The pressure to pick the perfect honeymoon destination can be enough to make you book a far-flung locale that requires three layovers and way too much bad plane food. Avoid a nightmare travel day by choosing Puerto Rico, right in our Caribbean backyard. With a quick plane ride, you get city and beach, culture and sun, historic and modern, simplicity (no passports required!) and excitement, all on one spicy island. Puerto Rico is a rich port indeed, offering pretty beaches plus a tropical rain forest and all the amenities of a busy city. An even lovelier notion: The island’s convenience means that booking a weekend anniversary trip in the future is as easy as saying, “I’m glad we said ‘I do.’”
BY DAY Spanish Colonial homes, painted in bright colors, beckon as you explore Old San Juan by foot. Leave the map at the hotel—the historic district is small enough that you won’t get lost, and being surprised at each turn down narrow cobblestone streets dotted with shops offering everything from tourist trinkets to high-end goods—not to mention the two impressive 17th-century forts built to protect the port—is more fun.
About an hour’s drive from Old San Juan, you’ll find El Yunque, Puerto Rico’s lush rain forest. Plenty of tour companies offer transport and guides, but it’s easy to make the drive yourself; major car rental companies have offices in Old San Juan and nearby Condado, the heart of the buzzing tourist district. Once you’re in El Yunque, there are plenty of trails from which to choose— a steep climb to breathtaking views from Mount Britton tower, a more leisurely stroll past waterfalls. Go early to beat the crowds, and reward yourself for hiking on your honeymoon by spending the afternoon dipping in the calm, clear-blue waters at the beach in Luquillo, about 30 minutes from El Yunque.
BY NIGHT: The nighttime formula is simple in San Juan: The romance is in Old San Juan, and the party’s in Condado. Both offer plenty of restaurants and cocktail spots—though the most popular tour in Puerto Rico (they sell out days in advance, so book early online!) happens away from the city crowds. You simply cannot leave the island without a kayaking trip in the bioluminescent bay, where tiny micro-organisms await disturbance from your paddle to light up the water in shim- mering blue-green streaks. Kayaking in choppy waters with very little light to guide you until you reach the entrance to a totally dark mangrove tunnel might seem wild, but the twinkling bioluminescence is mesmerizing. Launch point is in Fajardo, about 50 minutes from San Juan, but plenty of tour companies (the guides at E&B Tours are excellent) offer round-trip transport.
WHERE TO STAY: For an energetic mix of beach by day and barhopping after sunset, stay in Condado. At La Concha, the on-all-the-time tone is set from the “bienvenido” in the sleek lobby, where music pumps and multi-hued lights flare. The beachfront resort has three pools (one’s adults-only, with drink and food service), five dining options and a casino. A few miles away in Old San Juan, El Convento is a quieter option where you’ll get a charming Spanish-influenced room and turndown service. There’s a small rooftop plunge pool with an amazing view, and an evening gathering for guests with wine and hors d’oeuvres. (El Convento and La Concha are sister properties, so if you rest your head in one, you can still access the amenities of the other.) The Condado Vanderbilt, an upscale retreat from the tourist district’s sidewalk bustle, has been gorgeously restored to its early-20th-century stateliness and is due to open in December 2014.
WHERE TO EAT: Poolside at La Concha, Solera’s mahi chicharrones go perfectly with a cold beer for lunch. If you need a break from your walking tour of Old San Juan, stop into El Convento for a mid-day bite at Patio del Nispero, which gets its name from the hundred-year-old fruit tree that shades the pretty courtyard. The gazpacho is sweet and the jibarito salad is restorative after a hot morning in the sun. In Condado, for dinner, don’t miss the Asian-Latino-fusion menu at Budatai, from Roberto Treviño of Iron Chef fame. (Good bets are the herame ceviche and the Budatai noodles with seared day- boat scallops.) Leading up to the unveil- ing of its new hotel rooms, the Vanderbilt has been serving delicious dinners to the beautiful people of San Juan in its 1919 Restaurant—but even if you can’t make it for dinner, stop by for a cocktail at the bar, Veritas, where the bartenders know their stuff.
WHAT TO PACK: Beyond the beach basics, you should tote a few dazzling outfits that will make you fit in with the locals when you’re out for the night in Condado. If you plan to go on the bioluminescent bay tour, bring sandals that are good for kayaking. Pack sturdy walking shoes, for exploring the cobblestone streets and forts of Old San Juan and for hiking in El Yunque.
BEST TIMES TO GO: You might not need a passport to land there, but Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island, so hurricane season is officially from June to November. While high-season hotel rates prevail from mid-December to mid-April, San Juan offers plenty of budget-friendly hotel rooms, making it one of the more inexpensive Caribbean destinations. The temps in Puerto Rico really can’t be beat, hovering around 80 degrees year-round.
NEWLYWED NEWS: Book early to reserve the one-of-a-kind Pablo Casals Suite at El Convento. The romantic veranda overlooks the gorgeous San Juan Cathedral.
GETTING THERE: US Airways offers a few affordable daily nonstop flights from Philadelphia to San Juan, and airtime is an easy four hours. The San Juan airport is located very close to the Condado district, so the flat-rate taxi ride to your hotel will whisk you from touchdown to poolside quickly.
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