All the Best Places to Go in San Juan, From the Concierge of One of Its Starriest Hotels
Your insider’s guide to a beautiful place, starting with the historic Fairmont El San Juan Hotel
This is Concierge Confidential, a series in which we learn about a city’s best-kept secrets from people who specialize the exactly that: long-serving concierges from the best hotels in town.
Change your latitude and your attitude in just 2.5 hours by heading off to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for a quick holiday, using our guide to the Island of Enchantment’s best local spots curated by the concierge of the Fairmont El San Juan Hotel. That luxe spot has been wowing people like the Rat Pack and other celebs since it opened in 1958. These days, as a Fairmont, it has all of its beauty and style back in spades, along with beachfront property and a lovely spa.
Villa Butler Supervisor/Concierge Omar Ramos, an island native who also counts previous Puerto Rican luxury experience at the St. Regis Bahia Beach and the Ritz Carlton Reserve Dorado on his resume, shares his insider’s secrets.
InsideHook: Where can I get a cup of coffee near the hotel and go for a good walk?
Ramos: Tía Cocina or Madeleine Café Bistro, both neighborhood cafés with wonderful coffees. You’ll need to take an Uber to get to either one; Madeleine is near the massive Capitol Cemetery with its circular mausoleum and numerous crypts, so taking a walk through there is a look at Puerto Rico’s past lives.
Where do singles hang out?
In La Placita de Santurce in Old San Juan, where the nightlife is always happening, including salsa dancing.
How about a restaurant where only locals go?
My favorites are Casa Vieja in Ciales or Bohemia Cocina en Movimiento in Cayey.
Late night spot where I can get into a bit of trouble (but not too much trouble)?
Esquina El Watusi, a sports bar where the party spills into the street or La Respuesta, the nightclub in Santurce with live music and other performances.
Where can I go for the best dessert?
Lucia Patisserie, Mr. Kukis for the cookies, Anita La Mama del Gelato for the ice cream.
Best place for a sunset cocktail?
Kikita Beach House in Dorado (have one of their excellent cocktails while right on the beach) or The Beach House in Rincon, which often has live music as the sun sets.
Where to go if I want to see politicians making deals?
El Capitolio (the Capitol building).
Where should I go in the area for a day spent outside?
Old San Juan — just wander around and be sure to see San Felipe del Morro Castle, the old fort.
Where’s a good spot to snap an Instagram-worthy photo?
In the colorful houses of Old San Juan or Paseo de la Princesa .
Best neighborhood/area to take a four-hour stroll if I want to get acquainted with a more “authentic” side of the area?
Santurce, where you will find a lot of art, murals and local restaurants.
What’s the easiest way to get around the area, in terms of transportation?
What’s a cool architectural site that’s not mobbed with tourists?
Iglesia Porta Coheli, one of the oldest churches in the Americas, found in San German, and El Cemi Museum in the mountains in Jayuya, with a collection of the artifacts of the Taino people.
What’s the best thing you can only get in your city?
The rabbit stew turnover at Los Almendros in Guaynabo.
What’s the best thing you can only do in your city?
Eat the almond croissant from El Horno De Pane.
What’s something I can say or do to endear myself to locals?
To be a little more aware of our culture and hang out with the locals. We are very happy people!
What’s something that tourists tend to do that really annoys locals?
Ask what the best Mexican restaurant in Puerto Rico is, or try to mock our way of speaking.
What’s an item or activity that tourists tend to get ripped off on? Any tips on how to avoid that?
Taxi services. Always ask for them for the pricing chart.
Best place to eat a meal or have a beer outside when the weather’s better?
Weather is almost always nice down here, so go to La Verguenza.
What’s the one thing everyone forgets to pack? Or the one thing everyone should remember to pack when visiting?
Finally, what’s the best book to read about the area before I come?
We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time by José Andrés, to really understand us.
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