If one is traveling from the UK, Puerto Rico may not currently be top of anyone’s list when considering a Caribbean getaway. There are currently no direct flights, so getting there is bit more of a schlep than say Barbados or St Lucia. However, having just spent a very good week in Puerto Rico, it may be worth reconsidering — particularly if you can extend your stay and spend a night or two in New York or Miami — both of which are stopover options.
As with all Caribbean islands, it would be easy to arrive, head for a resort, plonk yourself on a beach, and never do more than that. Puerto Rico has beautiful beaches but it has so much more too, including the evocative capitol Old San Juan which is where we spent a couple of days — after, of course, indulging in plenty of beach time.
When traveling, we like to seek out the unusual and the quirky — particularly when finding somewhere to stay. The Gallery Inn, in Old San Juan was both. On our arrival — with our too heavy bags — we literally stumbled through an unremarkable green doorway, immediately encountering some stairs that led down into a surprising courtyard littered with sculptures, a fountain, and places to sit beneath straw parasols. We were greeted by an elegant lady with a large parrot on her shoulder. Another parrot was situated next to the reception desk where he squawked loudly and continuously — so much so that we strained to hear what any one was saying as we checked in.
After we recovered from our initial surprise, we realised The Gallery Inn was quite special and absolutely unique. It is the home of Jan D’Espo — an artist who has over time created and added to her home so that now it is made up of 6 interconnecting town houses with 25 guest rooms. We were encouraged, on arrival, to explore. We did. We wandered from room to room packed with sculpture and paintings, past fountains, brick patios, and antique arches. We were both amazed and intrigued in equal measure. Our jaws were pretty close to the floor when we came across the sunken garden and swimming pool constructed around original tumble down walls. So many hidden corners and nooks and crannies in which to nose — it was truly fabulous.
The Gallery Inn is also home to a magnificent steinway piano and recitals are regularly held. On our arrival, we were encouraged to go along to a recital that evening in the music room featuring a very young and gifted pianist named Rolando Alejandro. We did not need asking twice. We sipped wine, sat amongst music loving locals, and lost ourselves in the music and in the moment. We felt very privileged to be a part of such a magical evening.
After our encounter with the steinway, we soon discovered that wherever you are in Old San Juan you are never far from music. The city has its own sound track that constantly provides plenty of background atmosphere. Music seeps from bars, musicians play on the streets, and live music is a feature of many restaurants. As you might expect, it is hot in Old San Juan — and hot weather does not necessarily lend itself to one’s wandering around the city; however, this city is on the sea so it does not take too much effort to find a cooling breeze. With an abundance of bars and cafes in which to refresh yourself with a cooling beer or iced coffee, sight seeing in Old San Juan is pleasingly easy. We ate and drank very well too. Coconut shrimp, Mahi Mahi, mango, papaya, sweet pastries — and of course the odd cocktail or two.
We spent a whole day wandering the streets of Old San Juan, taking pictures of the pastel coloured buildings while seeking shade in churches and inside the thick walled rooms of the Castillo San Cristobal. I have a particular obsession with doors and windows and so I took so many pictures of doorways that were smart to rustic to falling down. There is much to see and absorb. A favourite pass time when traveling is people watching — and there is ample opportunity for this in Old San Juan. Take a seat anywhere to watch Puerto Ricans at work and play. Of course, there are plenty of tourists in Old San Juan; yet, the city manages to maintain an authenticity which does not require much to seek out.
Old San Juan is about 45 minutes from the beautiful coastline where resorts such as the luxurious St Regis Bahaia Beach are situated. Here, the silky soft beaches are wide and empty and are lined with palm trees. Opportunities to take to the water are plentiful and include snorkeling the reefs to kayaking through mangroves at day with the iguanas or at night with the magical bioluminescence.
The Gallery Inn, Old San Juan, the beaches of Puerto Rico, and the mix of music, colour, vibrancy, and flavour in this little Caribbean island provided just the restorative, nourishing balm we were looking for.
Article by Angela Vincent Of Changing Pages | The Black Lion is a humble interdisciplinary journal that values your voice. Visit the submissions page to learn more about submitting to the Journal’s sections or to The Wire’s Dream Magazine. | Copyright Policy