Jose Lopez Fontane
New York, New York Travel Agent
The Hidden Charms of Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is much more than most people realize.
I have a special feeling for the island because that is where my dad came from and where he has a home today. It’s a beautiful place, high on a mountaintop. From there, you look out at mountain peaks poking through the clouds and hear roosters crowing, and you feel like you’re in heaven. I grew up in Massachusetts, but we often visited family at a small beach town not far from Ponce. There, we usually had the beach to ourselves, something you can easily do around the island.
For lovely hidden beaches, Rincon is a great corner of the island. Some beaches draw surfers with their amazing waves; others are as calm as a pond., and many are completely unspoiled and rarely visited. It is a fantastic area to go chill, and the sunsets are gorgeous because it is on the western side of the island.
The area has some wonderful inns. One of my favorites is Villa Cofresi Hotel & Restaurant. They have an incredible buffet breakfast, great rates, spacious rooms, and a pool. But best of all is the seclusion. It is at the end of a road that dead-ends at the beach. You have the feeling of being marooned in a tropical paradise. I’ve sent couples, families, and groups of friends.
Most people don’t think of mountains when they picture Puerto Rico, but that’s the place to go for incredible hiking and to rub elbows with locals. I can map out a day trip through the mountainous interior that will be a wonderful adventure. A hike through rain forest can lead to beautiful hidden natural pools at the base of waterfalls that are the perfect setting for a picnic. You can stop at great inexpensive mom and pop markets with people selling fruits and vegetables, pets and crafts. You will happen upon food trucks selling the best chicken you’ll ever eat—fresh off the farm and cooked with wonderful homegrown spices. And you can sit at a local bar, the breeze blowing through and Spanish music playing as you enjoy your Medalla Light beer and chat with locals.
Another great area to dine with locals is on the road from San Juan to Fajardo. Many families run restaurants off their homes so as you drive by; you will notice outdoor terraces where mom and grandmom are whipping up local dishes that are to die for. They’re inexpensive too, and they’ll come out and sit with you as you eat if you are receptive to chatting.
Not to be missed is Old San Juan. Most people have heard of it, but few know how amazing it is. You get a real sense of history as you walk along the cobblestoned streets lined by brightly-painted houses and tour its 500-year fort, part of the San Juan National Historic Site, run by the U.S. National Park Service. There are smaller museums as well, such as Casa Blanca, built for Juan Ponce de Leon. More than anything, Old San Juan is a living neighborhood, with great restaurants, shopping, and clubs. My favorite is an open-air terrace where you can listen to live salsa and meringue music under the stars and join the locals on the dance floor.
Within walking distance, the Condado area is a great place to stay. It has the beach and beautiful hotels with lovely pools. It is also a shopping and dining hub with a lot of choices for restaurants, so you don’t need a car to enjoy it. Isla Verde is another popular area to stay with splendid beaches. It’s more commercial and slick, but it also provides lots of options with everything from fast food to fine dining and plenty of shops.
A bit more remote, El Conquistador, a Waldorf Astoria Resort and Spa, is near El Yunque National Forest. It’s also a short drive from the port for ferries going to the islands of Vieques and Culebra, where you can find great beaches and an amazing phosphorescent bay. Go on a night with no moon for the full effect. Your boat will ignite a bioluminescent wake that is beyond imagination.
Whether you want to be pampered at a five-star hotel or find a secluded beach or mountain adventure, you will receive a warm welcome in Puerto Rico, and I am here to help you experience all the wonders the island has to offer!