Whatever your preferences in accommodations -- a beachfront resort or a place in historic Old San Juan, sumptuous luxury or an inexpensive base from which to see the sights -- you can find a perfect fit in San Juan.
In addition to checking the recommendations listed, you might want to contact a travel agent; there are package deals galore, which can save you money and match you with an establishment that meets your requirements.
Before talking to a travel agent, however, you should refer to our comments about how to select a room in Puerto Rico.
Not all hotels here have air-conditioned rooms. We've pointed them out in the recommendations. If air-conditioning is important to you, make sure "A/C" appears in the listing.
If you prefer shopping and historic sights to the beach, then Old San Juan might be your preferred nest. The high-rise resort hotels lie primarily along the Condado beach strip and the equally good sands of Isla Verde. The hotels along Condado and Isla Verde attract the cruise-ship and casino crowds. The hotels away from the beach in San Juan, in such sections as Santurce, are primarily for business clients.
The guesthouses of Ocean Park, free from the high rises elsewhere but with an equally beautiful beach, attract a young urban crowd and those looking for a more low-key ambience.
Taxes & Service Charges
All hotel rooms in Puerto Rico are subject to a tax that is not included in the rates given in this book. At casino hotels, the tax is 11 percent; at noncasino hotels, it’s 9 percent. At government-sponsored country inns, called paradores puertorriqueños, you pay a 7 percent tax. Some hotels add a 10 percent service charge; if not, you’re expected to tip for services rendered. Once confined to the larger properties, a growing number of hotels (including high-end guesthouses) are also applying a resort fee or hotel fee, which can range from 10 to 20 percent of the cost of your room per night. The fees are ostensibly to offset the costs of facilities, such as a pool or health club, but it is also a way of hoteliers trying to keep their listed prices as low as possible. We've listed the specific fees for each property here because of the prevalence of this practice, and the hefty rates some properties are charging. When you’re booking a room, it’s a good idea to ask about these charges anyway.
Room with a Local's View: Apartment Rentals
Despite the explosion of Old City hotel and guesthouse rooms over the past few years, one of the best ways to experience the city remains getting a furnished apartment for a short-term rental. Many are restored, historic quarters with beautiful rooftop terraces or verdant interior courtyards, or both. You'll get a great sense during your vacation of what it feels like to live in this enchanted city, and you'll normally save money (especially if you're a large group).
Prices range from $500 weekly for a basic studio to $2,500 weekly for a three-bedroom, restored colonial beauty with rooftop terrace and ocean views. Short-term rentals are assessed a 7% tax, and many require a minimum 3-day or 4-day stay. Cleaning fees are also assessed, which can range from $50 to $75.
The expert in Old City short-term rentals is Vida Urbana, Calle Cruz 255, Old San Juan, PR 00901 (tel. 787/587-3031; www.vidaurbanapr.com), a spinoff of Caleta Realty, a veteran in this field. Years ago, I found a three-bedroom apartment through Caleta, a place near Catedral de San Juan with huge adjoining living and dining rooms and a rooftop terrace running the length of the apartment. We loved it. We had a reception there, and a group of about eight friends stayed there for the week. A comparable apartment would cost around $1,500 for the week today. There are two lovely apartments for rent above the gallery and gift shop Bóveda, Calle Cristo 209, Old San Juan, PR 00901 (tel. 787/725-0263; www.boveda.info), with artful, bright decor in a restored colonial building, complete with interior garden courtyard and balconies with double-door entrances. A cool tropical vibe flows through the duplex ($1,000 weekly) and studio suite ($500 weekly). The Caleta Guesthouse, Caleta de las Monjas 11, Old San Juan, PR 00901 (tel. 787/725-5347; www.thecaleta.com), has affordable studios and one-bedroom furnished apartments. It's located on one of Old San Juan's most charming streets, across from a lookout over San Juan Bay, but the accommodations are fairly basic.
In Condado and Isla Verde rates range from $525 a week for a studio to $2,250 a week for a deluxe, modern, three-bedroom condo. San Juan Vacations, Cond. Marbella del Caribe, Ste. S-5, Isla Verde 00979 (tel. 800/266-3639 or 787/727-1591; www.sanjuanvacations.com), is the biggest name in the business. We've also worked through Ronnie's Properties, Calle Marseilles 14, Ritz Condominium, Ste. 11-F, San Juan, PR 00907 (www.ronniesproperties.com).
Old San Juan -- Old San Juan is 1 1/2 miles (2.4km) from the beach. You should choose a hotel here if you're more interested in shopping and attractions than you are in watersports. The closest beach is Escambrón public beach in Puerta de Tierra, about a half-hour walk from the center of Old San Juan. For most visitors, a cab ride (15 min.) or bus ride (45 min.) to Condado, Ocean Park, or Isla Verde is a better option.
Puerta De Tierra -- Stay in Puerta de Tierra only if you have a desire to be at the Caribe Hilton. When you stay in Puerta de Tierra, you're sandwiched halfway between Old San Juan and the Condado, but you're not getting the advantages of staying right in the heart of either. At night, you must travel by taxi or stay in your hotel. The area is not safe to walk around at night, largely because there is nowhere to walk to except the mammoth Luis Muñoz Rivera Park and the Third Millennium Park, which are beautiful places during the day but mostly deserted at night.
Condado -- The Condado has undergone a revitalization in recent years. Right at its heart, the Windows to the Sea Park has risen from the ashes of an old convention center, and La Concha, a landmark of the island's Tropical Modernism movement, has been beautifully redeveloped. Designer boutiques and trendy restaurants have been mounted on the ruins of tacky souvenir shops and cheap eateries. From one end of Ashford Avenue to the other, there are great dining options for every budget, all sorts of stores from book shops to upscale jewelers, plus spas, watersports outfitters, and anything else you might think of. The area around Magdalena Avenue has an extraordinary number of boutiques. There are good bus connections into Old San Juan, and taxis are plentiful.
Miramar -- Miramar, a residential neighborhood, is very much a part of metropolitan San Juan, and a brisk 30-minute walk will take you where the action is. Regrettably, the beach is at least half a mile (.8km) away. The new Convention Center District and a part of the city's waterfront, and a commuter airport are also located in Miramar.
Santurce & Ocean Park -- Santurce is the traditional downtown area of San Juan, and Ocean Park is a beautiful oceanfront neighborhood wedged in between the Condado and Isla Verde tourism districts. Santurce has been undergoing a revival, with Art Deco theaters and beautiful apartments being renovated; it's now the home to the city's best museums, performing arts center and increasingly, among its best clubs and pubs. Ocean Park is a beautiful neighborhood, filled with palm trees and gorgeous homes.
Isla Verde -- Beach-bordered Isla Verde is closer to the airport than the Condado and Old San Juan. The hotels here are farther from Old San Juan than those in Miramar, Condado, and Ocean Park. The fat golden beach is mighty fine, and El San Juan and Co. make the area a nightlife spot in its own right, plus the numerous stand-alone restaurants, pubs, and clubs of top quality.