by Michael Blanding
Note: This resort has suffered damage in the 2017 hurricane season and is not taking reservations through Oct. 22, 2017.
El Convento is, hands down, the most beautiful and luxurious hotel in San Juan. Located inside a building that was built as a convent in the mid-1600s (hence the name), it overflows with old-world charm and elegance, from the antique tapestries and black-and-white tile floor in its lobby, to the wrought iron balconies overlooking the central courtyard, to the individually designed rooms with heavy dark wood furniture and views of a Colonial square and cathedral outside.
El Convento is located in the heart of Old San Juan, and the historical ambience that makes the city such a pleasure to visit drips from every direction. The hotel is only a short walk from the old city walls, and not far from El Morro, San Juan’s major historic fort. Just because El Convento is so incredible for guests in general, however, doesn’t mean that it is necessarily ideal for families. The same romantic ambience that makes it so unique can be a source of anxiety for parents with small children who might be too tempted to climb railings and break the lobby’s hushed quiet by talking in an “outside voice.” The open interior of the hotel is also unlighted at night, which can make it somewhat dangerous for families with children inclined to roam. For that reason, the hotel is probably best for parents of infants or teenagers, though well-behaved children of any age will most likely be fine.
The location in the heart of the old city is definitely a plus for travelers, since there are few high-quality lodgings to choose from that are so centrally located. On the other hand, there are certain sacrifices that must be made, the biggest one being lack of a pool or access to the beach. The hotel partially makes up for that with complimentary shuttles to the chic La Concha resort, 15 minutes away, which has two pools, including one with two levels and a waterfall, and a beautiful private beach area.
Our Editor Loves
- Historic ambience of a former convent
- Location in the center of Old San Juan
- Complimentary access to beaches and pools at two sister resorts
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If your jaw doesn't drop upon entering one of the 58 individually decorated guest rooms at this historic hotel, you might want to check your pulse. No expense has been spared to create an air of once-in-a-lifetime luxury that conjures up visions of kings and conquistadors. While each room has its own character, some consistent themes apply -- exposed mahogany beams, hand-painted Spanish tiles in the baths and antique wood furniture. Each room has its own surprises as well, in the form of velvet settees or wooden chests that seem readymade for pirate gold. (Note: If it isn't already apparent, rooms have not been childproofed.)
Rooms are available in a variety of sizes and configurations with queen, double and twin beds. Most of them have outdoor access, whether in the form of a balcony or access to a private veranda. Two suites have a separate bedroom with a king bed, along with a pullout sofa and a queen bed in the living area. Despite the historic ambience, all of the rooms have been decked out with some modern amenities, including refrigerators (stocked with complimentary bottled water), Bose stereo systems and flat-screen TV's with satellite reception.
This was a couple’s getaway to relax and unwind. Late checked in, bellman didn’t offer to take out luggage, got to the room and as expected rustic charms with some attention to details missing. Got up the next morning to find out our room was not the room we reserved, it was supposed to be with a ocean view, instead we got a back view of the rundown building. Called the front desk, we told her we want to check out; room is below standard for the price and uncomfortable.
I was told manager will call after her meeting and do not check out. Tried calling the hotel after 2 hours of waiting, finally I got a hold of someone after 3pm.
Turned out they had us in the wrong room to begin with, transferred to another room which was nice and compensated for the room the first night. Again, management didn’t bothered calling.
The third day, from 1am- 3pm, No running water and no AC. That means No shower, No flushing toilets anywhere. I guess, this happens a lot.
So if you want to stay downtown San Juan, there’s plenty of hotel boutiques/Airbnb’s to stay. For the price, service and comfort, I’m giving it a 3 star rating. Our waiter Tony made up for it with his great sense of humor.
Love Old San Juan for it’s old charms. Unfortunately, we won’t be back at this hotel.
