Help me decide where to stay in Puerto Rico
May 12, 2008 11:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm so confused trying to book a romantic getaway to Puerto Rico! Please help me pick a part of Puerto Rico to book a hotel/apartment in.

I've never been there before so all of the towns/neighborhoods do not mean alot to me. I'd like an area that we could walk to things like cafes etc and also some other attractions.
I don't want to be reliant on a rental car.

I was going to just go to Vieques island, but it's rather expensive to get there from San Juan airport and no one has been able to tell me exactly what there is to do on the island. It would be $180 round trip per person from SJ to Vieques.

I'm going to go for 5 days and 4 nights. Should I stay in San Juan for 2 and go to Fajardo or Vieques for the other two?

I was looking at the Marriott hotel and casino on Condado beach but hear from reviews that there isn't much to walk to there and I kind of don't want to stay in a hotel with a big loud casino.
I have also been looking into Vacation Rentals By Owner.

Can anyone who travels to PR frequently please help me out?
posted by nougat to Travel & Transportation around Puerto Rico (11 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I couldn't actually locate my own TripAdvisor review for The Gallery Inn, San Juan, PR - but this one below will give you an idea of the's probably one of the adorable/most romantic hotels I've ever stayed at anywhere if you don't mind eccentricity! It's brilliantly situated in the Old Town. One warning - if you stay, check your bill carefully. Several reviewers have noticed the owners are, um, creative about the bill-!

This inn is like no other. The artist-owner bought it as a dilapidated shell of a run down building in the 1960's. Since then, she and a team of artists have turned it into an artists' gallery, an artists' workshop, a home to five tame colorful macaws, a place full of 400-year-old antiques, intriguing architecture, and a relaxing shelter in the heart of beatufil Old San Juan. We stumbled upon this inn upon a recommendation by another B&B owner in the rainfrorest of PR, Casa Cubuy Ecolodge. It's charming and quaint and friendly. The service is fantastic and personal. And the plants and gardens are lush and thriving. Climbing to the top terrace, the highest point in Old San Juan, you get a great vista of the city and surrounding areas. It's a 5-minute walk from El Moro. Plus, stay here in off season and you'll likely find a deal for 3 nights for the price of 2. This cozy and unique inn is one we'll definitely come back to -- they're in the process of expanding and adding a pool and more gardens, too.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:02 PM on May 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

The Condado does have places to walk to, it has a ton of restaurants, cafes, boutiques, etc. I never thought of the Marriott as being all that removed, I guess it depends on just how much you are willing to walk. But other hotels in Condado are the Condado Plaza and the Caribe Hilton (the Condado Plaza does have a casino, although I'm not sure that the casinos will affect your in-room experience all that much, if that's your concern).

Isla Verde is another neighborhood which is close to Condado and has a ton of stuff to do as well, although I tend to think of Condado as more walking-friendly. There is El San Juan Hotel and Casino (again with a casino, but this is another big, nice hotel along the Marriott lines.) If you are looking for something less pricey, there are smaller hotels such as the El Canario hotels, all in the Condado area.

I have more budget-hotel suggestions but what you are asking for is neighborhoods. So I would say Isla Verde and Condado to start with, but there is also Old San Juan. OSJ is small, depending on what you like to do you might be done exploring it in a couple of days, but it's close to IV and Condado. Not walking distance, but a short bus ride or cab ride away. That bus line is used by tourists a lot, as it's a popular and inexpensive way for them to get around those 3 areas. OSJ has lots of shopping, loooots of nightlife (it's popular with locals), and great restaurants. I am a native Puerto Rican and have done my fair share of kicking around in OSJ, if you need recommendations in OSJ, feel free to mefi mail me.

There's not much to do in Fajardo. But if you can get to Fajardo, then you can get to the Fajardo (air)port, and catch a ferry or flight to Vieques if you wish. It's much cheaper than flying out of the San Juan airport. Vieques is a small island with not in the way of a nightlife. I would say if you go there, it's to relax by the beach for a few days (or explore the different beaches - in other words, a relaxing beach vacation). There is also the island of Culebra, which is less-traveled by tourists (although it does get it's fair share of visitors from PR, so lots of so-called "internal tourism". Even smaller than Vieques, and definitely another place to just go explore the beaches, go snorkeling or diving if you are into that. Just throwing it out there as an alternative to Vieques. (Not that a Vieques alternative is needed, but just sayin'!)
posted by DrGirlfriend at 12:06 PM on May 12, 2008

I was in PR a few weeks ago for 5 days, we rented a house near Luquillo - it was nice to be able to cook a few meals (mostly breakfasts) and we were only a couple of minutes away from El Yunque. We spent one day in Old San Juan & San Juan (one day was plenty for us). A day trip out to Arecibo and the Karst Country was really relaxing, though it's pretty far away so depends how much you enjoy driving. One day on the beach in Luquillo and a kayak trip to the bio-luminescent bay in Fajardo at night (go on a rainy night if you can, the rain lights up the water). We also did a fair amount of hiking in Yunque.

