*Disclaimer: This was not a paid partnership. I am sharing my personal travel experience to San Juan, Puerto Rico.*
I have been wanting to visit Puerto Rico since before the pandemic. Now that places are opening up again and I’m vaccinated, I decided to book a trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico. During my time in San Juan, I explored sooo much of the city (I literally walked off all of my Piña Coladas). Planning this trip took up so much of my time. From watching TikTok’s to reading every blogger’s review of San Juan, I made sure that I had back up plans for everything since dinner reservations were practically a necessity due to COVID. The one thing I was missing from my planning was the type of vibe each area in San Juan had. I frequently asked locals where people my age hung out and what vibe each region of San Juan offered. For that reason, I have a created a guide for first time San Juan visitors to help you dissect what part of San Juan you want to stay in to accommodate your style of vacation.
Where to Stay for Your Kind of Stay
I stayed in Ocean Park, New San Juan at the Dreamcatcher Hotel, which was recommended by another blogger I follow on Instagram. The Dreamcatcher is a very zen boutique hotel with a small staff and light amenities. The aromas of in-scents lingered around the hotel, every room had its own theme, and there was just so much plant life everywhere! I stayed in The Goddess Suite for two people and we had our own outdoor shower, lounging area, and a hammock in our room. The vibes were great and I was only a 5 minute walk from the beach!
The Dreamcatcher was a little far from some of the places I hung out at (Condado, Old San Juan). Driving was about 10 minutes while walking was around 40-60 minutes. Uber was so expensive (due to covid) so our rides were around $10-30 each way for a 10 minute ride.
In all honesty, I probably would not stay in Ocean Park or at this hotel again, simply because I prefer more amenities. Since this was boutique hotel that was not a part of a larger scale chain, the services were not what one would typically expect from a Marriott or Hilton. It was also a little loud, so I could hear the outside noise and the generators went off quite a few times. What really disappointed me was the staff’s lack of hospitality. I stayed at this hotel specifically because they had inexpensive and convenient guided tour options to visit the El Yunque Forest. On the morning of my tour, I was notified 15 minutes before my tour guide was scheduled to pick us up that it had been canceled due to inclement weather. Understandably, I asked if the hotel could reschedule it for the following morning. However, the staff continued to inform me that they could not book me a new tour through other agencies. I had to go to another hotel’s concierge service to find a tour guide that would take me to forest. The Dreamcatcher also never answered the phone which was very frustrating especially when I needed to ask an urgent question.
When it comes to choosing where you want to stay, you can really choose to stay in Old San Juan or New San Juan. Old San Juan has a much younger crowd of early to late 20s that likes to party in the evening, whereas New San Juan is more family friendly and has a vibe that is similar to South Beach.
Excursions to Consider
I highly recommend booking your excursions with Paradise Seekers! After my hotel canceled my rainforest tour, I was kind of suspicious about booking with any random tour guide. But after speaking with another hotel’s concierge service desk, I called Paradise Seekers and they had availability for us to book. To make sure they were trustworthy, I went to their website and Trip Advisor (which is frequently used in Puerto Rico) to check out reviews, and they were all positive!
Our tour guide Alvin was fantastic and he actually prepared us for the excursion. We walked through the El Yunque Forest and went cliff diving in the rainforest early in the morning BEFORE the crowd came. Literally, as we were leaving, waves of people were entering. Unlike the other tour guides, Paradise Seekers made sure we were properly equipped with helmets, knee pads, life jackets, emergency rope, and closed toe hiking shoes. As someone who does not know how to swim, I was sooo glad I was prepared. I have no clue how I would have slid down a waterfall without a helmet? Alvin also made sure that a tour guide was ahead of our group and behind our group at all times in case we needed anything.
One of the best parts was how cool Alvin was about documenting our experience. Rather than everyone risking the lives of their phones, Alvin brought his waterproof phone cover and GoPro specifically so we could take pictures and videos! After our tour was finished, we cleaned ourselves off, had some rum punch and light snacks, then headed to a strip of restaurants off of the coast where we dined to some authentic Puerto Rican foods.
