Hi Friends! Happy Monday!
I’m so excited about today’s post because I am finally sharing my San Juan, Puerto Rico guide. Now, I’m in no way an expert and I by no means did everything. Honestly my itinerary was pretty small and laid back, but I had such an amazing time and I wanted to share my experience.
When I was planning my Puerto Rico vacation, I was surprised to see that there weren’t many posts and vlogs out there. I follow a lot of travel bloggers and I love watching travel vlogs so I was a bit sad to see that there wasn’t a lot of content out there. And, after visiting Puerto Rico, I can honestly say it is such a beautiful place that is rich with culture and the people are absolutely amazing and I am so shocked that it’s not a top vacation spot for bloggers & creators.
I will say, I’ve recently seen a lot of top bloggers teaming up with hotels in San Juan and visiting the island and encouraging their followers to visit and it warms my heart to see that because it really is such a beautiful island and they do need support with their economy as they still recover from Hurricane Maria.
This trip was really personal for me for a few reasons…
I’ve touched upon it a bit in this post, but in case you didn’t know, I’m half Puerto Rican from my father’s side. My father has never really been in my life and hearing my mom’s experience with him and having my own experience’s with him, he’s not someone I want in my life to be honest. And because of that, I didn’t really know much about Puerto Rican culture and frankly I associated that part of me with him so I didn’t care to make an effort to get to know that side of me.
I was inspired to book this trip after seeing Aspyn Ovard & Jaci Marie’s vacation there that looked amazing. I figured, oh it’ll be a nice beach vacation and I’ll get some great blog photos. But, it became so much more than that. I came to appreciate the culture and the people and it made me proud to say that I am Puerto Rican.
Growing up with my mom, I knew everything there was to know about Vietnam. Visiting the country four times now, I really do love it and it’s one of my happy places. But, I had my mom to guide me to be proud of being Vietnamese and to love the country. Puerto Rico is really special to me because it’s a connection I made on my own. I didn’t have my dad there teaching me about the island and encouraging me to love the island. I made the decision to visit, I worked hard to be able to take my mom and my boyfriend on a vacation and I connected with that part of me by myself. And I’m so happy to have experienced that part of who I am with my mother who not only fell in love with the island as well, but who also encouraged me to really embrace that side of my culture.
So with that being said, I’m so happy to bring you my San Juan, Puerto Rico Guide!
*Just wanted to call out some photos are taken with my camera and edited with a preset, some are taken on my iPhone and not edited and some taken directly on Insta stories so it’s a bit of a mix!*
BOOKING THE TRIP
I’ve always booked my flights through Expedia, but this is the first time that I did their bundle and booked my flight & hotel through them. And I have to say it was a pretty great experience.
I kind of went into this a little blind, because I didn’t understand the different areas or what was close to what. I just knew that I wanted access to the beach and I wanted to be able to visit Old San Juan easily. I put my origin airport in, my destination in, my preferred dates and number of passengers and just started searching from there. What I liked about booking through Expedia was that they have a ton of photos of the hotel, as much information as possible as well as reviews and ratings from people who have stayed there.
I then narrowed down my search and from there I went into google and mapped out how far the hotel was from Old San Juan and that actually helped me narrow down my search even more since some places were closer than others. The hotel I ended up choosing was The Condado Vanderbilt which happened to be the deal of the day so it was an even more discounted rate and you got one night free for booking as a bundle.
For three people, flight and hotel included, 5 days, 4 nights, it was around $800 per person which I think is great since the Vanderbilt is a 5 star hotel!
Also wanted to mention that initially I wasn’t able to pick my seats on the flight when I booked the trip which always stresses me out. Since I’m such a nervous flyer, I like sitting towards the front and knowing my family will be with me. But, I called United after booking my trip and they were so helpful and assigned me three seats together towards the middle of the plane.
We wanted a direct flight to Puerto Rico and the only two airlines that offered one when I booked through Expedia was United & Jet Blue. I ultimately chose United because there was no additional fee for the flight and I liked that on the way to Puerto Rico they had an early morning flight and on the way back they had an afternoon flight. If I had chosen Jet Blue, it would have not only been a later flight on the way there, but it also would have been an additional fee.
I have to admit, I was a bit scattered the morning of the flight. I had been up late packing and was running on like two hours of sleep, plus I’m a really anxious traveler and hate flying so I was a mess. Our cab to the airport was late so I was worried. When we got to the airport it was so crowded and our flight was boarding in like 30 minutes and the security line was so long. My mom is the kind of person who will show up to the airport 5 hours in advance just so we’re not rushing so this was the first time we were really scattered and I wasn’t used to it! But, all of our boarding passes had TSA pre check on it so we were able to cruise through security. Not sure how we even got pre-check, but I was so happy we did!
