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Trip Report Puerto Rico Trip report

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Thanks to all of the Fodorites who helped our planning. My apologies for this late report. Please excuses typos and run-ons :) My family spent 13 days in Puerto Rico in August. We had a great trip. We spent 4 nights in Old San Juan at the El Convento and the rest at the El Conquistador in Fajardo.

We (including my eight year old son) loved Old San Juan. We toured the forts and museums, wandered the shops, flew kites and took the Tales of Old San Juan Night Tour. Kite flying at dusk was a highlight. We really liked the Museo de Las Americas.

The El Convento was fantastic with a perfect location, great service and comfy rooms. We did not partake of the wine and cheese but I flew high from the terrific coffee served all day long there. My family threatened to cut me off! The rooftop patio and plunge pool (open 24 hours) were a perfect way to end each evening. The food at the hotel was very good. Across the street is a Ben and Jerry’s like I have never experienced. They serve a full menu including all day waffles, sandwiches, burgers, coffee and other food along with ice cream. The food was fantastic and inexpensive. My son started each day with a waffle and it is a great place to cool off midday.

We were in Old San Juan during a very slow time – no waits at restaurants or crowds anywhere. We ate twice at Barrachina. Not overwhelming but easy with a child and we couldn’t resist the pina coladas. We ate at an incredible Italian restaurant called La Cucina di Iivo. It was empty (as were most restaurants) so we didn’t know what to expect. It was outrageously good. The best pumpkin ravioli I have ever eaten. My happiest eating moment though was the mallorca at the Cafeteria Mallorca. Sidle up to that counter and order on day one. If you wait until the end of your stay, you will be very sad like me.

We had wondered if four days would be too much in Old San Juan. We did not think so at all. We let time slow down there at the beginning of our trip. We slept late and we swam after midnight. Maybe if the area was packed with tourists we would have felt differently. Because we were going to a resort later, we did not go to the El Convento’s sister beach club in Isla Verde (with signing privileges). We drove through Isla Verde but never went to the beaches so I cannot comment. I would not have liked to stay in that area though. We are from California and the area around the resorts didn’t do much for me. If we did stay there, I imagine we would have stayed mostly on-site.

On to Fajardo. I had some serious concerns about the El Conquistador from the lousy reviews I read. I even spoke to the manager before our stay. We decided to go for it because of the water park, private island and proximity to the rain forest and the bay. First, the hotel. I have mixed emotions. The bad – the rooms (and we stayed in an more expensive room) are problematic. They have good size but they are …moldy. Yes, moldy. There was mold on our walls, we had to have some smelly pillows removed and I disinfected a bit. I spoke to the manager again and was told all of the rooms are like that and mold is just a problem in Puerto Rico. Inexcusable. I was prepared based on the reviews so we lived with it. The common areas of the hotel are fantastic. Big lobby, lots of stores to buy groceries and necessary items and fun gift shops. The restaurants are fine. We ate at the Japanese restaurant and it was adequate. The Italian restaurant was very good. There is a Starbucks. We did not eat at the seafood restaurant but we probably should have. Our favorite was the poolside pizza restaurant – really good pizza and appetizers. The restaurant on the island was adequate.

The water park was beautiful and really fun. We spent a lot of time there searching for iguanas as we floated on the lazy river and my son gives the slides two thumbs up. He liked it so much that we didn’t get to the island often. If you go in the late afternoon, it is pretty cheap.

All in all, I might consider returning to this hotel with water park loving children because it is easy and really fun for kids. Here is the caveat: some of the lousy reviews noted that when the hotel runs deals for Puerto Rican residents it is full beyond capacity and people bring shopping carts of food and alcohol to the pools and hang out 10 to a room, service is horrible, etc. (I am not exaggerating – read them yourself). The manager assured me these reviews were written by one disgruntled person (there are several nasty reviews though). It was really slow when we were there but an employee of the water park told me it would be packed the next week when there was a deal going on. Beware.

We ventured out for several day trips. The rainforest is a must do. We toured the visitor center area then parked near the top and hiked down for a swim in the waterfall. Go in the morning to beat the crowds. We did the bioluminescent bay in Fajardo. We did the electric boat. Most people kayak and I think it would have been nerve-racking with a child. We took the last boat trip out and had the bay almost to ourselves. Magical!

We went to Arecibo Observatory. I can’t recommend this enough. Must do. While there, we would have gone to the Rio Camuy Caves but they were closed due to weather.
We went to Ponce. It is a good, long drive from Fajardo. We were not enamored of the town but the Museo de Arte de Ponce has an impressive collection. The contemporary art really impressed my son.

Best meal on the island was at La Estacion. Don’t miss it! Finally, we bought masks as souvenirs from El Galpon in Old San Juan. It is a little shop but packed with high-end crafts, hats and cigars. The owners are helpful and shipped our masks back home for us.

I know we missed a lot and can’t wait to go back.

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