The food stalls off 3 in Luquillo have some amazing street food (bacalaitos, alcapurrias, mofongo, pinchos, etc...). There are also some fruit vendors on the side of the road and ponylandia has chicharrones de conejo (deep fried bits of rabbit). The only reasonably nice restaurant we went to is near the entrance to Yunque. It's called Las Vegas, they serve modern style Puerto Rican food -- the portions are way too big, but the food is quite good and reasonably priced. We found some good street food in San Juan by the produce market but the options in Old San Juan didn't look very good.
posted by foodgeek at 12:19 PM on May 12, 2008 [3 favorites] more idea.

If you search Metafilter for posts tagged bioluminescence - there's a recent thread mentioning the great "secret" experience of Vieques - night swimming in a unique bay lit up by bioluminescent micro-organisims.

With a bit of googling, you can find out how to get there. (It's incredibly romantic too!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:24 PM on May 12, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks Jody, Thats partly why I wanted to go to Vieques in the first place!
posted by nougat at 12:31 PM on May 12, 2008

While this isn't directly answering your question about hotels, I'd caution you about ruling out having a rental car. There are some fantastic natural sights to see on Puerto Rico that you would be hard pressed to get to without a car. El Yunque is the mountain a little east of the middle of the island that turns into a rain forest as you ascend it. There are many hiking trails with beautiful waterfalls and gorgeous vistas. On the western side of the island, there are the Camuy Caves. They have guided walking tours through incredibly huge caverns and underground structures. The caves are also right next door to the Aricebo radio telescope (where they filmed the end of the James Bond film Goldeneye). El Yunque and the caves are kind of on opposite sides of the island from each other, but it's a very manageable drive.

As far as Vieques and Culebra are concerned, both are beautiful and much more laid back than the main island. If you happen to be there during the new moon, I can't recommend enough going swimming in the bioluminescent bay on Vieques. I have used the Blue Caribe Dive Center (phone: 787-741-2522) on Esperanza and the experience is among the most incredible in my entire life. Vieques is unfortunately undergoing some pretty rapid growth which, even if it doesn't pollute the dinoflagelettes out of existence, will still provide enough light pollution to decrease the experience. Culebra is even more laid back and remote than Vieques and has lots of incredibly beautiful beaches. And if you want to get even more off the beaten path, you can take a day ferry over to Culebrita. I have spent a Christmas day on this beach, and my family and I were the only people there the entire day. Depending on what you're looking for, it's hard to get more romantic than that.

Anyway, sorry I can't comment on hotels, but hopefully this info piques your interest a little. Puerto Rico is an amazing place that has so much to offer the enterprising tourist. I hope your trip is as wonderful as mine have been.

On preview: I guess I'm just seconding the bioluminescent bay. :-)
posted by Osrinith at 12:46 PM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

We went to Vieques for our honeymoon in 2002 and stayed at Hix Island House. Very romantic, peaceful and quiet. You need to hire a car or jeep, though, as it's the only way to get around. Out of season and early in the morning you'll find completely empty beaches. The bioluminescence is amazing too.
posted by jonathanbell at 12:49 PM on May 12, 2008

Recalling from my trip 10 years ago, the things to watch for were the line of casinos along the northern shore of San Juan and the Cruise ships docking near old San Juan. The casino hotels had great beaches but we couldn't go to them (well, legally) and the cruise ships would leave throngs of people moving through the old city at times. That said, I'd still stay in old San Juan. It seemed loads more interesting than the casinos and beaches and was really nice. Maybe on the outskirts would be best.

We also rented a car and went to Arecibo and stopped at a local beach (no tourists except us!). That's where I finally slowed down and got used to the area. If I had a choice I'd hit old San Juan for a day or two and then move to the country for the rest. Can't recommend an area though.
posted by jwells at 12:58 PM on May 12, 2008

Oh by all means take a small guided tour through El Yunque. Our hotel (The Intercontinental) hooked us up with a guy who grew up on the island and he was able to tell us about every plant, nook and cranny. Extra points for wading under waterfalls. And double double yes on the bioluminescence. We set out in kayaks about 10 PM through the mangroves. I'll never forget jumping out of my boat (with a life jacket on) and moving my arms and legs and watching a ball of light form in the water around me. Amazing.
posted by lpsguy at 1:25 PM on May 12, 2008

My husband and I honeymooned at the Martineau Bay Resort and Spa on Vieques in Nov, 2006. It's the only corporate style hotel on Vieques, so depending on whether you're looking for something a little lower key, I'd recommend the Hix Island House or another guest house or B&B, but we enjoyed our time on the island.

I absolutely recommend Vieques over any other part of Puerto Rico. We had originally planned on San Juan, but this was a fantastic trip and we were able to relax, take in some history, and do some exploring in equal parts. It was exactly the honeymoon I wanted.
posted by wildeepdotorg at 2:39 PM on May 12, 2008

I just happened upon this post and realize it's pretty old. However, if anyone is interested in going to Puerto Rico anytime soon....I just stayed at Marriott San Juan Stellaris and it was pretty awesome. I needed a romantic getaway-type of place and it definitely delivered. I worked in the hotel industry for years, so I am super picky about resorts. It was close to Old San Juan and there was parking on-site. I am not a huge fan of kids, and they had lots of activities and a separate kids pool to keep them occupied. My room had a decent view and the beds and pillows were super comfy. The beach was really nice and the hotel provides chairs. We mostly dined at the hotel, but there are a bunch of fast food restaurants within walking distance. Overall, I would totally stay there again. It's a great beach resort.
posted by Heather Green at 10:01 AM on January 7, 2009

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