Though many people come to Puerto Rico (and with good reason) to enjoy the island's beautiful beaches, to meander through the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan, and to enjoy the great shopping, food, and nightlife, they often forego the option of a relaxing mountain retreat. This is unfortunate because Puerto Rico is, above all, a mountainous island, and some of the most beautiful towns and most breathtaking scenery can be found in the island's interior and along its winding rural byways. I have been going to Puerto Rico at least two time per year for more than 15 years and have spent many unforgettable days in the mountains -- driving (often getting lost), hiking, visiting small towns, touring coffee plantations, etc. However, until this year I had never really enjoyed a Puerto Rican mountain retreat -- that is, I hadn't gone to the mountains with the expressed purpose of doing nothing but relaxing. It was with this in mind that my wife and I decided to spend two nights at Casa Grande with out two children (ages 9 and 6) a couple of months ago. What a great experience. I agree with those who have noted that this amazing place is a bit hard to find, but if you follow the advice of the hotel staff and many of the reviewers on Trip Advisor and head out with plenty of time and an adventurous spirit, the trip there will be very rewarding. Take your time and don't stress out if you get a bit lost. You'll find it. Also, if you do your homework and ask for detailed directions, you should have no problem getting there from either San Juan or Ponce . . . from Utuado it is really quite easy, and the roads are not nearly as bad as some reviewers claim. Now, if you try to come at night or during a torrential downpour, expect a rather unpleasant and difficult journey.
The rooms at Casa Grande are simple, but extremely clean and quite spacious (see my pics). We stayed in room 11 and room 12 was unoccupied so we really enjoyed having a double balcony, so to speak. The balconies with hammocks and chairs are perfect places to sit and read a book, have a glass of wine, or to simply listen to the sounds of nature. The grounds are meticulously kept and are great fun for the kids to explore. Don't forget to bring a flashlight so you can find cuoquis (those cute little Puerto Rican frogs that you hear all the time but almost never see) nestled among the exuberant tropical vegetation. We also really loved the pool and spent a good amount of time sitting there and reading while our kids enjoyed a dip in the chilly water. The views from most of the rooms and all of the Hotel's common areas (especially the pool) are really quite incredible, so if you forget to bring a book, you can just stare off into the distance and breath in the fresh mountain air. I loved the fact that the rooms had no TVs. On the one hand this really cuts down on noise, but on the other it encourages guests to stay outside or to just relax -- something that most of us don't do enough these days.
We thoroughly enjoyed our dining experiences: two dinners and two breakfasts. Even though the service was a bit slow, as some of the more negative reviewers are quick to point out, this is not at all unusual in the Caribbean (and I don't mean this in a derogatory way). It is actually something I have grown to appreciate quite a bit. You are in the mountains and have nothing to do but relax . . . what's the big rush!? And besides, the food was very good over all and excellent in some cases, and always well worth the wait. Dining on the terrace at night with the impossibly clear, star-filled sky was just amazing, and eating breakfast there was truly delightful. Get up early and sit down before the sun comes over the mountains -- sip your coffee and enjoy nature at its finest: a cacophony of tropical birds, tree frogs, roosters, etc. announces the coming of every new day.
Casa Grande is a bit out of the way, to be sure, but its relative isolation adds so much to the place's charm. In any case, if you do want to use it as a base for your adventures, you can get almost anywhere on the island in a couple of hours, and there are many places much closer that are totally worth visiting. Just ask the hotel staff for suggestions. When I return (and I hope it is soon) I will do what I did last time -- sit around and relax.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Set in a valley in Puerto Rico's central mountains, Casa Grande is an oasis of peace and tranquility. 20 rooms scattered up the mountainside, each with private bath, balcony and hammock. Freshwater pool, restaurant and bar. The Café serves comida criolla, contemporary dishes and vegetarian options. Fully equipped yoga facility offering morning class, birder's paradise, botanical gardens and woodland hiking trail. Near Camuy Caves, Arecibo Observatory, Caguana Ceremonial Park, Toro Negro and Rio Abajo Forests. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Casa Grande Mountain Retreat Hotel Utuado