The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort
The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort’s Boat House allows guests to experience the area’s lush tropical environment via water sports and tours.- By Vicki Hogue-Davies
Sparkling blue waters and lush tropical foliage makes outdoor adventures in Puerto Rico truly unforgettable. Guests of The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, however, don’t have to travel far to get a taste of the island’s stunning surroundings. The resort’s exclusive Boat House provides equipment and lessons for non-motorized water sports, as well as tours that educate guests about the area’s ecosystem.
Whether visitors seek to explore Bahia Beach by water or land, the resort offers numerous opportunities for guests to discover the natural beauty of the island.
Encompassing more than 480 acres of native maritime forest, the Bahia Beach Resort & Golf Club, home of The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, is the only one in the Caribbean to earn certification as a Gold Audubon International Signature Sanctuary. More than 65 percent of the property at the resort is preserved as green space—including nature trails and sanctuaries. It features 70 acres of interconnected lakes that provide a natural habitat for fish and other wildlife, while also offering an inviting and refreshing on-the-water experience for visitors.
Multiple activities are enjoyed on the lakes as well as the nearby Espiritu Santo River and the ocean at the resort’s door. The oceanfront property includes two miles of exclusive white-sand beach that leads to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. To take part in the water sports and tours offered throughout the resort’s waters and grounds, however, guests head to the resort’s Boat House.
“All of the aquatics activity and nature tours start at the Boat House,” says Marcela Cañòn, a marine biologist and the resort’s natural resources manager. “We built the Boat House to make different ecosystems available to our guests. It is built over the lake, providing guests and residents the opportunity to explore nature beyond the beach.”
The wooden building features two terraces and two floating docks. In addition to being the center for aquatics equipment and activity, the Boat House also houses the resort’s nature center, where nature tours originate and environmental education programs take place. “Here we show videos and talk to our guests about the local birds and other wildlife and the environment,” Cañòn says.
On the Water
St. Regis guests and residents enjoy complimentary use of kayaks, standup paddleboards, small sailboats and fishing rods for recreational catch and release fishing on the lake. Lessons are also offered when needed in the use of the on-water equipment through the Boat House.
Most of the water sports activity, such as kayaking, standup paddleboarding and sailing, takes place on the lake system, but if someone wants to engage in these sports on the ocean, the resort can arrange for it to happen, Cañòn says. Two canoes are also available for lake fishing and are often used by fly fishers. Spin fishing is popular from the boathouse’s docks.
“We have some really good game fish here,” Cañòn explains. “The interesting thing about the lakes is that they are fresh with some salt. The saltwater fish can live here very well. There is an ecosystem that has been developed and naturalized in the lakes.”
Some saltwater fish species found in the lakes include tarpon, snook, mangrove snapper, three-tail snapper, jack and mullet. Freshwater species such as guavina, Mozambique, tilapia and pacu also reside there. Another freshwater fish, the grass carp, was introduced as part of a biological control project to diminish weeds in the lake, Cañòn says, adding that giant freshwater shrimp, ghost shrimp, several different species of crabs and two types of freshwater turtles—the red-ear slider and common slider—also live in the lakes.
While popular water sports like ocean scuba diving and snorkeling are not offered at the Boat House they can be arranged through The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort’s tour desk, where tour coordinators assist in arranging excursions away from the property.
A Tour of Bahia
Back at the resort’s Boat House, environmental interpreters, who are certified through the National Association for Interpretation, lead all kayak and land tours. The team consists of two marine biologists, including Cañòn, and one student of environmental sciences.
Group nature tours via kayak and on dry land are offered through the center almost every day of the week in the morning and afternoon. The tours range from 45 to 75 minutes, and St. Regis guests can arrange to join complimentary tours through the concierge or through the group organizer at the boathouse.
Customized private tours can also be arranged and may also be complimentary, depending on the group and its size, Cañòn says.
“Sometimes we also have kayak tours of the river,” Cañòn adds. “The river mouth is by our property so we will bring the kayaks to the river mouth and tour the river.”
Prior to setting out on the lake water, tour participants receive a brief orientation about what they will see. The interpreters provide interesting facts about the birds, iguanas, turtles, crabs and other animals seen on the tours.
“We have more than 50 species [of birds] here,” Cañòn says. “The best way to see them is on the kayak tour. We used to have a special bird watching tour, but there was no longer a need for it because on the kayak tour you see everything. You learn about birds and see them nesting, and even see their chicks.”
Just some of the bird species that may be spotted on tours of the lakes and river include snowy egret, tricolored heron, brown pelicans, black-crowned night herons, spotted sandpipers, belted kingfishers and osprey. On land, American kestrels, Puerto Rican woodpeckers, grackles, kingbirds and others are seen.
And back on terra firma, guests can enjoy hiking, biking and golf cart tours. Bicycles for exploring the resort’s trails and paths are also complimentary to St. Regis guests. The tours on the resort’s 3.8 miles of nature trails focus on the overall environment and its flora and fauna, and consist of visiting the different ecosystems inside the property, including the beach, lowland areas, the mangrove forest and the lake and river estuary.
“There tours can be personalized so much,” Cañòn says. “Not everyone wants to hike—maybe they want to ride in a golf cart or bike. We can accommodate different preferences.”
In keeping with its high priority of being environmentally conscious, the resort provides a rehabilitation program for birds, which is currently caring for an injured dove and a bananaquit. The bananaquit is a small songbird found commonly in the Caribbean, South America and southern Mexico.
“We’ve had an egret before,” Cañòn says. “We take care of the birds and take them to the vet. When they are well we release them back into the wild. We sometimes get really small baby birds. I just love it—it is a joy to see how they grow and get better.”
Guests walking the beach during the late winter months through the summer from February to September can see another creature that resort naturalists help care for. Endangered leatherback turtles nest on the beach during this period, which is their nesting season. Baby turtles typically begin hatching in the spring. The 2011 season saw 1,500 baby turtles hatched, a successful year for Bahia Beach’s endangered friends, Cañòn says.
She adds that the resort naturalists assist the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and other interested organization with preservation efforts, by reporting and protecting nests.
“The turtles are amazing to see,” she says. “Adults can weigh anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 pounds. It is a mystical experience to see them. It is something very moving.”
Eco-consciousness doesn’t stop at the resort’s borders, either. The commitment to nature extends regionally for the resort and its naturalists. The resort’s environmental outreach program, known as the “Soul of Bahia,” provides environmental education to resort staff, residents, guests, contractors and the surrounding community.
“We do much more than just working inside the resort,” Cañòn says. “We work regional conservation. We also do working conservation networking, educating people about the local ecology. It is such a responsibility related to our Soul of Bahia program.”
For St. Regis guests, the responsibility for relaxing and enjoying themselves is easily met in the luxurious tropical surroundings, exciting on-the-water activities and appreciating the natural surroundings. Bahia Beach is a place where luxury complements the indigenous environment, and they exist together in perfect harmony.