New year, new vacation bank! Yes, it’s that time of year again. Time to plan your 2022 getaways and vacations. Last Spring, me, Dan, and Dan’s sister took a five day trip down to Isla Verde, Puerto Rico to celebrate Dan’s birthday! The trip was easy, fun, and the perfect few days away from New York City. If you are planning a similar trip this year (which you should!), here’s a summary of our lovely trip.
Isla Verde, Puerto Rico is a gorgeous strip of beach located just outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico in Carolina. While technically in Carolina, Isla Verde is extremely close to San Juan and nearly borders San Juan’s international airport. For this reason, Isla Verde often lumped into San Juan vacation speak, often referred to as the best beaches in the San Juan area. I cannot vouch for the validity of this statement, but Isla Verde is gorgeous, much more so than the Condado area if you are looking for beaches. And beaches were exactly why we decided to stay in Isla Verde. Aside from beaches, Isla Verde has numerous restaurants and tourist activities, but we ventured into San Juan for most of our non-beach activities.
WHERE WE STAYED
We stayed at the Courtyard Isla Verde by Marriott, which is located on a gorgeous strip of beach complete with very tall palm trees and chic blue sun loungers. Our ocean front room with a balcony was the perfect place to take it in.
In addition to our beachfront balcony, our room was rather large with a comfortable bed, a small seating area, and a decent sized bathroom with a shower and bath. We were quite comfortable.
We visited in April 2021, so COVID protocols were in full force. As a result, a few things were not open/done differently. That being said, the beach area was fully open. Staff were on hand to set up the loungers and umbrellas for guests (take a few dollars to dip). There are also a hand full of hammocks on the beach.
The pool area was also fully open with a double pool, a hot tub, and an in-pool swim up bar (bar seats closed). The pool got very crowded on Saturday and Sunday, but we never felt uncomfortable. We ordered lunch a couple times to the pool from the hotel restaurant. The hotdog was honestly great. I sadly forgot a picture! We also had a number of drinks, including our free welcome drink due to my status – thanks Marriott!
A few cons to note about the hotel: (1) its right next to the airport and the planes are loud (though we did not have a problem); (2) the crowd was a bit of a mixed bag, its definitely not the most upscale spot in Puerto Rico; (3) some of the amenities seemed a little tired, but it worked for what we were looking for on this trip.
OUR ITINERARY: WHAT WE DID, WHAT WE ATE, AND WHERE WE DRANK
DAY 1 – ISLA VERDE AND DINNER AT ONE OF OUR FAVORITE RESTAURANTS.
We arrived in Isla Verde in the early afternoon and immediately bolted for the pool! It was still cold in NYC, and we were ready for some sun! The pool was warm and not too crowded at this point.
For dinner, we took an Uber into Condado, San Juan and dined at one of our very favorite restaurants, Jose Enrique. It was amazing, as we expected! Due to Covid restrictions, bars closed around 9 PM. Early bed time for us!
DAY 2 – THE BEACH AND LA PLACITA.
On our second day, we hit the beach! The water was warm, although a bit rough for my taste. So rough that I lost my sunnies…SAD.
After a few hours, we walked about 15 minutes down the beach to Ocean Lab Brewing Company for lunch. Ocean Lab is located inside a private beach club that I would love to return to with more time. It was gorgeous and appeared upscale. Our lunch great; open air and very tasty. I would recommend Ocean Lab for an easy, relaxing lunch. Ocean Lab also has a good gift shop on site.
This evening, we ventured to La Placita in San Juan. La Placita is a historic district away from the beach that turns into a popular open air night life venue in the evening. Notably, many bars serve to-go cocktails that tourists enjoy on the old market-square. The drinks are generally quite good, and it most things were open despite COVID restrictions.
After drinks, we dined at La Vianda, which was another recommendation from Dan’s friend. La Vianda offers reasonable tasting menus with creative Puerto Rican/international fare (more international than Puerto Rican). We very much enjoyed our dinner at La Vianda. I’ll be writing about it in another post! It was again an early night due to COVID restrictions.
