Curio Collection Local Guide, San Juan

We sent Yodelers Fernando Samalot and Bárbara Cruz to the amazing El San Juan Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton to shoot some photos and create a Puerto Rico Travel Guide. El San Juan Hotel is located along two miles of pristine Isla Verde Beach and near Historic Old San Juan. Fernando created a beautiful local guide full of unique island-life tips and amazing local secrets, just for you. 

Name: Fernando Samalot & Bárbara Cruz 

Occupation: Visual Artists/Content Creators

Place you live: The beautiful mountain town of Adjuntas, Puerto Rico

Can you sum up San Juan, Puerto Rico in a paragraph? Puerto Rico is a small Caribbean archipelago consisting of one main island and a few smaller islands. The main island is a little over 100 miles across but it makes up for its small size by having an immeasurably rich culture, history, cuisine and some of the most beautiful natural wonders found anywhere in the world. San Juan is Puerto Rico’s capital, located on the north coast of the metropolitan area of the island and it receives hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Although most tend to stay in San Juan, it’s in venturing around the island where you can get a real scope of the beauty of Puerto Rico. Here’s another moment when our relatively small size is beneficial; everything is close by!

What is the best thing about San Juan, Puerto Rico? San Juan tends to be the first city travelers will visit in Puerto Rico. Its accessibility from the main airport SJU makes it an ideal first stop to get better acquainted with the island. Old San Juan, in particular, is one of our most picturesque cities, known for its colorful colonial buildings and cobblestone streets. On sunny days, of which we have a lot, you can enjoy some of our beautiful beaches in Ocean Park, visit one of our many art museums in Santurce and taste the huge variety of rich cuisine we have to offer. Whatever vibe you’re into, you can definitely find something to enjoy in the city.

What are the people like in Puerto Rico? Puerto Ricans are a warm, humble and lively people. Passionate, to say the least, we feel very proud of our island, culture, and heritage and most of us enjoy sharing that with travelers. Spend one night out with locals and you’ll learn more about the real Puerto Rico than any travel guide could ever tell you.

Tell us about your experience visiting El San Juan Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton: Upon first entering the hotel, we were immediately blown away by how beautiful it is, from the hand-carved mahogany ceilings to the marble floors and walls, it was unlike anything we could have expected. From looking at it from outside, you’d never imagine that its interior has such an amazingly preserved design dating back to the 50s. The welcoming chandelier in the lobby, the third biggest of its kind in the world, is an eye-opener. First impressions are important and the hotel definitely knows how to welcome you with its unique style.The Team Members were incredibly accommodating and made us feel right at home from the moment we checked in. Our hosts were attentive to our every need and made this whole experience all the more enjoyable.

Upon our arrival, we got to enjoy a tour of the hotel and learn more about the unique history of El San Juan Hotel, which really added depth to our time spent there. (El San Juan Hotel was designed by legendary Miami Beach architect Roy F. France and first opened to the public in 1958.) We were amazed when we got to our room, it was simply gorgeous! Spacious and beautifully lit, we couldn’t have asked for a better place to relax after spending all our days exploring and enjoying the surrounding areas.

By far one of our favorite things was enjoying the hot tub in the room, wearing our bath robes and ordering room service. It might seem silly but it’s not something we’re used to and it was as relaxing as it felt luxurious.

For sunset, we went up to the roof next to the Spa and caught a beautiful view of the cityscape along the coast. We loved the fact that everything in the hotel was close by and accessible. We went from our room to a sunset rooftop in less than 5 minutes. On our second day, we enjoyed the sunset from the beachfront and it was just as, if not more, beautiful.

What did you love about El San Juan Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton? We loved the style and design of the hotel more than anything. The lobby lighting at night, in particular, was very cozy and dim, reminiscent of old 50s cabaret nights. It really feels like you’re transported in time when you’re walking through the red marble floors. Everything glimmers, shines and reflects to give it all a magical touch.

We also loved the fact that there was so much local art and photography throughout the hotel. From the lobby to the rooms, everything is decorated by local artists, which is something we really appreciated. Who knows, maybe we can have some of our own artwork put up there someday!

What is a perfect day in San Juan, Puerto Rico? Since we’re inclined towards nature, our perfect day will definitely include a beach or a river or both. Being in such an accessible location, the beach, and the rainforest are very close by so visiting both in a day is very possible.

Start your day with a beautiful breakfast at Caña, the hotel’s own restaurant, where Chef Juliana Gonzalez does an impeccable job of taking our local cuisine and fusing it with international flavors.

El Yunque Rainforest is less than an hour’s drive from San Juan and it has infinite wonders to discover. You can take one of the many hiking trails through the rainforest and immerse yourself in its own unique environment. Home to many waterfalls and swimming holes, you could spend a whole week exploring and still find new ones. It is, however, recommended that you go with either a tour guide or a local who knows the area.

From there I would definitely recommend checking out a beach in Piñones, Loiza, which is just 15 minutes away from San Juan. The first beach tends to be generally overcrowded but the farther you go down the road, the more desolate and beautiful the beaches become. Our favorite is Vacía Talega, which is the last one on the coast and hides one of our favorite spots. Alternatively, if you are looking for a more easily accessible beach, you can enjoy the beautiful Isla Verde beach right in front of El San Juan Hotel.

After spending some time taking in the rainforest and soaking up some sun at the beach of your choice, you can grab dinner at one of the many different restaurants in Calle Loiza, which, in recent years, has seen a boom in culinary offerings. One of our favorites is the vegetarian restaurant, Cocobana where everything is delicious.

Our favorite way to end the day in San Juan is catching the sunset in El Morro, the old fort in Old San Juan. On a clear day, you can see the sun dip into the ocean from the high walls of the fort and the sky paint up in the wildest colors you’ve ever seen.




San Juan, Puerto Rico

Best place to eat:

Cocobana Café, Stuffed Avocado, Acapulco Taquería, Mai Pen Rai

Best place to drink:

La Penúltima, La Bóveda, La Factoría

Best outdoor activity:

Surfing lessons in Ocean Park, Renting a Bike and biking from Condado to San Juan, Paddle boarding in the Condado Lagoon

Best indoor activity:

Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, Museo de Arte Contemporánea, Karaoke Night at El Local En Santurce

Local tip:

Try to learn and speak as many Spanish words as you can. English is our second language and most everyone speaks “spanglish” but locals appreciate the effort to learn the culture and language. Say “Buen Provecho” which means “enjoy your meal” to absolutely EVERYONE you see eating. It’s a local custom and it will make you fit right in. Keep a humble attitude when asking for directions or suggestions and you’re sure to be accepted. Enjoy your time in San Juan but try your best to spend time outside the city and explore the rest of the island, it’s a whole different world!

Best place to stay:

El San Juan Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton