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One need not be a student of the Spanish language to surmise that El Convento, in English, means "the convent." And it was, in a previous life, a Carmelite convent, established in 1651. Hard times befell the property in the twentieth century, as the convent became a dance hall, a flophouse, and finally a parking lot for garbage trucks.
The tourism industry underwent something of a renaissance in San Juan in the fifties and sixties, and El Convento was renovated and reopened in 1962 as a European-style casino hotel, attracting popular singers, Hollywood stars, and Hemingway.
Perhaps this sense of history is what accounts for the peculiar charm of El Convento. San Juan is hardly the most exotic of destinations in the Caribbean - in fact the casual observer could be forgiven for mistaking Puerto Rico for Florida. The tourism renaissance, sadly, was a smashing success, dotting the Puerto Rican landscape with shining monolithic megahotels, spreading a sanitized American monoculture that threatens to change Puerto Rico into an Epcot Center shadow of itself.
This hotel, though, stands out as a uniquely Puerto Rican place, charmingly Spanish Colonial in architecture and design. Though the hotel has been completely refurbished, in fact rebuilt from near-ruin, a careful authenticity has been established. Interiors are rendered in a distinctively Spanish style, with mahogany beams, handmade furniture, and Andalusian tile floors. No longer a casino, El Convento is still a destination, a remarkably unique hotel in a world of plain vanilla resorts.
Though the hotel is old-fashioned in atmosphere, there is no deficit in modern comforts. Rooms are oufitted with all the expected conveniences, from air conditioning and television to the all-important data ports. The upscale nightspot, Café Bohemio, bills itself as "the place to be and be seen" in Old San Juan. And El Picoteo boasts of tapas served overlooking the courtyard. As in any luxury hotel, there is a pool, a fitness center, and a ballroom which doubles as a meeting room. A simple massage can be had, and a fine one, but thankfully absent is a spa purporting to offer ancient indigenous secrets of wellness. In fact the dignity-assailing word "pampering" is nowhere to be found.
All in all, proof positive that there is some authentically Puerto Rican experience remaining in San Juan, and that one need not forsake the comforts of modern luxury travel in order to enjoy it.
- 58 Rooms
- Style: Contemporary Classic
- Atmosphere: Lively
- 41 Guest Reviews
- El Convento
- 100 Cristo Street
- Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Hotel amenities and services
- 24 hour concierge
- 24 hour front desk
- 24 hour gym
- Business center
- Central air conditioning
- Free wi-fi
- Luggage storage
- Outdoor swimming pool
- Room service
- Self service parking (charges apply)
- Valet parking (charges apply)