Puerto Rico has been seeing a surge of tourists coming back to the island over the last few months, especially after ending all COVID-related entry requirements and restrictions in March.
Residents of the mainland United States, especially, are coming back in droves to enjoy many of the island’s luxurious resorts and beach clubs.
This is by no means an exhaustive travel guide to visiting everything in and around San Juan, let alone the rest of the island of Puerto Rico, but merely a few suggestions to fill up a regular weekend or even a long weekend comprised of a beach day and a few excursions.
What to see and do
Old San Juan: Puerto Rico has over 500 years of history, and while it would be impossible to go over all of what makes Puerto Rico special in just one tour, let alone a weekend, you can get a small sampling through a walking tour of the old city of San Juan, or Viejo San Juan. The Spoon Experience‘s guided three-hour walking food tour lets you experience Old San Juan like a local. As you walk through the cobblestone streets of the Old City learning about its history, you will also experience a number of local treats at restaurants you might not stop into—or be able to find on your own—otherwise.
El Yunque National Forest: Walk by the banks of the magical Mameyes River, cool down in its nature river pool, and sunbathe at one of the most spectacular beaches in Puerto Rico. Local tours will offer stops in the foothills, where visitors can take an easy natural walk and/or swim in the rainforest river. Also stop at for traditional Puerto Rican snacks (and piña coladas and mojitos to-go) at one of the Luquillo Kiosks, a row of approximately 60 family-owned kiosks selling food, drinks, and souvenirs.
Culebra Island: Loved by visitors and by locals alike, Culebra Island hosts one of the island’s most beautiful beaches. This is where you should come to enjoy the Caribbean’s crystal-clear waters and enjoy a full day of fun in the sun.
Where to eat and drink
Café Don Ruiz: Tucked away in the corner of the Museo de las Americas (a former Spanish colonial government building and now a museum of Latin American art), this fourth-generation coffee shop is worth the trip to San Juan alone. While Colombia and Brazil corner the market on coffee bean exports, Puerto Rico’s coffee industry is often lauded by coffee aficionados for higher-quality, single-origin beans, which are on full display in all their glory at this café, where you can get a bite to eat and what might be the best latte you can find in the Caribbean if not all of North America.
La Factoría: Ranked among the World’s 50 Best Bars, this speakeasy lives up to the accolades with a memorable cocktail menu, with a number of playful spins on universal and local cocktails using local ingredients.
Hotel del Convento: A member of the Historic Hotels of Americas group, Hotel del Convento used to be a Carmelite convent for hundreds of years. Now it is a trendy hotel with a cocktail bar and patio dining complete with green striped umbrellas, right in the heart of Old San Juan. You can choose from breakfast at El Patio del Níspero, a daiquiri and tapas at the Alegría Patio Bar, or traditional Puerto Rican cuisine (with some twists) for dinner at Santísimo.
Deaverdura: If you’re looking for an authentic meal without any fuss or any tourists (but realistically you’re not going to be able to avoid other tourists in this area), grab a table at Deaverdura for lunch, where you can get beans poured over rice with vegetable or meat pasteles on the side.
Señor Paleta: This is much more than just a popsicle stand. Since launching approximately six years ago, Señor Paleta has become a runaway hit with locals and tourists alike, growing to multiple locations not just across Puerto Rico but has started expanding to the mainland with at least two outposts in Florida. (And yes, you can order them for delivery to the U.S.) Many of the paletas (popsicles) are based on popular flavors and ingredients found in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, like coconut, pineapple, mango, and soursop. Other creative flavors include dulce de leche, nutella, and birthday cake.
Where to stay
Fairmont El San Juan Hotel: Although it became a Fairmont property in early 2020, the El San Juan Hotel has long been considered one of the most iconic and historic hotels in Puerto Rico. A great deal of that is in part to the number of legendary musicians who have performed at the hotel, including Celia Cruz, Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra. In homage to its history, the hotel preserved its midcentury aesthetic throughout the main property, lounges, casino, and the central Chandelier Bar.
But the rest of the hotel is fully modernized with a 24-hour, fully-equipped fitness center, dozens of private cabanas in the pool area, a top-tier wellness spa and sauna, and fine dining establishment Caña, spearheaded by Puerto Rican chef Juliana Gonzalez, who also runs a second restaurant in Miami Beach. The hotel’s location is both ideal and a little out of the way, in that it is a five-minute drive from the airport and right on the beach. But it is at least a 20 to 25-minute drive from Old San Juan. Both local taxis and Uber are available for rides. Rates start from $299 per night, plus resort fees and taxes.
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