The boarding process was so smooth. This is my first time flying United in a while and to be honest I was a bit skeptical since they have had so many controversies in the press lately, but I have to say my experience was great. I flew from Newark International Airport in New Jersey to San Juan and it was a pretty big flight, with two seats together, an aisle, three seats together, an aisle and two more seats together. Each seat had a TV and honestly the show & movie selection was amazing!!! My mom & I are considering flying United the next time we go to Vietnam because the movie selection would definitely keep us entertained. I swear they had 100s including the new Baywatch, the new Jumanji which is my current fave movie, some of my Disney favorites like Coco and Frozen and the new Pitch Perfect. The flight attendants were all friendly and welcoming and passed out headphones before the flight took off. They made announcements first in English and then in Spanish. And during the flight, they passed out soda and these caramel waffle treats which was great. Anyways the flight was about 4 hours so it’s pretty quick if you’re flying from the NY/NJ area.
I have to say, we had such an amazing start to our trip because that flight was so smooth and went by so quickly. This was my first time flying with my boyfriend and he held my hand the entire flight because I’m telling you I’m the worst at flying, but that flight was as smooth as can be!
TRANSPORTATION TO THE HOTEL
We also had a choice of booking a car or car service to the hotel through Expedia. I honestly considered it since we had never been before and I figured it would be easier to just have someone there take us to the hotel. The price ranged from $50-$70 and you can choose to have your own private car or add yourself into a carpool. But, after doing a quick search, I found out that cabs from the airport are typically inexpensive so we just decided to wing it when we arrived.
And I’m happy I did because it was so easy. We went downstairs to pick up our luggage which shout out to United came out so quickly and after snapping a quick pic for the gram, we made our way out to catch a cab. They put up a line where you can wait for a cab and they were so organized and quick that it was truly less than a minute wait. This large van pulled up and the sweetest woman got out to help us with our luggage. I kept telling her to not worry about it because my boyfriend could take care of it, but she still insisted on helping which was so sweet! I would say the drive took about 20-30 minutes and it was about $22 before tip.
WHERE WE STAYED: THE CONDADO VANDERBILT HOTEL
So I mentioned that I went into booking this trip kind of blind, but after looking at a few hotels, I ultimately decided on The Condado Vanderbilt. It was Expedia’s deal of the day, but I also liked that it had direct beach access, they were pet friendly, they had multiple pools including a gorgeous infinity pool and it truly looked like such a luxurious hotel, but was at an amazing deal so I felt like I would get the most bang out of my buck.
From the moment the cab pulled up, I knew we made the right decision. A bellhop pulled up and instantly offered to help us with our luggage and asked for the reservation name so that they could let reception know we were coming. Ya’ll, he literally said into his headset “Reception please be advised that the Quinones party has arrived.” I MEAN! Yes, hello, I am a celebrity!!! And as we entered the hotel, another bellhop was there to open the door and said “Welcome Miss Quinones.” I MEAN! Could I feel any more pampered and special?? And as we were waiting to check in, we were offered complimentary champagne or water.
The woman who checked us in was the nicest and she asked if this was our first time to the island and welcomed us since it was and we joked around about the fact that I don’t know how to speak Spanish! We arrived to the hotel a little after noon and typical check in time is 4, but lucky for us our room was actually ready so we were able to go up right away.
Once we checked in at the front desk, there was a bellhop that came over to help us with our luggage and he even gave us a tour along the way and explained all of the amenities of the hotel and where all the pools were located. And when we arrived to the room, he gave us a quick walk through as well. The room was so clean and beautiful and we had a great view of the ocean and the city. They also had a mini bar with sodas, water, chips and a snicker bar which was all complimentary and an assortment of alcohol available for purchase. And the tv, had my name on it, welcoming me to the hotel. I was blown away by the small details!
Their staff was so friendly and always smiled and greeted us if we ran into them around the hotel. Anytime we headed outside, they always wished us a good day and helped us locate our Uber if need be. And when we arrived back at the hotel, they were always there with a friendly smile and welcomed us back. And when we left to catch our flight back home, they helped us load our bags into the car and even told the Uber driver what airline we were taking so she knew where to go at the airport which I thought was just such a nice touch.
