Desperately seeking a Caribbean destination that’s just a quick trip from South Florida? Direct flights on JetBlue from Fort Lauderdale to San Juan make getting to Puerto Rico as easy as saying “caliente”. This lush, tropical (yet cosmopolitan) island has much to offer: beautiful beaches, an old town with great history and a fort to explore, mountainous rain forest region, and numerous top-notch hotels and restaurants. Where to begin?
Let’s just say that this traveler has had the good fortune to visit Puerto Rico 5 times in the last few years, due to spouse’s business interests. However, a recent trip to the Condado area was a life-changing vacation experience. Palms swaying on the beach: check. World class shopping: check. Quick cab to Old San Juan: check. Delicious food: double-check.
Stay: Renaissance La Concha http://www.laconcharesort.com A bustling, South Beach deco-style hotel with a mod vibe, this hotel has the perfect location. Multiple swimming pools (including one with vanishing edge), a wide stretch of beach, ocean view gym facility and several restaurants (see Dining below) make this property special. And the lobby lounge area is one of “the happening” spots on the island certain evenings.
Dine: Check out the dining options at hotel “La Conch”, including poolside tapas and sushi at Solera, as well as Perla, the iconic clamshell-shaped venue. Budatai, located just a block from the hotel, is a feast for the senses with Asian-style food with Latin American influences. Just take a look at the hip, well-dressed crowd, and it feels like the trendiest restaurant in any city. http://www.budatai.com And with its flavorful, creative food and vibrant scene, one may happily choose to dine there multiple evenings…
Shop: Puerto Rico (and especially Condado) could be considered a shopper’s mecca. Across from the hotel, find beachy styles, including such brands as Calypso St. Barth, at Pina Colada Club (Ave. Magdalena #1101, tel 787-998-1980). Condado is also home to several major luxury outposts: Ferragamo, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Cartier. For more tourist-style shopping, where one may find souvenirs and even a sundress for $19, see Old San Juan info (below).
Sightsee: Old San Juan is a must-see. Just a 15-minute (and approximately $15) cab ride away from Condado, it is a picturesque town with colorful hillside streets; it has the feel of a quaint, European village. Plenty of dining and shopping options are abundant, but some highlights include: La Bombonera Restaurant (just gazing at the baked goods in the window will get your mouth watering), Caficultura (the coconut iced coffee and brie and fontina grilled cheese on artisan bread took this writer to her happy place) colorful tote bags, purses and backpacks made by local artisans at Concalma http://www.concalmalinea.com. (Note: Look for “hecho en Puerto Rico” to signify truly made on-island when shopping for other souvenirs.) And a highlight of a day in Old San Juan -besides the previously mentioned delicious sandwich- will definitely be touring the fort…
Castillo San Felipe del Morro, “El Morro”, dates back hundreds of years and provides a wonderful vantage point of the harbor. Seek out one of the towers (one of the widely recognized icons of Puerto Rico) for a private, breathtaking vista of coast and sea. http://www.nps.gov/saju/index.htm
And the best part of having a travel destination like Puerto Rico so close to our shores: the ease of planning a return trip to revisit favorite spots and to discover new ones.