The crash of surf on sand is hypnotizing. While sitting on my balcony at the San Juan Marriott Resort, I stare out at the vast Atlantic and find it hard not to be enchanted, romanced and lulled by ocean’s heartbeat. Gazing below, it is clear that San Juan is for beach lovers: tan fans, body boarders, swimmers with a snorkel and (most importantly) the origin of the Pina Colada (be still my heart).
Whenever I jet away to escape Toronto’s harsh winter I hope to find a balance between enjoying much needed down time at my hotel (sipping umbrella adorned cocktails and working on my tan) and exploring the unique history, colourful landscape and fresh flavours of my new home away from home.
The Marriott in San Juan offers guests just that. At its prestigious beachfront address in the bustling Condado neighbourhood bronzed bombshells can be found sprawled across golden sand or lazing on lounge chairs by one of the hotels two turquoise pools. And while year round sun and sandy beaches are understandably the biggest draw, you’ll find plenty of opportunity for an authentic Puerto Rican adventure via a long list of excursions available at the hotels always bustling concierge desk.
In 2013 the San Juan Marriott updated its 511 rooms and 14 suites, which now offer guests a refreshed Caribbean elegance that caters to the city’s cosmopolitan dynamic. Looking to treat yourself? Shopaholics are spoilt for choice as the hotel is located on tree-lined Avenida Ashford, a hip strip that Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Cartier call home. After pounding the pavement why not relax at Ocean Club Spa where a petite menu featuring scrubs, wraps, facials and massage offer the rejuvenation you’ll require to hop back on that plane.
Sips and Nibbles
Feeling peckish in the afternoon but don’t want to leave the pool? Your best bet is a pina colada sloshed lunch at La Isla Beach Bar where crispy coconut shrimp and smoky chicken wings offer serious satiation.
If you’re in town on the weekend be sure to stop by the Red Coral Lounge at night for “Salsa and Sushi,” where each evening the kitchen serves up fusion sushi offerings (traditional churrasco, creamy avocado, sweet plantain) while a live band adds a festive energy to the dance floor. Salsa yourself silly then quench your thirst by celebrating local flavours with an ice cold bottle of Medalla Light or classic mojito spiked with Bacardi Oakheart.
Be sure to make a reservation at Jose Enrique Restaurant, ranked as one of the top authentic Puerto Rican restaurants in San Juan.
Explore Castillo San Cristobal
Guarding the eastern side of the old city, the Castillo de San Cristobal, built in stages between 1634 and 1790, is the largest colonial fortress in the Americas. Walking through the forts various exhibits, visitors get a quick glimpse of what life was like in San Juan under Spanish colonial rule. Fans of pirate legend and lore will enjoy an eerie moment standing in a dark dungeon where sketches of tall-ships were scribbled on the wall by sinister prisoners. Be sure not to leave without marching up to the third floor observation deck where a stunning panorama offers the best views of Old San Juan and the crash of surf along the coast.
Wander Old San Juan
The historical heart of the city is Old San Juan, a seductive blend of Spanish colonial charm, Caribbean languor and modern chic. Its cobbled streets are adorned with brightly painted houses and balconies of vivid tropical blooms. Thanks to extensive restoration in the 1990’s, Old San Juan is a wonderfully preserved slice of eighteenth-century colonial Spain where petite plazas spill into breezy cathedrals. You can easily explore the area on foot over the course of a few short hours so do yourself a favour and shove your map into your back pocket and let yourself get lost.
Drink Up at Casa Bacardi
No trip to San Juan is complete without a visit to Casa Bacardi, aptly titled “The Cathedral of Rum” and the city’s most popular attraction. Upon arrival I couldn’t help but smirk about how it felt a bit like “Disney does a Distillery,” as guests are whisked around the property on Bacardi bat embossed limo golf carts. The tour begins by transporting visitors back in time to Santiago de Cuba where on February 4th 1862, Don Facundo Bacardi Masso originally created his Bacardi recipe. Today rum fans enjoy an entertaining multi-sensory tour which includes a short film showcasing Bacardi’s early history, step-by-step explanation of the distillation process and live cocktail demo. Much to my amazement (and glee) the tour is free and includes two drink tickets which you can use to quench your thirst before entering the glitz and glam of the gift shop.
Hike Through El Yunque Rainforest
Sacred to the indigenous Taino long before the Spanish conquest, El Yunque National Forest dominates eastern Puerto Rico like a protective wall, absorbing most of the rain hurled into the island by the trade winds. The majority of tourists visit El Yunque on day-trips which include a leisurely stroll in the jungle, La Coca waterfall photo op and pretty views from Yokahu Tower. Be on the look out for wildlife as the forest is home to over thirty species of amphibian and reptile, eleven types of bat (the only native mammal) and 63 species of bird. Tucked within the greenery is the Puerto Rican green parrot, the most celebrated and endangered inhabitant of El Yunque. When the Spanish arrived in 1508, it was estimated that one million parrots lived on the island: after years of hunting, deforestation and devastating hurricanes, there are thought to be around 50 in the wild. Consider yourself a lucky duck if you spot one!