There are a total of 3 pools and one jacuzzi. They have their main pool and their infinity pool which is next to one another and next to their restaurant Ola so you can order drinks and food while hanging by the pool. Probably my favorite pool, aside from the infinity pool, was their adults only pool. It was next to the jacuzzi, next to their restaurant Tacos & Tequilas and next to the beach access. So it was nice to go to the beach, rinse off at the outside shower they offered and then head into the pool. Also next to the adult pool was the private beach access. It was just a small area with hammocks, but it was so nice. One area that I loved and really regret not going to, was the section that had beach chairs on top of water right next to Tacos & Tequilas so you could relax while dipping your feet in the water.
There were a total of 3 restaurants and one lounge in the resort. 1919 restaurant was their high end fine dining restaurant, Tacos & Tequila which is pretty self explanatory and Ola Oceanfront which offered breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner and had a bar by the pool. Plus, VC Lounge which is right in the lobby when you enter and great if you want to grab a drink. Full disclosure, I didn’t eat at any of the places and I only got a drink from Ola on the first day we were there. I did some research on the hotel before coming and looking at the menu, it was not only pricey in my opinion, but it didn’t seem like authentic Puerto Rican food so I decided to pass. But, all the locations looked really nice, the food did look really yummy and they were always filled with people so I’m guessing it’s good! But, I’m working on a separate post with all of the places we ate, which will be up soon!
The area in San Juan that we stayed in was called The Condado and it’s known as one of the biggest tourist areas. We ventured out the first night and the second day and came across all these restaurants and food spots and souvenir shops that was really great and just had a really great vibe to the area. I personally liked The Vanderbilt because it was a few steps away from all of the action so although we were so close to all the shops and restaurants, we were still a bit removed.
They are actually pretty active on social media as well and have an amazing Instagram account! They also regram photos that people post from staying there which is cool to see that first hand experience of their guests.
I hope I covered everything! You know when you get so excited and love something so much that you want to share every bit of information? That’s how I feel about the hotel and this trip, but I just know I probably forgot something! So if you have any specific questions about the hotel let me know. I’m definitely heading back next year and will definitely stay at The Condado Vanderbilt again!
Puerto Rico Guide:
WHAT WE DID
So like I mentioned, our itinerary was pretty small because it was our first time in Puerto Rico so I really wanted to just relax by the beach and pool, explore Old San Juan and eat as much Puerto Rican food as possible. There are definitely some adventurous parts in Puerto Rico and some famous spots and activities that I definitely want to try next time. Like visiting El Yunque National Rainforest and a boat ride that includes a body of water that glows at night and a tour of the Bacardi Factory. If you do a quick google search, you can find these popular recommendations. And my new blogger friend Anne is actually from Puerto Rico and left me a few recommendations on this Instagram photo if you want to check it out and be sure to check her out! She’s gorgeous!
Anyways, the first day we arrived, we set out to eat lunch then changed into our bathing suits, explored the resort a little more and then decided to hang out in the pool and then lay out in the sun to take a nap since we were all exhausted. After that we came back to freshen up and shower and then headed out for dinner that night and headed to bed early so we could be refreshed for the next day.
Our first full day in Puerto Rico, we went into Old San Juan and honestly guys, it is truly the most beautiful and magical place I have ever been too. There was no shortage of colorful houses and shops and restaurants, cobblestone streets and amazing architecture that makes you feel like you’re in another world and era. Ya’ll even the Wendy’s was chic! It was painted mint green and was so darling.
Old San Juan is pretty small and quaint. There are so many different turns and hills and there are so many different corners to explore. If you really wanted to, you could probably walk and see every part of the city in one day. My first day there, I wanted to see everything and kept feeling like I was missing something! The OCD in me wanted to start at one point and go up and down each and every block to make sure I saw it all! We went into Old San Juan every single day to explore and to take blog pictures and I can honestly say I think I saw everything and I was just so excited that each day we found a new corner or area that was so perfect for photos.
We also went to the beach and the pool everyday, but just switched up the order so on our first full day we went into town in the morning and then came to relax at the beach at night and then the next day we started off at the pool and went into town at night. Anytime of day I think is great for exploring, but I will say the sun is brutal! It was hard to take photos exactly where we wanted to at times because the sun created harsh shadows so if you are going to snap some great pics, definitely go early or go as the sun is setting!
We also visited El Morro & San Cristobal in Old San Juan which is basically an old military fort that protected the city way back in the day. We visited San Cristobal first and purchased tickets which are only $7 per person. You can go in and watch a quick video about the fort and then go off to explore. It was pretty cool actually! Took a lot of walking up some hills! But, we saw some really amazing views of the city from up there.
