By Mark Chesnut, founder and editor of LatinFlyer.com
Since I’m a travel writer, people often ask me for travel tips and recommendations, especially about Latin America. The most recent inquiry was from a friend who was planning a vacation in Puerto Rico, one of my favorite places in the Caribbean. He wanted to know which are the best hotels and restaurants in San Juan, Puerto Rico. But, of course, the answer for a question like that depends heavily on your own personal style and preferences, as well as the type of traveler you are.
With that in mind, I’ve put together this list of some of my favorite Puerto Rico hotels and restaurants, for various traveler types — so whether you’re planning a Caribbean vacation for family or grownups, you can find the best choices here (for more ideas, check out my post about Weekend Vacations: The Perfect Getaway in San Juan, Puerto Rico).
Best Boutique Hotels in San Juan, Puerto Rico:
Both of these Puerto Rico hotels are best for grownups (if you’re traveling with kids, move on to the next section):
• The San Juan Water Beach Club: This trendy, modern beachfront hotel has a fun rooftop bar and an excellent restaurant called Zest; it’s located in the tourist-friendly Isla Verde neighborhood, near the airport.
• Olive Boutique Hotel: Elegant and classy, this hotel is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Exquisite attention to detail and service are among the selling points here. The property’s not on the beach, but it’s walking distance to one of the best beaches in Condado, which is my favorite beach neighborhood since it’s so walkable. The hotel also has a very attractive gourmet restaurant and a rooftop deck.
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Best Large, Full-Service Hotels in San Juan, Puerto Rico:
• La Concha, a Renaissance Resort. Better for grownups; this Renaissance resort is right on the beach in Condado, and its happening lobby bar attracts a fun crowd of well-dressed visitors and locals. This year, La Concha launched a new menu of wellness programs created by fitness expert Ana Paula Azirovic, with informative classes, team-building exercises, personal training sessions and meditation instruction among the offerings.
• Caribe Hilton and Condado Plaza Hilton. Both of these Puerto Rico hotels are great for travel with kids, as they have expansive kid-friendly pools and play areas. The Condado Plaza sits on the tip of the Condado neighborhood, with direct access to the calm beach along the entrance to Condado lagoon (the waters here are great for children). The Caribe Hilton is somewhat in its own neighborhood nearby, with lovely grounds, lots of on-site amenities and what is effectively (though not officially) a private beach.
• El San Juan Resort & Casino: On the beach in Isla Verde, this upscale hotel — a member of the Hilton portfolio — is good for both kids and grownups, and continues to be one of the best properties in the neighborhood.
• Also worth consideration: The San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino (in the Condado district) and the InterContinental San Juan (in Isla Verde) have been recently renovated and are both family-friendly, and right on the beach. I haven’t personally checked out rooms since the renovations, but are likely worth checking out.
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Best Top-of-the-line Luxury Hotels in San Juan, Puerto Rico:
• The Ritz-Carlton, San Juan: Located on the beach in Isla Verde, near the airport, this property exudes the typically conservative elegance you expect from this brand.
• El Convento: One of my personal favorites, this beautiful hotel in Old San Juan is truly unique, set in a historic former convent building. A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, El Convento is better for adults than for kids. It’s not a resort-style property and is not near any beach, but it’s gorgeous and right in the heart of historic Old San Juan; it’s also the nicest hotel near the cruise port.
Best Restaurants in San Juan, Puerto Rico
When it comes to restaurants, check out Oceano (in Condado, this venue is open-air and stylish, right on the beach — ideal for lunch, dinner or cocktails after dark, when it becomes more of a hangout). For inexpensive but tasty Puerto Rican food, I like Orozco’s, on Ashford Avenue in Condado.
For more upscale cuisine, try Budatai, an Asian-Latin fusion hotspot that this year introduced a new line-up of tasty-sounding cocktails, like the Firecracker Margarita, made with Tequila Don Julio Reposado, and the Buda-Mai-Tai, made with Ron Zacapa 23. Also noteworthy are Marmalade Restaurant & Wine Bar (Old San Juan), Aguaviva (seafood in Old San Juan) and Dragonfly (Asian fusion in Old San Juan). Word of mouth from my own friends: the restaurant at the Condado Plaza Hilton (in Condado) is good, and I’ve also heard that Perla (at La Concha hotel in Condado) is really good, but expensive.
Also worth noting: Peruvian and Peruvian fusion is kind of big in Puerto Rico; to sample some of these creations, head to Lima Cocina Peruana, in the neighborhood called Miramar, or the aptly named Perurrican, an upscale restaurant located in the San Juan Beach hotel. And believe it or not, Ben & Jerry’s (the ice cream place) serves HOT FOOD at its locations in Condado and Old San Juan, and the food is actually good! It’s the result of a co-branded concept between Ben & Jerry’s in the United States and the locally created Cafe Galería. In Condado you, I’ve enjoyed several light dinners at Ben & Jerry’s Café Galería, while sitting outside, enjoying the ocean breeze and people watching (it’s right next to La Concha hotel; there is another location in Old San Juan near El Convento hotel).
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