For the luxury portion of our Puerto Rico vacation, we checked into paradise, officially known as the El Conquistador Resort, a Waldorf-Astoria property. It has that Latin America laid back culture, but quite posh at the same time.
Our room was simple, with sunken bathtub and huge walk-in closet. The real in-room feature is the balcony!
The resort property is massive, with a little bit of everything. Just getting there involved driving through the enormous golf course (slight pun intended). There are several pools on each level, complete with poolside cafes, and many different restaurants. The engineering geeks (us) were very excited for the funicular, an inclined plane cable car, to carry passengers safely up & down the steep incline from the Lobby to a lower room level and the marina.
Outside of San Juan, just a few minutes from the Airport, is beautiful Isla Verde district of Carolina, Puerto Rico. Close enough to Old San Juan for the tourists, convenient for business in San Juan city center, and perched on the northern coast beach. We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott, but any of the beach front hotels in Isla Verde or Condado are a good choice. The area is a popular destination for business conventions, family vacations, and weekend getaways from the Mainland South and East Coast cities.
A rental car is not necessary, but Enterprise rental car is down the block for any island adventures outside of San Juan.
The beaches are clean with perfect temperature water year round. All beaches are open to the public and there are many beach gazebos and facilities.
Unlike many islands in the Caribbean, we did not see any vendors on the beach. It was pleasant not to be disturbed by t-shirt sellers and various hawkers.
Each of the resorts offer beach chairs and umbrellas to guests. There are jet ski rentals and surf schools all along the beach.
Isla Verde offers plenty of delicious, local restaurants walking distance from the beach.
After extensive research, I am happy to report that Platos Restaurant serves excellent pork and the best Pina Colada in San Juan (even better than Barrachina – home of the Pina Colada!). Other local restaurants worth eating at are Piu Bella, Metropol, and Las Canarias Bakery (24 hour bakery, serving sandwiches & breakfast).
The most well-known Mayan ruins and archaeological sites are in the interior of Mexico and Central America which can be difficult to visit, often requiring long car or bus rides. The nearest airport to Chichen Itza is Cancun and then it is still several hours travel by car. There are two noteworthy Mayan sites located within Cancun.
El Rey is located along the Hotel Zone of Cancun, tucked away behind large trees and a small sign. For 43 pesos (per person) this hidden gem is an old Mayan village for exploration. The area surrounding the structures is cut back leaving very little shade. The site opens at 8 AM for the coolest temperatures. There are plenty of signs in both Spanish and English translation.
The entire site takes less than an hour to walk and take a few photos.
The Mayan Museum, Museo Maya de Cancun, is just down the street from the El Rey site. The museum opens at 9 am, one hour later than El Rey, allowing for a full morning of Mayan history. At a mere 57 pesos, the entrance fee is one of the best bargains in Cancun!
The entire city of San Juan was a pleasant surprise. It is not quite modern America, but a blend between downtown Tucson and a historic town that time really does not closely pay attention to. At 18 degrees north of the equator, the weather is fantastic and warm year round on the beautiful little island.
We arrived at the port in San Juan and explored the old part of town on foot in a few hours. In old San Juan there are narrow cobblestone streets, historic forts, and gorgeous views of the water. All of that walking made us hungry, and thirsty. As a US territory, my smartphone had excellent coverage and thanks to Open Table we found Barrachina for dinner.
Famous for the origin of the Pina Colada, it was the best Pina Colada that I have ever tasted! The food was amazing and fresh. Barrachina is reasonably priced, providing great service, and amazing food.
We started with Grouper Fritters that were fresh, perfectly prepared (not too greasy for breaded & fried fish), and delicious. Due to all of our walking before dinner, these yummy appetizers did not last long enough for a picture.
Mofongo beef, chicken, and shrimp is a fried green plantain dish, that can only be described as a flavor explosion. My mouth waters just remembering how good it tasted. The spices reminded me of Spanish cuisine, complex and mild that would not count as “spicy” compared to any Mexican dish.
The ultimate treat was the local caught, grilled whole red snapper fish with shrimp and putanesca sauce. Yes, it is a 24 ounce entire fish with scales, eyes, tail, and face. Admittedly, I skipped the eyes and tail. The fish alone could easily serve 4, then they added shrimp, rice, veggies, beans, and hearty tomato putanesca sauce. Two of us barely put a dent in this wonderful dish.
With so much to see just in San Juan, we did not explored much of Puerto Rico and now I have another must-explore list to my future travel plans. We will definitely dine at Barrachina on our next visit to Puerto Rico, which I hope will be soon!
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