Puerto Rico. La Isla Encantante. It lives up to it’s name without a doubt, and should be on everyone’s must-see list. This trip is easy, no passport needed or currency exchange for American visitors, and literally has something for everyone. It’s one place we have agreed to see again, and perhaps again and again. Don’t know Spanish? no worries, (although I think it’s important to always attempt to speak a country’s language when you visit, seems to me like the right thing to do), everyone here speaks English for the most part.
This is what we crammed into four days. This place, is beyond magical.
We landed in San Juan around 1 ish or so and immediately headed for our rental car. If you visit here and plan on getting a lot done, renting a car is the absolute way to go. You don’t have to rely on taxis or toursit-y type trips via bus to get you to where you want to go. Plus, that can get crazy expensive. Make sure to use the GPS on your phone, or rent one while you’re at it, you’ll need it. Once we got our car we were off for Vieques, known as one of the “Spanish Virgin Islands.” (St. Tomas is visible from it’s coast line) it’s about a good 30 min drive to the town of Fajardo from San Juan, plus a 1 1/2 hour ferry ride to the island. You can park your car over night at the ferry lot for $5 a day, and ferry tickets will cost you about $2. I can’t stress enough how important it is to go here, and I’m not exaggerating. Vieques is one of those see- before- you -kick -the- bucket kind of places. The ferry ride alone is scenic, but the island, will take your breathe away. Once you get past the hustle and bustle of the ferry port, it’s a cozy, cool island that welcomes those who want to see the spectacular. There are hotels to stay in, but we opted for a more natural experience and camped out at Sun Bay Beach. Sun Bay Beach is Vieques’ gem. It has round the clock security, restrooms, running water, and camp sites for those wanting to stay over night, plus it’s free, and the view is nothing short of amazing. You will see wild horses running free, it’s one of the last places in the world where horses run wild. Waking up to a group of them in the wee hours of the morning was beautiful.
We set up camp before sun set and set off for what we came here for, a tour of Bio-bay, or Mosquito Bay as it’s officially known. Viques is home to Bio-bay, one of 10 in the world ( three of which are in PR, including Bio-Bay which is considered the best in the world) that houses microscopic organisms that give off a fluorescent light in the night. If you ever wanted to see something that gave you absolute chills, and left you in awe of mother nature, this is it. We kayaked for about an hour in the still waters of the bay for about $35 each. They have small tours that go out 2-3 times a night starting around 7pm, make sure to spray DEET when you go, it’s not called Mosquito Bay just cause. This was one of the most magical things I’ve ever experienced and I’m sad to say I have NO pictures of it. Bio-bay is nearly impossible to photograph, there is little-to no light, and the light given off by the organisms is so fleeting, that even professional photographers struggle to capture this night time rarity. But let me tell you, it was extraordinary. Watching the water turn neon blue as you touched it or ran your hand in it was crazy! We’d scoop up water to watch it drizzle down our arms in a sort of twinkle of neon light, like liquid fireflies running down your hands and fingers. We watched neon fish dart underneath the water, leaving bright colored tracers of light in their wake. This is something you just have to see…
The next morning we were off on the first ferry back. On to our second stop, The Gran Melia- Trump Residences. Before we hopped on the boat we had to try this lady’s smoothie stand. I mean who can resist a guava, mango, pineapple, banana smoothie?? Not us. As soon as we got back to Fajardo we made the short jaunt to our next stay in CoCo Rio. Now, if you want to nuzzle in the lap of luxury, look no further than this place. We are familiar with the Gran Melias since we had stayed in one before in the DR, and trust me this one is just as luxe. You’re greeted with infused waters of all sorts, and customer service that makes you feel like royalty. However, in Puerto Rico they typically don’t do all-inclusives, so if you’re looking for that, make sure to state so when booking. Here we relaxed, I mean that’s kind of the point right? We mixed in equal amounts of drinking, sleeping, and eating which is always nice, and of course enjoying our room. Double headed rain showers and a jacuzzi in our living room, waste not want not. We made sure to explore the grounds, like most Melia’s the decor is incredible. Since Puerto Rico is home to the beginning of Spanish Exploration of the Western World the decor and architecture pays homage to the period. An enormous hand carved wooden sculpture echoing Spanish/Christian touches takes center stage in their main lobby. After our day of rest, we were up early to get in some snorkeling and prepare for our trip to El Yunque. The snorkeling here is nice, but not necessary, I walked along the pebbled shore and saw puffer fish, damsels, and other little colorful things just walking, any deeper out and it’s just seaweed. Trust me, you’ll have a very, very nice stay here. (Oh yea, wild Iguanas roam the grounds, kind of freaked me out! They hiss!!)
From the Gran Melia, El Yunque was maybe a 20-25 minute drive, and this is another one of those must see/do when you are here. We did about a good 8 mile climb, which means we only grazed this enormous rain forest, we plan on climbing it again. Make sure you spray DEET when you go, we didn’t get mosquitos too bad there, but we heard they can get pretty nuts. Also make sure to pack a camel back full of lots of water, the humidity here and the elevation makes you sweat and lose your breathe rather quickly, wear comfy clothes, and pack some food if you plan on making long hikes. El Yunque is the largest protected rain forest in the US, and offers trails for everyone. We sort of always find ourselves doing the least tourist like things, so I can tell you we started off at Big Tree Trail..and ended up who knows where, all I know is the walk down..was a long one, and we were solo for a good while, no one in sight. Entrance to the park is free, but to their information center it’s like $3. You basically just drive your car up the winding road, very very winding road, till you see a trail you want to try, once you get high enough though, towards the peak..there is no driving, only hiking. Some of the easy trails are well paved and even have hand rails, so no worries, it’s a safe place. We started near the uppermost half and went up from there. I can’t imagine how much more amazing stuff there is to see out there. I think the best part was finding a private little spring with a small waterfall that we swam in, the water was freezing, but it was nice to be alone with my husband in the middle of a forest, so peaceful and freeing.
