My husband and I recently stayed at El Convento for 6 nights. From start to finish our stay was amazing. If you want to stay in Old San Juan - this is the place for you - you won't regret it!!Some of the highlights:
Ambiance was hauntingly beautiful. The dark wood beams, shutters and doors as well as the gorgeous Spanish tile and artwork made you feel as if you time traveled to a century of long ago. There were all these romantic places to sit both inside and outside on the terrace and each evening they would put a candle on each table so that the whole place just glowed. Stunning.
Ammenities were plentiful. Wine and cheese reception every night offered very good wines (and my husband and I know good wine) and a variety of cheese and fruit. At all hours they have bottled water, fruit and other sweets as well as coffee and hot tea set out for your comfort and enjoyment. Each day we would set out on our walking adventures around Old San Juan by grabbing an apple and a bottle of water.
Hotel Restaurants: there were three and all offered something different. Our favorite by far was the pizza place. Fabulous to sit outside and people watch and the pizza was very good!
Helpful staff: Each and every time we approached the front desk, we were rewarded with fabulous customer service. They went out of their way to be friendly, helpful and respectful.
Turn down service. Each night, the staff would turn down our beds, close the heavy wooden shutters to block all sound from the street, (and it really did - no noise at all) pull the drapes closed and turn on the BOSE sound system to classical music. My words won't do this justice but I have to say that this experience was magical. There was something about the classical music cominded with the historical beauty of the room that just made it seem surreal.
Location: PERFECT for exploring Old San Juan on foot. We easily walked everywhere we wanted to go around Old San Juan. There were free trams for those not able to do the walking but we didn't try them so I can't comment on them.
Sister properties: We took a taxi to the La Concha hotel in Condado twice. It is a very easy process and definitely worth doing. That hotel is gorgeous and modern and has a wonderful beach and pool area. Their restaurant and bar was amazing as well. We had the chicken wrap one day and the steak wrap the next and BOTH days we had the plantain chips and guacamole. Fabulous food. Also try the blended strawberry dacarais. Wonderful! You are treated just as respectfully at La Concha as you are at El Convento.
Tours: We took the Nature tour which we booked as part of a package with room rate - thru the hotel. This tour went to El Yunque Rain Forest, Luquillo Beach and Bioluminescent Bay. Definitely worth doing. It is an all day thing - you leave at 8:00 a.m and return at 10:00 p.m. The Rain Forest is a very mild - easy hike with a gorgeous waterfall being your reward in the end. The beach was lovely. Regarding Bioluminescent Bay - this is going to sound strange but this was both the highlight of our entire vacation AND the worst part of our entire vacation. We are athletic people in good health and shape and pretty coordinated BUT had no previous experience kayaking. They had us sign a waiver with no time to actually read what we were signing, then gave a two minute instructional talk on how to kayak and put us in they kayaks and told us to stay in line with the otherd 30 kayaks. THey had four guides for 30 kayakers which sounded ok to us. On the trip out - not much of a problem because there was faint light left and you could actually see how you were holding your paddles which helped with technique and you could see where to steer the kayak to avoid running into the trees lining both sides of the narrow canal. When we came out of the canal into the bay area that is lit with the bioluminescent lights, it was truly magical - which is why we call that the highlight of our trip. We are so happy we got to see this phenomenon and I would have hated it if we had missed it. HOWEVER, the trip back through the canal area to get back to shore was a nightmare. It was so pitch black that we couldn't see a thing and we kept running into the trees on each side to the point where our faces, arms and legs were all scratched and even bleeding. We kept calling to the guides to help us understand why we couldn't seem to steer the kayak correctly any more. They would shout something vaguely at us that didn't help and then go about trying to help the other 29 kayakers as well. The four guides were all pulling other kayakers behind them becuase they couldn't make it back on their own so I know it wasn't just us that were struggling. The problem is that when it is so dark, you can't see what you are doing with your paddles and that makes you work against each other so you lose all control of steering. My husband ended up with back strain (and still has it two weeks later) because he was trying to use pure force to make the kayak go where he wanted it to. Bottom line here is that this is a must do and totally worth it IF: you are an experienced kayaker OR you tell the guide right up front that you need to ride with a guide in their kayak or be towed by them. They won't offer it but when you ask - they will say yes to that. I don't want to talk anyone out of doing this - because it was spectacular. But we got in way over our heads and were both injured from this so please be careful.
BARRACHINA restaurant is a must do as well! Food is amazing - try the shrimp fajita and of course the pina colada. If you are there on a Friday night, call and make a reservation for the Flamenco show - it was another highlight of our vacation. You won't be disapointed.
El Convento made our trip to San Juan one we will always remember!
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