Every serious travel agent has a specialty—Europe, Africa, the Caribbean. Many delve even deeper, specializing in specific countries (Aruba, Saint Lucia), or even especially sellable regions of specific countries, like the all-inclusive paradise of Punta Cana and Bavaro in the Dominican Republic, or the north coast of Jamaica.
But what happens when a client wanders into your office seeking the unexpected—a trip to a place you know little to nothing about? That’s when it helps to have an ally.
For years, we’d been hearing amazing reports of serene beaches, laid-back locals, and unique hotels and resorts on the west coast of Puerto Rico. But when it came to planning out the itinerary, we needed help. So we reached out to MLT Vacations, which manages multiple vacation package brands, including Delta Vacations, United Vacations, Aeromexico Vacations and Worry-Free Vacations. The company works with a handful of resorts in the area, and so we asked them to show us a sample itinerary. But what we got was much more than just a press trip—it was a look at how the tour operator guides both agents and clients through unfamiliar terrain to provide exciting new vacation experiences.
First things first: what would we like to see, our trip coordinator asked. Accommodations were a primary concern, of course—we had to know what our travel agent readers could sell in Porta del Sol, the Puerto Rican nickname for the region along its western coast. Soon, we had a full list of MLT’s Puerto Rico properties in our e-mail inbox, each with a snippet of information and their general location. Several featured addresses in Rincon or Isabela, small towns to the west.
Of course, short brochure descriptions are one thing; the advice of a trusted advisor is another. So we took our coordinator’s suggestions: a night at Villa Montaña, a country club-esque property in Isabela, and two in Rincon at the Rincon Beach Resort, just outside one of the most popular tourist areas on the west coast. Those resorts put us close to plenty of attractions, too, including surfer beaches, historical sites and massive caves.
MLT’s experience in the region helped with scheduling details, too. Our plans called for us to rent a car to travel from place to place. (Had we preferred to be driven, MLT would have set us up with transfers.) But our flight into San Juan, where we were scheduled to pick up a rental car and hit the road immediately, didn’t get in until about 7 p.m. “It takes about two hours to drive to Aguadilla on the west side of the island, and it could be dark by the time you reach the resort,” our coordinator pointed out. “Are you comfortable driving, or would you prefer to stay in San Juan for the evening and make the drive the next day?” It wouldn’t have been something that occurred to us before we landed in Puerto Rico. But with that logic, we opted for an overnight in San Juan, setting out for Villa Montaña the next morning. Before long, we held a detailed itinerary of our trip in our hands.
on the road
MLT’s support only continued after our trip was confirmed. In the days leading up to our trip, we received another helpful tool from the planners at MLT: our itinerary mapped out in Google Earth. We could download it to our cell phones and, assuming we had coverage in Puerto Rico, could use it to guide us as we drove from place to place. (Unfortunately, our cellphone service provider wouldn’t grant us international access for less than the price of our first-born, so we couldn’t test this out first-hand.)
MLT also provided weather alerts, in extreme cases; we visited Puerto Rico in August, just as a large rainstorm was coming through. The weather might have put a bit of a damper on our experience, but MLT’s warnings helped us make the most of our time on the island, reminding us to hit the road early in case of any rain-related delays on the road.
That left us free to enjoy our Porta del Sol adventure. At Villa Montaña, we discovered a lush, beachside complex of spacious accommodations and amenities galore—tennis courts, bicycle rentals, swimming pools. The biggest shock there was its dining; walk through the door to O restaurant, and you’ll feel like you’re walking into another world, with seating and tables built into the floor for a spa-like, Asian ambiance.
The scene at Rincon Beach Resort was more traditional—condo-style units arranged around a courtyard, with swimming pools overlooking the ocean flanking each wing. It seemed everywhere we went, we encountered a wedding party—no surprise, with the area’s serene, world-apart charm. Porto del Sol is truly a hidden treasure in Puerto Rico, and we’d never have experienced it without MLT’s guidance.
Two-night packages to Villa Montaña start at $680 dbl; 2-night packages to Rincon Beach Resort start at $740.
MLT Vacations: (800) 727-1111; mltvacations.com