Puerto Rico: Figuring Out San Juan

Not having the chance to blog while I was away on vacation, I’m going to try to post some entries about the different parts of our trip, on the off chance that it’ll help someone later, or at least be interesting to read, should you want to think about things other than the same old same old. First up? The city itself. We picked Puerto Rico because we hoped it would feel international, without actually having to be international. We were definitely not disappointed.

San Juan is the main city of the island. It actually has almost 2.5 million people in it, so you shouldn’t go thinking you’re going to be tucked away in some small backwater. That said, there definitely seemed to be a tourist part of the city and an “everywhere else” part of it. We spent all our time in the city right along the coast, bouncing between the hotel areas and Old San Juan, which is right at the point of the city. I only saw the rest of the city from the plane as we were flying over, so I don’t really have anything to contribute when it comes to that part.

Old San Juan is great, but quite small. It’s filled with touristy shops and restaurants, though it does have a couple of things worth checking out. There are two old forts that are very cool, and it’s got the San Juan Bautista, the second oldest church in the western hemisphere. (Also the burial site of Ponce De Leon, who served as governor of the city.) That said, the church is quite simple, so don’t go expecting anything like the cathedrals you’ll find in Europe. There’s also no real central square or plaza to check out. The old city is more an area of twisting streets with a small public area here and there. (Though cool side note: it uses this blue-grey stone for its cobblestones everywhere. The stone isn’t native to the island. It was brought over to San Juan as ballast by the Spanish trading ships, so they were properly weighted for the voyage to the island. On their voyage home, they’d be loaded down with all the goods they were bringing back from the new world. The people in San Juan had all this rock, so they needed to use it for something . . . )

All told, we went into Old San Juan twice, but the second trip was fairly redundant. (We hadn’t found any good souvenirs for the kids, so we had to trek back in to get them something. In hindsight, we should have bought them on our first trip in on the first day.) I’d say you could plan for an afternoon to see Old San Juan. If I were to do it again, I would probably time the trip to get there in the afternoon, so I could be there for the day, and then see what it looked like at night, but I like seeing cities at night.

I was surprised by how few people were in the Old City. Most of the places we went outside of the city were booked weeks in advance, so I was expecting mobs. There were anything but. Also, I was impressed by the extent all the stores went to for COVID safety measures. You had to take your temperature everywhere, and you had to disinfect your hands each time you entered a store. Masking was very well enforced in the old city.

We had debated getting a car for the trip, but after talking to some friends, we decided against it. A car was going to be expensive ($500 or more for the 6 days we’d be there, and we’d have to pay for parking at the hotel as well). Instead, we took Ubers around the city, which were relatively easy to get (as long as you were in the more populated areas), and typically not too expensive. (Though that changed wildly depending on the time. A 10 minute trip from our hotel to the Old City ranged from $12 to $40. Thankfully, we were able to avoid the $40 times.) To see places outside of the city, we booked tours that included transportation from San Juan. (More on those in a later post.) I’m very glad we didn’t get a car. Maybe on a later trip, if I wanted to check out other places on the island, but for this, it would’ve been a waste.

As far as places to stay, we were constrained somewhat by wanting to use up Marriott nights that would expire in August. We settled on the Courtyard Isla Verde Resort, a place right on the beach that qualified for the free nights. (Though we had to pay $25/night in resort fees. These covered free waters each night, boogie boards, towels, beach chairs, etc.) It was a good resort. Its place on the beach was perfect, and the beach was practically empty the entire time. A few drawbacks: it’s right by the airport, so you’d hear the planes taking off. It’s also an older hotel, so it felt well-used. Restaurant options in the hotel weren’t great, but I attribute a lot of that to COVID. There were some decent places to eat within walking distance.

The other potential downside was that it was quite far from the rest of the Old City. There were many more hotels closer, but other than the more expensive Uber ride, I wasn’t sorry we weren’t down there. Those areas were very dominated by hotels. The one time Denisa and I were there and looking for a place to eat, it was hard to find a lot of options that weren’t in a lobby.

All told, we were happy with where we stayed. The price was great, and it all worked out well. My only real regret is that we didn’t give ourselves enough time to enjoy that beautiful beach. We swam there once, and walked along it twice, and that was it. (Not that we weren’t in the water elsewhere, but still . . . Though then again, what do people actually do when they’re just sitting at the beach? I don’t think I would have liked to be there *too* much more, but another afternoon or a morning would have been nice.)

Oh–one last note. We didn’t get an all-inclusive hotel, and that was on purpose. I wanted to get away from the hotel and do things elsewhere, and I didn’t want to feel like I needed to eat at the hotel all the time to get my money’s worth. If we’d gotten one, I think that would have been my natural inclination. I don’t regret the decision, but then again, I still haven’t stayed at an all-inclusive resort, so maybe I don’t know what I’m missing . . .

That’s it for today’s entry. More to come later!


Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Leave a comment