Even though we found the Condado Plaza just outside of San Juan to be quite pleasant – clean, ocean-front rooms and plenty of dining options nearby and within – the El San Juan Hotel and the El Convento provide a better look at the culture that makes Puerto Rico such a wonderful place.
The lobby of the El San Juan fills up on Friday nights, mostly locals coming in for the live salsa bands. It is extremely expensive (beers approaching $10), but the atmosphere is so good that, for one or two nights, we could deal with it. The El Convento doesn’t have all the bells and whistles, however its location in Old San Juan puts you in the middle of the city. It’s a lovely hotel and worth stopping in and having a drink on the Veranda Terrace if you stay elsewhere.
Old San Juan has many restaurants that pour out onto the small streets, a good way to enjoy the warm nights (although we did get rained on one evening). Toro Salao is a Spanish tapas restaurant in Old Town that has live music and a hip atmosphere (Edgardo Monserrat played the night we were there). It was a tough call, but the white sangria won out over the red by the evening’s end.
Toro Verde Nature Adventure Park made its impression the following day, sending us flying like superman (body parallel to the ground) 853 feet above the earth for just under a mile (tallest and second-longest zip-line in the world). For those not interested in an intense adventure, the quiet island of Culebra is 11 square miles of Caribbean culture, located 17 miles east of the Puerto Rican mainland and 12 miles west of St. Thomas. Flights from San Juan are $100 and jeeps can be rented to roam the island for a day trip, or you can arrange to be a guest of Cecilia Rodriguez at Club Seabourne, the only boutique hotel on the island.
Plantation-style private villas provide views of Fulladoza Bay, and the Seabourne restaurant is a favorite with the locals. A scallop dish with peppers and mango sauce was the highlight of the meal, bursting with colors and taking a tropical spin on a traditional dish. But even if the property didn’t boast great views, gourmet cuisine and a calm, peaceful atmosphere, the charm of Ms. Rodriguez is enough to keep us coming back. She makes meeting every detail her priority, and will not be shy about showing you around her beloved island. Not only will she direct you to the best spots on Culebra, she’ll even pack you a lunch, wine included.
Club Seabourne, Culebra, Puerto Rico, 787-531-6571, www.clubseasbourne.com. El San Juan Hotel, 6063 Isla Verde Avenue, Carolina 00979 Puerto Rico, 888-579-2632, www.elsanjuanhotel.com, rooms starting at $189. Hotel El Convento, 100 Cll Del Cristo, San Juan 00901, Puerto Rico, 800-468-2779, www.elconvento.com, rooms starting at $195. El Condado Plaza, 999 Ashford Avenue, San Juan 00907, Puerto Rico, 8887221274, www.condadoplaza.com, rooms starting at $209.