puerto rico old soul
I've always been a fan of the idea of a weekend getaway in a rustic seaside town. The type of place that drifts into the imagination from an exotic jazz riff or countless classic films. Typically to find, and fit, this narrative one would immediately think to have to look at an international trip. And I did my very self before this one. But then I realized...what about Puerto Rico? You have the rustic glamor of old town and now a US territory for travel. After a short review I quickly realized I had been overlooking a fantastic grab. And I wasn't disappointed in the least.
To start lets be very clear: Puerto Rico is not the US. Its rough around the edges, particularly with having just recovered from hurricanes before being hit by Covid, so the visit requires understanding. That is, unless you're going straight to a beach resort. That said, lets get going with a quick Uber from the airport to old town. It was early a.m., having grabbed a cheap night flight, when I arrived at why I came to Puerto Rico for this trip. The Gallery Inn is the epitome of a romantics take on the idea of this trip. And I mean that to the highest degree of romantic imagination. Old-world colonial charm and sophistication at its very best while being swallowed and immersed in vegetation. Old soul's are home here. You'll spend hours just simply exploring the place, and I did, before I finally headed down the street for breakfast.
Stepping out of the hotel gates you are greeted with a fresh view of the Atlantic. As you make your way down the cobblestone street its as if you've entered a kaleidoscope of old colonial color. A mix of repair and refined creating an unforgettable rustic morning stroll before arriving at Café Manolín. A neighborhood institution, a must, and a very enjoyed old diner style breakfast. I took my time and quietly enjoyed my grub amongst the local patrons. After, I was then properly fueled to walk the entirety of old town. From the base of old town hill I made my way back and forth up the streets with fantastic landmark views and the end of each. Eventually making my way to the open grassy field of the fortress. A welcomed rain came through at that time and I could only embrace as if a "Shawshank" moment. A stunning view to end the days walk before a much anticipated, and earned, lunch stop.
But before that there was one last walk through to finish in the area. All on its own in old town you have La Perla, a historical shanty town since the 18th century. Really the most colorful and condensed collection of make-shift homes you will ever see. A gritty beautiful. And then finally on to lunch. Now, if you could imagine in the perfect world of this this seaside themed visit, that classic rustic street corner bar with an open air sophistication this is it, La Factoria is that spot. If you're lucky the window table will be open and there you'll be in a very classic cocktail moment. After that it was far time for some relaxing. So back at the hotel I grabbed a dip in one of the most insanely cool pools you'll ever see and relaxed in the sun. Then some nap time.
I awoke around an hour before sunset and gazed off my rooms balcony at the sea. I cleaned-up and took another stroll down the street to grab some water for the room. On my return golden hour had begun and the sign of night neared with the wonderful scents of passing restaurants. Although there is plenty of excellent bars and restaurants to choose I'd be staying around the hotel for the evening. As if everything about this masterpiece of a hotel, really a museum, wasn't enough already, it was also home to a swanky rustic bar and restaurant with jazzy sounds in the basement. A spot frequented by world-class musicians and the like. I mean really something special, an A+ atmosphere. And after enjoying for hours it was time for shut eye. I'd be moving to a new part of town in the morning.
After a coffee in the courtyard I said my farewells and was off. I was headed to a cheapie in the swanky Condado area. There's several high-end hotel grabs in this area but pricey and I'd be out on foot anyways. So I dropped my bags and got walking. First stop through the gritty streets was a little south to Musa. A hip little joint serving-up a great bubbly brunch in a basic 90's style open space with modern art touches. After I got back on the gritty streets and headed through town by the Arts buildings and up to Lozia St. to continue east. Here you find all the young and upcoming area of town, just back off the beach, with cool spots and reasonable prices. But I was headed for a neighborhood must at Kasalta. Really the place to have your sandwich but I kept it light with a pastry and wine. Saving room for dinner. And by that time I headed back to Condado and relaxed.
Now, walking around the gritty streets of Santurce in your leather slip ons might not be your thing. So just keep it by the beach. But what you cant miss is visiting La Placita area for dinner, drinks, music or all the above. One particular dinner spot being Santaella. A chic feel but very approachable tapas and fantastic bar seating to watch the cocktail making show. And I never thought I'd say this, about a fine restaurant, but the quesadilla must be tasted. After there's plenty around to enjoy if you choose. Regardless of your choice do visit area. It was already late for me so back for some rest for my last day in the morning. A morning that would begin with one of the most mouthwatering breakfast sandwiches I've ever eaten. And I couldn't finish it. Pannes is smack-dab in the center of Condado and a breakfast must.
After gathering myself for beach day I now had the morning fuel for my walk. I was headed back down the street to Numero Uno Beach Hotel & Restaurant. Really the best nook of the beach on the stretch and a fantastic relax-in-the-sand beach bar. I relaxed and enjoyed the entire afternoon with some bubbly and intermittent swims in the ocean. A day very well spent. But not quite over before my red-eye flight that evening. Back at the hotel I relaxed and cleaned-up for my last dinner. My farewell to PR. And I highly recommend this as a last stop if you can, It just has that magic. A short Uber across town brings you to the humble neighborhood of La Casita Blanca. A traditional styled antique PR home serving nothing but the best. I cannot emphasize enough how wonderful of an experience this visit is. Everything about it capitalizes a visit to Puerto Rico and sends you off proper.
After a nap back at the hotel I grabbed my red-eye and was off. An "Old Soul" of an experience in Puerto Rico on the books.
ProTip: Take your beach day to another level with a boat ride out to the islands. Or if you prefer hiking grab a rental for the day and head up to the park. Or with the budget and a couple more do it all.
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