A stunning string of islands with more than 270 miles (434.5 km) of coastline, Puerto Rico oozes Caribbean charm, yet it is a mere three- to four-hour flight from most parts of the continental USA. By Annie Archer
After a rather painless travel day from New York City — avoiding the lines at customs, no jet lag to worry about, and getting a window seat on my flight — I finally touched down in the coastal city of San Juan, Puerto Rico’s most populous and widely visited destination.
Where I was staying was the real treat, though — the historic Fairmont El San Juan Hotel, located on Isla Verde Beach, only minutes from the cobblestone streets and colourful colonial buildings of Old San Juan. The property fittingly touts itself as a place where “lively urban vibes and peaceful ocean views meet.”
Here’s a peak inside the luxurious resort in Puerto Rico
Built in 1958, the hotel evolved as a hot spot for affluent jet setters and entertainers throughout the 1960s. The allure of the resort today is undeniable, thanks to its eye-popping grounds: four pools, luxury cabanas, poolside and beachside villas, eight chic dining venues, and a full-service spa, to name a few.
My home for the next few days was the Banyan Villa, named after the property’s 300-year-old banyan tree. My room was more than spacious for a solo traveller like myself, about 350 square feet, with a private terrace just steps from the pools and stunning bright gardens — a view made better from the villa’s hammock.
The beautiful design doesn’t stop at the hotel’s rooms. In some ways, the lobby is the main event. It’s the epicentre of the hotel’s nightlife, where you can sip cocktails beneath a massive hand-blown crystal chandelier, dance at the on-site club, or if you’re feeling lucky, pay a visit to the Foxwoods El San Juan Casino.
Another highlight of this resort in Puerto Rico is the Chico Cabaret, a secluded speakeasy that’s open only on weekends. Picture it: Burlesque dancers own the stage as ’60s music fills the room. You can’t help but be transported to an era when celebrities like Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra headlined the joint.
Then, there’s the food. Choose from eight on-property restaurants or enjoy an in-suite or poolside meal (I did both). My favourite was the hotel’s signature restaurant, Caña by Juliana Gonzalez, which serves traditional cuisine, including camarones al ajillo (garlicky shrimp, yucca fritters, sherry butter sauce) and mofongo.
Beyond the resort walls, there are plenty of attractions worth exploring. Whether you’re a foodie, history enthusiast, or adventure lover, the hotel offers a variety of experiences.
On my first full day, it was 33 degrees Celsius, so I opted to hop on the water with a catamaran tour. Our last stop was Culebra, a small, sparsely populated island 20 miles (32 km) off the coast of Fajardo. With diamond-dusted sand and turquoise waters, it’s by far one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. And with a piña colada in hand, what could be better?
The next day, the hotel organised a walking tour of Old San Juan with stops at five of the city’s most famous dining establishments. We sipped coffee from beans grown on a fourth-generation family farm in Yauco and ate Puerto Rican-style pork shoulder with rice and beans all while learning about the Old San Juan’s history. This experience — and the entire trip from start to finish — ensured my inner foodie and history buff were both satisfied.
This story first appeared on www.travelandleisure.com
Main and Feature Image Credit: Annie Archer