Oceanside views of Puerto Rico (courtesy of the Condado Vanderbilt)
A room at La Concha. (photo by Kira MacLean)
The best beach in the Condado District is directly in front of La Concha Resort. (photo by Kira MacLean)
The grand stairs of the historic Condado Vanderbilt in Puerto Rico.
Ocean views from Social, a chic, modern restaurant at the adults-only Condado Ocean Club.
Don't miss a culinary walking tour of Old San Juan. (courtesy of The Spoon Experience)
Dining at the romantic and luxurious 1919 at Condado Vanderbilt. (courtesy)
A Tamarind Colada, one of the unique mocktails at 1919.
Yoga on the beach at La Concha Resort. (photo by Kira MacLean)
From the first time I landed in a place unlike my childhood New York home, I have adored travel. The thrill of a plane taking off; the taste of an unknown dish; the way a new city can seduce and delight…I even love airplane food. But even the most devoted wanderers have been tested during the pandemic. From the hassle (and confusion) of Covid regulations to the fear of being stuck out of the country, those of us with wanderlust have faced tough challenges. So I was thrilled to toss a few dresses and a bathing suit into my suitcase and head to Puerto Rico — no passport needed, a direct flight, and no testing required to get home.
Beachfront adventures and relaxation plus a sophisticated dining scene (and fascinating architecture and history) make Puerto Rico the perfect trip for those of us seeking both excitement and escape.
WHERE TO STAY
La Concha Resort
Texans have fabulous food and we have sunshine. But one thing we don’t have is aqua ocean waves crashing into white-sand beaches. The best beach in the Condado District is directly in front of La Concha Resort, so I booked a room. A buzzy lobby bar and lively resort pools made me start dancing before I even checked in. And no one seemed to mind. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lobby with so many happy, sun-kissed people sipping craft cocktails at lunchtime. Adding to the festive atmosphere, the TV show Fantasy Island is currently filming inside the resort, and I glimpsed both camera operators and stars throughout my stay. (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is also filming on the island.)
La Concha has just launched a brand-new Wellness Retreat package, and I was able to sample the luxurious offerings, from a “Cacao Soul Therapy” to beachfront “you-ga” to delectable and healthy meals. Guests who book the package, which includes oceanfront suites and spa services at the glorious Vanderbilt Hotel down the beach, share their dietary preferences and goals prior to arrival and once on the property, meet with the wellness manager, the vibrant Virna Flores, who makes sure they are well taken care of.
I’m a sucker for a Reese’s Book Club pick since she chose my novel, The Jetsetters, so I packed Olga Dies Dreaming, a novel about a wedding planner in New York wrestling with her Puerto Rican roots in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in 2017. Reading the novel helped me understand the lasting effects of the hurricane: although the Condado District seems completely restored, every Puerto Rican has a story to tell about how their lives have changed since the storm.
OFF THE BEACH
The Spoon Experience offers food and history tours in Old San Juan. I loved my day exploring walking along cobblestone streets learning about architecture and history, not to mention sampling local fresh juices and stewed pork at the colorful Deaverdura Fonda.
EATING AND DRINKING
Be sure to ask for a tour of the historic Condado Vanderbilt and its art collection before dinner at its signature restaurant. The 1919 is romantic and luxurious, now offering a unique mocktail pairing with its multi-course tasting menu, which is crafted with local produce grown for flavor and nutrition. There’s nothing like a relaxed evening with beautiful food, and the 1919 is the spot for such an evening.
The delightful, poolside Solera serves up a tropical menu bursting with fresh fruits and vegetables. I am still dreaming about the Skirt Steak “Churrasco” with Cilantro Chimichurri and Yuca Fries and the Crispy Mavi Gazed Chicken.
When you’re in the mood for coastal-inspired Italian food, the Puerto Rican outpost of the famed New York Serafina is the place to go. I ordered ravioli “degli innamorati,” heart-shaped lobster ravioli, and it was simply delicious.
Social is a chic, modern restaurant at the adults-only Condado Ocean Club. Overlooking the waves and designed by Nono Maldonado (who is from Mayagüez, PR) Social serves a modern, Puerto Rican-inspired menu. I especially loved the Bacalao (codfish) Croquettes and Chistorra Empanadas (goat cheese empanadas with a rum glaze).
This bar in old San Juan has been named one of the “Fifty Best Bars in the World.” From the outside, it looks rustic, but inside, you’ll be wowed by the attention to craft—locals recommend the Hijos de Borinquen rum cocktail.
After three blissful days and a last sun-drenched morning on the beach, I zipped to the airport in minutes. That evening, when my plane landed back in Texas, my favorite travel emotion washed over me—the feeling that comes with a suitcase full of gifts for my family and stories to share. The best part of travel, after a long quarantine, is remembering how wonderful it is to be home.