Old World. Hotel El Convento, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sep 2013. 

Old San Juan is a weekend town. A weekend is typically sufficient to experience it, and it’s easy enough to get back for another weekend. 

In the 17th century, the war widows of San Juan petitioned the government to build a Carmelite convent opposite the old cathedral. This convent remained for the next 250 years. A magnificent restoration later, my room doesn’t bear any resemblance to a nun’s cell. The cloister is a gorgeous courtyard patio, restaurant and bar. The domed chapel is likely hosting a wedding reception at this very minute. The massive 300-year old tree growing in the middle of everything has happily survived the change. Ernest Hemingway and Gloria Vanderbilt have stayed here. And there’s a resident cat called Trixie. 

My favorite things about Old San Juan:

  1. Jewel-toned, well-preserved buildings along cobblestone streets 
  2. Fortaleza Street’s boutiques - including an old-fashioned hat emporium called Olé, where I have procured more Panama hats than I need
  3. Watching sunset over the sea from one of the fortresses 
  4. Dinner at the technicolor Marmalade restaurant where Chef Peter Schintler creates magic
  5. Hip bars with salsa and live music late into the night 
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