I truly do recommend booking with Paradise Seekers for your excursions around Puerto Rico. The El Yunque Forest was just one of the many excursions they host. To be completely transparent, my total for the tour was $110, which included shoe rental, light snacks, and transportation from and to my hotel. Not a bad deal considering the forest is an hour drive from San Juan.
Dining Experiences to Try
New San Juan
Chloe – Upscale dinner with a rooftop view! The ceviche was by far my favorite entree and they even gave me a free round of prosecco for my birthday!
Funkyberry Ice Cream – delicious and authentic ice cream close to Ocean Park!
Numero Uno Beach Club – Beachfront hotel and restaurant in Ocean Park with great service, food, piña coladas, and view. S.N: this was the hotel that helped me find my El Yunque tour guide.
Old San Juan
Barrachina – Rumor has it that Barrachina is the restaurant that invented the Piña Colada. However, my Uber driver told me that the Hilton Caribe was the first… I guess we’ll never know? We had the Piña Colada’s and they were okay (we had better elsewhere). The red snapper on the other hand was fantastic! Definitely come here while in Old San Juan for mofongo or red snapper.
Cuatro Sombras Coffee – Great coffee sourced from Puerto Rico. They also serve a mouthwatering tostada with guava butter.
La Factoria -Tucked away inside of another bar, La Factoria makes superb cocktails and offers such a lowkey, speakeasy vibe. The bartenders were so great (they gave me a free shot for my birthday) and the music was amazing. I will definitely be returning when the venue opens up for dancing again.
Mr. Weenie’s – When in Old San Juan. get weiner waffles! Despite the long line, these were worth the wait and even tasted like cinnamon. Very fluffy, soft, and warm.
The Mezzanine – My waiter was literally Bad Bunny in disguise and was super cool! The vibes here were great, especially when you wanted to escape the island heat. I ordered the limoncello sangria and my friend had an espresso martini. Both cocktails were 10/10!
Sites to See, Things to Know, Covid Restrictions
New San Juan
Condado Beach Strip – Grab a piña colada and walk the entire coast and streets. You will have a blast. My friend and I literally walked into random hotel parties and had so much fun!
La Placita Santurce – I did not get a chance to go here because of the rain, BUT this was the place to be at from what all the locals and tourists recommended. This is the party hub of New San Juan from Thursday-Sunday night.
Museo de Arte – Again, did not get to go, but I wish I did! I would have loved to check out all of the art, especially just to get out of the blazing heat. Definitely on my list of things to do for next time.
Some of the reasons why I could not go to certain places was because a lot of establishments were closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. I would HIGHLY recommend booking your trip to San Juan between Wednesday- Sunday night/Monday morning because a lot of restaurants, ice cream shops, and general businesses are closed during the first two days of the week.
Old San Juan
La Perla– Super colorful and fun neighborhood to check out with a beach. I wish I had more time in Old San Juan to visit this neighborhood, but I did see it from the Castillo San Felipe del Morro!
Castillo San Felipe del Morro – Beautiful historic fort in Old San Juan which is super close to street vendors and Calle San Sebastian where you can grab a drink from La Factoria or another bar.
Sight see in Old San Juan– Just walking through all of the streets is phenomenal. I really liked Calle San Sebastian and the streets crossing through it because they all have vibrant colors, different architecture, and things to do! Calle San Sebastian is also very popular to get lit during the daytime and for nightlife.
Things to Know
If you do decide to go out in Old San Juan, I would be very mindful that catching an Uber back home from Old San Juan to New San Juan is very difficult closer to 10:30/11pm due to COVID. This may not be the same situation currently, but it was when I went. I literally could not find an Uber and got lucky to find one of two taxis left at the taxi stand.
I also had to have a negative COVID test before flying in; a rapid test will not be accepted. Puerto Rico does allow vaccinated travelers to visit, but you must upload your vaccination card to their online portal. You can find more information about Puerto Rico’s travel restrictions here. People do wear masks in San Juan, so please be mindful when entering any establishment.
Overall, I had a really great time in Puerto Rico! The people and beaches were beautiful! The food was very flavorful and just delicious! I would definitely recommend checking out San Juan now that the world is opening up again.