SAN JUAN — One of the biggest treats in San Juan is to wake up in the morning and take in the breathtaking view of the Caribbean waters.
That’s what I was able to do during a previous stay at the San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino, which is conveniently located on San Juan’s spectacular Condado Beach, a short bus ride from old town San Juan.
In the morning hours, I would pull back the drapes of our room and open up the view of the Atlantic Ocean as I relaxed with my head on the pillow. What a delightful moment!
I could see some early risers, a lot more energetic than I was, already walking on the beach or taking an early morning dip in the warm water.
But back to my less-hurried way of doing things: I would soon go downstairs to buy a morning cup of fresh coffee and tasty croissants from a shop in the lobby of the hotel and then retreat to the balcony high above the public beach.
Later on, once my wife and I hit the beach ourselves, we could avail ourselves of lounging chairs and umbrellas, courtesy of the hotel. We also found lounging chairs and umbrellas near the hotel’s two pools, one of which was sometimes the scene of some fun volleyball games.
In the evening, things started to pick up in hotel’s lobby lounge, including some really hot Latin sounds from live musicians. And who could resist trying his or her luck playing the slots in the Stellaris Casino?
In the daytime, for 75 cents, we often hopped onto a public bus outside the Marriott for a ride into Old San Juan.
Once there, we used a free trolley to hop on and off and sample Old San Juan’s shops, plus historic Castillo San Felipe del Morro Castle, a World Heritage site that usually goes by the shorter name of El Morro.
Construction of the castle fortifications began under the rule of King Carlos V of Spain in 1539 as a means of protecting the harbor of this Spanish outpost from any attacking forces. If you fast forward to 1898, you come to the Spanish-American War, when the U.S. Navy shelled the garrison, which led to an American victory and possession of the island of Puerto Rico.
What’s really a lot of fun, after a visit to the castle, is to take the free trolley down the hill for a walk through the narrow streets of Old San Juan. This historic, colorful part of San Juan is filled with many little shops and cafes, some of them brightly colored, all perfect for browsing and satisfying your hunger.
And not to forget the Marshall’s department store, which came as quite a surprise to us on a corner of Old San Juan!
To make shopping easier, the free trolley picked us up and dropped us off at many well-posted stops along the way.
One day in the old city, we decided to go exploring for a good place to have lunch and found a tiny place called Mini Café, which turned out to be a good choice because the place was filled with locals – usually a good sign, to my way of thinking.
The goings on in the entrance itself, of course, were rather odd, I thought, until I found out exactly what it was all about. The space, I discovered, turned out to be a spot for people to place bets on horse racing. No wonder they all seemed to be concentrating so hard, writing down “something” with pen and paper.
Inside the restaurant, we had the option of ordering from a menu or standing in line for the buffet. We chose the buffet and dined on grilled red snapper with fried onions, white or yellow rice, fried plantains (a delicious staple here), beans and french fries – all for just $7.95 each.
I often try to go where the locals eat, and this restaurant was indeed a lucky choice.
The meal was delicious and the portions very large, so it made sense, of course, that the place, as I said, was filled with so many locals.
George Medovoy writes on travel at www.postcardsforyou.com.