San Juan Marriott General Manager Jose Gonzalez talks to CJ Contributor Simons Chase answers the question “Why should a traveler come to San Juan?” and explains some of the best ways to experience the city, from enjoying the town like a local to simply hitting the beach.
Why should a traveler come to San Juan?
There’s endless opportunity in San Juan and Puerto Rico. It’s much more than just the beach, though the beaches are beautiful. San Juan is a unique island within the Caribbean with lots of authentic food (you can’t find anywhere else), a great music and nightlife scene, history and culture in Old San Juan, and adventure in nearby rainforests El Yunque and Toro Negro. Even though we’re in the Caribbean, it’s easier than ever for travelers to get to San Juan as the island is a U.S. territory and no passport is required, plus the U.S. dollar is accepted everywhere.
What are your favorite restaurants in San Juan?
There are dozens of excellent restaurants within walking distance of the hotel or just a short ride away. A block away from the hotel is Cocina Abierta, which always has delicious tapas options with an artsy, laid-back feel to the place. Another one of my favorites is a 5 minute drive away – Santaella in La Placita (a European style farmers’ market by day, a nightlife hotspot after dark) by Chef Jose Santaella. The restaurant has a garden patio space and serves Puerto Rican contemporary cuisine with a great wine selection. Insider tip: La Placita is where the locals go!
What are your favorite bars in Condado?
I may be a little biased but the hotel’s Red Coral Lounge is one of the best spots in Condado. Packed nightly, RCL brings in locals and guests with its fun atmosphere and live music. You can find Puerto Rico’s best salsa and merengue bands there and it really is the place to be for music lovers.
What’s one must visit place in Old San Juan?
When you go to Old San Juan, make sure to give yourself enough time to spend there. You’ll want to see everything from galleries to café shops and antique dealers. You can’t leave San Juan without trying mofongo and one of the best mofongo dishes can be found at casual spot, El Jibarito on Calle Sol.
What are some of the changes and news at San Juan Marriott?
To highlight the lush surroundings of the hotel, we recently opened up our main restaurant, La Vista Latin Grill, to offer outdoor seating on the terrace by the pool, so that guests can hear the sounds of the waves crashing and indigenous Coqui frogs, and get a better sense of the environment. We have great theme nights featuring Puerto Rican BBQ, prime rib, and seafood that are complemented by live local music. Our new Gelato & Co. Italian creamery is definitely the best ice cream in town and 100 percent Italian, with flavors like classic Madagascar vanilla to specialty monthly flavors like Besame Mucho (red berries with white chocolate chips) and Coquito over the holidays. The shop is at the entrance of the hotel overlooking the Ashford Avenue, with indoor and outdoor seating perfect for relaxing and people watching.
What’s the ultimate way to get a sense of local Puerto Rico?
Do a little bit of everything. Here’s my idea of an ideal couple days in Puerto Rico. Go to the beach, eat fresh caught fish or lobster with an ice cold local beer (like Medalla), spend the afternoon in Old San Juan with a great dinner on an outdoor restaurant terrace, and finish the night off with dancing and listening to local live salsa or merengue music at Red Coral Lounge. The next day, wake up for a late breakfast with mimosas overlooking the beach and then take a day trip to El Yunque Rainforest, where you can take a bath in the waterfall after a great 90-minute walk though the rainforest.
How does the hotel incorporate local culture?
The hotel is in the heart of Condado, a cool, trendy neighborhood where there’s always something happening. We offer bicycles so guests can ride around the area and explore the neighborhood. Through our cuisine and music at the restaurants and bars, we offer the best of Puerto Rico. We also recently introduced a “Guavate in San Juan” pig roasting experience which includes an authentic, gourmet meal and open bar. Although the hotel is a Marriott, the hotel offers such a local experience due to all the activities we have and the amount of local visitors to our hotel and Stellaris Casino.