Visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico this year was completely out of my peripheral until this past month. Invited to go visit Old San Juan and the beach area of Condado with my friend Michelle from Live Like Its the Weekend, I was surprised to hear that Puerto Rico was open for business again. In September, the Category 4 Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, making it the worst storm to ever hit. Along with most of its resources, from potable water to electricity, tourism was also wiped out. Tourism is Puerto Rico’s second-largest contributor to their economy and local restaurants, vendors, and hotels heavily depend on visitors who sojourn year-round.
Through the recovery, there’s great news. Puerto Rico announced this past month that they are officially open for business, with San Juan being the most recovered. What does this mean for you? There’s never been a better time to visit, support local businesses, and help the island recover through tourism dollars. A quote in a recent NY Times article that stood out to me from Carla Campos Vida, the interim executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, was this:
“Tourism is vital to Puerto Rico’s full recovery, and the best way to support the island is by continuing to visit, stay at hotels, eat at restaurants, and buy from local businesses.”
So with bags packed, I headed back to Puerto Rico where I was just at only seven months ago. Landing in San Juan was surreal — there was a buzz about the airport. It was business as usual as people were checking in, grabbing their coffees, and going about their days. This kicked off an incredible four days in Puerto Rico — a sense of energy and resilience from the local people to recover and move forward. Speaking to a few of the locals, I couldn’t help but ask how they felt about people coming to vacation today. Their response? Tell everyone to come — come to our beaches, eat in our restaurants, and love on our island now more than ever.
Puerto Rico has always been a special place. With happening bars, live salsa, late nights dancing in La Placita, and the electrifying streets of Old San Juan — there’s truly a contagious energy. It’s hard not to fall in love, I guess that’s why they call it “la Isla del Encanto.”
Now is the time to visit Puerto Rico — do it with respect and reverence as the island is still in recovery, but love the island today like never before.
A Guide to Visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico
What to Know Before Visiting Puerto Rico
- Uber is readily available to use in the area.
- US Dollars is the local currency — cash is good to carry.
- If you have a US passport, you can leave it at home!
- Old San Juan is rather walkable and is perfectly explored by foot.
- You should tip at restaurants, hotels, and taxis.
- English is common, but a few words in Spanish is always appreciated.
- There are plenty of direct flights in San Juan from major US airports.
- The dress code is not always beach-attire. Many restaurants require dress shirts and closed shoes, so be sure to check ahead!
Where to Stay in San Juan, Puerto Rico
For Puerto Rico, I always recommend a few nights in Old San Juan and then a few nights on the beach. The area of Condado is a great and close option to the airport where there is a stunning beach and you’re close to other water activities. Here’s where I would stay:
Condado Vanderbilt Hotel: As an oceanfront hotel, it has one of the best addresses in Condado. The luxury rooms outfitted with modern amenities are the perfect escape for those looking to be close to the water’s edge. Their infinity pool that overlooks the ocean is a particular favorite, as there’s not a better place to catch the sunset. At night the VC Lounge transforms into an intimate space where there are live music and cocktails served.
Hotel El Convento: In the heart of Old San Juan lies one of the most historic and architecturally-stunning hotels in Puerto Rico. The Hotel El Convento was transformed from a former convent to the luxury hotel it is today, where the inner courtyard sits as the center of the action. The lush greenery drapes over the yellow walls, and of course, their rooftop pool is a must experience for time to cool-off during the summer. Its location serves as the ideal place to call home while exploring the quaint streets of Old San Juan.
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Things to Do in San Juan, Puerto Rico
- Explore Old San Juan — this is one of the best experiences in town and it’s free! Put a good pair of walking shoes on, grab a map, and wind through the tiny and colorful streets. There’s plenty of shops, restaurants and more to do.
- Head to the beach at Condado, where it’s a perfect place to hang out for the afternoon.
- Go explore the neighboring islands, like Cayo Icacos on a catamaran tour with East Island Excursions. This was one of my favorite things to do while visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico. We headed out for the day, snorkeled with the fish, and enjoyed the pristine waters.
- Get a taste of the nightlife in La Placita, where there’s endless salsa, reggaeton, and happening bars.
- Explore the historic Castillo San Cristóbal.
I’d recommend booking one of the tours here as well:
Restaurants in San Juan, Puerto Rico
- Lote 23: This place is one you can’t miss while in Puerto Rico. A cluster of multiple restaurants have opened food carts in a beautiful, outdoor space. Head here for a quick bite, a draft beer, or try it all!
- El Jibarito: If you’re looking for a locals-only spot in Old San Juan, be sure to head here. Their chuleta is incredible and mofongo a hit. I would have eaten here once a day.
- La Factoria: It seems that old roads lead here, whether it’s to eat their incredible tapas-style food, taste their award-winning drinks, or dance through their multiple rooms of music. If you’re staying in Old San Juan, this is the place to be.
- 1919 Restaurant: Located inside the Condado Vanderbilt, this upscale restaurant was one of the best meals I had in Condado. I’d recommend doing the elegant Chef’s tasting and wine pairing — it’s an evening of culinary perfection.
- Senor Paleta: Artisanal popsicles with yummy flavors!
- Ola Oceanfront: Yes brunch is a thing in Puerto Rico and Ola Oceanfront is the place to come for Sunday brunch.
- Patio del Nispero: Inside the Hotel El Convento, their courtyard transforms into a beautifully-lit dining area. You can come drinks and stay for dinner, where the chef uses local ingredients to prepare modern twists on classics.
- Delicias Restaurant: For Puerto Rican cuisine in Condado, head here to try their small plates and be sure to order the filete encebolla’o.
- Pinky’s Calle Loiza: An eatery well-known for their papaya smoothie.
- La Casita Blanca: An institution for Puerto Rico and a great local spot.
- Café Comunión: Head here for a cup of coffee or a quick breakfast.
- Garabato Bar & Grill: Though the nights here often transform to a party, it’s a great spot to start a night out for a drink and small bites.
- Latidos: A cozy restaurant that serves high-end food, all beautifully plated.
- Marmalade: One of the high-end, reservation needed restuarants in Old San Juan.
I trust World Nomads for a few reasons. They’ve reimbursed me personally on a few occasions for trip delay and cancellation. Their price point is affordable as well.
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*Bon Traveler was welcomed as guest of Condado Vanderbilt and Hotel El Convento. As always, all opinions are own.