Lovely hotel, lovingly preserved! Right across from the Catedral, the rooms and courtyard are special. Very Spanish Colonial in character, the designs and furnishings are fabulous! The courtyard has wonderful food, too!
El Convento offers few activities on the property, though those that it does offer hold to the high standards set by the rest of the hotel. A small plunge pool and separate Jacuzzi are located on an upper balcony, with a stunning view over the neighboring courtyard all the way to the bay. The hotel also hosts a reception every night at 6 p.m., with a selection of complimentary wines, cheeses and other snacks, which is well worth making the effort to attend.
What's the point of coming to the Caribbean without finding a way to get to the beach? El Convento makes it easy to fulfill that desire with complimentary shuttles to two properties in the Condado neighborhood of San Juan, a 10 to 15 minute drive away, depending on traffic. Of the two, the Marriott Stellaris Resort & Casino is probably best for younger kids, with a large pool overlooking the beach with a water slide, game room and separate kids' pool. The other resort, Renaissance La Concha, is more upscale, though perfectly welcoming to families. It features two pools, a main two-level pool with fountains and waterfall, and a quieter pool overlooking the beach. Both properties are located on one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean -- all white sand and palm trees -- though the surf can get rough at times. Kids should be supervised.
Part of the charm of El Convento is its location right in the heart of Old San Juan, one of the best preserved Spanish colonial cities in the Western hemisphere. Right across from the courtyard is the cathedral where Ponce de Leon's bones are buried. A short walk away is the Paseo de Princesa, which teems with street performers, puppeteers and musicians at all hours of the day. From there, you can take a walk along the old city walls with their trademark sentry boxes all the way up to the old historic fort of El Morro. Young kids will have fun chasing geckos as you go; older kids will enjoy learning about the history of pirates and soldiers in San Juan's tumultuous past.
El Convento has three restaurants on the property. The centerpiece is the Patio del Nispero, located right in the center of the open-air courtyard beneath the spreading boughs of its namesake tree. Breakfasts here are excellent, with standout crepes, French toast and Eggs Benedict. Lunches offer a mix of American food, including an acclaimed burger, and Puerto Rican specialties such as mofongo. In the past, dinner has included fresh seafood dishes such as red snapper with mojo criollo sauce and Chilean sea bass with buerre blanc sauce, but the restaurant has plans to debut a new dinner menu. The atmosphere is elegant, with tablecloths and piano music.
Also onsite is Pizza e Birra, an Italian restaurant that overlooks the main courtyard. As the name suggests, it specializes in thin-crust pizzas topped with a variety of fresh toppings, many sources from the onsite herb garden, along with a rich menu of craft beers from around the world. In addition to the two offerings featured in the name, it also offers hearty baked pasta dishes slathered with fresh Mozarella and other cheeses.
Finally, El Picoteo serves Spanish tapas with a heavy Latin influence -- the likes of garlic shrimp, papas bravas and chorizo with Argentine chimichurri sauce. The atmosphere is dark and intimate, yet still comfortable for families with children of all ages.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
The hotel has an onsite fitness center with free weights, a treadmill and an elliptical machine. In-room massages are available, as well as other spa treatments like manicures, facials and aromatherapy. Complimentary wireless Internet is available throughout the property.
The Art of Smart Timing
Puerto Rico has an almost perfectly consistent climate, with temperatures hovering around the 80-degree mark year-round. The biggest crowds and highest prices are between Christmas and late March, while rates drop in late spring and summer. Even August can be surprisingly crowded however, since that's when many locals take their own vacations. Puerto Rico has a rainy season from about April to November, when showers are possible, though for the most part, they don't last long. Days in which it rains for hours are few and far between.
Flights to Puerto Rico arrive at Luis MuÃƒÂ±oz MarÃƒÂn International Airport outside of San Juan. Rental cars are available at the airport, but most of them are located offsite, which means taking a 10- or 20-minute shuttle to pick up the car. Alternatively, you can take a 25-minute cab ride to the hotel for a $21 charge.