I have always been an aficionado of the Spanish Caribbean – just love the Latin culture on a tropical island. Though I have been to Puerto Rico several times, I would say that this visit was very much about the culinary. If your idea of a weekend away involves at least three meals a day, all of which must be fabulous, I would definitely suggest this easy get-a-way, and for US Citizens, of course NO PASSPORT required!
We stayed at the newly restored and recently opened Condado Vanderbilt in the Condado area of San Juan just 10 minutes drive from the airport. I loved the vibe at this new hotel which has creatively merged the re-designed art deco historic building with the modern wings. The property sits literally on the roaring Atlantic surf, I am sure this close access would not be allowed for a new build, yet gives this classic property a real sense of place and drama. The pool and sun decks are creatively positioned and flow from the east wing to the west wing with many ocean side nooks to find your own lounging spot. The hotel, like San Juan itself is very compact and its setting right above the waves, gave me the impression I was on the bow of a ship.
The Condado Vanderbilt has an exceptional culinary team and I can say that myself along with the 5 other foodie friends with whom I shared the weekend all agreed that there was nothing served at the Condado that was anything but delicious. One of us said it so well, stating that sometimes you eat in a hotel because it is convenient and sometimes you eat in a hotel because it is worth of the trip in itself. Breakfast’s started with homemade yogurt and perfectly in season local fruits and ended with Roasted Puerto Rican pork eggs Benedict – decadent!! Lunch was shrimp stuffed arepas or bread toasted with iberico ham, roast red peppers and pesto. The highlight meal was without a doubt, the 5 course tasting menu at 1919 where the kitchen is helmed by Michelin-starred Executive Chef and native, Juan Jose Cuevas. Each bite was more incredible than the next paired with exquisite and rare wines. Lobster salad and confit of organic salmon were only the beginning!
The drinks were all expertly prepared and caiprinas, mojitos and margaritas flowed. I will admit the newly opened property has some growing pains and there were a couple of painfully long waits for a cocktail and sometimes for that delicious fresh brewed coffee in the morning. I guess those are just two things that most people do not like to wait on at sun up or sun down. The staff could not be more friendly and well-meaning and with time, certainly the Condado Vanderbilt will be a well oiled machine.
Rooms and bathrooms in the historic building, while charming, are on the small side and may not have much of a view with just one small window in some. If having a bit more space and large ocean view glass windows is important, opt for one of the rooms or suites in the modern wings.
The beach at Condado Vanderbilt itself is not really swimmable as the surf and current is quite strong and the due to the dramatic and rocky shore line. Most of the seating is on decks above the shore line with wonderful and unobstructed views. There is an expansive and public beach adjacent to the Condado Vanderbilt and the hotel does provide a towel and beverage service in this area. They are working on completion of an easier access to this area and as of my visit final works are being completed on a second bar and lounge area.
We definitely took advantage of the gym and especially enjoyed the morning spin classes with Carlos, who also is happy to teach a few Gringos how to salsa! The spa is compact but gorgeous and may have been one of the best massages I have had in a long while. Guests wanting to get back to the baby skin they were born with might like to indulge in the Turkish Hammam, the first of its kind on the island.
The Condado Vanderbilt is definitely injecting some life into the exclusive Condado Area, which does have some high end shops and a casino and several restaurants to chose from off premise. While I was off doing hotel site inspections, my friends, had what they said was an absolutely incredible meal at the nearby Peruvian restaurant one day, and with all the confidence in the world, I can recommend it on their behalf – InkaTerra!
Puerto Rico does have many Peruvian restaurants, considered the most sophisticated cuisine of Latin America, which tells me again, that San Juan has it’s culinary game on!
Everyone’s favorite meal of the weekend though had to be at Santaella in the the festive and fun in the Placita Santurce area, and this is a MUST DO for anyone visiting San Juan. We opted for a bunch of family style appetizers or antojitos and the tuna and avocado tacos and squid and white bean casoullet were particularly memorable!
The Placita area is extremely authentic with locals having an especially lively time on the weekend nights. We found some fun local bars to listed to music and dance with the locals, though certainly they had much more practice and rhythm!
Our final night included a visit to Old San Juan. The restaurants here are definitely more touristy, but the old town is still so beautiful with its forts, plazas, narrow streets and colorful and charming Colonial architecture. We found a great old bar for what else, an excellent local rum, on ice with just a splash of pine apple – heaven! Dinner for me was a selection of delicious ceviches – scallop with mango and shrimp with coconut milk to mention a couple. A gorgeous last night in a fun city with wonderful friends. Where to next year guys?
On a side note, Puerto Rico has so many hotel options from the Reserve at Dorado Beach, the Convento in Old San Juan, The Ritz-Carlton
just adjacent to the airport, the Condado Vanderbilt in the Condado neighbor hood, or the St Regis in Rio Grande – all completely differentand our client’s receive special amenities and perks with compliments at all of them. Let’s discuss what might be the best fit for you. For couples or a group of friends wanting a sophisticated and grown up vibe in the city center with outstanding food and beverage, Condado Vanderbilt is my pick – sleek and unique with an authentic vibe!