Review: Charlie Car Rental and San Juan


After our long and totally adventurous journey around most of the planet and after only 6 months back in the States, we were off again. After spending 6 weeks visiting our family in sunny California and a 3-month break in Austin, Texas, we traveled to Florida. Spending some time in numerous Fl. beach cities we eventually made it to Miami, the Latin hub of the Americas. Our first journey from there was the Caribbean Isle of Puerto Rico. The little I knew about the Island was learned from previous friendships, brochures and passed on information from business & personal contacts. Was it to be everything I had anticipated? With my favorite & crucial, brainy traveling partner and Dakota, we would soon know if it was worth the journey.

In the weeks before our short flight in early March 2005 we had contacted several tourism related businesses seeking their participation in our promotional tour. Their response was welcoming. We are thankful that some of the very best businesses on the island offered and provided their support, which definitely aided us in our success of exploring this phenomenal isle.

Our first and primary sponsor was Charlie’s Car Rental. They would provide a mini-van for the entire duration of our stay on the island, 2 weeks, or longer, if required. With the number of bags we were dragging around…a mini van was crucial! Unlimited mileage was also important, as we intended to explore every inch of this Caribbean Isle. 

Arriving at the international airport in the capital city, San Juan, we met up with our prearranged guide, Mr. Hector Reyes, a 25-year-old native. Catching the airport shuttle bus for the short ride to Charlie’s to pick up our Van, we quickly became acquainted. After a brief meeting and a quickly signed agreement we were handed the keys to a new Ford mini-van…it was just that easy. The company is truly and most definitely a quality run business with a great location, professional staff and massive selection of cars, vans and SUV’s. 

Remember the name Charlie’s if you ever intend to visit Puerto Rico…you won’t regret it and unlike my previous nightmare experiences with Avis and other car rental companies around the globe…they care about your experience and appreciate your business!

Our guide, Hector, a well-spoken and quite knowledgeable man, he was indeed crucial to the success of our tour. But, as our usual luck, we arrived on the island in the middle of some local festivities and as it was getting late in the day we decided to stay the night just outside the city center. We had initially planned to drive across the island to our booked accommodations. Everyone else on the island must have shared our decision, as there was not a room or even a barn for sleeping available anywhere. Hector, being the true gent he was, invited us to meet his Mom, step dad and his lil’ brothers. They lived in a quaint, but well kept house on a hill in the outskirts of San Juan. What a greeting! I haven’t been welcomed like that in a long time and their hugs were genuine…salt of the earth people, to say the least. The cold drinks, the chatting about anything that popped in mind was relaxing, but their house was too small for our stay and we still had to find a place to sleep. Hector mentioned that he might know a hotel just down the hill and without another word walked out the door. He was back in 30 minutes with a positive answer…yes, they had rooms. Great, was my quick reply, but my quick acceptance turned into folly as we soon learned the hotel was a brothel…with a bedazzled glance toward Dakota and a deep sigh, we accepted our fate…’oh well, was all I could muster. It was just another day on the road and a bed was a bed…or was it?

The short drive to the deluxe brothel hotel led us to a new experience and wasn’t what I expected. It was laid out and designed for maximum privacy and didn’t actually supply any women. The row after row of motel style ground floor rooms were each separated by a garage. The client along with his date simply paid a very reasonable fee for the room, drove their car into the assigned garage, pulled the door down behind their car and walked straight into their mirrored ceiling, glowing blue lighted room and did their business. Our only business was to get some sleep! 

Dakota went to his room and alone in my room sleep was difficult as I lay there staring up at the mirrored reflection of myself in the blue twilight of a 1960 lava lamp. It was a very unique experience, but some-what humbling, as I heard the cars coming & going along with the multitude of neighboring grunts and moans into the wee-dawn hours of the morning. At times life on the road does get lonely!

After a quick exit the next morning we picked up Hector from his family’s home and with his giggling promise of no more brothel hotels, we began our next adventure. We had made arrangements to stay in a lovely beachside villa-hotel on the other side of the island and after a very tasteful breakfast at a small roadside café, and with Hectors directions we were off. The three-hour drive exposed the island and all its national beauty as we twisted and turned our way up and over the heavily treed mountains. Passing through several towns and industrial areas, we eventually started our descent back down to the ocean. The highways were well kept, but we did see many fires burning somewhat out of control in the foothills and mountains. Asking Hector about the fires, he shamefully admitted that his people were not very eco-conservative and callously threw their trash anywhere and everywhere. He said the glass beer bottles lying in the sun acted like a magnifying glass and started the fires. He went on to say that this occurred countless times a day all over the island. What a shame was all I could say! When are people ever going to learn?

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San Juan is one of the most beautiful cities in all the Caribbean!

San Juan is one of the most beautiful cities in all the Caribbean!


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Michael Smith was the touring editor for Traveler’s Digest. His journeys took him across the world and on a series of unforgettable adventures!