El Convento: Luxury for the Solo Traveler

by Gray Cargill on March 9, 2010

El Convento

El Convento

Anyone who says that to have a luxury hotel experience, you must sacrifice character, history, and culture hasn’t stayed at El Convento. This boutique luxury hotel, located on Calle Cristo in the heart of Old San Juan, is one of the city’s oldest structures.  Founded in 1651, it served as a convent for 250 years.  The convent’s closing in 1903 ushered in several decades of a colorful, but sad, history:  After laying abandoned for years, it was rented out as a retail store, a dance hall, a flophouse, and a parking garage for garbage trucks.  Today, it has been restored to its historic glory.  You can easily picture what the convent might have been like in its heyday, with the open hallways, interior courtyard and Spanish arches everywhere.  It has, over the past decade, earned a reputation as being the creme-de-la-creme of San Juan hotels. For the solo traveler on a large budget, it is my recommendation as the place to stay in San Juan.

El Convento Foyer

El Convento Foyer

Beware: If you stay here, you might be tempted never to leave the hotel.  But that would be a shame, because it is ideally located in Old San Juan, across the street from the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista and within walking distance of the lovely Paseo de Princessa along the water and historic sites such as Forts El Morro and San Cristobal.  Spend the day wandering the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan, admiring the Spanish colonial architecture and soaking up the history and culture of this port city. When you return to the hotel, you will feel as though you are living in the past–but with all the luxuries and amenities of the present.

Sitting Area

Sitting Area off the Lobby

The public rooms are adorned with exquisite tapestries, antique furniture, and marble floors.  Your room key is no plastic key card, but a real key on a heavy metal key chain engraved with an image of the hotel.  There are keyed gates separating the public areas (restaurants, function rooms, and courtyard) from the hallways to the rooms–which should make all guests feel secure, but especially the solo female traveler.

Keyed Gate Between Public and Private Areas

Keyed Gate Between Public and Private Areas

The rooms are tastefully decorated–rich upholstery, wrought-iron lamps, a settee at the foot of the bed, thick area rug, and Andalusian floor tiles in a terra cotta color. The high ceilings feature mahogany beams, and my room had a recessed archway.  The bathrooms are small, but attractive and clean, and perfectly sized for the solo traveler.  Turn-down service is provided.

narrow glass shelf in bathroom

Narrow glass shelf in bathroom for your toiletries

The rooms have the expected amenities such as in-room safe, coffee maker, refrigerator, flat panel TV, and air conditioning (though some instructions on how to adjust it would be welcome).  Do you like to sleep in on vacation? No problem. The beds are comfortable and come with lots of thick pillows. And nine a.m. will look like midnight as long as the floor-to-ceiling drapes and window shutters are drawn closed.

Room 210

Room 210

The room also has a soundproof interior door which was put to the test my first night there. A loud band played at the front of the hotel for the San Sebastian Street Festival and could be heard all the way to my room. But when I closed the soundproof door, I could only faintly hear the bass. I loved this door.  I wish all hotels would install them.

Soundproof Interior Room Door

Soundproof Interior Room Door

Every morning I would draw open the shutters, and enjoy the view of a tiny back street  that served as a constant reminder that I was in beautiful Old San Juan.

view from room 210, El Convento

Charming view from Room 210 at the El Convento

If you don’t feel like venturing out for your meals, the hotel has some  restaurants on-site serving traditional Puerto Rican cuisine.  I can recommend El Picoteo tapas bar for mojitos and a light dinner overlooking the courtyard, and Patio del Nispero for a scrumptious courtyard breakfast. An honors bar on the third floor offers free coffee if you prefer a liquid breakfast.

Outside Entrance to El Picoteo

Outside Entrance to El Picoteo

El Convento has all the facilities of a luxury hotel, including a spa, fitness facility (with brand new equipment and flooring), a business center with internet access, and a fourth floor plunge pool and jacuzzi. You don’t have to miss out on the Puerto Rican beach experience, either: They have an arrangement with two sister hotels (one in Condado and one in Isla Verde) for guests who want to spend the day at the beach.

