Hotel El Convento Offers Old-World Luxury in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Most first-time visitors to Puerto Rico head directly to Old San Juan — and with good reason. Restored to its former glory, the city is a three-dimensional living history lesson. It’s also home to a wide assortment of hotels and guesthouses. But for the ultimate in history and luxury, nothing beats the Hotel El Convento.

Yellow and white exterior of Hotel El Convento

I like to stay in a historic hotel when I travel. These classic buildings are filled with beautiful architecture, artistic decor, regional character — and lots of stories. The El Convento does not disappoint.

AAA awarded the El Convento a Four Diamond rating. Condé Nast Traveler named it a Top 10 Hotel in the Caribbean five years in a row. And Forbes calls it one of the top six hotels in Puerto Rico. It is the oldest member of Historic Hotels of America. It has been a member since 1999.

History and charm abound at Hotel El Convento

Hotel El Convento is situated in the heart of Old San Juan. It is located across the street from the Catedral de San Juan Bautista and near shopping and cultural attractions.

The hotel occupies a restored 360-year-old Carmelite convent. A towering arched doorway leads into an opulent old-world-influenced manor. You will feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. The lobby welcomes guests with a classic black-and-white checkered marble floor. Wrought iron chandeliers, hacienda-style hand-carved furnishings, beamed ceilings, and sumptuous tapestries and paintings add to the appeal. An ornate gate provides a glimpse into the former chapel.

Lobby of Hotel El Convento with arched doorways, black and white checkered floors and ornate woodwork

The hotel offers 82 guest rooms. Each features mahogany furniture, Andalusian tile floors, marble bathrooms, and either Juliet balconies or private terraces. Each room also includes a refrigerator, safe, coffee maker, flat-screen TV, and free Wi-Fi. I stayed in a Queen Deluxe room. For a more luxurious experience, book the Gloria Vanderbilt Suite. The fashion designer was the first guest at the hotel.

The suite features an expansive master bedroom with attached bathroom and palatial living and dining spaces. It is complete with stunning trompe l’oeil decor and a veranda that overlooks the city. Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez spent their honeymoon in this suite.

An open courtyard sits in the center of the hotel. It is home to the main restaurant, El Patio del Nispero. This charming eatery gets its name from a 300-year-old nispero fruit (Japanese loquat) tree that stands on the property. The open-air space is surrounded by a five-story hanging garden that adds beauty and romance.

The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And bar service is available from 4-10 p.m. During one of my stays, the bartender introduced me to Rom del Barrilito. Puerto Rico is known for Bacardi, but Rom del Barrilito is the island’s oldest rum.

It’s important to note that the El Convento is not located on a beach. However, it does offer guests beach access at its sister resorts through its Beach Club. This includes the waterfront La Concha Resort, which is located on the sugary sands of Condado Beach in modern San Juan. Instead, a rooftop jacuzzi and small plunge pool are located on the fourth-floor terrace of the El Convento.

A manager’s reception is held every evening on the La Veranda Terrace. Wine and hors d’oeuvres are served. And staff provide the inside scoop on where to go and what to see in town. If you’re really lucky, you might even befriend one of the hotel’s resident cats. The frisky felines often can be found sunning themselves on the terraces.

Large bed in blue bedroom with ornate wood headboard and black and white checkered floor


Visiting Old San Juan

“El Viejo San Juan” is located on a tiny finger of land on Puerto Rico’s northern coast. It is the historic heart of the island’s capital. It’s also Puerto Rico’s most popular tourist destination.

The walled historic district is separated from modern San Juan by a small channel. Cobbled streets are lined with colonial architecture. Meticulously preserved two- and three-story Spanish colonial homes are painted in an explosion of pastel hues. Shops are filled with locally made art, jewelry, fashion, and more. And restaurants and bars burst with hungry patrons.

The neighborhood was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

Highlights include Castillo San Felipe del Morro (commonly known as El Morro). This 1591 fort stands much as it did in centuries past watching over the city’s harbor. Castillo San Cristóbal is a massive structure designed to ward off surprise land attacks at the opposite end of the city. These fortresses’ stone walls and picturesque garitas, or sentry boxes, are enduring symbols for the commonwealth’s tourism industry.

The oldest building in the historic district is just steps from the El Convento. Museo Casa Blanca was home to Ponce de Leon’s descendants for more than two-and-a-half centuries. Built in 1521, it is a museum chronicling the life of Puerto Rico’s founding family.

No visit to Old San Juan would be complete without at least one breakfast at La Bombonera.  The landmark counter-service café is a popular place to dine for locals and visitors alike. A must-try for everyone is the Mallorca. Buttery grilled pressed bread is sprinkled with powdered sugar and filled with your choice of ham, egg, or cheese.


Staying at Hotel El Convento

I have stayed at the El Convento numerous times. Its location is ideal. The staff are always friendly and helpful. And there’s even a small parking lot for rental cars. Resorts are a great place to relax and escape, but this historic hotel offers a glimpse of the real Puerto Rico.

Rooms at the El Convento start at $259/night. You can make your reservation directly with the hotel, or go through, or any other hotel booking site.  If you’re looking to stay in the modern part of San Juan, check out our reviews of the Sheraton Casino Hotel and OLV 55

Photo of Gloria Vanderbilt Suite courtesy of Hotel El Convento. All other images by Rebecca L. Rhoades.

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