A breezy four-hour flight from the East Coast, Puerto Rico is the ideal escape. With resorts just a 10-minute drive from the airport, you could be stowing your carry-on in the morning and holding a cerveza or margarita in the sand by the early afternoon. The beautiful island, with colonial charm in the preserved cobblestones of Old San Juan, promises a convenient and zero-stress vacation. Adding to the no-stress factor? Puerto Rico, as a U.S. territory, doesn't require a passport, and you don't need to exchange money, give up phone service or even stress about Spanish -- many people speak both languages. The small island is also easily explored by car, meaning you can traverse the island in a day. Minutes away from landing at Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, 16th-century citadels and beautiful, palm-tree bordered beaches welcome you.
Whether you stay close to San Juan or want to explore the rest of the island, here are a few spots to visit.
Get straight to the beach:
For a quick getaway, perhaps with the kids, the Courtyard by Marriott Isla Verde Beach Resort has everything one needs on vacation -- salsa dancing at the Picante Lobby Lounge and the Casino Del Sol for parents, and ice cream and hammocks for the kids. Just a 10-minute drive from the airport, it's an incredibly easy commute to relax. Chill poolside or have dinner outside on the hotel's patio. In-house executive chef Ricky Rivera's innovative creations include meat loaf croquettes and mojito sorbet. At night, if you like, slide the balcony door open a bit to fall asleep to the waves.
For exploring the island and a rain-free vacation:
To get away from the hustle and bustle of San Juan -- a city of nearly 400,000 -- consider Guanica, a quaint town of 20,000 on the other side of the island. The two-hour drive itself is even relaxing, with moun-tains rising on both sides as you weave through the hills and rainforest.
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Once you're in Guanica, don't worry about rain ruining your beach days -- it's in the Guanica Dry Forest Reserve. Instead, at Copamarina Beach Resort and Spa's 20 acres of beautiful landscaped grounds, relax and listen to the waves, stop in for a relaxing aromathe-rapy massage or try out some of their many water sports -- paddle board or kayak to nearby Gilligan's Island (yes, named after the show). Also, they host snuba adventures -- part scuba and part snorkel, you're hooked up with an oxygen tank to descend about 15 feet, where helpful guides point out -- and bring above water so you can touch -- starfish and other creatures.
The food at Copamarina's two restaurants is also some-thing to be savored -- Puerto Rico's fried-plantain specialty, mofongo, with a fresh lobster salad or a whole fish caught in the waters nearby. For dessert, try the homemade mango ice cream. Try the Alexandra restaurant at night, or Las Palmas, an al fresco space, dining below beautifully decorated vines curved around wood, all while listening to the ocean. The shallow tides and tiki huts create a perfect place to enjoy a bucket of Coronas all day in the water.
Sample the city nightlife: '
If you want your vacation to stretch past afternoons on the beach, one step into La Concha Resort will reveal the hotel as a place to be seen. This hip hotel in the heart of San Juan's Condado neighborhood, decorated with retro furniture from lobby to room, hosts bar stools filled with well-dressed Puerto Ricans and tourists at night. The hotel's variety of restaurants include Perla, uniquely designed to seem anchored in water, and Solera, an open-air restaurant serving tapas steps away from beach chairs. During the day, lounge in front of the crashing waves. If it's raining, curl up in your room -- this hotel defines "ocean-view room." Floor-to-ceiling windows greet you as you open the door, revealing a wall of ocean.
For a colonial adventure:
No Puerto Rico visit is complete without a stroll down the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan. Get a delicious coffee and breakfast to start at Caficultura, a cafe nestled near a town plaza. Sit outside with your cafe con leche and take in the balcony-dotted streets. Then, meander your way through the city to one or more of the historical spots – an absolute must. The Castillo San Felipe del Morro, or El Morro, a fortress and fascinating window into naval battles for power over the Caribbean waterways, offers breathtaking ocean views. Scope out the old cannons and duck through passageways where soldiers walked. For a sampling of Puerto Rican art, stop by the nearby Galería Nacional, grabbing a piragua from a street vendor to cool down along the way. Finish off the day with some fish tacos and a margarita at one of the many restaurants dotting the cobblestone streets.
Puerto Rico's main airport is Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, offering many flights from the East Coast. Other options include Mercedita International Airport in Ponce -- closer to Guanica if you're considering Copamarina. In San Juan, the bus is 75 cents, and cabs are reasonable. Most hotels can also set you up with a rental car.