- When: One week in April 2013 and a four day weekend in October 2015
- Where: San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino and Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort and Spa Puerto Rico
- Transportation: Boston, MA (BOS) direct flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU) on JetBlue airlines
- Transportation within the island: Enterprise Rent- A – Car on both trips- available pick up at the airport
- Must see/do: Old San Juan- Castillo de San Cristobal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro forts, El Yunque National Forest, Bioluminescent Bay, Culebra island– Flamenco beach
- Food/drinks: Old San Juan- Marmalade Restaurant and Bar, Cafe Puerto Rico, Dragonfly. Other parts of PR- Ben and Jerry’s Condado, Lluvia, Rico Pan Bakery, La Estacion
I have been to Puerto Rico with friends before I knew Sean. And I loved it. So when Sean’s 30th birthday was approaching and he was not sure where we should celebrate, it was a no brainer. Boston has direct flights for around $400 USD round trip, Puerto Rico is big, but also small enough to enjoy it for a long weekend escape. Especially if you don’t have much vacation time to spare. Also- end of October in Boston is already chilly, where in PR it’s a perfect balmy temps.
In this post I will combine both trips and share the most liked sights, activities and of course the restaurants!
San Juan is Puerto Rico’s capital and the largest city. I will talk more about the Old San Juan, since it’s where all the history is and where you certainly want to visit for at least one day and evening if you have enough time.
Old San Juan and New San Juan are like two different cities separated five centuries apart. The New San Juan has a lot of beachfront hotels, nightlife activities. Isla Verde, Condado and Ocean Park are very popular with tourists.
As you are in Condado, visit Ben and Jerry’s for breakfast. I know, sounds crazy 🙂 , but they have more than just ice cream and the ocean view while enjoying your meal is always a nice bonus! This was our breakfast spot when I stayed at San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino.
My favorite though is Old San Juan. I love the cobblestone streets (no heels please!), the colorful houses, the history behind the five hundred year old walls. I’d recommend spending at least one afternoon there, wandering around the charming streets, checking out the shops and the restaurants that Old San Juan has plenty of! As we are on the restaurant topic- you MUST try Marmalade Restaurant and Wine bar – best restaurant in San Juan according to six thousand TripAdvisor reviewers, ourselves including.
We went there for Sean’s 30th birthday and had a four course dinner, mine paired with wine. The food was work of art and the white bean soup was to die for! We are not the only ones that actually asked for a recipe! They have it ready and printed on the postcard, but the lady sitting nearby said she tried making the soup- it never comes out the same…The chef must have left out some secret magical ingredient 🙂 . The food is a bit pricey, but for a special occasion it’s a very nice treat.
If you want to have a great meal and don’t spend $300+ for two (30th birthday is an exception!) there are plenty of great options in Old San Juan. Cafe Puerto Rico has a nice outdoor seating and serves great Puerto Rican dishes.
If you are looking for a great Asian restaurant, try Dragonfly. It’s got a cool ambiance, great food and drinks.
After a day of exploring the little streets, head to the San Juan National Historic Site with the two five hundred years old forts- Castillo de San Cristobal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro. I’d suggest taking a stroll on the Paseo de la Princesa- 1953 urban promenade and arriving to the forts right before the sunset.
You will still get to enjoy the view in the daylight and watch the sun go down behind the walls.
After sunset, don’t linger there, go back in the well lit streets. Although we did not get hurt, we saw a crying woman talking to a police officer soon after she was mugged. As a general rule- be cautions, don’t carry lots of cash or wear flashy jewelry and you will be ok. We apply this to any trip we take.
EL YUNQUE NATIONAL FOREST
El Yunque is a tropical rain forest in northeastern side of Puerto Rico. If you are staying in San Juan, it will be a bit of a drive, but a day trip to there is a must. I have gone twice during my week stay in San Juan and once again with Sean when we stayed in Wyndham Resort. This time the forest was right there, so it was an easy short drive.
There are many good hiking trails, but my favorite is the one that leads to La Mina waterfall. The hike is not strenuous, but it often rains there (well, it is a rain forest after all 🙂 ) and both times I was there it was humid. So by the time you reach the waterfall, you are kind of wet already.
Might as well jump in and refresh in the cold and invigorating water! While you are at the forest, go all the way to the peak and visit the observation tower with some of the best views of El Yunque!
On the way out, stop for a quick snack or a fresh cold coconut water drink served at the little shack just on the side of the road.
If you are staying on this side of the island and don’t want to pay $50 per person for a resort breakfast buffet- there are a couple of amazing places short drive away. The first one is where only locals hang out. And who does not know, that the best local food is where the locals eat? Panaderia Rico Pan has the freshest donuts you will ever find! They also make amazing omelets and breakfast sandwiches for a fraction of the hotel breakfast price. Lluvia is another hidden gem in the residential area of Rio Grande. Beside the beautiful garden, food was fresh and delicious. The owner even wrote me a recipe for her spicy sauce that she used in the burrito! Very friendly, very welcoming and very reasonably priced.
As for dinner that is not in San Juan? Try La Estacion. You will have amazing authentic Puerto Rico food with the cool ambiance. This place opened in an old gas station that just ads to the uniqueness and the charm.
Drinks are great, food is delicious and very filling. Don’t plan on doing anything active after you eat their mofongo dish 🙂 ! Well, maybe just stay active enough to order a dessert.
ACTIVITIES IN THE AREA
If you are staying in the northern side of the island, then Fajardo is a short 30 min or so drive away. If you are in San Juan- then obviously it’s longer, but nonetheless worth exploring. Driving is easy in Puerto Rico, so get in your rental car and head to another adventure!
We booked the kayak tour to the Laguna Grande in Fajardo to see the bioluminescent organisms from one of the flyers provided by the hotel. There are no guarantees you will see a lot of shiny lights in the water. It depends on the weather conditions, even on the moon. So check the calendar before booking. We did not see a ton of sparkle in the water, definitely not like it was pictured in the flyer. But regardless, it was so much fun! You get to go in the two person kayaks (trust the person you are with 🙂 !), which form this caravan of kayaks, front one leading the way. You paddle in the dark tunnels surrounded by low hanging trees (I tried not to think about all the potential spiders living up there…), keep on following your group and avoid bumping into others till you reach the opening in the lagoon. Then you hang out, make new friends and splash the water for some sparkle 🙂 . I’d say it’s an activity if you have an extra day in Puerto Rico and never seen the bioluminescent lights before. I have no pictures from this tour. It was pitch black most of the time and we did not want to bring a phone/camera on the kayak with the potential of it falling in the water or getting wet from splashing while paddling around.
Another fun way to explore Puerto Rico is from the boat! Again, we booked the tour from one of the hotel given flyers. Do not recall the name of the company, but there are so many available!
It was a great few hours exploring the new beaches, seeing colorful fish and even holding a sea urchin! That most definitely was the highlight of the day!
Tired of the city? Want another beach day before heading home? Visit Culebra! Small island is located off the east coast of Puerto Rico and home to the world famous Flamenco Beach. Before and during World War II, US Navy used this beautiful island to test out the soldiers and the bombs. After the war the island was cleaned up, but some of the items were too large to move and were left behind to rust and rot. The tanks still “decorate” the beach, now with graffiti on top, making them part of a unique scenery.
The island has a very small population, you will not find tall buildings, expensive restaurants or fancy hotels here. Its very simple, very island-life. From Fajardo it’s only a 45 min ferry ride. No car, just get there, explore the beaches and head back. One day I think is plenty enough for this small island. Unless, of course, you have unlimited time, then it’s a different story 🙂 . Talking about time- get to the ferry EARLY. The line forms extremely fast and they have limited tickets. So you might end up not getting on the ferry if you don’t show up first thing in the morning.
Puerto Rico stole our hearts.
And there is so much more left to explore there – one being the island of Vieques! As we eventually would like to move to Puerto Rico or at least have a winter home there, I have a feeling this is not the last post about this welcoming island. Hasta luego, PR 🙂 !