If you’re looking for an island vacation that involves a bit more than beach bumming, Puerto Rico is just the place. Aside from its unspoiled coastline, the U.S. territory, approximately the size of Connecticut, is home to one of the most charming and lively cities in the Caribbean, lovely Old San Juan.—Alysha Brown
HOW TO GET THERE
Most major airlines fly to the island’s main airport Luis Muñoz Marín International just outside of San Juan. There are also a number of regional airports closer to those remote resorts, such as Humacao and Rafael Hernandez that service carriers flying directly to the New York area.
WHERE TO STAY
Right in the heart of Old San Juan, on a steep, tree-lined cobblestone street is the El Convento Hotel. The classic Spanish colonial-style property that was once used as a convent is an idyllic place to spend a few days exploring the city before hitting the island’s white sand beaches. Spacious doubles featuring hand-carved wooden beds, Juliet balconies and local artwork start at $325. For total relaxation, book a suite at the secluded Horned Dorset Primavera in coastal Rincon for $1,500 a night. Private plunge pools, wicker canopy beds, an oversized chaise and two bathrooms are just some of amenities the bi-level space has to offer. Other perks include the hotel’s infinity pool that overlooks the Atlantic and a pristine stretch of quiet beach. Cliffside Las Casitas Village has luxurious one-, two- and three-bedroom villas that rent from between $450 and $1,100. Patrons will appreciate the hotel’s renowned spa, Golden Door, where Caribbean-inspired treatments such as the citrus sea salt exfoliation and the rainforest hot stone massage make you forget your high-stress Manhattan life.
WHAT TO DO
If you’re shacking up at the Las Casitas Village, play a round or two on the property’s neatly manicured, undulating par-72 course, considered by many to be the island’s best. Spend another day horseback riding, kayaking and swimming at Palomino, the hotel’s private oasis, just a short boat ride from the mainland. Adventure seekers should book an excursion with Enchanted Island to the lush El Yunque rainforest in Sierra de Luquillo, only one hour southeast of the capital. Back in Old San Juan, explore the romantic city by wandering the serpentine streets and marveling at the candy-colored buildings. Take a load off at the picturesque Plaza de Armas before embarking on a jaunt through historic forts like El Morro and Castillo de San Cristóbal.
WHERE TO EAT
Many of the country’s top chefs have set up shop in Old San Juan, creating a culinary scene rivaling that of any major city. At Marmalade, Peter Schintler of Le Cirque fame serves up fanciful Napa-style cuisine at his modernist haunt on bustling Fortaleza Street. If you’re only in the mood for drinks, the restaurant’s front room is the go-to spot for local sophisticates and in-the-know vacationers. Bodega Chic’s French-Algerian fare was masterminded by owner Christophe Gourdain, who worked with star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. And at Joël Robuchon-trained Alfredo Ayala’s recently opened Delirio, Caribbean-Mediterranean is the food of choice. Those staying at the Horned Dorset Primavera will be equally as delighted by the fresh island menu prepared at the hotel’s restaurant by a former Daniel chef. Try the Borinquen Board, a plate of grilled mahi-mahi skewers served with cool coconut soup, fruit and yucca fries; it’s arguably one of the best meals on the island.