Updated: Dec 1, 2018
If you want to visit the beaches in San Juan, but don't want to pay Old San Juan or Condado prices, then Isla Verde may be the place for you.
1. Lodgings: St Tropez Condiminio No. 8G (6267 Avenida Isla Verde, Corolina, PR 00979) via AirBnb. At a heavily negotiated $83/night (Total) this was a pretty good deal for an "intimate" one bed/one bath apartment. We then subsequently (even more heavily) negotiated a six day extension for $60/night (cash).
Note: While every AirBnB lodging is different, I recommend you rarely pay the listed rate. Reach out to the owner directly and state the amount you want to pay. First do your research on what your offer should be (prices of other properties, number of properties available, etc.). Know that the AirBnB owner cannot see the Total price you are charged. They apparently can only see the $/night amount (they input) and the Cleaning fee. They cannot see the Service fee, Occupancy taxes and Coupon. Therefore you need to adjust your offer accordingly. For this lodging, the Total price (to include all fees and taxes) was @ $110/night (which was ridiculous). I then offered $80/night. The owner agreed and forwarded an email with a link/button to the new agreed upon price, but when I tried to book it, the price was $80.00 x 21 nights + various fees which equaled @ $91/night. I then replied that the deal was for $80/night Total. The owner then adjusted her price to $70.00 x 21 nights, which ended up making it $83/night Total. In order to keep some goodwill, I then agreed to this price and booked. No surprise, the biggest money maker on AirBnB is the government.
Bottom Line: Negotiate
-St. Tropez is located next to the the El San Juan Hotel, about a 5 min walk to the Isla Verde Beach. The building is a little tired, but the unit we were in was recently updated. One odd thing was that the sliding glass door to the balcony (overlooking the El San Juan and Atlantic Ocean) did not close completely, which did not block all of the sounds from the adjacent airport (SJU) - also it required the quiet A/C to be run constantly (hey, I'm not paying for it). St Tropez probably has the best non-hotel pool in Isla Verde, large enough for laps and lounging (and well maintained).
-Metropol: excellent Cuban food, an Isla Verde landmark (for a reason). Located next door to the Cockfight Arena (I'm not kidding). My wife and I had previously visited 15 years ago and the food has remained excellent.
-Los Gorditos: quality Puerto Rican fare in a fast food setting. My "Island" amigo turned me on to this place (gracias Ricardo!)
-Hotties: live Reggae music every Sunday night. Solid food "mon" (don't miss the Guava butter)
-Mist Rooftop Bar + Kitchen: never did get around to actually having a drink here. Did stop by on a morning reconnaissance mission though and if the drinks are as good as the view . . .
-The center of Isla Verde beach contains three beach front bars/restaurants (El Alambique and two others). Good for a cold beer and a light nosh.
-Lupi's Mexican Grill and Spots Cantina: to be avoided at all costs, unless you want to watch the game, enjoy $2 Miller Lights and eat hideous guacamole.
-Intercontinental Hotel: good place for a drink at the beachside bar. Also the hotel has a piano and a ping-pong table (with ball and paddles) for those Mid-Westerners so inclined.
-Ristorante Casa Italia (listed as Casa Italia in google maps): An anniversary splurge, that was ok. A bit pricey though the food was good (Osso Buco for him, Bronzino for her). Service was wasn't anything special:
*we ubered it and were greeted by the valet sitting on a chair next to the front door looking at his cell
*more specials were stated then there were entrees listed on the menu. How are you supposed to keep track of them all?
*the ambience was a little sterile
*the entire (and I mean entire) back of the menu was covered with the chef's biography (I care, but not that much)
-though the chef and owner did visit our table for a very informative chat
3. Isla Verde (pronounced "is la ver day"): If you want to visit San Juan, you have three main options:
-Old San Juan: a little piece of Europe in the Caribbean, pricey and minimal beach front.
-Condado: pricey with numerous high rise hotels, a very nice beach
-Isla Verde: not nearly as pricey, with a nice beach
-Playa Papaya: the avocado toast was excellent. A little pricey.
-24 Market Place: 24 hour convenience store/bar/cafe.
-The Hampton Inn: free coffee!
-Pueblo: A very large 24 hour supermarket that sells liquor, beer and wine.
-Post office: Located above the Pueblo. Open M-F: 10-8, Sat: 9-4 (ever heard of a Post Office being open until 8:00 pm?!)
-CVS: large and well maintained. Some good prices on beer, wine and liquor.
-Piu Bello: Puerto Rican diner food - good food at a reasonable price. Also a gelateria.
-From the airport you really only have one option: taxi. The taxi mob has a lock on the airport (no uber allowed) and on pricing (a zone system that charges a ridiculous ~$20 whether you go to Isla Verde or El Moro).
-Uber: after using a taxi to get from the airport, only use Uber (or the bus) to get back or get around. Fast, reliable and cheap (Lyft is not available in Puerto Rico)
-Bus: use Bus #53 to get to Old San Juan (Terminal Covadonga) or Bus #5 to get to Candado and Old San Juan (Terminal Covadonga). It takes about 40 minutes, costs $0.75 and runs every 30-45 minutes (and it's air-conditioned). Using the bus to get from the airport may be problematic as I am unsure if luggage is allowed. Any feedback on this would be appreciated.
-Rental Car: I used Charlie Car Rental (which is part of the ACE car rental network). They offer good service/rats and a free pickup/drop off from the airport. Try booking directly through their website and through expedia/kayak/etc.
Note: Charlie (and I think other rental car companies) requires proof of Liability Insurance prior to renting your car. So make sure you bring a copy of your insurance ID card (otherwise you will have to purchase their exorbitantly priced liability insurance @ $14.99/day).
-As in most other "foreign" locations, a little local language goes a long way. Brush up on your español: hola, gracias, de nada, buenos dias, señor/señora/señorita, por favor, la cuenta, los baños, lo siento, no habla español. You get the idea, amigo.
-The pace of life down here is a little bit slower. Relax, that cerveza is going get here - tranquilo.
-On your return flight (international and to the mainland) you can buy duty free liquor at the airport. The prices did not seem spectacular, but check it out, though take a pass on the Bacardi 8 Year Rum ($26.00). I bought a bottle and it just wasn't that good.