San Juan, Puerto Rico, probably isn’t at the top of lists for travelers looking for a beach destination. But ever since some friends honeymooned in Puerto Rico several years ago, the island has been in the back of my mind as a place I wanted to visit. This summer, when trying to decide on a family beach destination, it seemed like the right time to give Puerto Rico a try. These five reasons to visit San Juan, Puerto Rico might have you considering it, too.
So why did we decide to spend a week in San Juan, Puerto Rico, this summer? Having an elementary age son who enjoys the beach, I wanted him to have a beach experience of some sort. We tried to make a trip to the Alabama Gulf Coast happen with some friends but we couldn’t make the logistics work. And like I said, Puerto Rico has been on my radar for years. So we went and had a fantastic time.
I’ll start with the obvious since our trip was primarily a family beach vacation. Puerto Rico sits where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. Our hotel, the San Juan Marriott Resort sat on the beach in Condado, an upscale community just to the east of Old San Juan. The main drag is lined with trendy shops and restaurants, parks and hotels. I haven’t been to Miami Beach since I was a kid, but it had what I imagine is a South Beach feel.
The beach itself wasn’t as calm as some spots in the Caribbean can be. We were looking out onto the open Atlantic Ocean, so small waves crashed the shore. Just about an hour to the east, though, we discovered the calm water of Luquillo Beach when we went on a day trip to El Yunque Rainforest.
We loved the food in Puerto Rico, and that includes the drinks. Yes, pina coladas were created in Puerto Rico. And it makes sense with all the wonderful rum made on the island. The beach hut at the public beach in Luquillo Beach served the strongest pina colada I think I’ve bought, and at a fraction of the cost of the resorts. Over at Luquillo Beach there is also a row of restaurants where we were introduced to Peruvian ceviche at the Ceviche Hut.
But back in San Juan we had plenty of fun food discoveries. Condado has loads of restaurants along the main drag. We had everything from Cuban food to fresh Puerto Rican fruits and unique dishes. My favorite find was mofongo, a Puerto Rican specialty that can be found at most traditional restaurants on the island. Mofongo is a fried plantain-based dish that is typically made with fried green plantains mashed together in a pilon with broth, garlic, olive oil and pork cracklings or bacon.
Condado had lots of fun spots where we were able to sample everything from Cuban and Puerto Rican food to Spanish tapas, gourmet burgers and a fabulous Asian fusion spot with amazing views from the rooftop seating.
Not to be outdone, we also enjoyed traditional Puerto Rican cuisine in Old San Juan, a neighborhood not lacking in restaurants. Of course with the daily cruise ships docking in the city, there will be plenty of diners fighting over tables during the day.
Almost Like Being in Another Country
Yes, Puerto Rico is part of the United States. And on one hand it felt like we were maybe in Florida. Driving in San Juan was like driving in any American city. But there was just this magic in the air, something that made me feel the Caribbean. I was amazed by the ease restaurant servers would go from English to Spanish in a flash.
When we travel to the American Gulf Coast the music of choice is of the Jimmy Buffett variety. When we visited Jamaica for our honeymoon reggae obviously set the beat. Down in Puerto Rico, there is a fun beat set to salsa. Maybe it’s a bit touristy, but when I walk the streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans I enjoy hearing zydeco music playing in the gift shops. And when we arrived at our resort in Condado I was happy to hear a little salsa playing by the pool.
Old San Juan
That whole feel of being in a different country? Yeah, that starts in Old San Juan. The beautiful colors of the buildings of Old San Juan are magical. Mix those bright colors with the beautiful architecture of these buildings and it makes for a fun destination to walk around in, sit at an outdoor patio and enjoy a drink, shop and so much more.
The cobbled streets add to the magic of the old walled city, the oldest part of Puerto Rico. Walk down the hill to the old western walls of the city and the pathway that goes around the edge of the bay. Visit one of the two historic forts that have stood guard over the entrance to the bay in one form or another since the 1500s (both weren’t considered complete until the 1700s).
Everywhere we went we encountered wonderfully friendly people. At our hotel, in restaurants, walking the streets of Old San Juan or just in a gas station topping off the tank of the rental car before returning it, the people seem so genuinely friendly.
Is it because we were in a tourist zone much of our time in San Juan? That definitely could be the case. However, I’ve visited plenty of places in the continental United States that are tourist destinations and they aren’t as friendly. Everyone in San Juan, Puerto Rico, seemed to be enjoying life. How can I say no to a destination like that?