Dance, pop, salsa -- music floats nearly nonstop from lounges, open-air restaurants and pool decks along the beach in the Condado, the cosmopolitan-casual district of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The spirit is so energetic, celebratory and cheerful that it’s easy to forget how hard last fall’s storms battered Puerto Rico.
But the ever-alluring U.S territory has been warmly welcoming visitors back into its tropical embrace. Many hotels used the island’s recovery months to invest in upgrades and makeovers, and a few new resorts opened. The first to debut after the storms was Serafina Beach Hotel, a little wonder of an oasis that is luring young and young-at-heart travelers from around the world.
This chic Atlantic oceanside boutique hotel is distinguished by a playful, beach house vibe from the fresh, colorful, art-accented lobby to the oceanfront pool deck that features social and intimate cabana levels. Five minutes away from Old Town San Juan and 15 minutes from the airport, Serafina Beach Hotel’s 96 contemporary rooms were designed by ICRAVE. They feature floor to ceiling windows that offer stunning panoramas of the Atlantic Ocean or city and Laguna del Condado lake-like views.
Serafina’s guests mingle with hip locals over custom craft cocktails and mocktails at PiñaCo, and gather steps away at aMare to enjoy chef-driven dishes morning to night at the hip indoor-outdoor tables and stylish bar. Several deliciously seasoned choices on the diverse menu are already vegan and other dishes can be made plant-based to order.The island teems with cultural offerings as well as natural attractions. Go it alone, or have Serafina’s “Experience the Island Concierge” arrange walking tours of Old San Juan and outdoor excursions to places ranging from a magnificent rainforest to glowing bioluminescent bays.
Spend a day walking through Old San Juan’s colorful cobblestone streets lined with lively shops, art spots, great restaurants and historic churches and other gorgeous, colorful buildings. Catedral San Juan Bautista, built in 1521, is the second oldest church in western hemisphere. Look for the statue of Ponce de Leon. I joined a two-hour tour with a guide from Puerto Rico Tour Desk. Puerto Rico boasts some of the world’s only bioluminescent bays. Perhaps the most popular, Mosquito Bay, is on the island of Vieques off the east coast of the main island. La Parguera on the main island’s southwestern edge. I visited Laguna Grande, located in the Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve in Fajardo, about an hour’s drive east of the Condado and Old San Juan.
Just past sunset by the shores of Fajardo, kayak tours such as those led by eco-minded Yokahu Kayaks wind through narrow and romantic/spooky waterways lined with mangroves into the bay -- where microscopic plankton called dinoflagellates glow in short pulses along stirred-up water currents. El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rainforest in the United States forest system. At 28,000 acres, it is among the smallest, yet one of the most biologically diverse, hosting hundreds of animal and plant species, some of which are found only here. The landscape is dominated by the rugged Luquillo Mountains, and there are lovely waterfalls. Post-hurricane clean-up continues, but several parts of this amazing park are open to the public.
After the storms, Puerto Rico is more welcoming than ever. You’ll be happy on this friendly island, and U.S. citizens don’t even need a passport.