Once we finished exploring San Cristobal, we took off for El Morro which is the bigger and more popular of the two Forts. My boyfriend said that there is a trolley that can take you from one to the other, but it comes every 30 minutes maybe and honestly we didn’t mind the walk and wanted to explore anyway. During our walk we came across even more colorful houses and came across the hidden corner that had a mural of the Puerto Rican flag and a pretty quiet area for me to take blog photos. And on our way there, we passed by the area where they filmed the Despacito music video which was pretty cool!
Our tickets were good for both forts so we went into El Morro to explore and the views again were amazing. There is a massive park and open area by the entrance to El Morro so if you don’t feel like going inside you can just hang out in the park outside. We saw a ton of people flying kites, just sitting and hanging out and taking photos in the park outside. Plus the alcoves that people like to take photos in, like below, are also available through the walk between the forts so don’t feel like you’ll miss out on a photo op if you don’t pay the fee!
Also after dinner most nights, we liked to walk the strip that had all the restaurants and shops because like I said it just had such a great vibe to it and between the ocean breeze and the people, it just really made you feel like you were on vacation. And the hotel next door, the La Concha had a casino and we popped in for two nights and had so much fun!! I had never been before and my mom is such a skeptic, but we had a bast. We only spent like $5-$6 a night, but oddly enough there was one machine that I was so lucky on and we left with some money both nights!
And random, but there was a CVS & Walgreens on the strip so if you needed snacks or forgot to pack something, you could stop in!
Ask my mom what she loved about Puerto Rico and probably the first thing she will say is “I love Puerto Rico Uber!” Hahaha so random, but it really was amazing!! And it’s so cheap. I’m not even joking, the ride from the hotel to Old San Juan was about 15 minutes and we paid $4-5 each way! And one day we had to venture out to Walmart because I needed a new memory card and some more film for my Polaroid and that ride was $3. We even chose to Uber back to the airport on our way home and that was around $20.
When I went to Miami a few years ago, we stayed at The Fontainebleau resort and as nice as it was, it was pretty far from Ocean Drive and the cab was about $20 one way so it just made me not want to go into that area often because it was pricey. I love that Uber was so affordable so we didn’t feel like we were breaking the bank by going into Old San Juan everyday.
Although the price was amazing, it was the service that really stood out to us. Each Uber driver was so sweet and stood out in their own way. Our first driver told us that he didn’t really speak that much english, but he would try to help us if we needed anything. He was the one who drove us into Old San Juan first and I kept yelling out when we came across a Wendy’s or other chain because the building was so colorful and fancy and I got him to laugh because of it. We had one driver who gave us restaurant recommendations along the way and even handed us his business card which was actually a post card he created with his name, number and email and told us to reach out if we needed a tour guide or recommendations which I thought was so sweet! We had another driver who shared his life story pretty much, gave us recommendations, and bonded with my boyfriend over talking about Puerto Rico. All the drivers were so nice and professional, their cars were comfortable and clean and they were all accommodating and friendly.
I know people typically would rather do anything than talk to their Uber drivers, but we were on vacation and I think everyone is 10x a nicer person on vacation. That is a fact. And being in a new place for the first time, it was nice hearing from local people.
Let me start by saying, the tax in Puerto Rico is killer!! And I’m from New York so that’s really saying something.
They have a rate of about 11-12% I think. When we were out to dinner one night, our waiter handed us the bill and told us about the high tax rate and I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t say Puerto Rico is expensive, but I also wouldn’t say it’s cheap. I think there is definitely a way to be budget friendly, but when I went, I really wanted to experience authentic food and I didn’t want to limit myself in anyway. I’m always on a budget and always trying to save money so this was my time to really treat myself. Again, I’m working on a post about all the places we ate, but one of our favorite restaurants was pretty inexpensive and for three people, our typical bill was about $30. But, we also went to a restaurant in Old San Juan and wanted to treat ourselves so we ordered piña coladas and seafood and that bill was about $100 for three people.
Being on an island and being on vacation, we knew we wanted seafood and we wanted to have frozen drinks so those are more costly. But, I think if you go with a budget, you can definitely stick with it. Everyone always has a happy hour, most restaurants have all day happy hour and honestly they have the same fast food chains there that we have in the states so that’s an option as well! It’s just funny to me because it’s such a contrast to my trip to Vietnam because the actual flight and travel is so expensive, but everything there is so inexpensive and in Puerto Rico, it was inexpensive for flight and hotel, but a little more pricier for meals and other things.
