Puerto Rico

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico


At the tail end of our trip to Puerto Rico, we spent one night in Old San Juan. Although it’s known for being a touristy cruise ship port, San Juan’s charming mix of influences (Spanish, Cuban, Italian, and Caribbean) and colonial history easily make up for its short comings. I found it to be a lovely, little town with some of the most colorful buildings, quaint architectural details and perfect cobblestones I’ve ever seen. In a short amount of time, we managed to visit the El Morro fort, the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cementerio, eat a delicious brunch, snack on a classic Mallorca (the must-try pastry), and peek in a few shops along the way. I could’ve easily spent another day wandering the quaint streets, popping into galleries, bakeries and cafes. I suppose we’ll just have to go back! 



The Gallery Inn 


St. Germain Bistro + Cafe, certainly not authentic to P.R. but fantastic food and beverage all the same!

Cafeteria Mallorca for an authentic bakery experience.


El Morro Fort

Cementerio Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis

Puerto Rico: The Gallery Inn


Perhaps it was the unmarked entrance or the greeting of exotic parrots and masses of trailing plants.
Whatever it was, we knew from the moment we walked in that this was no ordinary hotel. 


Online reviews touted varying opinions such as:
“It’s like walking into a Fellini movie.” “Charming & Romantic.” “Spooky!” “Not for everyone.” “You get it or your don’t.”
It sounded like the perfect place for us to spend our 11th Anniversary and final days in Puerto Rico. 


The children took off within seconds of arriving, following a labyrinth of stairs and hallways to secret rooms and passageways.


Our generously sized family room, the ‘Balcon’, overlooked a courtyard and the sea. It was quite fun to stay somewhere so different from the usual minimalist or modern accommodations I tend to book.


Every ounce of space is filled with something; a piece of art, greenery, color, anything to grab your attention for half a second before your eye is lead to the next thing.

GalleryInn8GalleryInn5GalleryInn7This sprawling 300 year old hotel is owned by American artist, Jan D’Esopo and her Puerto Rican husband, Manuco. Along with creating and maintaining this incredible, museum-like space, she also invites varying “artists in residence” to stay and work at the hotel. We enjoyed chatting with the current artist and painter, Bart Lindstrom, and his girlfriend, Kathy.


When you’re not busy wandering the streets of Old San Juan, there are plenty of activities to do around the property;
from swimming in the unusual sculptural pool…


Lounging poolside in an old world daybed…


To getting a massage in an historic kitchen…


Or playing a song on a vintage Steinway in the Venetian-style music room. (Chamber music concerts are performed throughout the year by local musicians.)


 Even better, hop on a golf cart with Jan, the artist in residence, the server and possibly a parrot or two and be whisked away to the beach house for Happy Hour. It’s the perfect place to watch the sun set and to chat with Jan (who is fascinating) or the artists and other guests. A parrot might even pluck out a song for you on the guitar! 

GalleryInnBeachHouseGalleryInnBHGalleryInnBeachHouse2GalleryInnBeachHouse3GalleryInnBHHappyHourWhen you return from the beach, head straight to the patio overlooking the pool (if weather permits) or into the ornate dining room where a delicious meal will be prepared and served to you. You’ll likely be intoxicated by the breezes of jasmine while an unexpected classical guitarist serenades you as you dine.

GalleryInn4As night falls, you may lie in bed replaying the magical day while listening to the calls of the Coqui Coqui frogs outside the open windows.
Perhaps it was all a surreal dream.

If you find yourself wide awake, unable to sleep, climb up to the rooftop deck to catch the sunrise.

GalleryInnRooftopRainAnd if you’re lucky, the artists will already be there studying the first light of day and how it hits the clouds. Maybe you’ll be graced by an early morning shower and instead of washing away the mystique in the early morning light, it somehow only adds to it. This place will be forever embedded in your soul.

The Gallery Inn 
204-206 Norzagaray,
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico: East Side Story


On any given day, I could dole out a list of places I’d like to visit and prior to last month, Puerto Rico wasn’t on it. It’s not that I had anything against the island — I simply knew very little about it. The oddball connotations I had with Puerto Rico were: West Side Story(!?), birthplace to J. Lo and Ricky Martin, and cruise ship port. Luckily, my travel “To Go” list is easily expandable, as is my willingness to learn! When my husband booked a job there in May, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to discover more about this United States territory.

