by Gina Hines
The Island of Enchantment is very much open for business and remains ready to welcome guests seeking incredible and diverse experiences. As tourists rediscover the island, they have the opportunity to play an important role in the resurgence of Puerto Rico by visiting and supporting the local economy. The selfie-set, IG models and adventure seekers alike will find stunning historical backdrops, tons of local artisans, restauranteurs, and reimagined hotels to frame and tell their stories. You can feel the energy on the island, once again. On our recent trip to rediscover one of the four corners of the island, we bumped into a new must-visit hotel in the heart of San Juan. Marriott International has an unsurpassed portfolio on the island with hotels to match all traveler’s desires and budgets and offers the opportunity to not only discover the capitol of San Juan with its pristine beaches and vibrant culture, history, and nightlife, but to venture further afield to discover other areas of the island. We chose to stick to San Juan and Old San Juan on this brief visit.
Staying in the city gave us a few hotel choices but we opted for the Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino to begin the trip. Having been away from the sand for a few weeks, we loved that this newly renovated hotel was plopped right on the beach, with a renovated pool, gym and intimate spa, it ticked off some boxes we needed ticked to start our journey on the island. Spending days under oversized umbrellas with the sea on my heels was my favorite way to settle in to Puerto Rico, for the first time in over a year. I love the diversity of this island and with Marriott having such a big footprint here, I felt comfortable with bopping around the city, knowing what level of service to expect. Day trips into Old San Juan were easy from this hotel. I wandered the streets atop the blue cobblestones that paved my way around all of Old San Juan. The original cobblestones have a steal blue look to them and were cast from iron slag, which is the waste from iron smelting. The history of Old San Juan is felt from the ground up as these stones were brought as ballast in the bottoms of European merchant ships in the 1800s. Looking skyward, past the pastels of the narrow homes of this city, we are enveloped in the charm of its history and endurance.
This capacity to endure is prevalent throughout the island. Taking our leave from days gone by and the history of the island, we set our sights on the AC Hotel’s rooftop lounge. This hotel is only a couple of blocks from our hotel and still a part of the Marriott family. The rooftop is modern and posh. We love the lounge chairs set into the pool and the new plan is to return for a dip tomorrow. The evenings up here are for sipping on cocktails, nibbling on delectable eats and looking out at the city’s lights. Evening here are cool! From the rooftop, the energy of the city and its resurgence as a tourist favorite is easily seen. Up on the roof, we felt like we finally connected with this corner of Puerto Rico. We had seen its history from down below and from up here, we can clearly see the bright future of the city.
We will be back to rediscover all the other corners…
- Nature and Science Experiences in the North
Puerto Rico has long attracted nature lovers to the majestic El Yunque rainforest, but relatively few venture to another natural wonder on the island, Cueva Ventana, a large cave situated atop a limestone cliff in Arecibo, overlooking the Río Grande de Arecibo. Recognized as one of the most beautiful caves in the world, Cueva Ventana rewards those who complete the hike with an unforgettable view out the cave’s “window” to the expansive valley below. There are several tour companies that offer excursions and guided hikes.
Also located nearby is the Arecibo Telescope, the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, which offers daily visits and organized tours. The telescope is not only an impressive site, with a main collecting dish that is 1,000 feet in diameter, but has been home to many important scientific breakthroughs, including the discovery of the first binary Pulsar, the first evidence of the existence of neutron stars, and was the first observatory to directly image an asteroid.
- Rich Tradition in the South
There’s perhaps no better way to become fully immersed in Puerto Rican culture than at the Ponce Carnival. The annual celebration takes place in February and lasts one week ending on the day before Ash Wednesday. All year round, the city is a haven for those who admire art and architecture and Ponce has several famous museums honoring different aspects of its history and culture. The vibrant downtown is a medley from Spanish colonial house and neo-Classical buildings modeled after Grand Central Terminal, to the famous red and black stripped wooden firehouse on the town square.
- Breathtaking Natural Wonders in the East
The waters off the east coast of Puerto Rico are teeming with marine life, making them an ideal destination for catamaran cruises, sailing, fishing charters, and snorkeling and diving excursions. The marinas at Fajardo offer numerous tours and charters unlocking adventures above or below the surface. The gorgeous islands of Vieques and Culebra are also located here and propel visitors into a peaceful relaxed lifestyle. Both islands are world-class attractions in their own right and accessible via a quick flight or boat ride. Mosquito Bay in Vieques is the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records and Culebra’s Flamenco Beach, was named the second-best beach in the world by The Discovery Channel.
· Whale Watching and Surfing in The West
Puerto Rico’s western coast, long a favorite for local vacationers, is starting to gain popularity among mainland and international travelers as well. A surfer’s paradise, the beaches near Isabela, Aguadilla and Rincón offer incredible waves year-round alongside a laidback surf culture complete with shops, cafes and local hangouts. During the winter months, between December and March, migrating humpback whales can be spotted in the waters off Rincón. Guests hoping to get a peek at these huge creatures can enjoy a number of tours or take it in from the Rincón Lighthouse.