Published on February 9th, 2010 | by Mark Chesnut
VIDEO TOUR: San Juan Condado, Part 1 – Hotels, Sun & Dining
When I first started visiting Puerto Rico in the late 1980s, I wasn’t that impressed with Condado. Sure, it had its beaches and sure, it had some decent hotels and nightlife. But it always seemed grimy, and just a bit behind the times.
Today, happily, that has changed. Hotels have been relaunched with the best style on the island, and bars and restaurants are filled with well-dressed patrons enjoying tasty cocktails and sophisticated fusion cuisine.
My partner and I bought a condo in the neighborhood last year — one that needed so much renovation that we couldn’t actually sleep there for the first few visits — so I’ve had plenty of chances to sample the best this neighborhood has to offer.
Located midway between historic Old San Juan and the tourist district called Isla Verde, Condado is a bustling beach-front community lined with high-rise towers and an increasing number of interesting restaurants and shops. While some travelers instinctively head away from urban areas for their beach vacations, Condado is providing more reasons than ever to stay in the center of it all.
As I’ve checked into various hotels over the past few months, I’ve noticed how Condado’s hotel scene has resurged — in fact, the district has taken the lead when it comes to trendy properties. Among the best new options for travelers is La Concha, a beautiful tropical modern hotel dating to the 1950s that had sat empty for years, now reborn as a very cool Renaissance resort.
Also very cool and chic is the Condado Plaza, which in 2009 was reborn as the Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza, complete with an ultra-chic lobby and restyled guestrooms. By 2011, luxury seekers will also be able to check into the refashioned Condado Vanderbilt, which was originally designed in 1919 and is now undergoing a massive facelift — as well as the addition of two new condo-hotel towers. And the San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino continues to draw a loyal group of travelers.
Dining is a delectable experience in Condado. One of the newest high-profile places is Jam Rum Bar + Bistro Moderne, the latest creation of Peter Schintler, a celebrity chef already known for his stylish restaurant Marmalade in Old San Juan. Also worthwhile is Yerba Buena, an open-air restaurant that specializes in Caribbean cuisine, with heavy Cuban and Puerto Rican influences (they host live Cuban music on weekends). Ajili Mojili, meanwhile, is square one for anyone looking to sample a wide variety of Puerto Rican cuisine in an upscale setting; their lunch buffet is especially popular with foreigners, since it allows samples from a wider variety of dishes.
Ajili Mojili, in fact, sits across the street from my condo, which is now fully renovated. I can sleep in my own apartment now, at least when it’s not being rented out to vacationers. I have no reason to seek lodging at La Concha, or the Condado Plaza. I love my place, sure, but in a way, it’s too bad I won’t be enjoying those hotels as much. At least I can still go to the bars. (So stay tuned for my round up of some of the best nightlife and shopping, in part 2 of the video.)