As a Puerto Rican who hasn’t visited the island since I was about 5 years old, visiting San Juan last month was absolutely incredible. My family is mostly located on the west side of the island, so even when I used to visit as a child, I never really had the opportunity to experience San Juan. My best friends and I spent three days in PR, and although I wish we could have stayed longer, it was also the perfect amount of time.
We stayed at the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino in Condado, which was located only about 15 minutes from SJU airport and an approximately $20 cab ride. The hotel was fantastic; the rooms are spacious and clean, and our room had a balcony which overlooked the pool and Condado Beach. Another major benefit of the hotel – the beach is right downstairs! Chairs, towels and sunscreen are provided for guests, and there are servers on the beach ready to take your food and drink orders.
The hotel also has its own restaurant, where we chose to eat breakfast each morning for convenience. The buffet-style breakfast was decent, and (I believe) cost $25 per person each day. There is also a huge casino located in the hotel (and I’m super proud of myself for resisting the urge to gamble!)
The hotel seems to be located in a good, relatively safe area of San Juan, though you can never be too cautious. There’s a burger joint (which is open super late on weekends), an Italian restaurant, and a Starbucks across the street. Plus, if you need to stock up on anything, there’s a 24-hour CVS right next door! Pro tip: If it’s late and everything is closed, but you’re looking for a drunk meal on a weeknight, there is a 24-hour Burger King just a couple of blocks away (totally not speaking from experience, btw…).
A friend of mine told me that I needed to check out the bars in Old San Juan because everyone there knows how to party, but I was surprised at how low key the bars were when we went. My friends and I enjoyed talking and sharing a couple of drinks, but that wasn’t necessarily the vibe we were looking for. I’ve heard great things about a speakeasy-style bar called La Factoría, but when we went, it was pretty empty and one of the “secret” rooms was closed. We must have just went on a bad night. I’ve heard that Old San Juan is much more lively late on the weekends (we went pretty early on a Thursday and Friday night), but I hope to give it another shot the next time I’m in Puerto Rico!
Santurce, by La Placita, on the other hand, was much more lively than Old San Juan. There are plenty of bars and clubs in the area, and the streets are filled with tons of people dancing and having a good time. Also, drinks were super cheap, so that’s definitely a plus! We spent all of our nights in this neighborhood and had the best time. If you’re looking to have a chill, laid-back night, I would definitely recommend Old San Juan, but if you’re ready to dance to great music and mingle with a nice mix of locals and fellow tourists, be sure to check out the La Placita area!
I can honestly say I didn’t have a bad meal while in Puerto Rico. From the arroz con gandules (my favorite!) to the empanadillas (another fav!) to the mofongo, everything was delicious, and that’s saying a lot because I eat pretty incredible Puerto Rican food on a regular basis – thanks, Mom and Abuela! Although all of the food in PR was incredible, the two restaurants that stood out to me were Raíces and El Jibarito, both located in Old San Juan. At around 7:30pm, Raíces had a 45 minute wait, and El Jibarito was about a 15 minute wait. My friends and I all tried each other’s food at both restaurants, and everything was delicious! You really can’t go wrong with anything on either menu.
Old San Juan- One of my favorite parts of this vacation (besides spending countless hours on the beach) was exploring Old San Juan! In my opinion, the best way to fully take in a new city is to explore by foot. The neighborhood is beautiful with its brightly-colored buildings that truly represent the vibrant and diverse culture of the island. It’s impossible to not be completely enthralled while wandering the colorful streets. During the day, it can be quite busy due to the heavy volume of cruise ships that dock there, so your best bet is to visit in the late afternoon. There are tons of restaurants in the area to choose from, and at most of them, you’re guaranteed to get a delicious meal with a very generous portion in the $10-15 range.
El Yunque- I’m not the most nature-loving person, but I can definitely appreciate the beauty of El Yunque, Puerto Rico’s tropical rainforest; it was absolutely breathtaking. My friends and I booked this half-day tour of El Yunque through Viator.com. (Viator has been a lifesaver of mine for booking tours when on vacation!) Viator offers various El Yunque tours, but we chose this one, specifically, because we didn’t want to spend a whole day in the forest since our vacation wasn’t very long to begin with. The tour is perfect for those who want a taste of the rain forest and to see a waterfall without having to do much hiking. The trail we walked was mostly flat, and could have been completed in 10-15 minutes, had we not stopped so often. Next time I’m in Puerto Rico, I definitely want to hike a longer trail and see more of El Yunque.
Bacardí Distillery (Casa Bacardí)- Unfortunately, I missed out on this excursion, but according to my friends who went, the mixology class was 100% worth the money! They received a tour of the distillery, sampled Bacardí flavors, and learned how to make 3 different cocktails. The distillery also provides everyone with a souvenir cup and mixology certificate at the end of class, which is super cute! When I met up with my friends after the tour was over, they let me try the drinks they made, and they were delicious! You can book the Mixology Tour here.
There are a couple of other things I wish I had time to visit while in San Juan, including El Morro, but that just gives me an excuse to go back ASAP! 😉
This trip was all I could have asked for and more. Great food, great friends, and great weather – literally all I need. I can’t wait to go back!