El Convento Plunge Pool

El Convento Plunge Pool

I found one of the most delightful features to be the fifth floor patio.  You can lounge in the sun and read in this quiet refuge, surrounded by the hotel’s herb and vegetable garden.  You might even see one of the chefs come out to collect ingredients for that night’s dinner.

baby chili peppers

Baby chili peppers are among the vegetables grown on the fifth floor

Daily between 6 and 7pm, the hotel hosts a wine and cheese reception on La Veranda Terrace on the third floor. This offers an opportunity to mingle with the manager and other hotel guests, or simply grab a bite to eat before heading out for the evening.  I enjoyed relaxing over a glass of wine and chatting with some other guests as we watched the sun go down.  I could not imagine a more perfect ending to a day in San Juan.

What I loved the most, aside from the luxury and rich character of the hotel, was the warmth of the staff to this solo traveler.  Everyone I came in contact with smiled readily and was friendly and eager to be of help.  The bilingual front desk staff (who double as concierge) were especially knowledgeable and patient with my questions. When I asked for a recommendation of a restaurant in Old San Juan with live entertainment, they booked a dinner reservation for me at Carli’s Cafe Concierto, a lovely restaurant with live jazz piano (which turned out to be a great choice).

I’ve stayed at four- and five-star hotels many times before, and while the staffs of those hotels were always professional, they sometimes lacked the warmth and familiarity of, say, the staff at a small B&B.  El Convento strives to maintain that “small hotel” feel, and it succeeds.  One of my fellow guests summed it up perfectly:  “It’s luxurious without feeling stuffy.”

I stayed at El Convento in January 2010 at a discount media rate.  The cost was still more than I normally spend on hotel accommodations. . .and it was worth every penny.

Mold Removal Carson December 4, 2010 at 10:16 am

Thank you SO much for this post.

Marble Floor Repair Weston December 3, 2010 at 12:38 pm

It has, over the past decade, earned a reputation

Marble Floor Polishing October 21, 2010 at 1:44 pm

I find the site very beautiful .I can even feel the experience through screen.The pictures are too good !! Loved it !! thanks for sharing! Great job!.

SoloFriendly April 20, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Congratulations, Jessie! San Juan would be a lovely place for a wedding. El Convento would be gorgeous if it's in your budget (and handy, being right across the street from a church). The wedding suite at El Convento is about $1600 a night, if memory serves me correctly. The ballroom is a terrific space and the courtyard is magnificent. If you have any specific questions I haven't answered in my blog posts, feel free to contact me directly via the contact page. If I can help, I'd be happy to.

Jessie April 20, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Thank you SO much for this post. My fiancé and I are flying down to OSJ in a week to check out reception sites and venues for our destination wedding. I'm so excited to hear that you had such a wonderful experience at El Convento. Your other entries were extremely helpful also, as we are exploring numerous hotels at different price points for our guests while we're there.

SoloFriendly March 26, 2010 at 3:05 pm

This post, along with a number of other good reads, is featured at the March 24 Carnival of Cities at Eyeflare:
http://www.eyeflare.com/article/carnival-cities

Many thanks to Jack of Eyeflare for hosting the blog carnival this week!

SoloFriendly March 13, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Always glad to help, Chris. 🙂

SoloFriendly March 13, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Thanks, Keith!

Chris Gray Faust March 12, 2010 at 9:10 am

Gray – I stopped in to look at this hotel when I had a long layover in San Juan last year and told myself that if I came back for a long weekend, I would stay there! Thanks for making that decision even clearer. 🙂

SoloFriendly March 12, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Always glad to help, Chris. 🙂
And thank you, Keith!

Chris Gray Faust March 12, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Gray – I stopped in to look at this hotel when I had a long layover in San Juan last year and told myself that if I came back for a long weekend, I would stay there! Thanks for making that decision even clearer. 🙂

SoloFriendly March 13, 2010 at 1:07 am

Always glad to help, Chris. 🙂
And thank you, Keith!

Keith March 10, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Looks fantastic. Well-written review and the pictures really give a sense of the place.

SoloFriendly March 9, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Agreed. And in fact, I wouldn't want to drive a car in Old San Juan in any case. The streets are so narrow and the cobblestones can't be good for a car.

Brian March 9, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Glad you enjoyed El Convento. We stayed there several years ago for the first night of our honeymoon :o) before heading to the BVI's.

One thing I would say is, if you have a rental car it is not cheap to park at the hotel. You are probably better off dropping your bags and parking in one of the multi-storey car parks and walking back to the hotel

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