After our cliff side lunch, of liquados, it was time to head back, Old San Juan was next on our list. We made the trip back to the Melia, cleaned up and headed on the 30 min drive to Old San Juan. Touring Old SJ means taking a six mile walk around the town, make sure to do it, you’ll get to see all sorts of neat shops. The architecture here is very old world, and makes you feel like you’ve traveled back in time. Make sure to wear comfy shoes and buy some ice cream and water along the way, it’ll make the journey that much more sweet. Old San Juan, like many other cities’ down town areas has become a place for hipsters, and a much younger crowd, which in my opinion makes this part of town interesting and fun. The roads are speckled with quaint, eclectic shops, all sorts of infusion cuisine, and artsy boutique style hotels. We started the beginning of our walk with San Cristobal. It’s a part of the giant fort that runs along the coast of Puerto Rico. It took over 250 years to build this massive concrete structure which still stands today. This fort protected other countries from invading, and the view from the Miradors that dot the front line of these forts is breathtaking. Admission is about $5 and good for a full day from time of purchase. We continued our walk down the 6 mile path, snapping photos, eating helado, and flirting. As the sun set, we found a place to eat and rest our feet, and made reservations for the night. We stayed at Casablanca Hotel, an awesome 60’s styled boutique hotel. The rooms are small, but cozy, breakfast is free, and you’re literally in the hub of salsa central. After getting situated in our room, we headed to NuyoRican for a night of dancing. If you like to shake it, you have to go here, it’s considered one of the best salsa clubs in Puerto Rico, and don’t hurry, the dancing doesn’t really get going till 11 PM. Apparently, unknown to us, this particular Friday night was the Eve of St. John the Baptist, and this is a HUGE holiday in PR. Basically, at midnight, you are supposed to fall backwards 12 times into a body of water in order to cleanse the body of evil and gain good fortune for the year. I had never heard about it before, so it was neat to see such an important holiday take place in another country. This meant, it was party time everywhere! After drinks, dancing, and listening to live salsa and rrrrhhuuumba, we needed a perk me up. We headed to Parillo a pizza cafe down the way from our hotel. We ordered coffee and shared flan, and hands down, it was THE best flan I’ve ever had in my entire life, sorry mama, but it’s true!! The vibe here is friendly, a small place, dimly lit, perfect for apres dancing to wind down. They stay open till 3 am and their menu is extensive. Don’t miss this place, it’s worth the visit. The restaurant pictured below is really good too! We stopped there for our first full meal since landing in PR. They have incredible mofongo, I had the chicken mofongo so so yummy!
The next morning we headed for Old San Juan again to visit the other fort further down the way, and unbeknownst to me, see something my husband had in store for me. When we were on Sun Bay Beach in Vieques, Brad happened to find a piece of Sea Glass that had just washed ashore, and gave it to me. I was really excited because well one, I love sea glass, and two it’s a pretty neat process, trash becoming gems all because of the ocean is an amazing thing. Well my sneaky guy happened to research the top 10 beaches in the world for sea glass finding, and turns out, Puerto Rico holds two of them, go figure, and one was just right down the street from us, La Perla. La Perla community is basically the “slum” of PR. It’s situated on the edge of a cliff, right next to the miradors and forts, (for the record, cliff side home overlooking the sea..doesn’t seem like a slum to me :)). When we got down to the beach we couldn’t believe our eyes, there was sea glass everywhere. We found blues, lavenders, sea greens, turquoise, it was amazing to see a beach littered with what once use to be trash, now soft smooth sea pebbles. I of course grabbed as much as my little sac could handle, we spent a good hour or so out there just combing the beach, and enjoying the view which isn’t all too bad either.
Next stop, The Caves at Camuy. This is PR’s enormous cave system in the city of Camuy. It’s a good hour or so drive from San Juan, but the mini road trip is scenic, and once you see in person what I attempted to take photos of..you’ll see it’s worth every second of that hour or so drive. This cave system is enormous, and we are lucky to be able to share such a thing with Mother Nature. A lot of these places are cut off from the public, but this one isn’t. Just seeing all the vegetation alone was incredible, we saw a Rainbow Eucalyptus for the first time in person so we were pretty excited about that! These photos don’t do it justice..but to put simply it was incredible.
There are no photos inside the cave itself, it’s way too dark and I’m no professional, but the first few shots are of the entrance, and the last one of the rear end part of it looking up, and it went far far far down below. :chills:
Finally, our last night, we stayed in San Juan, not to be confused with Old San Juan they are different. We stayed at La Concha Resort, which is AWESOME! It’s a newly renovated resort and casino and it’s gorgeous!! I have to say, this was my favorite place to stay of them all. The road is lined with hotel after hotel, restaurant after restaurant, but the vibe is fun fun fun! We happened to be there during their huge Jazz Festival night so that added more excitement to the crazy party vibe around there. We got dressed up all fancy like and hit the streets, we found a nice little restaurant to get a drink and dinner. We listened to Jazz and watched all the Maseratis, Ferraris, and Porsches go by, slowly..the traffic is crazy around there. I hope you guys enjoy peeking at our photos, we hope it helps you figure out what you want to do if you ever go to PR. If you’ve been, share your story, I’d love to hear it! PR is a wonderful place.