We had a fabulous trip to Puerto Rico (we live in New York City), so would like to write a report to help others and acknowledge the all the help and service we received. For people who do not get to the end, the service we received was excellent throughout, and we always felt safe, and were never deceived.
We arrived in SJU from NYC via Jetblue at 3:15am on Dec 28th (friday) morning. It was very easy to get a taxi, which took us to our hotel Coral Princess. We had paid for 27th too, so our room was ready. The room and the hotel were absolutely fine, though infrastructure was a little spotty (but not inconvenient). WHile the room was furnished fine, the wifi was off-and-on, despite having a router in the room. The safe was not fixed to the cabinets, etc. It cost us about $200 per night. The hotel in Condado is right by fancy shops, hotels etc (something like 5th/Madison Av of NYC, about a 7-8 min walk from a really rough beach or a 20 min walk to a calm beach in Ocean Park. After sleeping, we woke up around 11am, and walked to Ocean Park by the water. We swam a bit, and then ate at Uvva. Food was priced moderate-high, tasted fine, but we felt a little uncomfortable after that. A minor inconvenience.
We then took a cab to Old San Juan ($15), got a map from the visitor center and walked through town to the Fort, high up. The views were gorgeous. We had planned to eat dinner at Jose Enriques near La Placita after taking in the festive atmosphere, so we took a cab ($15) to that part of town around 6pm. The plaza was rocking, and although an excellent dinner was waiting for me, I tasted some very tasty food + pinacolada at Coco, a hole in the wall. My wife felt underdressed, as she was wearing her day clothes. We got our table around 8pm, and really enjoyed the food and the service at the restaurant. After our meal, we hung out again on the streets. The security guard at the restaurant said that we should not walk back to our hotel but take a cab, so we did that. There are quite a few comments about this being in a shady part of town, but I disagree. Its just that the area isnt very touristy, so houses arent freshly painted and you may see a few broken windowpanes. I felt very safe.
So day 1 was long, but great. Day 2 was mainly spent exploring Old San Juan. We got there a little before lunch time, wandered, checked out the other fort, walked around, got lunch at an Italian place La Cucina di Ivo (a little pricey but good, excellent pesto sauce), very quiet romantic setting, and watched the kids fly kites. We also went to the pigeon park and the cathedral. We went to the spa close to the smaller fort (nothing special, but not bad) for a massage, to relax (we are on holiday!). It was a pricey splurge... we emerged refreshed, and ready to enjoy Old San Juan by night. We were tired, so hung around in that area.... got a drink on the cobblestone sidewalk, then walked over to the parrot to munch some food, and finally finished it off with ceviche from Aguavivia. Very good! We then wanted to get a cab back to Condado (around 10pm), but that was disorganized, with people pimping cabs and putting 7-8 strangers in one. We lucked out after waiting 20 min and shared a ride with another couple who were also going to Condado. The lady happened to be from San Juan who had moved to the US a few decades ago, and still had family in SJ. They were telling us about their wedding at the Vanderbilt before it had shut down, and were excited at its reopening, etc.
On our third day, we checked out of our hotel in the morning, the driver from Enterprise picked us up, we picked up our car (for the day, $80, booked by hotel in advance; walk-ins appeared cheaper). That was fine, except the lady wanted to use my insurance even though I was buying insurance for an extra $20. I finally decided not to buy the insurance... We drove out to the rain forest, which was only about 40 min away. We did the Angelito trail, a little difficult to find (use the precise directions of the day trips website). Its a very easy trail (not wheelchair accessible), and the swim in the river pond was very refreshing. I am not an expert swimmer but wasnt scared, and it was the most refreshing swim I can remember. After this, we headed to the kiosks at Luquillo for a meal. We tried a couple of them, some v. good, some not so.... we then drove to the beach next door to laze around and swim, and headed back to SJ. We were checked in at La Playa in Isla Verde for our final night, and decided to pick up food at Metropol (excellent cevice) before heading to the hotel. My wife liked the cevice at Metropol even better than Aguaviva. I also thought it was very good. Now, we had to return the car the next morning, but thought of dropping it off now in COndado (dropping at Isla Verde would cost $100 extra). What a mistake... it deserves its own paragraph.
This was probably the only time when I was frustrated enough that I was wondering whether the San Juan vacation was worth it. Long story short, the drive from Isla Verde to the Enterprise drop off, a little after the Vanderbilt near the Starbucks, usually a 15 min drive, took 2 hours and 30 min. THis was the evening of the monthly Jazz festival, the last one of the year, and the traffic was crazy...Also, people were partying... we had earlier reluctantly booked the last night in a different hotel in Isla Verde because we were advised not to stay in Condado since we had to catch a flight right around the new year. We finally understood why... Our return wasnt as painful, since we asked the cab to take us in the opposite direction towards Viejo San Juan, and then take the highway back to Isla Verde. The only loss was that we couldnt spend as much time in our lovely room and the hotel...
We reached our hotel La Playa in Isla Verde tired around 8:30, but it was lively and right on the water. We showered and headed down to enjoy the waterside, and the bartender made nice drinks. The food was average, but the setting was nice.
The next morning, the continental breakfast at the hotel wasnt great, but we didnt care. We hit the beach right next to the hotel, and spent a few hours there lazing and in the water, There was a lady on the road just before we hit the beach selling the deep fried puerto rican food almost out of her car. Nice and tasty. We started out thinking that we were going to nibble, but 4 rounds of nibbling ensured that we didnt need lunch. We were required to check out at 1pm, so we went back to shower and head out.
Now our flight was 12 hours later, around the new year. So we had planned something special, and coordinated it for this evening when we didnt need a hotel. We had contacted East Island Excursions, who arranged for a pick up from our hotel at 1:45, took us to Fajardo, got us on a fast ferry to Vieques, drinks on board, then served us dinner in Vieques (tie up with Island Adventures, dinner at their restaurant), then took us to see the Mosquito Bio Bay. This was the highlight of our trip... for those who havent seen it, words cannot describe why, and we didnt even try to take pictures (think of a swarm of fireflies in the water...). After the visit, they put us back on the ferry, and then gave us a ride back to the airport. The downside was that we spent new years in the airport by ourselves; the airport had shut down and would open an hour before our flight for security, when staff had dressed up for the holiday, etc.
This was a great trip. However, what made the trip special was the numerous taxi drivers who were very straightforward, the guy at the luquillo gas station who spoke no english but led me to the kiosks which I had missed, the doorman at various hotels who hailed cabs although I wasn't staying there, the staff at the various hotels who helped sincerely, not just for a tip, the staff on the boat and our driver, the lady at the Vieques restaurant who was working inside and spoke no English, but realized that I had walked to the kitchen looking for hot sauce, and brought me some at the table (Even the English-speaking waitress didnt know who she was). We came away refreshed, planning what we wanted to do the next time we were back.