Go to San Juan If You Want a Perfect Beach Vacation

Ama Kwarteng
Photo credit: Khadija Horton

From Cosmopolitan

Even though I'm now an adult in the real world who no longer gets a three-month long summer break (I'm still coming to terms with this), the warmer months still mean vacation to me. Specifically, a beach vacation. Last year, I went to Tulum with one of my best friends, and I was itching for another tropical getaway. After asking around and blowing up every single group chat, one option I heard over and over again was San Juan, Puerto Rico. I had a big question, though: Were they welcoming tourists in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria? Turns out, YES! The island received a record number of travelers in 2019, which is helping to bring in more revenue to continue rebuilding efforts.

Another plus: It's not too far NYC, and it would give my travel buddy/ best friend Abbie and I a perfect amount of sight-seeing, fun, and relaxation. Now, after visiting once, I'm already planning my return. The city's ocean views and bold color palette make it perfect for refreshing your Insta grid, and there's so much to keep you busy.

But where to stay? There are a ton of housing options in San Juan, but we ended up deciding on the Caribe Hilton. What sold us was the location—it's a quick taxi ride away from Old San Juan, but it's also right along the beach. The resort has everything you could ever want from a hotel—six restaurants on site, ocean front pools, a convenience store, and a swim-up bar. Oh, and did I mention that one of the bars, Caribar, is where the piña colada was created?? *Dreams*

Book Now Caribe Hilton

Even though there's enough at the resort to keep you busy, the experiences once you step out into the city are even more amazing. Here are the can’t-miss moments you need on your San Juan itinerary.

From the moment I stepped into Old San Juan, it had been like I was taken back in time—in the best way possible. Buildings from the 16th and 17th century Spanish colonial period surrounded the cobblestone streets, reminding me of Europe. You get to see the most insane views of the Atlantic Ocean, a ton of historic churches, and museums where you can show off your Art History 101 knowledge. If you're a nerd like me, stop by Castillo de San Cristobal, an overwhelmingly beautiful 500-year-old military fort that guarded the land east of Old San Juan. Take in all the sights, and snap a pic (or two). Oh, and the district is full of colorful walls and cute stairs, perfect for your feed. Here are a few must-dos in the historical district:

  • Dine out on Fortaleza Street. This is known as "Restaurant Row" in the city, and some of the best restaurants in town (grab mofongos, aka mashed plantain, at El Punto).
  • Stroll down Paseo de la Princesa. Not only is this promenade the best way to see the coast of Old San Juan, but it also leads to an open air cafe that offers live music most nights of the week.
  • Embarrass yourself in front of the locals at La Factoría. Yes, everyone will be a better dancer than you at this salsa spot. And yes, you'll still have fun.

One of the first stops on our trip was to El Convento. I had heard about the stunning 300-year-old convent-turned-hotel, and wanted to 1) see it for myself and 2) grab lunch inside the beautiful courtyard. The spot did not disappoint—the dining area is in an open air courtyard inside the small boutique hotel, and it is so, so gorgeous . I mean, I couldn't stop snapping pics of the bright yellow walls. And the food? One bite of their fish taquitos, and I was immediately at peace, blissfuly ignoring my growing email inbox. The food is fresh and flavorful, nothing like the fish tacos I was used to eating at home.

Check out the menu Lunch for two at El Convento

NGL, I had no idea that Casa Bacardi—Bacardi's HQ where they make the rum—was located in San Juan, and I was kind of hesitant to go. (My feelings were a combo of being a tequila girl and having some bad memories of rum in college). But, I am beyond happy that we decided to book this mixology class. The class starts off with a welcome drink (love the hospitality), and a quick tour around the facilities. You get to visit the distillery (lots of good photo ops), see some really old bottles of rum, and then you're taken to the main event, where you make three Bacardi-filled drinks. I've already brought out my new mojito making skills at pregames back home.

Photo credit: @casabacardi - Instagram
Photo credit: @casabacardi - Instagram

Book Now Mixology class at Casa Bacardi

As someone who is a fan of both dancing and rosé, this was one of my favorite parts of the trip. We made our way to Marena, a bar that's nestled inside La Concha resort, grabbed a day bed (you need to reserve them ahead of time), and danced the day away. There's an infinity pool near the bar that we spent what felt like hours in. It gives you an amazing view of the beach. Take a glass of rosé down to the beach (no, you won't get in trouble) and snap a thirst trap for your 'gram.

Book Now La Concha Resort

This was—and I can't stress this enough—one of the best meals I've had in my entire life. From the food (insanely delicious) to the wine (perfectly paired) to the service (impeccable), it was a 10 out 10 dining experience. 1919 is located inside the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, and it's headed by Michelin Star-rated executive chef Juan Jose Cuevas. He gives you a Puerto Rican twist on a farm-to-table meal (meaning everything is sourced from locally grown food). Abbie and I decided to do it big and go for a nine course tasting menu dinner with a wine pairing for each course. (Please note: You do not have to finish every glass of wine they give you...learn from my mistakes.) Anyways, I still dream about the slow cooked salmon, the lobster salad, and the handkerchief pasta to this day. Also, they even give you a loaf of banana bread as you leave the restaurant as a parting gift.

Book Now Dinner for two at 1919

One of my favorite parts about the Caribe Hilton is that it has a private beach. Yes, this made me feel #rich, but it was also the perfect viewing location for the unreal Puerto Rican sunsets. It was like seeing a Microsoft Windows screensaver IRL. It was breathtaking, and no pictures will ever do it justice (but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try).

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