El Conquistador Resort, Puerto Rico

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.

El Conquistador pool view from lobby
El Conquistador pool view from lobby overlooking the Ocean

EC roomOur room was simple, with sunken bathtub and huge walk-in closet.  The real in-room feature is the balcony!

View from the Balcony
View from the Balcony

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Beach getaway in Isla Verde, Puerto Rico

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.

Isla Verde and Condado, Puerto Rico
Isla Verde and Condado, Puerto Rico

A rental car is not necessary, but Enterprise rental car is down the block for any island adventures outside of San Juan.

Beach gazebos
Beach gazebos

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 Courtyard Marriott
Isla Verde Courtyard Marriott pools and beach front

Isla Verde offers plenty of delicious, local restaurants walking distance from the beach.

Can-Can pork chop from Platos
Can-Can pork chop from Platos

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).

My favorite spot to read
My favorite spot to read

Puerto Rico Sales Tax Increase

Reporting on the Puerto Rico economic “crisis” is increasing and the NY Times went so far as to report the “despair and anger”.  Everything I have read is grossly exaggerated from what I witnessed in person while on the island.

Fairly decent synopsis of the situation – background information of the problems explained pretty well.

Costco two days before the sales tax increase (Monday mid-afternoon) was packed.  The parking lot was full and required circling a couple times to find a spot at the far end of the lot.  Approaching the door, we witnessed a freshly purchased flatscreen TV being wrapped to the top of a sedan – the TV was larger than the roof!  Walking through the electronics section, the purchased TV was “on sale” for $2000 and I watched 3 more bought within the hour along with many big-ticket items.  Most shoppers had full carts and some were pushing 2 full carts out the doors.

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Costco Carolina, PR parking lot after sales tax increase

One day after the sales tax increase (Thursday early afternoon) there were more open parking spaces and fewer big ticket item sales at the same Costco, just outside of San Juan in Carolina.  The lines were short, and shopping carts contained fewer items.  It makes sense that people would splurge on a few high-priced luxury items before the increase and have smaller purchases days later.  It is difficult to determine from our limited experience, if commerce actually decreased after the sales tax, but the purchases we witnessed before the increase appeared to be a bump.

Costco checkout lines after sales tax increase
Costco checkout lines after sales tax increase

The sales tax increase appeared to be accepted as another inconvenience that Puerto Ricans are painfully used to.  The island did not shut down.  People were not panicked in the streets.

This additional tax burden will have long-term ramifications for lost jobs, businesses closing, and people moving away from the island.  The cash based gray markets are going to increase as the islanders try to cope with higher taxes and avoid them as much as possible.  Many people are likely going to join the many islanders already receiving government assistance, few will be able to break out of this cycle.  This is not going to be an easy adjustment, nor a quick fix to better economic days.

I have hope for Puerto Ricans. They are intelligent, resourceful, proud, positive people.  Mainlanders can support the island through tourism; it is a gorgeous island to visit and a less expensive option than Hawaii or other Caribbean islands.  No visa is required, PR is a US territory.  The currency is US dollars.  Most people speak English and Spanish.  The beaches are beautiful and clean.  The food is amazing!  PR should be on everyone’s bucket list to visit!

Puerto Rico Economic “Crisis”

Alarmist press coverage of the bleak economic situation in Puerto Rico has littered the news wires for the past two days, painting a picture lifted from the pages of Great Depression era newsprint.  While we cannot deny the economic obstacles faced by La Isla de Encanto (the Island of Enchantment), we see little evidence that the economic woes translate to psychological depression.

We are mainland US citizens, currently on the ground here in Puerto Rico for the past 7 days.

Isla Verde Beach, Carolina, Puerto Rico
Isla Verde Beach, PR

We spent the weekend at the El Conquistador, an upscale Waldorf Astoria resort property in Fajardo, PR, in the northeast corner of the island.  The hotel was full, primarily with Spanish-speaking patrons presumably residents of the island, as well as a mix of English speakers from the continental US.  When we decided on Saturday to extend our full-price stay from Sunday to Monday, we required three separate sessions of sweet-talking at the front desk before a reservations agent found a cancellation for whom we could substitute.  The hotel was 100% booked.  There were several expensive looking weddings on the private island, at least one corporate convention, and the majority of folks out for off-peak season vacation.

A local from the nearby SCUBA dive shop recommended a strip of local restaurants off-resort to try.  We had several amazing meals, and were outside participants in a local beach party.  Apparently one that occurs every weekend for families, foodies, car aficionados, and regular locals.  They looked happy.  There was plenty of food and drink, money changing hands, and friendly, smiling people.

Over the course of the last week we have expressed to locals our desire to relocate here, and the response has been overwhelming support – not from real estate agents who will profit from our move, but fellow customers at a street food vendor and many regular folks we encountered.

Surely some people are leaving Puerto Rico.  There seems to be a regular and ongoing pattern of circular migration, where residents leave and return.  We met several Puerto Rican born professionals who had recently returned to the island after a period in the mainland including a SCUBA instructor and an attorney.  Neither expressed regret or hesitation due to the economic situation on the island.

More on the “crisis” in Puerto Rico will follow over the next several days.

Article co-written by Jennifer Morrow & Jack Benway, on the ground (not in the gutter) in Puerto Rico.

Barrachina in San Juan

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.

Barrachina courtyard

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.

Red Snapper dish
Red Snapper 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.

Sunset in old San Juan

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!