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TRAVEL San Juan, Puerto Rico: Lovely and lively
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2016-11-23

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Looking to get away from the incoming icy weather? Well, then, look east—to the lovely island of Puerto Rico and the capital of San Juan, which hosted a writers' retreat recently. What ensued was a montage of captivating sights and experiences.

Staying in a ( former ) convent

Upon arriving in San Juan, I was immediately whisked away to Hotel El Convento ( 100 Calle del Cristo; ElConvento.com ). When picturing a hotel in the tropics, this was the type of getaway I pictured—a hotel amidst sultry ( OK, sweltering ) weather with friendly, great-looking staff. ( An aside: Actually, everybody in San Juan looked great. Maybe it's something in the water. )

Shortly after getting to my room in this AAA Four-Diamond property ( which required using my key to access the ground-floor elevator ), the writers convened by the pool for a reception—and took in the sights of San Juan. I was starting to leave the big-city stress behind already.

Hotel El Convento, a former convent, is a 58-room hotel with a roof terrace, plunge pool and Jacuzzi area with lounge chairs; three on-site restaurants; a chapel; multiple private rooms/meeting spaces; and a beach club off-site.

Speaking of restaurants, we hit Salon Martorell ( in the hotel )—a colorful area that also functions as an event space—later that night. The dishes varied from simple to very complex, but they were all delicious.

Afterward, it was time to sample San Juan's nightlife. We hit La Factoria, a vibrant place ( even on a Thursday ) that has several rooms, including one where salsa is played and the "Red Room," which had some cool dance songs ( like a remix of Bill Withers' "Lovely Day" ) as well as a sign that made someone's thoughts about President-elect Donald Trump known.

Seeing San Juan; experiencing La Concha

After having breakfast in the hotel's Patio del Nispero, it was time for a tour of Viejo ( "Old" ) San Juan.

Tomas—who proved to be a very animated guide—took us on a journey that encompassed history and provided some eye-popping visuals. Highlights included the forts El Morro and San Cristobal, the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, the Plaza de Armas, statutes of several U.S. presidents ( including Franklin D. Roosevelt and Barack Obama ), sites where movies ( including the Antonio Banderas/Sylvester Stallone film Assassins ) were filmed and the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery.

Then it time to leave the cozy confines of our host hotel and travel to another AAA Four-Diamond property, La Concha ( 1077 Ashford Ave.; LaConchaResort.com )—although this one has a much different vibe. Whereas Hotel El Convento has a more boutique-y feel, La Concha conveys a trendier vibe.

Units range from $219 to $359 a night, and are just as chic as one might imagine ( complete with a full-size refrigerator ). At one point, I literally had cake by the ocean ( to reference the DNCE hit ) as I ate dessert while sitting on the balcony.

I then had a facial at signature facial at the Condado Vanderbilt ( 1055 Ashford Ave.; CondadoVanderbilt.com ), a nearby hotel in a trendy neighborhood that features everything from high-end stores to the Puerto Rican Walk of Fame ( which features the names of Ricky Martin, Lin-Manuel Miranda and singer Chayanne, among others ).

The spa was very contemporary and the facial gave me the glow I wanted. The only thing that threw me off was that ( unlike other spas I've experienced ) the stillness room wasn't all that, well, still. Several other clients milled around while I was trying to contain myself in my robe. Again, it wasn't bad; it was just unexpected.

Then it was time to visit La Concha's Presidential Suite, atop the Ocean Tower, which offers breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Condado district. The suite features master bedroom, expansive living room, a huge bathroom complete with a bidet, and an 1,175-square-foot outdoor terrace with a custom-made whirlpool.

San Juan, Puerto Rico, is every bit the tropical getaway that it's advertised to be. It has something for everyone, whether you're into heat or history.


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