When you’re knee-deep into the chilly seasons and winter is biting at your heels, there comes an urge to shed the layers and head south to the sun. With San Juan, Puerto Rico being a non-stop flight from many U.S. ports and no passport required, it’s a no-brainer option to visit our fellow citizens to the south — even if you find yourself with just a long weekend to spare. Read on to learn about the rebirth of one of San Juan’s most iconic hotels and the fun to be had at Caribe Hilton.
The now infamous Hurricane Maria of 2017 brought devastating destruction to the historic Caribe Hilton, causing it to close while it underwent a $150M+ renovation. Originally built in 1949, this summer’s reopening came just in time to celebrate its 70th year in operation.
This property was Hilton’s first outside of the continental U.S. and was once a cornerstone of glamorous travel. Known for sophisticated parties, famous faces and red carpet events, it’s the beloved birthplace of a beach-y favorite: the piña colada.
The reimagined hotel is light and airy, with stronger fortification than the original, with respect paid to its history seen in understated ways, like vintage signage and decor that’s an ode to the past.
Families whose travel involves corralling young kids will find this property extremely manageable. The beachfront is secluded and big enough for castle-building, but not so big that you feel like you’ll lose sight of little ones.
You can move around throughout the day between the beach, three oceanfront pools, including a kid’s fountain pool, an outdoor playground, the game room, feed lunch to the residents of the koi pond in the Tropical Gardens, and sign the kids up some of the daily activities led by hotel staff. Don’t forget to bring your stack of magazines to lounge on the beachside hammocks.
Families don’t have to look far for the day’s to-dos, as Caribe Hilton’s onsite partner, Aqua Adventures, coordinates scuba, snorkeling or SNUBA excursions for guests. For kids who have already conquered snorkeling, but aren’t quite ready for scuba diving, SNUBA is a great way to spend a beach day. While under the water’s surface, you’re tethered to a tank that allows you to go a bit deeper and stay a tad longer than you would while snorkeling.
Take a break from sand and water play with a low-key, low-stress activity by taking a nighttime LED-lit kayak tour of Condado Lagoon. Kids will get a kick out of observing marine life like sea stars, lobsters and bait fish going about their evening business, using the glass bottom of the kayak as their viewfinder. You might even take on another passenger when one of the tiny jumping fish hops into your vessel. Get to your tour 30 minutes early to apply complimentary glow paint and glow necklaces to add to this memory-maker.
photo: Old San Juan, credit AndPon via Pixbay
You won’t find beaches and resorts in Old San Juan, but it’s rich in history and visually stunning with splashes of color highlighting the traditional colonial architecture. Textbooks will come alive for the kids when they catch a glimpse of the massive fortresses with cannons and thick walls that guarded the city against a water attack.
We’ve all heard of Juan Ponce de León and his search for the Fountain of Youth. The home he built before heading out on his quest can still be seen and toured. His family continued to live there for 250 years, after it’s construction in 1521, and the museum recreates the rustic life a wealthy family on the island would’ve lived during that time.
Where to Dine
Ranging from swim-up casual to uber swanky, Caribe Hilton offers several dining options on-property. Besides the chill pool-side dining during the day, we recommend Lola’s Puerto Rican Cuisine for a taste of local fare and Mojito’s Caribbean Fusion, which combines Spanish and Creole influences.
For the caffeine-dependent adults of the world, the Starbucks in the lobby will be a happy sight before a day spent sun-basking and kid-herding.
photo: Old San Juan, credit Ian P. Keating via flickr
When to Go
If you’re hoping to soak up the sun, without the crowds, the best times of year to visit Puerto Rico is mid-April to June. This is also the time of year when the hugely popular Aibonito Flower Festival occurs. It’s the largest plant show and sale on the island and features live music, food kiosks, entertainment and local vendors selling plants, perfumes and flowers.
Typically during the May/June timeframe, San Juan also hosts The SoFo Culinary Week, an outdoor street fair with tasting booths and a fireworks display.
While the crowds might be a little thicker during the winter months, your willingness to deal will be rewarded with a visit to the Ponce Carnival, a week-long celebration with parades that features live music, wildly decorated floats and equally wild costumes to match. This Mardi Gras-style event got its start as a final celebration before the beginning of Lent, but it was evolved into a week-long party.
Visiting during the months of July-September is a bit more risky, as its hurricane season. Just be sure to keep tabs on the forecast and perhaps get trip insurance for peace of mind.
photo: Indranil Chakraborty via flickr
Many airports offer direct flight options to Puerto Rico’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, which is only 7 miles from Caribe Hilton.
Good to Know
- If you rent a car, parking fees at the hotel are $21-$28, depending on whether you self-park or valet.
- If you don’t want a car the entire time you’re on the island, there is an Enterprise Rental Car on site you can rent from at leisure.
- If Uber is your preferred method of transportation, be aware that the drivers are not allowed to come onto the hotel’s property for pickups. The best option is to walk across the street to one of those businesses to reserve your Uber.
- There is a fully-stocked shop on-property where you can purchase essentials like sunscreen and toiletries, so no worries if you forget something at home.
- For those that like to keep up their exercise routine on the road, there is a nice workout facility with free weights and machines open 6 a.m.-10 p.m., and tennis courts.
— Maria Chambers
Photos provided by Caribe Hilton, unless otherwise noted.
This trip was paid for by Caribe Hilton and all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.