IS PUERTO RICO SAFE?
When I was trying to find information on Puerto Rico and look at travel guides, the number one question that popped up was “Is Puerto Rico safe?”
I was a bit taken aback by that to be honest and frankly I found it rude. I understand being weary of new places, but just like any other state, city, country, island, continent, there are good people and bad people, there are nice neighborhoods and not so nice neighborhoods. Whose to judge how safe a place is? And to that I have to say, New York City is notoriously thought of as having crime ridden streets and mean locals and yet it’s one of the top destination places and people come to NY and they love it.
I’m part of a supportive Facebook group and prior to my trip, I searched the group to see if anyone had talked about Puerto Rico and their experience and any recommendations. There was one comment in particular that really upset me. I’m paraphrasing, but it pretty much said Puerto Rico was dirty, dangerous, the people are mean and they do not like “us Americans” and the Ritz Carlton had to lock them in at night to keep them safe.
I’m not one for social media battles. I’m also mature enough to know not to respond to strangers on the internet in moments of heated anger. The reality is, whatever I said was not going to change that girl’s opinion. It was not worth my energy. But, what I can do, is use my energy and use this platform to talk about how beautiful Puerto Rico is, to talk about how kind the people are and how resilient they are and if a hotel is locking you in, you should probably call for help lol.
And for the 100h time, if you take one thing away from this post, it should be Puerto Rico is part of the United States. They are American citizens.
So to answer the question, in my opinion, yes Puerto Rico is safe.
I wandered all around the hotel, near the hotel, went into Old San juan, wandered down quiet and deserted streets in Old San Juan, went out at night close to 11pm and I not once felt unsafe. And the people are so kind, I’m truly struggling putting it into words. For one, every single person would stop when they saw us taking photos so that they wouldn’t walk into my photo. Little did they know, we take like 100 lol so we would always stop and let them go and each person was so kind and gracious and would always smile and make a nice comment. There was also a day in Old San Juan, where we were a little turned around and I knew where we had to go, but my boyfriend was lost and I was teasing him about not knowing where to go and this women stopped and asked us if we were lost and needed help. I just thought that was so nice that she took time out to ask us if we needed help.
Being half Puerto Rican, I definitely have an emotional connection to the island and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m protective over it and a bit sensitive. And this section is a bit longer than I thought it would be, but I just went off on a tangent. But, asking google if a place is safe is like asking google if taco bell is good. I love Taco Bell, but some people find it disgusting! It’s an opinion, it’s a personal preference and it’s what you make it. So have an open heart and mind, be adventurous and I truly hope that you consider visiting the island and seeing firsthand how beautiful it is and how amazing the people are.
FINAL TIPS & THOUGHTS
I poured my heart into this post so I truly hope you enjoyed it! Before I go, I want to leave you with a few tips and last minute thoughts I have.
Tip one, be a generous tipper! Our uber rides were so inexpensive, we would typically tip 100%. If a ride was $5, we gave a $5 tip. We would tip our housekeeper every time she came by. We would tip our waiters at least 20% in every meal. All of these people are here to service you and they are contributing to you having a great vacation, be generous, these are their livelihoods.
Second tip, support local businesses!! Puerto Rico is made up of local businesses and a lot of them took a major hit during the hurricane. So if you’re going to spend your money, put it towards those family run businesses. There was a Serafina right by The Vanderbilt and the decor and vibe every night was so nice, it made me want to go in. But, I literally have one right across the street from my job. So instead, every night we set out to find a restaurant that wasn’t a chain and instead was a small business. The food was amazing, the people are kind and you can really take comfort knowing you’re putting your money into a place that really values it.
And my last tip, especially if you’re visiting Old San Juan is to be open to exploring and getting lost. When we were there, we overheard a family trying to find a map to find their way around. Honestly, the town is so small that if you keep walking in one direction, you’re gonna find something you recognize. We found the best spots and had the most fun by having our Uber driver drop us off right as we went into Old San Juan and just taking off from there and walking with no rhyme or reason.
Okay, I think that’s all from me today!! I just know when I hit publish, I’m going to think of something else I wanted to add to my Puerto Rico guide! But, I sincerely hope you liked this post and found it helpful. Puerto Rico is so lovely and I fell in love and I hope that you are inspired to visit and fall in love as well. As always feel free to leave me a comment or reach out if you have any questions, comments or thoughts! And I have two story highlights of photos and videos and boomerangs from my trip on Instagram so if you would like to check them out, you can do so here!