News Is My Business / August 29, 2016
By Larry Luxner
LARES — One of Puerto Rico’s most prominent coffee-growing families is pouring $15.5 million into a complex that includes Hotel Hacienda Lealtad — a five-star boutique mountain resort aimed at wealthy tourists with a passion for gourmet coffee.
The property, located off Highway 4131 near the town of Lares, will open sometime in December with 20 rooms, said project manager Baltasar Soto.
“A hacienda like this you won’t find anywhere else in Puerto Rico or the Caribbean,” said Soto, 59, whose younger brother Edwin is president of Café Lealtad, which grows and packages coffee for local consumption and export.
The hotel is an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of Lares as it was in the 1830s, when Puerto Rico — then a Spanish colony — was among the world’s premier coffee exporters. At the time, Hacienda Lealtad belonged to Miguel Marquéz y Enseñal of Spain and was the largest coffee plantation on the island, according to Baltasar Soto.
The property consists of six restored structures. It has two antique horse-drawn carriages on display, and features a museum with antique furniture and artifacts from Puerto Rico’s colonial past, ranging from a 19th-century washing machine to a domino set and musical instruments.
In some ways, Hotel Hacienda Lealtad will be similar to Hacienda Buena Vista — located north of Ponce — which was established in 1853 as a corn mill to feed area slaves. Nightly room rates have not been established, though Soto said his potential market is clearly tourists from the U.S. mainland and possibly Europe.
Accommodations will include a wine cellar, a restaurant serving local and international cuisine, and a heliport that will whisk guests from San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport to the mountain property in 23 minutes (the trip by car takes about two hours). The resort also features its own waterwheel and a nature park with trails, and already has its own Facebook page.
Soto said his hotel will employ 150 people, all of them bilingual. It’s part of the Hacienda Lealtad complex, which consists of some 1,000 cuerdas planted with coffee. The company already has about 600,000 coffee trees and aims to have a million in the next few years. Its operation comprises the cultivation, processing, roasting and packaging of coffee, as well as sales.
Not counting Puerto Rico Coffee Roasters, Hacienda Lealtad represents the largest single coffee investment on the island. In addition to the hotel, Soto’s company runs two coffee nurseries — one with 500,000 baby seedlings and another with 200,000.
“Our medium-term plan is to supply coffee farmers with these plants and help provide financing to get their plantations running, so they’ll turn to us first,” said Aayron Aranda Suárez, a Colombian coffee consultant who is advising Hacienda Lealtad.
“We also want to create an alliance with coffee farmers that will bring to this company their coffee for processing,” he said. “We want to add value, and the farmers will get a small premium.”