City Guide – San Juan, Puerto Rico – what to do, where to eat, where to stay
With glistening turquoise waters, golden-sand beaches and streets teeming with vibrant music and art, the Island of Puerto Rico is the characterful hidden-gem of the Caribbean and is the perfect spot to escape to for winter fun in the sun. Known for its blend of Old World charm, lively nightlife and local flavour, Puerto Rico’s colourful capital city, San Juan, is the second-oldest European-founded city in the Americas and is the beating heart of history and culture on the island, where visitors can explore the treasures of this colonial-yet-cosmopolitan city.
WHAT TO DO:
Castillo San Felipe del Morro in Old San Juan
Castillo San Felipe del Morro, known locally as ‘El Morro’, is a 16th century citadel founded in 1521 by Spanish settlers and is a maze of barracks, tunnels, dungeons and vaults just waiting to be explored. Situated on the northwestern tip of Old San Juan, the fortress was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 due to its intriguing history, being one of the most significant sites in the Western Hemisphere. Entering through the gates, travellers will be transported five centuries into the past, learning about the site’s significance in the conquering of the New World and how the United States utilised the fort during both World Wars. Today, El Morro greets cruise ships as they leisurely sail in and out of the bay and stands as one of the most scenic locations in the Caribbean.
Sunset Walk and Taste Tour
Take in the capital’s fascinating history, Old World charm and pastel-coloured architecture one step and one bite at a time on a Spoon’s Sunset Walk and Taste Tour – the best way to explore the city and gain an appreciation for Puerto Rico’s Boricuan (local) flavours. Boricua is a unique name that honours Puerto Rico’s island heritage, but it’s also a way of life, a state of mind, a rhythm and flavour that is distinctly Puerto Rico. Travellers can stroll at a relaxed pace along the historic cobblestone streets, visiting local, independently-owned restaurants to sample both traditional and modern Puerto Rican fare. Tasting and sipping delicious local flavours whilst learning about the island’s Taíno, Spanish and African roots, visitors can expect Puerto Rican staples such as seasoned roasted pork, local coffee and fresh fish. Along the way, travellers will get a glimpse of San Juan’s iconic sites including the second oldest cathedral in the Americas, a centuries-old convent and Plaza de Armas.
San Juan’s golden-sand beaches
To escape the bustle of San Juan’s lively streets for a spot of relaxation, travellers can head to some of the island’s most popular and picturesque beaches – located right in the city! For a taste of Miami in Puerto Rico, Condado Beach in San Juan’s hip Condado District is a palm-tree lined stretch of sparkling golden-sand, backed by a lively neighbourhood filled with shops and restaurants. For the adventurer, El Escambrón is dubbed a metropolitan Blue Flag beach, protected by coral reefs which make it the ideal spot for snorkelling and exploring the island’s marine life, whilst Ocean Park Beach boasts mid-sized crystal blue waves, making it a thrilling option for surfers and amateurs alike.
WHERE TO EAT:
Situated in the Condado Vanderbilt hotel, 1919 Restaurant is led by pioneering Michelin star-rated Chef Juan José Cuevas and takes guests on a journey of exquisite Boricuan gastronomy. Pairing social consciousness with elegant fine-dining, the restaurant aims to support local businesses and serves fresh delicacies by hand-selecting locally produced and artisanal ingredients. Weaving in Puerto Rico’s vibrant and experimental character, the menu serves an array of delicious flavour combinations. From a fresh salad made with beets, watermelon and shishito, to ravioli stuffed with local chard and a velvet-like suckling pig, the menu is certain to satisfy all taste buds.
La Casita Blanca
A firm favourite amongst many celebrities and public figures, La Casita Blanca or ‘The Little White House’ is one of the most authentic, traditional dining spots in the San Juan Metro region. With a delightfully old-school setting in Santurce, the restaurant guarantees to satisfy the taste buds and warm the soul. Each day, a list of 10 to 12 Puerto Rican dishes are carefully selected including flavourful delicacies such as stewed beef with rice, codfish and mashed root vegetables and crabmeat gazpacho – a truly delicious treat!
Merging contemporary French, Caribbean, and Spanish cuisine with eclectic techniques, Marmalade is one of the most exciting culinary destinations in Puerto Rico. Chef Peter Schintler challenges kitchen trends with a new vision of what a restaurant can be, working with Puerto Rican farmers to take advantage of local produce in a sustainable way. Travellers can put themselves in the chef’s capable hands with a tasting menu, or build their own feast from the à la carte menu, with wine pairings from Marmalade’s well-stocked and varied cellar.
WHERE TO STAY:
Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve
Nestled on Puerto Rico’s lush and luxurious coastline on 50 acres of the Rockefeller estate, Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve is an intimate refuge, infused with references of the surrounding natural landscape and diverse culture. Blending the majesty of its natural settings and the richness of its 50-year-old heritage, the resort is a truly luxurious sanctuary designed to allure the world’s most discerning travellers. The Reserve boasts an impressive on-site golf course and fitness centre, alongside a selection of four top-class dining facilities where guests can relax and indulge in a culmination of Caribbean and international flavours and culinary techniques. Just 15 minutes away from the cosmopolitan centre and nightlife of San Juan, the Reserve is perfectly situated for guests seeking to combine the city’s vibrant cultural offerings, alongside secluded comfort.
If Puerto Rico’s vibrant and artistic culture was a hotel, it would be Mood Haus. An eclectic, 70s, inspired, boutique hotel, situated in the heart of San Juan’s Food and Art District. Mood Haus is a wonderland of retro-inspired decor, glittering mirror balls and disco beats, hidden within the centre of Puerto Rico. The property comprises four units, two studios, one bedroom and a two bedroom apartments, each named after an iconic Disco Diva and outfitted with its own disco ball, record player and extensive collection of vinyls. A haven where guests can totally immerse themselves in a hub of art, culture and music, Mood Haus is the perfect destination for travellers and couples seeking a unique and out-of-the-box experience, and an animated hub, where they can meet and celebrate with individuals who share their passions for life, music and identity!
Condado Ocean Club
For those seeking a social and sexy atmosphere, Condado Ocean Club is the place to be. Visit this playful, chic boutique hotel and embrace the beach-house vibes with tropical shades of blue and sea-glass greens. Just steps from the Atlantic Ocean and its iconic beaches, Condado Ocean Club is centrally located in the fashionable Condado district, home to high-end shopping and dining. A modern oasis for urban travellers in the heart of the vibrant city, the beachfront hideaway offers state-of-the-art amenities, an atrium-style lobby, three delicious eateries and a glamorous pool deck. Travellers can lay out by the Instagram-worthy infinity pool, pop bottles in a private cabana or dip their toes in the salty waters just steps below THE DECK.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist based in Toronto with a focus on tourism, lifestyle, entertainment and community issues. He has written several travel articles and has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He’s willing to take on any assignments of interest, attend parties with free booze, listen to rants, and travel the world in search of the great unknown. He’s eager to discover the new, remember the past, and look into the future.