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The Kansas City Star

Going To Puerto Rico

by Lauren Chapin/The Star

23 January 2005
Copyright © 2005 The Kansas City Star. All rights reserved.

Getting there All major airlines travel to San Juan, most arriving and departing from Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport. Round-trip airfare from Kansas City recently ran from about $375. Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, American citizens do not need a passport or a visa.

Taxis and hotel shuttles are easy to catch outside baggage claim. Expect to pay at least $8, plus tip, for a taxi to your hotel.

Getting around All the major American car rental companies operate in San Juan, but you may find a cheaper rate from a locally owned company. My hotel concierge suggested L&M Rental, which has several locations. I paid $61.60 for a two-day rental, with unlimited mileage.

Where to stay Hotels in San Juan range from the exclusive Ritz-Carlton San Juan Hotel, Spa and Casino to the family-friendly Courtyard by Marriott San Juan Isle Verde to privately owned places like the Hotel Miramar. A three-tiered system is used: budget (from $40 to $75 per night), moderate ($75 to $200) and top-end ($200 and up).

High season lasts from mid-December through mid-April. It's typically less expensive to travel during the "shoulder" seasons of spring and fall.

Courtyard by Marriott Isla Verde Beach Resort: 7012 Boca de Cangrejos Ave., (787) 791-0404. . Winter rates start about $200.

Hotel Miramar: 606 Avenue Ponce de Leon, (787) 977-1000. . Through April 30, rooms rent for $129, single or double occupancy.

Wyndham Condado Plaza Hotel and Casino: 999 Avenue Ashford, (787) 721-1000 or . Winter Web rates for a standard room range from $171 to $190.

Where to eat Whether you're hitting the trendy Old San Juan restaurants or noshing at the cabana joints along the beach in Piñones, it's easy to dine well in San Juan. On the short list:

The Parrot Club, 363 Calle Fortaleza, Old San Juan. (787) 725-7370. Dolled up in tropical motif (what else?) and serving Nuevo Latino cuisine, the Parrot Club serves dishes like churrasco with arroz blanco.

La Bombonera: 259 Calle San Francisco, Old San Juan. (787) 722-0658. Open since 1903, La Bombonera is known for its strong coffee, pastries and grumpy wait staff. Opens at 7:30 a.m. daily.

Ajili Mojili: 1502 Avenue Ashford in the upscale Condado neighborhood. (787) 725-9195. Traditional Puerto Rican fare. Try the mofongo, an island specialty of cooked and mashed plantains served with meat or seafood in a garlicky tomato sauce. Reservations required.

What to do Mosquito Bay: Most of the major hotels will arrange tours to Mosquito Bay, outside Fajardo. They will, of course, charge a fee for setting up the excursion. The guide will collect his portion (about $50) after the trip is over. He'll provide the kayaks, paddles, mosquito spray and the mandatory life vests.

Contact your hotel concierge for tours from San Juan. Island Adventures conducts tours from Vieques Island. Call (787) 741-0720 or see Prices vary.

El Yunque Rain Forest, near Rio Grande. Also known as the Caribbean National Forest, El Yunque is the only rain forest in the U.S. National Forest system. The 28,000-acre refuge, 26 miles southeast of San Juan, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Christmas. Admission to the park is free, but the El Portal Information Center, which has films, exhibits and interactive displays, charges $3 for adults, $1.50 for children ages 4 to 12 and adults older than 65. Children younger than 4 are admitted free. Call El Yunque at (787) 888-1880 or see .

Snorkeling in Culebra: Snorkeling on this 7- by 3-mile island is easy to arrange, especially if you opt to spend the night. Check or for details. Both can arrange classes, snorkeling day trips (about $45 a person, including equipment, lunch and refreshments and visits to two sites) or full-blown dives. Culebra Divers is certified by the Puerto Rico Transportation safety board. Culebra Dive Shop is authorized by the Public Service Commissioner of Puerto Rico. Both are endorsed by the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. For more information on Culebra island, send e-mail to

Elsewhere Old San Juan is a shopper's mecca, a mélange of the kitschy and the authentic. On the short list:

Puerto Rican Arts and Crafts, 204 Fortaleza St. Beautiful jewelry, leather goods, ceremonial masks, all made by Puerto Rican artists.

The Haitian Gallery, 206 Fortaleza St. and 367 Fortaleza St., Old San Juan. Haitian paintings, jewelry, clay handicrafts, wood carvings.

The Cigar House, 255 Fortaleza St., Old San Juan. Local and imported cigars and cigar accouterments.

Ole, 105 Fortaleza and 251 San José, Old San Juan. Panama hats, folk art, some antiques.

The Bacardi Rum plant, Bay View Industrial Park, Catano. (787) 788-1500 or (787) 788-8400. Free tours of the bottling plant (one of the largest in the world), museum (called the Cathedral of Rum) and distillery. Pick up all sorts of rums, including the Bacardi Founder's Blend Reserva Limitada, available only at the Bacardi Gift Shop in San Juan.

The Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, 300 Avenue José De Diego, Santurce, (787) 977-6277. Part of the 130,000-square-foot space was once the San Juan Municipal Hospital. Refurbished in 2000, it now houses Puerto Rican art dating from the 17th century, an interactive family gallery, a 5-acre garden and a museum shop.

Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Puerto Rico, Calle Sagrado Corazon, Barat Building, Santurce, (787) 268-0049. At the Universidad del Sagrado Corazon, the museum showcases work from painters, sculptors, photographers and new media artists.

To learn more Puerto Rico relies heavily upon tourism, and there are several thorough Web sites, including the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau's at . Call (800) 875-4765.

Other helpful sites include,, and

-- Lauren Chapin/The Star


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