In Puerto Rico, tourism is steadily climbing. Cruise ships are returning and San Juan hotels continue to re-open. On a recent visit to the island, we spent time at one of the premier properties in Old San Juan, Hotel El Convento. Centrally located, it is the perfect luxury hotel in San Juan, in the heart of all the action, yet it feels like a world away. Here’s why Hotel El Convento San Juan is our favorite property in the city.
Hotel El Convento San Juan, Puerto Rico: The Perfect Luxury Escape
History of Hotel El Convento San Juan
Hotel El Convento was originally a Carmelite convent established by the Spanish government in 1646. It is located across the street from the San Juan Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere. Nuns lived on the property for 252 years, until it closed a few days before Christmas in 1903. After it was abandoned, the property was a retail store, a dance hall, and eventually a flop house.
I had an ulterior motive for visiting this property. I was particularly interested in the years the property was a dance hall. My best guess would be between 1913 and 1920. You see, our family history has roots in this property. (If you want to learn more, you can read this article on Travelocity). My great grandmother played piano accompaniment for silent films shown at El Convento. For me, I felt a deeper connection to my Puerto Rican roots just by being there.
In 1959 the property was purchased by Robert Frederic Woolworth, heir to the department store fortune. He immediately set to converting the convent into a luxury hotel. Hotel El Convento was a hot spot in the 1960s with famous guests including Truman Capote, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Ernest Hemingway.
At some point, the place lost its sparkle and business dropped off. A $15 million restoration in 1995 returned this gem to its former glory, and it is now the beautiful Historic Hotels of America property enjoyed by guests today.
Rooms at Hotel El Convento
Hotel El Convento San Juan features 58 hotel rooms, all of various shapes and sizes. Rooms feature Andalusian tile, mahogany beams, and hacienda style furniture. Some rooms face the central courtyard, while others face the city or the bay.
We had a spacious junior suite with two double beds and a separate room with a pullout couch. It was the perfect amount of space and privacy for a family. The bathroom was extra large with a shower and a tub/shower combination. Yes, that’s two showers in one bathroom! The room also had a small refrigerator, coffee maker, table and chairs, and televisions in both rooms. We were extremely comfortable during our stay.
Hotel El Convento Amenities
Restaurant: On the main floor is Patio del Níspero, a beautiful al fresco dining option where guests relax under the shade of the property’s 300 year old nispero fruit tree. Breakfast is one of the best meals of the day with everything from a breakfast buffet to the famous Mallorca sandwich. Guests can also enjoy lunch and dinner in the restaurant.
Pool: The pool at Hotel El Convento easily has one of the best views in San Juan. Overlooking the San Juan Cathedral in one direction, and the bay in the other, it’s a place that’s perfect for unwinding after a day of exploring. There’s a dipping pool and hot tub, as well as several lounge chairs. It was one of our favorite spots for hanging out.
Daily reception: Every afternoon guests can enjoy the manager’s reception with a variety of cheese and crackers, fruit, coffee, and wine. There’s a beautiful courtyard for enjoying the afternoon treats and connecting with other hotel guests.
Beach Club: Hotel El Convento has reciprocity with other San Juan hotels allowing beach access for guests. One of the properties is La Concha in Condado, which is about 15 minutes away.
24 hour fitness center: If you can’t let vacation pass you by without a visit to the gym, don’t miss the hotel’s fitness center. There are plenty of free weights and treadmills to keep you in shape. There are also bicycles on property available for use.
Why Stay at Hotel El Convento
First and foremost, Hotel El Convento occupies a central spot in the city. It is convenient to all the major sites: El Morro fort, Museo de las Americas, San Juan Cathedral, shops, and restaurants. It was super convenient to access everything by foot and we could explore in the evenings after the cruise ship crowds departed.
We enjoyed the proximity to a variety of restaurants in the city. Don’t miss the rolled ice cream at Himalaya Ice Co., pasteles at El Jibarito, and coffee at Cuatro Sombreros. The San Juan Food Tour through Flavors of San Juan was a highlight of our trip and the meeting point was easy to reach from the hotel.
Finally, the hospitality at Hotel El Convento was second to none. No request was too big and room service was always prompt. The best part? Every employee always greeted us with a smile, and that was priceless.