Last month, my BFF and I decided to do something relatively spontaneous and find a cool place to go for a Besties’ weekend. She had been yearning to visit Puerto Rico, so we decided to bite the bullet and book a quick 4 day trip. I’m a bit of a PR veteran, having been there many times in the past to visit family. However this was my first time going as a “tourist” and I was excited about experiencing the island from a different perspective.
Granted, four days is not enough time to complete a comprehensive trip to La Isla Boricua, but we made the most of it. There are a few “must sees” for any first timer to PR; I’ve decided to point out a few of those, as well as highlights and pointers that made our trip so much fun!
My best friend and I are spoiled because we live in Florida. San Juan is a 2 hour flight from Miami and 2.5 hours from Tampa. Airfare was very reasonable; JetBlue has an entire terminal at Luiz Munoz Marin Airport in San Juan, and AirTran and American Airlines also operate several daily flights from the US. Due to their acquisition of AirTran, Southwest will begin service to San Juan this month, which will be a godsend, providing even more options. And don’t forget…no passport needed to go to PR!
I decided to book two hotels over the course of our 3 night stay in Puerto Rico in order to have different experiences: the serenity of a beach resort and the energy of a vacation in the city.
For the first two nights, we stayed at the Gran Melia Golf Resort in Rio Grande. This resort is located about 20 minutes east of San Juan and is an extremely easy drive if you utilize the expressway and toll road. We rented a car to give us the independence to move around at our convenience (more on that later); parking at the resort was $16/night. The resort is situated on a peninsula, so the drive to the property is quite lovely. You’ll pass the Melia’s golf course en route to the resort.
The public areas of the Gran Melia are gorgeous. The hotel is VERY Caribbean; there are no exterior walls, allowing the breeze from the sea to drift through the hotel. There are 5 restaurants and 2 bars located at the main property, giving guests plenty of choices when it comes to dinner and drinks. The swimming pool is one of the largest I’ve ever seen, complete with a swim-up bar. And of course, there is the beach, with its plethora of beach chairs and hammocks for guests to enjoy. There is a convenience store onsite (The Market), which sells almost everything under the sun at “resort premium” prices (I just made that up). There are also two computers guests can use at no cost, but you will pay $.50 per printout (in case you need to print a boarding pass, for example). The public areas also feature free wi-fi; I saw plenty of guests lounging in the lobby areas with their laptops and iPads. 🙂
All of the guest rooms at the Gran Melia are Junior Suites or better, so they are very spacious. The resort is pretty massive, so there are golf carts available to help guests navigate the resort.
If you feel like treating yourself, you can opt to book a suite in the Melia’s RedLevel Program. This program entitles guests to private check-in/check-out services, a private pool, an exclusive happy hour with a 3 hour open bar, and daily breakfast buffet. Keep in mind; Puerto Rico does not have all-inclusive resorts, so this is the closest you will get!
I found the Melia to be a very serene and relaxing resort. No one was in much of a hurry, and due to the time of year, the resort wasn’t very crowded. We were seated almost immediately at the on-site restaurants, and bar service was quick and efficient. We did have to stand in a short line to check-in for our rooms, but it was nothing to complain about. The resort is in a remote location, and if you don’t have a rental car you will be forced to dine at one of the on-site restaurants. They also did not offer much in terms of nightlife; a small band playing at the lobby bar was our entertainment. So if you’re looking for a resort with an active nightlife, this is not the place for you.
For our final night in PR, we relocated to La Concha Resort in the Condado area of San Juan. As soon as we arrived to Condado, we knew this was going to be a completely different experience. The traffic was CRAZY and there were pedestrians all over the place. Once we arrived, we were struck by the modernity of the resort. It really felt like we were on South Beach! The public areas are very contemporary and the pool area had a really cool two-tiered design with a full-service grill situated nearby. Just north of the pool was the beach, which was relatively small but did the trick. A continental breakfast is available at the lobby bar in the mornings and a full breakfast buffet is set up in the Voga Italian Restaurant.
We had an oceanview room with two double beds. The windows/sliding door were floor to ceiling, with an incredible view of the water. We were really pleased with this room. It had the all-important iPhone charger/alarm clock, a refrigerator that was NOT a minibar (I know, right?), and tons of closet space. Since we would only be there one night, we didn’t really take advantage of that. One thing I loved was the hotel business center, which gives all guests free access to internet, printing and copying services with a swipe of the room key. Free wifi was also available in guest rooms, but my mobile service was very spotty throughout the weekend, so I didn’t bother much with that.
La Concha also has their “upper tier” option for guests looking for an upscale vacation, with their guest rooms in THE Suite Tower. Those staying in this all-suite area of the resort have access to a private, adults-only swimming pool/beach area.
Since Condado is such a pedestrian-friendly area, there are a plethora of bars, restaurants and clubs within walking distance of the hotel. Old San Juan is a 10 minute cab ride away, and the airport is about 10 miles east, so there really is no need to rent a car if you plan to stay here.
I’ll end Part 1 of this post here, and return in the near future to discuss the fun stuff: Puerto Rican FOOD, fun, and getting “got” at the rental car counter! Until then….