As many of you know, Ryan and I spent the week of our second wedding anniversary in sunny (and hot!) San Juan, Puerto Rico!
While I normally am an extensive planner and like to have a day-by-day itinerary of what we want to do and see while on vacation, Ryan and I both took a different approach to this trip and essentially just went with the flow. We truly wanted a low-key, relaxing week, and that is exactly what we got while still getting to explore a new place and culture.
This is not a daily recap of the trip – that would be a bit redundant seeing as pool and beach time occurred pretty much all day, (almost) every day – but rather our trip highlights of where we stayed, what we saw/did, and of course, what we ate.
Where We Stayed
When Ryan and I travel to a new place, we often look for a popular hotel chain that we are familiar with so we basically will know what to expect out of our stay and our room. For this trip, we opted to spend the week at the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino in the Condado region of San Juan. The resort is beautiful, and we couldn’t have been happier with our stay.
We booked a corner beachfront room, and you can imagine that it was worth the money – I mean, look at that view! I loved keeping the door cracked at night to fall asleep to the sound of the waves. The room itself was a tad on the smaller side, but for the amount of time that we were in there and the fact that we are pretty small people in general, we don’t need much room.
The beach access was the best part of the resort. The resort staff would bring chairs and an umbrella to wherever you wanted to setup shop on the sand for the day. I was a tad concerned about annoying solicitors since it is a public beach, but I’m happy to report that that was kept to a minimum – even the solicitors that did walk the beach were not obnoxious or forceful in getting you to purchase something. The pool, albeit a tad small, was a nice place to hangout in the afternoon and enjoy some drinks at the poolside bar.
We were nightly visitors at the Red Coral Lounge, which is located in the hotel lobby. People, Dragon Berry Mojito is the only thing I need to say here. Yum! Beginning Wednesday night and for the rest of the week, there also was a live band, which was so fun and entertaining to wind down for the evening. We also spent a fair amount of time in the casino each night – Ryan and I both were lucky enough to walk away with a few bucks!
What We Did and Saw
A majority of what we saw and explored while on our trip was in Old San Juan, which easily is one of the neatest little historic cities that I’ve ever visited. We went to Old San Juan twice on our trip – the first time we mainly focused on sightseeing at the main tourist spots, and the second time was to walk the city more to explore the buildings and architecture and to indulge in a little bit of shopping.
Our favorite activities and spots included:
Castillo San Felipe del Morro & Castillo de San Cristobal
Ryan and I typically like to keep active and get moving while we are on vacation, so exploring both the historic forts in the same day was a no brainer (although, at one point I thought I was going to die from heat exhaustion … #nojoke). The castles/forts are so full of history and offer some of the best views of Old San Juan and the surrounding ocean. We lucked out that we were there on a quiet day because we heard from locals that sometimes you barely can move around that there are so many people … there were times when we were the only people around!
Right in the heart of the city, this is the birthplace of the Pina Colada! You can bet that after hiking those forts in 100 F weather that it tasted damn good, too. We also opted to split an appetizer sampler here, and the food was delicious! It’s a good mix of authentic Puerto Rican food and American cuisine.
I had read about this shop before we left, and I was so happy that we found it – it’s literally right across the street from Barrachina. This shop is known for its handmade Panama hats – if I wore more hats, I definitely would’ve spent the $100 to buy one because they were beautiful and could be customized with any color ribbon that you wanted. This shop also is home to handmade espadrilles, which I did walk out with, and several other handmade souvenirs, antiques and trinkets. Our number one gift that we always have to purchase for ourselves is a Christmas ornament, and we bought ours from this store because it was carved out of mahogany from trees in front of the Cathedral (more on that in a minute), and the shop owner’s daughter painted the design that is on it. I always love when we can know the story behind a handmade item!
Cathedral of San Juan Bautista
This was hands down my favorite thing that we saw while visiting Old San Juan. This is one of the oldest churches in America, and it was stunning. I couldn’t take any photos inside, nor would I have in respect for those who were there to worship, but I cannot emphasize just how neat the architecture, detail and history was. Whether you’re religious/spiritual or not, do yourself a favor and stop in here if you get the chance. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Beyond visiting Old San Juan, we tried to do an excursion in the rain forest, but not enough people had signed up on the day that we wanted to go. So that, along with making the hour plus drive to the city of Fajardo to do the Bioluminescent Bay excursion, are on our list of things to do should we ever visit the island again.
What We Ate
So, Ryan and I are admittedly not the most adventurous when it comes to food. We always struggle with where and what to eat when we travel, and we knew that this was going to be a bit of a struggle for us while in Puerto Rico since the local food is a tad outside our comfort zone. Fortunately, thanks to recommendations from the hotel staff and locals, we were able to find some gems just within walking distance of our resort.
You definitely have to keep an eye out for this place since it is a hole-in-the-wall local place in a somewhat rundown strip mall. Someone at the hotel recommended this to us when we first arrived, and we were happy to visit someplace local. I was brave and tried the Mufongo, and I can understand all the rave about it!
Located right across the street from our resort, we went here once for breakfast and for dinner our last night in town. The food is downright delicious, and the staff was so friendly. If you go for breakfast, get a coffee with milk and the Caprese omelet – yum!
Di Parma Trattoria
You’re probably thinking “why in the world would they want Italian food while in Puerto Rico?!” Well, let’s face it – Ryan and I honestly can barely go a week without having pizza, and being on vacation on a tropical island doesn’t change that (on our honeymoon, we even manged to get Domino’s delivered to our resort in St. Thomas on the U.S. Virgin Islands … yeah, we’re special). So, by our third night in town, we were dying for some “normal” food, and this place hit the spot. We split a gourmet pepperoni pizza and authentic Pasta Bolognese. Our waitress here also was one of the sweetest girls that I’ve ever met, and she treated us to the island’s specialty shot – I couldn’t tell you what it was called, but it was heavenly.
Probably our favorite meal of the entire trip, this is another restaurant that is only a few minutes walking distance from the resort. Everything is served Spanish tapas-style, which we were a-okay with since that meant we could get lots of food. I recommend the calamari and fish tacos – so, so good. There also are live Flamenco dancers Thursday nights – we sadly left before they started, but I heard it’s a fun show to see.
Our resort also surprisingly had good food – we ate at the ocean-side restaurant a couple times when we came up from the beach and pool, so that was a nice convenience to have when we didn’t feel like getting dressed up to go anywhere.
So, that in a nutshell my friends was our trip to Puerto Rico! Like I said, I could go into greater detail, but it would be a lot of “well, this day we laid by the pool” and “this day, we laid on the beach all day” – not the most captivating content for a blog post. 🙂
If you have any questions about the trip or need recommendations, feel free to drop me a line – I’d be happy to help!