Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good travel opportunity. But something I had been so hesitant on doing, for no other reason than too many choices and I get decision paralysis, was booking a warm-weather vacation. I asked in a few Facebook Groups I’m in for suggestions on specific resorts people loved where they didn’t have to really leave the hotel. And one that was recommended, and was in my budget with a quick direct flight, was El San Juan Hotel in Puerto Rico. I looked at the website, loved the photos, booked the trip. It was that easy. Took me seconds once I was presented with just a few choices. Gone are the days I search on Hotels.com, hello asking trusted sources in Facebook Groups.
I headed to Puerto Rico for two reasons. One, I wanted a good warm beach getaway (really the pool, I can’t stand the sand). And two, it was still America and with COVID, I just wanted something that I knew I’d be able to easily get home if god forbid shit hit the fan again. My goal for this trip was to just relax and be alone. Read, listen to music and podcasts, take naps, and simply relax. I did all those things. And then a few more to boot.
Things To Do In San Juan Puerto Rico
Where To Eat In San Juan
An upscale restaurant with Puerto Rican cuisine. Don’t miss the fried fish special. It’s ever so lightly battered in a little cornstarch. Then topped with a papaya avocado slaw that was incredible. One of the best dishes I think I’ve ever had. Also had the tuna crudo that was absolutely covered in basil and was an unexpected herb to pair with this dish. It was divine. I’m still dreaming about it. Make a reservation as this place is popular!
Had the most incredible passion fruit and jalapeno cocktail here along with some delicious bites. A beef empanada and pakoras (which are insanely flavorful fish and potato fritters). This restaurant has a bit of an Indian twist to it and it was so flavorful and delicious.
A local spot for a home-cooked Puerto Rican meal. I had one of their classic plates of tender braised meat, rice and beans and plantain fritters for a hearty delicious dinner. Topped it all with their cilantro sauce that I could actually drink straight it was divine. Going to try to remake this at home. This was very clearly a watering hole for the locals and loved the energy.
La Taberna Lupulo
Probably the best Cuban sandwich I have ever had. Absolutely incredible. This is a casual bar for cocktails and great food. Still thinking about this Cuban sandwich.
Caribe Hilton Lobby Bar
I only went here for one thing, the piña colada. I’m not really a big fan of a frozen cocktail, but this is supposedly the birthplace of them. Plus, my grandmother has been talking about the Caribe Hilton my entire life as they used to visit often. I had to try one for myself and report back to grandma. Our guide on our walking food tour suggested that this is the only place to go for one as they make it the classic way. As in, no sugary shortcuts, just simple ingredients of pineapple, coconut cream, heavy cream and ice, oh and rum, of course. It was actually quite delicious and not super sweet. I was pleasantly surprised!
Other Highly Recommended Restaurants and Bars
- La Factoria – Supposed to be great for cocktails
- Marmalade – A more upscale dining experience. Many people recommended the tasting menu.
- Lote 23 – This is sort of like a food truck park with lots of options for food. I was eyeing this place but never made it.
- Any local panaderia – These are just local bakeries and delis kind of. I walked to one near my hotel and got a guava pastry. Absolutley delicious!
The Best Thing I Did In San Juan
The number one thing I did, well the only thing I really did, was a walking food tour. I booked the Spoon Experience on a whim and am so glad I did. It was such a great way to see Old San Juan and get to experience some incredible food and history. Our tour guide was fantastic and full of knowledge. It was a 3-hour walking tour with about 5 or 6 stops for either food, cocktails, or both. We left full and happy! I think this is a great thing to do on your first day so you can also make a few notes on where you want to come back to. While on the tour, our guide would point out a few other spots that are great to visit for food, drinks or nightlife.
A few other things that were suggested to me were to do the mangroves tour to experience the bioluminescent waters. You can also book snorkeling adventures. Or visit the rum distilleries. And don’t forget to explore Old San Juan. It’s a beautiful area full of colorful buildings and cobblestone streets. Enjoy a meal or two here.
Where To Stay In Puerto Rico
I booked my hotel solely because I knew I wasn’t really planning on leaving it. The Fairmont El San Juan Hotel had several restaurant choices and I figured I’d just stay there the whole time. I ended up not doing any of that, which is fine. But I think if you’re looking to explore and be able to step outside your hotel and walk around to restaurants and nightlife, this is not the hotel for you.
El San Juan Hotel is located in Isle Verde which is known for the more beautiful beaches in the area but is not super close to Condado which is the more bustling part of town. Condado is definitely where I think I would stay next time. But my hotel was just a quick 10 minute Uber ride away so not a huge deal if you really want to stay at El San Juan Hotel and head into that area for an afternoon to explore or have dinner.
The rooms and hotel were very nice, and I loved the three pools to choose from.
The meals I did have which were mostly just at the pool were all delicious. And if gambling is your thing, there’s a small casino here as well. I also had sushi at the lobby bar which was delicious and just a quick dinner on my first night where I didn’t want to think. If you’re looking for a hotel that you don’t have to leave, this one really does have it all. Italian, coffee shop, sushi, steakhouse, casual beach restaurant and more. There’s also a spa and tennis courts to enjoy. Overall, a fantastic stay. And beware of the iguanas exploring. I was spooked by one but learned they were very nice and kept to themselves. But man, they were HUGE and unexpected.
COVID Protocols For Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico takes COVID much more seriously than we do here in Atlanta, and I appreciated this big time. To enter the country from the US, you need to get a travel declaration. This could require a negative test or vaccination. It changes, so be sure to check this site. Get your QR code prior to leaving so you can easily go through the airport without any delays. Throughout Puerto Rico, masks are required everywhere and a negative test or vaccine card is required to enter any business. All of this made me feel much safer and I appreciated the peace of mind while on vacation.
*Restrictions will change and this was true as of February 2022*
Things To Know Before Visiting San Juan
First things first, Puerto Rico is America. I could not believe how many people didn’t know this. They take the US dollar, US outlets, etc. Do they get representation in Congress? No. That’s another conversation but I digress. The people of Puerto Rico are so insanely kind and welcoming. And I felt very safe here even as a solo female traveler. Puerto Rico is quite far south so beware of the sun’s strong UV rays. I got one hell of a tan in less than 3 days and was easily reapplying sunscreen every 45 minutes. This is not a joke, reapply often. And bring the SPF 50. I promise you will still get very tan. Uber’s were easy to find and use so I’d recommend using this as a way to get around if you aren’t needing a car for exploring other parts of the island.