of the Year from the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association. You’ll be delighted by how well such a large hotel can feel so tropical and alive.