Not on the beach (driving distance to their recommended options)
The outdoor pool is tiny
Following the impact of Hurricane Maria in September 2017, the hotel has reopened and is operational, but travelers should note that the island of Puerto Rico was significantly impacted by the storm. There is nothing quite like European-style El Convento in the medieval city of Old San Juan. It was a convent for 252 years, and today it's the neighborhood's principal upscale hotel, offering 58 elegant rooms and suites filled with Spanish antique treasures and modern amenities. Its history is present everywhere, from the exposed wood beams to the 350-year-old Nispero tree rising high above the romantic courtyard. A nightly wine and cheese reception takes place on the terrace, allowing guests (mostly couples) to mingle while overlooking views of San Juan Bay. The main restaurant offers al fresco fine dining in the courtyard; other features include the beautiful sun terrace and small outdoor pool. Service is a priority here, and it shows.
Made for romance, and yet business travelers and families will also find plenty to like
Hotel El Convento is a destination unto itself -- that much is clear from the tourists often found photographing the pretty Spanish Colonial exterior from across the hilly cobblestoned street, or taking peeks through enormous wood doors into a lobby that can be mistaken for an art museum.
The hotel is a notable historic landmark, and both the unique historical atmosphere and service-oriented staff contribute to a special stay. The 350-year-old building became the first convent in San Juan and housed nuns for 252 years, until 1903. The building was neglected and almost torn down for a new parking garage in 1959. Thankfully, the heir to the Woolworth fortune restored the convent, transforming into a luxury hotel over the course of three years. Two additional floors were built around the courtyard and famous Nispero tree, and greenery hangs from the hallway archways. Decor is directly from Spain: Take note of chandeliers, overhead beams (walnut or mahogany), wrought-iron fixtures, antiques, oil paintings, and tapestries. When it opened, the hotel attracted plenty of VIPs, and it still does today. Though no longer owned by the Woolworth family, the hotel has garnered many awards after its grand re-opening in 1997.
The romantic ambiance throughout naturally attracts honeymooners, and many destination weddings are held here; event space ranges from the herb garden terrace to the 300-person Salon Campeche. The hotel is also suited for business travelers, who can take advantage of the free Wi-Fi and lounge areas. It's an unforgettable place for anyone who has money to experience Old San Juan in the most luxurious way possible.
Close to key historic sights in Old San Juan -- but not the beach
Old San Juan is the 500-year-old historic district within Puerto Rico’s sprawling capital. It is a medieval walled city that is as old as the Spanish conquest, and history buffs will be spoilt for choice on things to see and do here. For starters, the hotel's location on Cristo Street -- a picturesque, hilly cobblestoned street -- is across from the the Plaza of the Nuns (the city’s second oldest park) and catty-corner from the San Juan Cathedral, the second oldest cathedral in the Americas. Guests are also within walking distance to Pablo Casals Museum, San Felipe del Morro Fortress, San Cristobal Fortress and Galeria Nacional.
There is a public pathway for walking or running that swoops around the entire area past the famous Red Gate, where Spanish dignitaries used to enter from their ships in the harbor. This path provides great opportunities for photographs (just watch out for those stray cats) and ends at one of the fortresses guarded by police. Within Old San Juan, travelers will find shopping, restaurants, convenience stores like Walgreens, and nightlife -- all of which can be accessed by foot. Guests can also take a taxi over to Condado for more nightlife options.
For those renting a car, parking is notoriously challenging on the compact streets, but valet is available 24-hours a day (for a fee). Guests have access to a section of Isla Verde Beach across town, which will require a car or taxi to reach. Sedan transfers to and from the airport (15 minutes away) are also available.
Unique Spanish decor and modern amenities make for a luxurious stay.
When this building was a convent, nuns slept on straw mattresses -- but today's guests are in for a much more upscale experience. The 58 elegant rooms and suites are situated along along terra-cotta hallways, most of which surround the interior courtyard; the two original floors from the convent have original wood-beamed (and high) ceilings. Due to this open layout (the hotel's main restaurant is in the courtyard), most rooms have been outfitted with an extra soundproof door to ensure a peaceful in-room environment. Beds have luxury linens and goose-down pillows, Bose Sound Systems, 37-inch flat-screen TVs, mini-fridges with free bottled water, coffeemakers with local Alto Grande coffee, and free Wi-Fi.
Furnishings in and out of the rooms include antiques from Spain; the Woolworth heir and an interior designer went on an extensive buying trip in the 1960s. Superior Rooms (with one queen or two twins) have Louver doors that open up to Juliet balconies, while Deluxe Rooms are on the lower two floors with higher ceilings and wood-beamed ceilings. Vista Rooms have views from the balconies of the cathedral and/or bay. One-Bedroom Suites have a separate sitting area and master bedroom (with one queen-size or two full-size beds). Two specialty suites include Pablo Casals and the Gloria Vanderbilt Suite, and there’s one Junior Suite with a sofa bed. Handicap-accessible rooms are available, and the hotel has an entrance ramp and elevator.
Romantic turndown service includes dimmed lighting, Spanish guitar music on the Bose sound systems, and bedside chocolates.
Three restaurants, a nightly reception for wine and cheese, and excellent service all around
Though El Convento's prime location is walking distance to many restaurants and bars within Old San Juan, the boutique property offers three restaurants and bars that are a draw for guests, locals, and tourists staying elsewhere.
The main restaurant, Patio del Nispero, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the romantic courtyard anchored by an impossible-to-miss Nispero tree rising high above. This is the centerpiece of the hotel and the guest room hallways look down on this pretty site. The restaurant serves classics like Eggs Benedict and Banana Nut Pancakes for breakfast, salads and seafood entrees for lunch, and gourmet options along with Puerto Rican fare for dinner. On the second level is a terrace overlooking the courtyard where El Picoteo offers a Spanish tapas menu, paella, and en extensive wine list. The bar here becomes especially romantic in the evening with massive candles flickering and Spanish music. The more fun and casual option is Pizza e Birra on the first floor, with 20 craft beers, thin-crust pizzas and pastas, and both indoor and outdoor seating. In-room dining is available for all three meals.
The property has a beloved herb garden that extends the full length of a hallway; it is full of pots of fresh herbs and fruits, which are used in the three kitchens and as cocktail garnishes.
Though lacking a beach setting, the outdoor terrace with plunge pool and hot tub has beautiful views of Old San Juan and the bay. There are cushioned lounge chairs for sunbathing, as well as tables and chairs for reading or enjoying a glass of wine. Those looking for some time on the sand can access El Convento Beach Club at Isla Verde, though transportation is not provided. All beaches are public in San Juan and Puerto Rico, and it may be worth considering Condado Beach, which is closer.
A daily manager’s reception on La Veranda Terrace includes wine, cheese, and crackers. This is a great chance to get dressed up and mingle with other guests before dinner. This beautiful lounge area offers free bottled water and local coffee throughout the day. This the is the main place to get work done, and it also includes a small library area and business center, which has desktop computers and a machine for printing, faxing, and scanning. Wi-Fi is free and reliable throughout the property.
The hotel boasts seven meeting spaces, ranging from the herb garden terrace (popular with cocktail parties), to several salons boasting original artwork, one of which can seat up to 300 people.
There is a fitness center on the property, as well as coin-operated laundry. Spa services and aromatherapy can be requested through guest services. Staff can also arrange tours of Old San Juan historic sights with professionals for personal guided tours.
The hotel has 24-hour valet parking for a fee.
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