Copamarina Beach Resort: A Retreat for the Tired Tourist

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Caribbean editor Gay Nagle Myers abandoned the high-rise hotels in San Juan for a low-key resort in Guanica and discovered another face and pace to the diverse island destination. Here's her report:

Reed Travel Features

GUANICA -- It was sunset on Puerto Rico's southwest coast.

I'd been on a press bus for hours on an itinerary that demanded a stop at and a visit to every major tourist attraction from San Juan south and west, starting with El Yunque in the morning, El Morro at noon and Ponce at 5 p.m.

I wanted a swim, a drink, a meal and a good night's sleep, in that order.

My spirits lifted decidedly when our little caravan pulled into Copamarina Beach Resort, 20 minutes west of Ponce.

It sure looked good to me, nestled among coconut trees. I spied no tall buildings, no liveried valets bustling in a circular driveway, no mariachi band on the front steps.

Actually, this resort is a two-hour drive on the toll road from San Juan (if stops at tourist attractions are omitted along the way), and it has a devoted following among many San Juan residents who use Copamarina as a weekend getaway.

The thing is, this is not a hermetically-sealed, glitz-and-ritz property, nor does it have the cache of the for-tourists-only hotels, casinos and highrises in the well-traveled northeast corner of Puerto Rico.

I loved it.

I swam, drank and ate well that evening (frankly, this was no contest -- after a day on a press bus, even warm beer or cold mashed potatoes would have hit the spot).

Actually, Copamarina fulfilled all my immediate wishes during my two-day stay and even threw in a short power outage, a tropical deluge and a pulsing symphony of coquis (tiny tree frogs) each night that rivaled any concerts I'd ever attended.

The resort's 69 rooms sprawl in several two-story garden-type buildings bounded by landscaping, lawn, an 18-acre coconut grove and a half-mile of calm Caribbean beach. The restaurants and open-air lobby areas where guests congregate to meet, greet, eat and drink are the heart of Copamarina.

Since my visit, the restaurant operation at Copamarina has gotten even better with the addition of Wilo Benet as food and beverage manager. Benet is also the owner of Picayo restaurant in San Juan.

Fresh, local ingredients and spices are the key to many of the new dishes now offered at Las Palmas Cafe and La Bellena, Copamarina's signature restaurant.

Also, since I was last there, tranquil Coparmarina has embarked on an expansion plan. Such plans sometimes prove to be the kiss of death for resorts, especially with owners who equate Big with Better.

The good news is that Copamarina's expansion appears to be in keeping with its size and low-key scale.

Already in place are two new lighted tennis courts and a second freshwater pool with a Jacuzzi for adults and a separate wading area for kids.

A 35-room addition, done in the same low-rise, garden-style design as the rest of the guest buildings, will be completed in time for the next winter season. Existing rooms already have been upgraded; new amenities include refrigerators and coffee makers.

The new air-conditioned rooms will have tropical motifs, color cable remote television, ceiling fans and direct-dial telephones, much like the room I stayed in.

The only drawback to my ground-floor room was just that -- it was on the ground level, which meant I had to close the shutters when changing or dressing or reading in bed at night.

I have a pet peeve about dark rooms in a Caribbean resort, and by blocking out the window for the sake of modesty, I felt as if I were in a tomb.

By mid-day following my arrival, Copamarina was working its charms on me, and I discovered that its appeal lay as much in its location as in its ambiance.

That afternoon a group of us hopped on a small fishing boat at Copamarina's dock, manned by guide Don Tito, who let us poke in and out of the cays and islets and mangrove channels lining the shore.

He took us to Gilligan's Island, less than a mile away, where we snorkeled and swam. What a tonic for weary writers.

I also could have hiked along trails in the 18,000-acre Bosque Seco de Guanica (the Dry Forest), an ecotourism marvel which lies just across the road from Copamarina.

Ponce is 20 minutes away, La Parguera's phosphorescent bay and the Victorian town of San German are approximately 30 minutes west, and even the coastal town of Mayaguez, offering live entertainment and a casino, is just a short drive away.

As for me, I stayed right where I was. Thoughts of that bus kept looming.

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