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Two Nights in San Juan

by Véronique and Mike

6 January 2015 • This time we were kind of prepared. We booked a room in Hotel Numero Uno, right on the beach. We arrived around midnight, a well-organized taxi service made it easy for our tired minds to arrive safely at our destination. A no-nonsense warm welcome told me that we picked the right place for our stay. 

Numero Uno Guesthouse

Even more when I woke up early the next day (jetlag), walked out our room to see the beach and the ocean right at the doorstep of the small hotel. Paradise. It is located on a quiet stretch of the Ocean Park beach with no high-rise buildings. When I did my morning walk I was almost the only one on the beach. On Black Friday locals gathered on the beach with friends, food and umbrellas. All together there was a nice atmosphere and good energy. There is a cabana service for the hotel guests. I cannot remember when was the last time I spent time on the beach with the luxury of dozing off in a beach chair but it sure felt good. 

It is not only a great place to sleep. There is also an amazing restaurant. Pamela’s gives the opportunity to taste local specialties right on the beach. In the evening it is a popular place, locals and tourists gather together to dine with their feet in the sand and listen to the waves. 

It was hard to drag us away from all that relaxing but we wanted to see some of the Old Town (Unesco-listed) too. San Juan has a lot to offer. Next to the usual souvenir shops they have some nice artisanal shops too. We liked: Colonial Hill Boutique (jewellery) and Poets Passage & Coffee shop.

If you are a coffee lover you will have many opportunities to taste some of that black gold. We went to Caficultura where friendly Carlos served us a Cafi Coco (coconut flavoured coffee) for me and an Americano for Mike.

If you want to buy something in San Juan, a hat is a good idea. There are many shops that sell hand-fitted panama hats. Another authentic product to buy is cigars.

When I was researching where to stay in San Juan, one of the options was the El Convento hotel. Although we were very happy with our choice, if you would prefer to stay in the city centre this hotel – previous a Carmelite Convent, this one is one to look into. If you don’t stay here you can have a drink or eat in the restaurant overlooking the courtyard. Fellow passengers on board SeaDream 1 stayed there before their cruise and were very happy with the experience.

El Convento Hotel

While we were in Old San Juan we spent some time watching a wedding in the San Juan church. While the guests and family were waiting for the bride they went for an ice cream. The vendor could not work fast enough to feed all those hungry people in their formal dress. 

Mike photographing the weddingIce cream and weddings = a perfect combination

If you love cats you will be happy that San Juan has many of them. They are everywhere, sleeping on old cars, in garbage cans, posing on the old walls. The cats are well treated by (most of) the locals. There is even an organization that helps them keep safe and healthy; Save a Gato.

Fort San Felipe de El Morro is a must-visit. The lawn was filled with pick-nicking people enjoying their day off and kids playing with their kites. The sun was slowly going down and under that magic light Mike rushed to take photographs of the adjacent beautiful Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, the final rest place of some of the prominent inhabitants of Puerto Rico, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. I sat down on the grass enjoying once again a beautiful sunset. Some things will always stay free.

Before returning to our hotel we decided to have a mojito and some snacks at Aji Dulce. Their arepas with lobster and fish cakes were simply delicious.

The view from the terrace of Aji Dulce restaurant

Luckely we still had one more morning in our new found paradise. Another morning with an early wake up. Another walk on the beach, wishing the sun a good day, surprising the fishermen and the pelicans during their hunt for fish…

After yet another delicious lunch (snapper with crab and plantains) we had to say goodbye to Numero Uno Guesthouse. There are not that many hotels I would go back without a doubt but this one, oh yes this one, is one of them.

In conclusion Puerto Rico was great. We did not come with big expectations but where pleasantly surprised with the friendliness of the people, the easy going correct way of being treated, the tasty and varied food, the quiet beach, the architectural beauty of Old San Juan and so much more. A perfect place to stay a couple of days before or after a cruise but also a perfect city to start a trip around the country as Puerto Rico has more to offer than San Juan. 

Text: Véronique

Photos: Mike & Véronique