New World Charm in Old San Juan

By Cassie Kaye

Casa Sol Puerto Rico

The taxi bumped its way along cobblestone streets and tight corners on the short drive from the San Juan, Puerto Rico, airport to Casa Sol, the bed and breakfast in Old San Juan I would call home for the next few days. When we arrived, the cars out front were parallel parked so close together you could suspend a quarter between the front bumper of one and the rear of another (the reason, I suspect, that nearly every car on the island seemed to be dented, dinged or missing a side mirror). The block is lined with one candy-colored house after another, and Casa Sol was no different, with a sunny yellow exterior that served as a bright omen of both the weather and my disposition during my stay.

Casa Sol, owned by Eddie and Tisha Ramírez, used to be an apartment building with five small flats, although when the couple purchased the building in 2011 it had been abandoned for 10 years. The duo had always dreamed of owning a bed and breakfast and spent two years restoring the beautiful, 200-year-old space that’s now a temporary home to travelers from all over the world. Fully operational since 2013, Casa Sol has everything you could dream of in a Puerto Rican B&B: high ceilings in airy rooms, an open-air courtyard that serves as the perfect place to both start and end your day, and two gracious and helpful hosts who have lived in Old San Juan nearly their entire lives.

Each morning began with coffee, fresh-squeezed orange juice and local fruit sliced moments before it hit the plate, followed by a home-cooked breakfast that varied daily, from fluffy Belgian waffles to a traditional Puerto Rican egg scramble. Its location at the opposite end of the city from the cruise ship ports allow for a quiet start to the day, with the only real noise coming from schoolchildren walking to Escuela Abraham Lincoln down the street. The front door is moments away from restaurants, beach walks, historic forts and picturesque views of Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and the whole area of Old San Juan can easily be traversed on foot, making Casa Sol the perfect home base for any way you want to spend your day.

Casa Sol Courtyard

The hours during my stay that didn’t involve lounging by the fountain in Casa Sol’s courtyard and catching up on my latest bookstore find were spent ambling through the unpaved streets, marveling at the interplay between iron, wood and stone on the face of every building. The abundance of fresh air was a welcome change from work days spent behind desks and at conference tables. That’s the thing about being in the tropics — the constant breeze blowing through the streets is better than air conditioning (and cheaper), so doors and windows are perpetually open if they even exist at all. My level of happiness rose with the amount of Vitamin D in my mid-January skin, and by the end of the trip, I was feeling more refreshed and relaxed than I had in months.

Although my knowledge of the Spanish language extends no further than what middle school me learned through conjugating songs set to the tune of “Gilligan’s Island,” I never felt as though I were 1,500 miles from home. I chalked my comfort up to the way of life that permeates throughout Old San Juan. The people you pass on the streets smile and nod hello, and, as with all places drenched in humidity, things move at a slower pace — meals last longer; a walk is more of an amble; and a day spent sitting in an open-air courtyard, admiring the weather and chatting with your hosts about the vegetarian restaurant down the street, is a day well spent. As a born-and-raised Southerner, it was a lifestyle I could relate to, and I felt right at home amid the winding streets and overhanging balconies.

Eddie and Tisha were the perfect hosts, brimming with suggestions for everything from the best local coffee and restaurants to attractions and experiences you don’t want to miss, and their mission to restore Casa Sol and keep their business as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible is something to be admired. The original look of the 18th century colonial building has been fully restored, with each room featuring a modern take on a traditional Spanish interior. It's also earned a Green Key Eco Label, which signifies it as a tourism locale that’s committed to improving the environment through sustainable initiatives — including recycling, electric and water conservation, and support of local businesses and farmers.

A week at Casa Sol is enough to replenish your motivation for re-joining the real world (although two would probably be even better), and it’s the perfect place to stay if you’re looking for a tranquil getaway with more history than your typical palm tree-studded island. So the next time adventure calls, book a plane ticket and take your own bumpy taxi ride down a cobblestone street in Old San Juan — they saved you a parking spot right out front.

Old San Juan

Big thanks to Eddie and Tisha for hosting our crew while we were on location for an incredible fashion editorial. You can find the spread on page 80 of our summer issue, out now!