PuertoRicoBoricuaFounded by Christopher Columbus in 1493, Puerto Rico is comprised of Spanish, African and indigenous Taino cultural influences with a heavy dose of American colonization. It’s an easy destination for US travelers as there’s no need for a passport, most everyone speaks English, the dollar is accepted, cell phones work as they do back home and there’s a Walgreens (or Walmart, McDonalds, KFC, CVS, etc.) every so many miles. Luckily, for all of the interspersed American-isms, there are plenty of areas that still feel foreign. And on a positive note, it was a comfort that driving there was more like The States than say Mexico or India!

PuertoRico_FlowersPuertoRicoPalominoBeachGenerally when we accompany my husband on his photo shoots, we don’t have the luxury of picking our own hotels. While most of his jobs are usually at nice resorts, they aren’t always the character-driven places that I would have painstakingly chosen. Luckily, our accommodation at the historic El Conquistador Hotel was pretty good. For what it lacked in decent dining and perhaps dated surroundings, it completely made up for itself with its private Palomino Island. A short, 8 minute ferry ride whisks guests away to one of the prettiest stretches of beach I’d seen in a long time. (Sidenote: Palomino and the tiny, neighboring Palominito Island (seen in the distance above + below) made appearances in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.)

PuertoRicoPalominoBoatsPuertoRicoPalominoIslandWhile my daughter snorkeled and I floated my 7 months pregnant body through heaven, my son was enthralled with wrangling iguanas, lizards, geckos, snails, mollusks and hermit crabs. My sincere apologies to the various reptile families that were displaced and/or disrupted because of him.

PuertoRicoIguanaPuertoRico_IguanaMIguanaLoveWhen we weren’t lounging beachside (or at the hotel’s Coqui Waterpark), we tried to explore other parts of the island. Just outside of Fajardo, in the Luquillo Mountains, is the only national tropical rain forest, El Yunque. We spent several hours hiking through it one day. On a funny note, I’d read somewhere that Puerto Ricans “don’t really like to walk or get their shoes dirty”, so the whole park has a series of paved hiking trails. It wasn’t the most spectacular rainforest I’ve ever been to, but it was nice to be amidst the greenery and out of the sun for an afternoon.

PuertoRico_ElYunqueElYunqueWaterfallPuertoRicoElYunqueHikeElYunqueLeafElYunqueCocoFrioAs far as dining in Puerto Rico is concerned, there seemed to be three main options: very traditional Puerto Rican fare, American fast food chains and a handful of modern and trendy restaurants (mostly found in San Juan). I played it pretty safe as I wasn’t feeling too adventurous this late in my pregnancy. Sadly, it wasn’t until our last two days that we ate some really good food. If you find yourself in the Fajardo area, I’d highly recommend Pasion por el Fogon. The children and I had a fantastic meal there on our last night at the El Con. And for a little cultural integration, we stopped at the “Luquillo Kioskos” for some authentic street food on our way to Old San Juan. We had driven past them several times and I’m glad we took the time to visit. They’re a series of 60 dilapidated kiosks that serve food and drinks, as well as sell souvenirs and trinkets. They look a bit dodgy by day, but come dusk, they are packed with people and boast loud music you can hear from the road. I didn’t realize they butted up to a public beach, until I wandered out the backside of one of the kiosks and saw a massive string of cars, wave runners and beach-goers lined up all down the coast.

PuertoRicoKiosko1PuertoRicoKiosko2LuquilloKiosko180360CoolCatsPuertoRicoJukeboxAs I’ve said before, I have a tendency to visit a place once and then scratch it off my list as “DONE.” However, I don’t feel like I saw everything I wanted to in Puerto Rico. Some of this was due in part to being so pregnant. Here’s what we missed:

I would have liked to visit Bio Bay with it’s luminescent waters, but kayaking in the dark with two children and an enormous belly didn’t sound so appealing! We also tried to take the ferry to Culebra Island to visit Flamenco Beach, supposedly one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Unfortunately, the public ferry system in PR was akin to a DMV in a Third World country. ¡Ay Caramba! I was also bummed we never got over to the west coast and more specifically, the city of Rincon, which is famous for it’s surf. And finally, I speak for all of us when I say, we must go back to the lovely city of Old San Juan. Our unforgettable stay there deserves a post of its own.

¡Hasta Luego!