Conde nast traveler san juan puerto rico: The Perfect Long Weekend in San Juan, Puerto Rico

The Perfect Long Weekend in San Juan, Puerto Rico

While Puerto Rico is still recovering in many ways post-Hurricane Maria, the tourism numbers in the colorful, vibrant metropolis of San Juan are as high as they’ve been in the last decade. There are 110-plus daily flights to the island, nearly every hotel has reopened (many with major, multi-million dollar upgrades), and there’s a renewed energy and sense of local pride as the island works to welcome travelers back after the post-storm slump. We’ve always loved the island as a quick weekend getaway—it is, after all, just a couple hours from the East Coast, and Americans can visit without a passport—and with new restaurants, bars, and experiences cropping up every month, we’re hardly short on reasons to visit. If you’re crunched for time, here’s our favorite way to spend three days in the island’s capital city. Fair warning: After just three days, you can bet on booking a return visit.

Day One: Cobblestones, Forts, and Cafés

Old San Juan is considered one of the best-preserved examples of Spanish Colonial architecture. Brightly painted buildings, many with flower-filled balconies, line cobblestone streets; it’s the kind of photo opp that births Caribbean stereotypes, in a good way. This part of town occupies a narrow headland at the tip of a island sheltering San Juan Bay, and is capped off by the magnificent Castillo San Felipe del Morro, one of the oldest and largest Spanish-built forts in the New World. The six-level mammoth, with 140-foot tall walls, some 15 feet thick, fended off invasions by both the British and the Dutch in the 16th and 17th centuries. Castillo San Cristóbal, a sister fortification, began construction in 1765. Both are worth at least a few hours of exploration; a walk along the top of La Muralla (the ramparts) comes with terrific views out across the foreboding Atlantic. Weekend picnics are a big deal for Puerto Ricans—so expect to see families and friends congregating in the open fields under a sky full of kites. Before leaving, check out the Moorish gardens at the imposing La Fortaleza mansion (also known as El Palacio de Santa Catalina, the oldest governor’s mansion in the Western Hemisphere and original fort for the city, built in 1533).

If you get in early in the day and are looking for breakfast or lunch, Café Manolín, a 1950s institution at 251 Calle San Justo, is a frozen-in-time diner serving simple Creole food to a mix of locals and visitors. Spend your afternoon wandering the old city, and make sure you swing by the cleverly curated Pure Soul Boutique at 258 Calle San Justo for his and her clothing picks and housewares. When you need to rest and refuel (especially in the midday heat), grab an ice-pop made from tropical fruits at Señor Paleta at 153 Calle Tetuan, or a pick-me-up at Café Cuatro Sombras where all the coffee is locally grown and roasted at 259 Calle Recinto Sur. Wrap up your day at La Factoria, a quirky and playful (and very locally famous) speakeasy in the Old City, or change into respectable duds and head to Condado for a swanky sip and dinner above the sand at Oceano. The ceviche and ropa vieja stand out, as do the restaurant’s Miami Beach-styled takes on Puerto Rico’s classic mofongo with either colossal shrimp or veggies.

Checking In

The El Convento Hotel, a converted convent dating back to the 1600s at 100 Calle del Cristo, is an atmospheric option for extending a visit to Old San Juan, and its rooftop plunge pool can’t be beat for a sunset dip. Larger, more resort-oriented places to spend the night can be found along the beach in the tony Condado district: The Renaissance La Concha Renaissance Resort has cheerful rooms with sea-view balconies, a handful of beautiful swimming pools, and an attractive Sixties vibe. Next door, the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel is more sedate, and attracts a refined crowd. Even if you aren’t staying at the Vanderbilt, dinner at chef Juan Jose Cuevas’s elevated 1919 Restaurant shouldn’t be missed. Surrender to Cueva’s kitchen for a tasting menu that relies predominantly on the same native ingredients found in Puerto Rico’s simple country kitchens, or fondas, especially fish and vegetables, and paired beautifully with a variety of wines. The O:live Boutique Hotel, one of the first of its kind in the city, retains a vaguely industrial flair with a killer rooftop bar for a nightcap and views of the Condado Lagoon and the twinkling lights of surrounding high-rise apartments.

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