The maid put my luggage down in my room, smiling. “Your room will change dramatically when the sun goes down,” she said. “I won’t tell you how, but you will be exposed.”
I had just arrived at the Fairmont El San Juan, voted one of the best hotels in Puerto Rico in 2023 by Travel + Leisure readers. It was opened in 1958 but it has been professionally preserved – from its original hand-painted paneling from the 60s to the stunning 4,000-pound chandelier that hangs over the Chandelier bar in the entryway.
The resort unveiled its newly renovated Banyan Bungalows in March this year, and I got to experience the new accommodation during my visit. Designed by Jeffrey Beers International, the 13 bungalows are named after the 300-year-old banyan tree on the property. “Different elements – fabric curtains on the bedroom doors, ribbed wood on the TV, fabric borders on the lamp shades, and rattan inserts on the minibar – give the suites character,” Pierre Josselin, architect at Jeffrey Beers International, told T+L. [also] they used hidden LED strips around the TV and billboard to create a soft glow and bring love to the group. ”
Design choices were inspired by the island. “We used bold colors like deep blues and greens to celebrate the tropical climate of the area,” continued Josselin. “We created a natural feeling in [incorporating] materials such as walnut wood, black iron, honey rattan, leather-like upholstery, and floral decorations on accent pillows.”
I like the design part? Shower. Large enough to be its own room, the shower includes two shower heads, access rails for stairwells and walls (and steps down from the entire bathroom), shelves (you’d be surprised how many hotel showers don’t have shelves), and the pièce de résistance, a tilting sky that looks out over beautiful trees. I felt like I was taking a shower outside – without the mosquitoes.
Each Banyan Bungalow also comes with a private balcony with comfortable, spacious seating. From the balcony, guests have a direct view (with a direct path) to the pool area. The grass under my feet and the plants and animals above it made me feel like I was enjoying a tropical forest. (Here’s a fun tip: if you exit your room through your balcony doors, make sure your door is unlocked. It took a 20-minute call to security and a 20-minute wait in the Puerto Rican heat to get back into my room after locking myself in.)
I made sure to get back to my room before sunset that night, eager to see what changes were coming. As the sky darkened and the moon rose, I quickly realized that there was nothing. Instead, the room was filled with the sound of but frogs out, and turned (as promised) my place into a rainforest that was all my own.