DAY 3 – JUNCOS AND A TASTE OF OLD SAN JUAN.
Our third day, per Dan’s choice (it was his birthday trip!), we drove an hour inland to have lunch at Bacoa Finca + Fogón in Juncos, Puerto Rico. Bacoa, another recommendation, is a destination in itself set beside a lake in the middle of nowhere. Puerto Ricans come from all around for Bacoa’s amazing food. We spent a couple hours here eating and drinking, and it was delicious! No surprise, another post on this one coming! If you are planning to visit Bacoa, reservations are almost certainly necessary.
In the afternoon, we made our way into Old San Juan to see some sights and have dinner. We walked around enjoying the ambiance, took lots of pictures, and smoked hookah at a random bar. We ended the evening at Pirilo Pizza Rustica, a casual fave of mine.
DAY 4 – DAN’S BIRTHDAY! POOL AND CIGARS IN OLD SAN JUAN.
Our final full day in Isla Verde was Dan’s birthday (!!!). We spent the morning lounging by the pool.
In the afternoon, we again went into Old San Juan for some fun things. Our afternoon began with a visit to Castillo San Felipe del Morro, then cigars and amazing cocktails at Casa de Montecristo, more drinks at La Factoria, and finally dinner at El Jabrito, a classic Puerto Rican restaurant in Old San Juan. Dan had a great birthday doing some of his favorite things!
DAY 5 – POOL AND FLIGHT HOME.
Our final day was spent pooling before we had to make the five minute journey to the airport for our flight home. Puerto Rico’s airport does have one small Priority Pass lounge that we visited, but it was nothing to write home about. I wouldn’t go early for it, and honestly may just spend time in the terminal next time.
- You can spend your whole trip in Isla Verde and totally avoid San Juan if you want. That being said, if you do plan to go into San Juan, it’s about a 20 minute car ride. Uber works.
- Bring earplugs in case the plan noise bothers you.
- There are grocery stores in Isla Verde if you want to buy stuff for your room.
- Aside from walking down the beach, there is not a “city area” to walk to from the Courtyard. You will need a cab or Uber (both readily available).
- The Marriott provides pool/beach towels for guests.
- The pool got crowded late morning. Go early for the best spot or to avoid the crowds.
- I found Puerto Rico pretty strict with COVID protocols, in a good way. Check the most recent entry/exit requirements and restrictions before you visit. When we were there, restaurants and bars closed at 9, but that didn’t really impact our plans at all.
- Electricity/outlets are the same as the US, Puerto Rico uses US dollars (it is a US territory!), and most everyone speaks English!
STEAL OUR TRIP
*These hours are COVID hours and may be extended or decreased based on current conditions*
Courtyard Isla Verde by Marriott: 7012 Boca de Cangrejos Avenue, Isla Verde, Carolina 00979 Puerto Rico. Beach front property with pools, restaurants, and casino.
La Vianda: 1413 PR-25, San Juan, 00907, Puerto Rico. Open 5 – 9 PM. Closed Monday & Tuesday.
Bacoa: 31 kM 22, Juncos, 00911, Puerto Rico. Open 11:30 AM – 7:00 PM. Closed Monday – Wednesday. Reservations necessary.
El Jabrito: 280 Calle Sol, San Juan, 00901, Puerto Rico. Open daily 11:00 – 9:00 PM. No reservations. Casual. Be prepared to wait a bit for dinner.
Pirilo Pizza Rustica: #207 Calle Tanca, San Juan, PR. Reservations recommended (at least for the OSJ location). OSJ location open 11:30 – 11:00 PM. Casual attire.
Casa de Montecristo: 201 C. del Cristo, San Juan, 00901, Puerto Rico. Open daily 12 – 12. Upscale cigar bar with fancy drinks.
La Factoria: 148 C. San Sebastián, San Juan, 00901, Puerto Rico. Open 11:00 AM – 11:30 PM. Small bites on offer.