San Juan PR: Resort picks

Here are four great oceanfront hotels in the San Juan area for your next trip to Puerto Rico.

Ritz Carlton San Juan (416 rooms and suites)
The top shelf resort in San Juan is the 5 star luxury Ritz Carlton San Juan.  It is located close to the airport on beautiful Isla Verde beach, and is convenient to Old San Juan by taxi.  Rooms are tastefully decorated in creams, greens, and oranges, and include Bulgari toiletries.  Room service is available 24 hours a day.  The resort has four restaurant venues plus an informal grill, and there’s some great restaurants nearbty.

The spa here is wonderful, so be sure to get in at least one treatment during your stay.  There’s a casino onsite as well as a beachfront pool.

Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza (570 rooms)
This active 4 star resort offers a great swimming pool, excellent location, and airy casino for a great choice for folks wanting to stay on the beach in the San Juan area. The main pool is open 24 hours, and there’s a salt-water pool and Jacuzzi. The Lagoon Tower offers a quiet lap pool for those seeking a bit more solace. The beach is just off the main pool area, and offers a protected swimming area (otherwise, the waves are rough). For the area, this is an exceptional beach. The lobby is large and welcoming, with the casino located on the second floor. By Puerto Rico standards, this is a large casino, and the place feels pretty energetic.

Room décor is a “tropical contemporary” in orange and black. All rooms have balconies, except some suites on the tenth floor.

This resort is located very close to the convention center. I would recommend this hotel for folks looking for an overall resort feel, with nightlife nearby. This is suitable for families, groups, singles, and honeymooners – in general a good mix of folks. For something a bit more upscale, you can try nearby Ritz Carlton. Or, for even more of a resort feel, try the Wyndham El Conquistador. The Caribe Hilton is comparable to this resort, but with a more laid back & tranquil feel to it.

Caribe Hilton (812 rooms)
Here’s a four star upscale resort that’s got a nice beach, a great pool, a great location, and the right ambiance for folks looking to experience both San Juan and a beachfront resort. There’s a healthy mix of families, couples, and singles, as well as a few business travelers. The lobby is open air and has a Starbucks, a trendy little bar, and lots of fun little shops. The pool is actually a series of pools, curving around the grounds.

The beach here is great for the area, but still not as nice as some Caribbean destinations you might have visited before. The water is Atlantic (the case in all San Juan area resorts), but there’s a breaker wall that forms a very protected cove that’s virtually waveless and safe for swimmers of all ages. Within the cove you’ll even find a slide to climb on. Sand is golden brown.

San Juan is an easy taxi ride away, and the airport is just a few minutes in the other direction. There’s not much to walk to in the immediate vicinity (the Normandie Hotel is next door), but a short taxi ride or a long walk will get you to several restaurants and shops.

There’s a casino on the upper level, which is not as spacious or airy as the one at nearby Wyndham Condado.

The Normandie Hotel (170 Rooms)
This art deco boutique hotel was built in the ‘30s and was designed to be reminiscent of a famous transatlantic ocean liner. Just recently renovated, this cute moderate hotel is a fun alternative for folks looking to stay near San Juan or the airport, and don’t mind forgoing a good beach or pool.

The new color scheme is in baby blue, gray, and pale green, and furnishings and touches are in a clever art deco style. Most of the rooms are situated like suites, with a separate desk area, a bedroom, a sitting area, and a standard quality bathroom. New in-room amenities include CD players, flat panel televisions, and mini fridges. Mattresses are ultra comfy, and are topped with duvets.

There’s only one restaurant, but the food is great. There’s a small trendy bar on the second floor, and offers tropical jazz music and a welcoming ambiance. There’s also a small spa onsite. The architecture is very unique, and the staff efficient.

The beach is nothing to brag about, though there’s a public beach within walking distance with a lifeguard on duty and is clean (rated as a blue flag beach). There’s a small pool onsite.

The hotel has a few misses. The renovation seemed to miss some touchups, and the hotel never exceeds a 3 star rating overall. The clientele here is mainly conference attendees, business travelers, and quiet folks. While the setting is relaxing, it doesn’t feel like a vacation resort.

Puerto Rico: Passport-free Caribbean

Looking for a getaway that doesn’t require a passport?  Consider Puerto Rico, a tropical island in the Caribbean that offers beaches, fine dining, rainforests, and good old-fashioned relaxing!

The road system is as advanced as those you’ll find in the States (nope, the cobblestone roads in Old San Juan are not typical across the island!). Roads are clearly marked, and the main roads that cross the mountains were safe and well maintained. Spanish is the main language, but everyone has English classes in school. Resort employees speak perfect English, and if you wander outside the resorts, the person you are talking to understands you, even if they are too shy to admit it.

This island is pretty big so don’t underestimate how long it takes to get around. There’s a main mountain chain that runs the length of the island, and the drive thru the mountains can add a bit to your drive time.

Standard of living is high compared to most other Caribbean islands, and pretty close to what you’ll find in many US States. Water filtration meets the same US standards. Puerto Ricans are US citizens. Everywhere I went folks were chatty and delightful, and many were well traveled in the States or lived there for a period of time.

You can find some excellent dining venues in Puerto Rico, ranging from regional specialties to international dishes. Everything I tasted was fresh and delicious, and the resorts are all justly proud of their restaurants. At dinner, the pace is slower and more typical of Europe.

If nightlife is important, stick with San Juan. Here you’ll find the trendier clubs, and some of the best chefs. Fusion cuisine is popular (such as Puerto Rican and Asian). Many of the San Juan resorts offer casinos, and most have a trendy club or two onsite.

Renting a car is easy, and is recommended if you’re visiting the southern or western areas of the island, if you’re planning a multi-destination itinerary, or if you’d like to explore the island on your own. The resorts in the San Juan area generally charge for parking. Away from the San Juan area, some resorts can be pretty far from shops, other restaurants, and the sights.

There’s a lot to see and explore on this island. There are numerous golf courses, and diving is well established. There’s the rain forest in the east, and the dry forest in the west, as well as caves and hikes for the more adventurous. In general, it is a fun island to explore and get to know the history, culture, and people.

Beaches in Puerto Rico are pretty, but don’t quite measure up to Negril or Cancun. The north side of the island is the Atlantic, while the south side is the Caribbean. Sand quality ranges from golden to brown to gray. The better beaches are to be found along the east coast, which is actually Atlantic & the Caribbean, and the best beaches are on Puerto Rico’s islands off the east coast (such as Vieques).

The all-inclusive concept hasn’t caught on in Puerto Rico, but you’ll want the flexibility to explore things on your own here.  Some resorts offer free breakfast promotions; check with us for current specials.

American Airlines offers daily nonstop service between DFW and San Juan.  Most major carriers also offer service from DFW to San Juan with one or more connections

~Cindy Grant, Travel Consultant, 972-625-6200