In March I took a last minute trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico for 3 days (3 nights). Here's what I did there:
How I Got There
JetBlue flight from JFK: so much legroom, plus with in-flight TV I got to watch March Madness on the plane.
Where I Stayed
Quality Inn El Portal: I booked the trip about 4 days before my departure date, during high spring break season, so most budget hotels and Airbnbs (and all hostels) were booked. This place was clean, the staff was friendly, there was a (very basic) continental breakfast and it was a 5 minute walk from Condado beach. About $150/night; $25 cab from the airport.
Bodega Chic: I met my friend Liz after her dinner here. She raved about the French-Caribbean food. Staff was full of recommendations for bars, restaurants and things to do.
La Factoria: Liz's reaction to this place: "It feels like a Mumford and Sons concert in here." Turns out there are hipsters in San Juan, and this converted factory-turned cocktail den is where they hang out.
La Taberna Lúpulo: Craft beer is just starting to become cool in PR but there still aren't many places to get it. This is one of the best beer bars on the island, with 50 brews on tap.
Cafetin Marrero: A quieter neighborhood bar with a retro New York juke box and bathrooms outside in the back. When we were here the bartender was giving an old man a haircut.
El Batey: Feels like it should be in Brooklyn (the MetroCards hanging from a lamp help), there isn't an inch of wall in this bar that hasn't been scribbled on.
Oddly enough, about a week after I got back, Conde Nast Traveler published this story that traced a lot of my San Juan steps.
Latin Star Cafe: Not recommended. It looked quick and was on the way to the beach. Cold food and slow service.
Condado Beach: Your average hotel-fronted Caribbean beach. But there's warm water, a few palm trees and ample sand... and when it's 35 degrees on the East Coast, those things are sometimes all I care about.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro: Came here for sunset, but the fort itself closes at 6 so didn't make it inside. Beautiful sunset gathering spot though, overlooking the bay.
Barrachina: Home of the original pina colada. It was the best pina colada I've ever had, so I was shocked when the women next to me asked for a wine list.
Cafe Puerto Rico: This place was busy, but there was a public square with a dance and drum performance across the street during the wait. Great mofongo here - worth the wait.
Old Harbor Brewery: Another beer spot in San Juan, though this one brews its own. Try the Coqui beer, a light lager, but for a better selection, Lupulo is your spot.
El Yunque: Rented a car in Condado and drove out about an hour to El Yunque. The rainforest was good for a few hikes and a view from the Yokahu Tower. If you're brave (I wasn't), take a dip in the freezing water at La Mina Falls. Spent about 3 hours here.
Luquillo and the Kiosks: Circled through Luquillo town, which was sketchy and abandoned, then backtracked to the "kioskos" a mile or so east. The food kiosks start to all look the same, but the offerings were cheap and delicious. There are also bar and shopping vendors here. Walk through the kiosks onto Luquillo Beach. On Saturday it blows up into a local party spot, with music blasting from trucks that had subwoofers the size of a car. Red lifeguard shacks, yellow sand, blue sky, and green palms makes for a colorful photo op.
Fajardo and the Bioluminescent Bay: Lesson learned - plan ahead if you want to go on a bio tour. I only got on one due to a cancellation. Another tip - opt for a boat tour vs a kayak. You'll stay dry and can use your camera. The bio bay tours leave from a little port village with a few touristy (but quality) vendors and beach bars.
Note: Saturday night traffic in Condado is terrible, and there aren't many gas stations. Fill up your car before getting back into the heart of San Juan, or be prepared to spend 2 hours in traffic.
Time to go home!