So, in my last post I took you through all my top tips and recommendations for what to do and where to go in Old San Juan. In case you haven’t already, you can read more about it all here. Today we’re covering the wider San Juan area and my favourite spots in Condado, Isla Verde, Ocean Park, Santurce and beyond! I have been coming to Puerto Rico for years, it is one of my favourite places to get away from it all, but I still seem to find something new every time I visit! Sadly a few of my long-term favourites have closed since the hurricane but there is still so much fun to be had! This is my travel guide to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Where to Eat and Drink:
Puerto Rican fine dining at Santaella is such a treat. Home to renowned Puerto Rican chef, Jose Santaella, this restaurant aims to showcase the very best of Puerto Rican cuisine and sources many of the ingredients from the local farmer’s market. Very popular (be sure to make a reservation) this restaurant is a bustling and busy, leafy oasis in the heart of Santurce. Santaella serves up truly delicious Puerto Rican dishes with a specials menu that changes daily. Portions are generous so be sure to share some of the fantastic starters with whomever is lucky enough to be dining with you, and try to save room for dessert.
I take brunch very seriously (is there a certification in brunching? Because I’m almost certainly qualified!) and this place is seriously good. Huge (!) portions (the ‘Famous Blonda Breakfast’ (not pictured) is obscene!), extensive menu, a selection of different mimosas (orange, raspberry, guava, ginger, passion fruit, grapefruit, mango and acerola to mention a few) including an option to sample 4 smaller glasses for $15 (sold!!), what’s not to love? Try to get there by 10:00 am for the best chance of getting seated quickly (no reservations on the weekends) or expect to queue for a table.
Kasalta (or ‘The Obama Cafe’) (Ocean Park)
Made famous by (you guessed it) Barrack Obama’s presidential visit in 2011, this large bakery/diner is very popular with Puerto Ricans and packed at the weekends. Stop in for breakfast, join the queue, order from the huge menu of local favourites (you can order exactly what Obama had, if you fancy, but personally I like the Mallorca con jamon, queso y huevo) and then jostle for a seat at the busy communal tables.
Ceviche House (Isla Verde)
Slightly off the beaten track but worth the trek/Uber is the Ceviche House. As the name suggests, it’s famous for it’s Peruvian fish dishes. Great for lunch or dinner, try to make a reservation – if you can – or expect a wait for a table. Choose what sort of fish/seafood you want and order pitchers of sangria.
Where to Stay:
Serafina Beach Hotel (Condado)
On our most recent trip to San Juan we stayed at the Serafina Beach Hotel in Condado – truthfully I have so many pictures and so much to say about this hotel that it probably deserves a post of its own. So, for now, I will just say that I highly recommend it… [Read my full post here]
We collect nights with Hotels.com and I got to use a free night towards this booking which meant that it brought the price per night right down.
The Condado Vanderbilt (Condado)
San Juan’s premier 5* hotel, for old school glitz and glam you don’t get much more luxe than the Condado Vanderbilt. Think lots of marble and gilt and impeccable service.
Acacia Boutique Hotel (Condado)
For a more budget-friendly option try Hotel Acacia, a short walk from the main drag in Condado, Acacia is clean and comfortable with a large hot tub and pleasant cafe called Niche. Their sister hotel (Windchimes) across the street also has a swimming pool that you can use.
What to Do and See:
Relax at the beach –
It would be a shame on your Caribbean holiday if you didn’t hit the beach for a little bit. Condado/Isla Verde/Ocean Park are all located along the ocean front and are popular with kite-boarders, stand-up paddle boarders and other water sports, you can rent water sports equipment or participate in tours through companies like VIP Adventures. Or, if you’re looking for something a little bit more laid back, and staying in one of the many beach front hotels (like Serafina or the Vanderbilt), you can pull up a sun lounger on the beach by your hotel and still be only footsteps away from a really good cocktail (priorities people…)
Salsa dancing –
Santurce (where Santaella is located) is a neighborhood in San Juan that really comes alive after dark. If you had been to dinner at Santaella you’ll be right in the thick of it, if not there are plenty of little bars and food stalls around to grab a bite. Busy bars line the streets surrounding La Placita, the salsa music is loud and it’s not unusual to find couples dancing in the streets.
Hire a car and explore Puerto Rico –
Within easy driving distance of San Juan there are several fantastic Puerto Rican sights that are well worth taking the time to do. Here are my personal favourites:
Cueva Ventana – Head out towards Arecibo to visit Cueva Ventana. Involving a relatively gentle hike and then a climb down into the cave, please wear appropriate clothing and consider your fitness levels (suitable for older children). All that exercise is worth it though when you descend down into the cave and see the view opening up in the side of the valley and the lush greenery. Watch out for the bats!
Arecibo Observatory – While out in Arecibo you should pay a visit to the Arecibo Observatory. Famous for a few reasons (it was the world’s largest radio telescope for over 50 years) but you’ve probably seen it in the climactic scene of the Bond film ‘Goldeneye’ (Bond and Alec Trevelyan engage in a fight on the antenna overhanging the huge dish at the end of the film). As well as the view from the top, and the Bond-themed photo opportunity, there is also an educational science centre that is great for kids and adults alike.
Horse-riding in the jungle – In the foothills of El Yunque National Rainforest is Carabali Rainforest Adventure Park where you can go horse riding through the forest. Suitable for beginners or slightly more advanced riders (the husband is a complete riding novice, whereas I rode a lot when I was younger), all levels can enjoy a couple of hours, at a fairly sedate pace, exploring the forest and out to the banks of the Mameyes river where you can cool off (and drink the water) with a quick swim.
If you are a bit more of an adrenaline junkie and fancy something that moves a bit faster they also offer ATV tours through the rainforest. In order to keep both the husband and myself happy we compromised on a horseback tour in the morning and an ATV excursion after lunch. (In case anyone was wondering, I’m really outstandingly bad at driving an ATV…)
So, there we are, this is by no means an exhaustive list as there are literally so many things you can get up to in Puerto Rico. But I look forward to updating this post after more Puerto Rican trips and new adventures, and as I discover even more of the hidden gems.
Have you visited Puerto Rico? What else should I be putting on my list of things to do??
Puerto Rico is such a convenient destination with direct flights from many of the main US cities. If you’re a US citizen traveling from the US you won’t even need your passport! As an International airport, the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (airport code: SJU) is also a direct flight from many European capitals.
I choose to use Hotels.com for all my trips away as I collect nights on my travels which can add up to free nights in the future. San Juan has plenty of fantastic hotels listed as part of their program and you can grab some great rates!
Please always remember that it’s a good idea to take out travel insurance whenever you are going away. Lost belongings, missed connections or a host of other travel woes can really impact your trip. As expats we always use World Nomads because of their flexible coverage. Be sure to read the policy details carefully and ensure that it is right for you!