Choosing a place to stay in San Juan can be difficult, especially if you’ve never been before. There are so many different areas of the city to experience: Old San Juan, Condado, and Isla Verde, to name a few. If it’s your first time, I recommend spending a few nights in Old San Juan. This neighborhood truly transports you back in time with its candy-colored homes, cobblestone streets, and remarkable seaside views if this sounds like something you’d enjoy, get even further in touch with San Juan’s history with a stay at Hotel El Convento.
History Behind Hotel El Convento
As you may have guessed, “El Convento” means “The Convent” in English. So, what does this mean as far as the hotel’s history? Well, this building was formerly an operating Carmelite convent for over 250 years. It was officially inaugurated in 1651 and didn’t close its doors until 1903. As you explore Hotel El Convento, you’ll notice its origins in the architectural style as well as the decor. The center of the hotel is an open-air cloister, while the chapel has been converted into a popular wedding venue. I enjoyed that the hotel seemed to be making an homage to its roots.
After being closed as a convent, the building was essentially left for ruin until the 1950s. We have both the Puerto Rican tourism office and millionaire Robert Woolworth to thank for stepping in and purchasing the property. In 1962, the luxury El Convento Hotel opened, offering a boutique-style option for visitors. During the 1990s and 2000s, the hotel was renovated once again and rechristened Hotel El Convento. Even to this day, the establishment maintains its mission as a boutique hotel, going above and beyond with its services and amenities. For example, there’s a daily Manager’s Reception on the third floor. At this event, guests can mingle while tasting complimentary wine and cheese. Anna and I took our snacks to the top level and watched the sunset from the rooftop pool with a glass of wine in hand. It was a truly magical experience! Even if you miss the reception, coffee, tea, and bottled water are offered for guests all day in this same area.
The decor in Hotel El Convento‘s rooms made me feel like a 17th-century Spanish princess. I particularly enjoyed the Andalusian tile floors, the extravagant chandeliers, and the dramatic arch doorways. Bedroom options range from junior suites up to the Gloria Vanderbilt and Pablo Casals suites. You can tell that the hotel gets lots of honeymooners because each of these rooms is perfect for couples and has a romantic ambiance. From your window, you’ll either have a view of Old San Juan or its bay area. El Convento is also great for those looking to have a tranquil escape. Even though our room overlooked a busy plaza, we had no problem with noise at night. Plus, with only 58 rooms, you’re sure to feel like a special guest at Hotel El Convento.
Fun fact: as pictured above, the room keys at this hotel are keys! Hotel El Convento is the only establishment in San Juan that uses keys instead of a plastic key card. This is one of many ways that El Convento adds a special boutique touch to your stay. After spending the day walking around humid Old San Juan, head up to the rooftop. There, you’ll find a plunge pool and a jacuzzi where you can rest your legs. Not only that, but you’ll also be treated to an outstanding view of Plaza de la Catedral and Catedral de San Juan Bautista. This church actually contains the remains of famous Spanish explorer/conquistador, Ponce de León.
Activities Close to Hotel El Convento
One of Hotel El Convento‘s most significant selling points is its prime location in the historic district of Old San Juan. From the hotel, you are within walking distance to traditional restaurants, bars, and even shopping! I also recommend taking a stroll down Calle Fortaleza, one of the most colorful streets in San Juan. To explore a bit of San Juan’s history, check out Castillo San Felipe del Morro. This is a well-preserved 16th-century citadel that is about a 10-minute walk from El Convento. Plus, it’s one of the best things to do with kids in San Juan! The cost to enter the fort is USD 7, and it’s a great place to watch the sunset.
Here are a few other highly recommended places to visit that are close by:
- La Factoría: A local bar where the “Despacito” music video was filmed.
- Chocobar Cortés: A must for any chocolate lover.
- Señor Paleta: A joint specializing in popsicles with special Puerto Rican flavors.
If you’d like to have a day at the beach, this is possible too! Remember, as a guest of Hotel El Convento, you’re granted access to its sister properties: Marriott Stellaris Resort & Casino and Renaissance La Concha. Just ask the front desk, and they’ll be happy to help you organize a beach visit. The ride to the beach is only a mere 10-15 minutes, depending on traffic. Both sister properties are family-friendly, and it’s worth noting that La Concha has an adult-only area if you’re seeking a quiet escape.
All in all, I found Hotel El Convento to be the perfect introduction to San Juan. Its location, general atmosphere, and welcoming staff make this hotel an excellent option for families, honeymooners, and couples alike. Visiting this hotel has me dreaming of having a wedding at El Convento!
Ready to book your stay at Hotel El Convento? Click here.I stayed as a guest for two nights at Hotel El Convento in exchange for this review. As always, all opinions are my own.