CARIBE HILTON, SAN JUAN old san juan and the sea
Get away from it all in the Caribbean's biggest and busiest city?It may seem an unlikely choice, but the appeal is in the mix—of man-made and natural, old and new, active and idle. In 1949, Hilton strategically placed its first Caribbean property on the eastern gateway to the islet on which Old San Juan was built—the roughly seven-square-block area that is the city at its most charming. But guests aren't confined to the historic district's tiny scale. The Caribe, after all, is big: its 646 rooms occupy 17 acres of manicured gardens and lawns. These grounds overlook Fort San Gerónimo, a Spanish Colonial fortress, on one side, a park with a jogging track on the other, and the islet's only hotel beach.
Caribe's sands, though not as long or as wide as the Condado strip shared by the mega-hotels to the east on San Juan's mainland side, are more sheltered and secluded. At the towel stand, kids can pick up inflatable rafts, fish feed, bingo cards, hula hoops, and sand castle construction tools. Poolside, the refreshing white noise of the surf is replaced by that of the waterfalls, which, along with wide, curving steps and arched bridges, connect a series of liquid playgrounds. The local gathering spot is the swim-up bar and grill, shaded by a roof shaped like the Flying Nun's headgear.
The Caribe's other attractions range from in-room fun (movies and video games) to the Hilton's all-day kids' program to group activities (a game room, lighted tennis courts) and parental diversions (a new spa and health club). The concierge can arrange for bikes to be delivered so that the whole family can pedal the two miles to Old San Juan. The ride, along wide sidewalks bordered by parapets overlooking the Atlantic, is one of the best in the city. It passes Fort San Cristóbal, an engineering feat spanning 27 acres, and the narrow streets of Old San Juan (wing back later for refreshments) before ending at the impressive tunnels, dungeons, and lookouts of the El Morro fortress. (Both forts are the ultimate for playing soldiers-and-pirates.) If a bike isn't your vehicle of choice, hail a taxi for $10, and forgo the headache of parking a car. In fact, in a weeklong stay at the Hilton, you might not need a car at all—unless you crave the wild green of the El Yunque rain forest or the Río Camuy caves. The beauty of the Caribe is that almost everything is at your feet.
CARIBE HILTON Los Rosales St., San Gerónimo Grounds, San Juan; 800/468-8585 or 787/721-0303; www.caribehilton.com; doubles from $139, kids under 12 free.