If you're looking for the best of golf, nature and nightlife, base yourself at two of the island's venerable north-coast resorts, the Wyndham El Conquistador, an hour's drive east of San Juan near the port town of Fajardo, and the Hyatt Dorado Beach, 45 minutes west of the capital city in Dorado. I headed first for El Conquistador, making a mandatory lunch stop at one of the roadside stands on Route 3, where a dollar buys a crispy corn fritter filled with seasoned beef, pork or chicken. Greasy and delicious.
Perched on 300-foot-high cliffs where the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea meet, the Wyndham's theatrical setting was used in the 1964 James Bond movie Goldfinger. Check into the new Las Casitas Village, where you'll find spacious Spanish-style villas with balconies and full kitchens. They're close to the resort's golf course and Golden Door Spa, and are quieter than the 750-room main resort. Each villa has its own butler, available 24 hours to help with everything from unpacking bags to procuring those coladas. Because of the Wyndham's cliffside setting, Palomino Island, a 15-minute ferry ride east, serves as the resort's private beach. Surrounding coral reefs protect dozens of species of tropical fish, making for colorful snorkeling.
Equally colorful is the resort's Arthur Hills-designed course, a roller-coaster ride opened in 1993 with 200 feet in elevation change, tight, undulating fairways and ever-changing trade winds. Although just 6,746 yards from the back, it's not your typical, easygoing resort track. The trouble starts on No. 1, a 395-yard dogleg-right with sweeping views of the 3,500-foot peaks of El Yunque rainforest to the southwest and the ocean to the north. You'll be distracted for just a second, as the hole demands a precise tee shot to a landing area 75 feet below, with dense brush to the left and a 30-foot drop-off to the right. The key to managing "El Con," as locals call it, is to leave your driver in the bag and keep the ball in play.