Let’s just call this a vacation!
By Riesa Pascal
The beachfront resort is conveniently situated five miles from Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport, which means relaxation is just steps away from the very moment you land. The resort sits proud and regal over its prestigious location on Condado Beach and offers travelers a lucrative combination of adventure, local culture, and the opportunity to create lifelong memories. Though this trip was my second visit to Puerto Rico, it marked my first time as a guest of the San Juan Marriott and I was eager to experience firsthand the reputation that precedes it. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long as I arrived at the resort in under 15 minutes and was quickly checked into one of their 527 sophisticated guest rooms and luxurious suites. I stepped out onto my balcony overlooking breathtaking city and beachfront views that could only be visible from the resort which is located in the heart of Condado. From the physical decor to the air around me, the feeling of luxurious Caribbean elegance was unmistakable, and immediately I knew that this vacation would be like no other.
The courage to pull myself away from those stunning views required something extra special such as welcome cocktails with my companions at what’s been dubbed one of the most exhilarating bars and dance floors in the Caribbean! By day, San Juan Marriott’s Red Coral Lounge is a great location to grab a cup of joe while taking advantage of the lobby’s free Wi-Fi. By evening, resort guests mix and mingle with local crowds that dance the night away to live music and Latin beats. After enjoying our welcome cocktails at the bustling lounge (which features decor inspired by the island’s top local artists and sculptors), we were off to Santurce, also known as Puerto Rico’s art and music district. Throughout Santurce, travelers are met with numerous options for tasty gastronomic dining including Lote 23, an outdoor food space divided into four terraces that brings together 16 culinary concepts including a rotational kiosk. My companions and I enjoyed a local beer, the smells of Puerto Rican favorites, and colorful murals by local artists as we strolled through the festive food court and took in all the ‘El Lote’ had to offer.
I could hardly contain my excitement the following morning as we set out to experience something that my other Puerto Rican vacation hadn’t made easily accessible—the cultural and historically rich city of Old San Juan. As the oldest city in Puerto Rico, San Juan was full of age-old beauty and historic tales. The 475 year-old neighborhood is a 47-square-mile area located on the western half of the island. For several hours we soaked up just a few of Puerto Rico’s many incredible attractions including everything from colorful buildings, monuments and graffiti artwork to shops and friendly roadside vendors. One of the notable highlights was the popular tourist attraction, Castillo San Cristobal, also known as Fort San Cristóbal. The site and our spirited tour guide brought us back in time as we climbed through hidden passages and explored antique weaponry used to protect the transportation of gold and silver at the historic Spanish port.
After we had our fill of Puerto Rican history and culture, we headed to lunch and prepared to have our fill of homemade Puerto Rican cuisine! We dined at Cafe El Punto, one of the many exquisite restaurants of San Juan and it was there that I checked yet another item off my list of must-have experiences in Puerto Rico. That wish was simply to try mofongo, the island’s renowned fried plantains dish! Needless to say, I was far from disappointed as the taste of Puerto Rico came alive through a mix of seasonings that made each bite a delight to the palate. As I sampled my companion’s dishes and sipped a refreshing, yet ridiculously large strawberry margarita, I quickly found out that Puerto Rican culture includes incredibly generous portions in both food and beverages! Fortunately, my appetite returned by dinner time and I was able to enjoy another exceptionally unique dining experience with my travel companions. It was nonstop laughter and one-on-one foodie fun as we took part in a thrilling cooking class at Cocina Abierta. The passion Chef Karina Santiago and her team shared for their craft was evident as they taught us how the cooking techniques, flavors, traditions, and culture of the island can come together for an unmistakably authentic meal.
The following morning, I fueled up with a hearty breakfast at the resort’s La Vista Latin Grill before embarking on a morning excursion to El Yunque National Forest. The name is attributed to an Indian spirit that translates into “Forest of Clouds,” which is also the name of the main mountain peak in the forest. The only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System, El Yunque spans 28,000 acres and welcomes 600,000 visitors a year. It was there that we experienced La Mina Trail which is one of the most popular hikes of the rainforest. The path took us through the dense evergreen forest containing 240 native tree species (26 found only at El Yunque), and masses of vines, 50 native orchids, epiphytes, giant ferns, and mosses. The hundreds of animal and plant species were a sight to behold as we trekked only the paved trail that ended at La Mina Falls, a beautiful 35 foot waterfall. Upon arrival, we stripped down to our bathing suits and joined dozens of other hikers for a refreshing swim in the natural pool as cool waters cascaded over the rocks around us.
Though we could’ve easily spent the whole day at El Yunque, there were more adventures to be had back on property such as enjoying the San Juan Marriott’s two-level pool and swim-up bar before taking part in a traditional pig roast at La Vista Latin Grill. Pig roasts are a staple in Puerto Rican cuisine and culture and we relished in the authentic cookout with mouth watering trimmings and a side of gorgeous resort views. Though we drank, laughed and dined until the sun had faded into the evening sky, it was clear that our night was far from over. In fact, one might say the real fun had only just begun! San Juan Marriott offers one of the liveliest casinos on the island, and we were not about to let that experience pass us by. The 24-hour, 12,700-square-foot Stellaris Casino offers Caribbean stud poker, blackjack, roulette, craps, baccarat and more than four hundred slot machines. In addition to boasting the greatest number of penny slot machines in Puerto Rico and the highest betting limits on the island, the Stellaris Casino also provides complimentary $20 match play coupons at check-in.
With modern guest rooms, multiple pools, on property dining options, a non-stop casino, a happening lobby bar, and a stretch of golden beach, it goes without saying that the San Juan Marriott caters to every traveler’s indulgence. Simply put, my stay on property led me to experience an authentic vacation in the truest, most pure sense of the word and I’d encourage my fellow Floridians and travelers to do the same. Come and experience the exotic nature, life and culture of a historical Caribbean island with the convenience of traveling within America. While you’re here, stop by Ocean Club Spa for a variety of relaxing treatments including scrubs, wraps, facials, manicures, pedicures, massages, and more. Take advantage of yoga, aqua aerobics, cardiovascular equipment, tennis courts and even personal trainers all available through the Ocean Club Fitness Center. Expand your palate as you enjoy a variety of restaurants and bars that deliver the unmistakable flavors of Puerto Rico. With the warmth and hospitality of the Puerto Rican people and the Marriott brand, a charming vacation awaits you at the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino and I for one can’t wait to return.
San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
1309 Ashford Avenue
San Juan, 00907 Puerto Rico
Reservations: +1 787-722-7000