Puerto Rico

Another oldie but goodie from the archives! I figured I’d share because it’s been exactly almost five years since my three girlfriends and I visited the island of Puerto Rico. Plus, since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory it’s one of the few places open to American tourists right now. Without rereading the post first, the most memorable things from this trip include, the colorful and charming town of Old San Juan, snorkeling with sea turtles and sting rays on Culebra Island, beautiful Flamenco Beach [also on Culebra Island], the strangely good Chinese food at Tayzan and the tasty acai bowls from Bajuice Juice Bar. Read on for more details!

[Please note, I have added comments where places have since closed.]

November 6, 2015 – Travel Day

We arrived in Puerto Rico mid-afternoon and took the day to check into our hotel and get settled in. That night we set out on foot around Condado to find a dinner spot. We ended up at a cute Spanish tapas place called Bar Gitano that had amazing sangria and croquetas! [Unfortunately, it appears that Bar Gitano has since permanently closed.]

November 7, 2015 – El Yunque Rainforest

It was overcast when we woke up on the second day so we decided to jump in the car and head to the El Yunque Rainforest.  After all, what’s a little more rain?  A couple hours later, after a few wrong turns and directions from the local conservationist facility, we finally made it to the Rainforest [it’s only 45 minutes from Condado]! We hiked the one mile in and back to La Mina Falls where we swam and hung out on the rocks near the waterfall. On our way back down, we stopped at the Yokahu Observation Tower which had great views of the surrounding wildlife.

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{La Mina Falls, El Yunque Rainforest}
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{View from the Yokahu Observation Tower}
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{El Yunque Rainforest}

After our hike we stopped for lunch at the Brass Cactus which had good reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor but the food was just your average American bar food and I would not recommend it. If you’re looking for alternative food options in Luquillo, there are really cool food kiosks off the side of the road that I’ve heard are yummy and authentic!

That night we headed out to Barrachina in Old San Juan for dinner, the birthplace of the delicious pina colada. As a pina colada lover, I can assure you they are top notch, and so was the food. I highly recommend trying the mofongo, a Puerto Rican classic. After dinner we bar hopped around and had a blast at Greengos Carribean Cantina [tequila bar] and Nuyorican Cafe for live music and salsa dancing. [Unfortunately, it appears that Nuyorican Cafe has since permanently closed.]

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{Pina Coladas from Barrachina}

November 8, 2015 – Isla Verde Beach Day

The weather was questionable again but we were all craving a beach day so decided to stay near Condado and checked out Isla Verde Beach but not before some delicious, and much needed, brunch at Blonda. [Unfortunately, it appears that Blonda has since permanently closed.] The beach is a decent size and set against the city but there are places to rent banana boats, kayaks and jet skis if you’re looking for more action.

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{Isla Verde Beach}

For dinner that night, we went back to Old San Juan and opted for Italian at Osteria Da Fortunata. [Unfortunately, it appears that Osteria Da Fortunata has since permanently closed.] The food was fresh but the service was terribly slow and they only accept cash. If you’re looking for a hearty, leisurely dinner, this is your place.

November 9, 2015 – Ziplining at Toro Verde Nature Adventure Park

We asked the hotel concierge for excursion recommendations and they directed us to Toro Verde Nature Adventure Park. We called the night before to make a reservation which came complete with lunch and shuttle service to and from the hotel. Toro Verde has some of the longest and highest ziplines in the world and the park was well maintained, clean and safe, I highly recommend it.

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{The Beast at Toro Verde Nature Park}
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{Ziplining at Toro Verde Nature Park}

After a long day of ziplining we were exhausted and decided to stay in Condado for dinner that night. We had no set plans and stumbled across a lively and busy Chinese food spot, Tayzan, which was perfect after our activity packed day.

November 10, 2015 – Casa Bacardi

After that heavy dinner from the night before, we were craving some fresh foods and so we made our way to Bajuice Juice Bar in Condado where we all ordered different types of acai bowls. [Unfortunately, it appears that Bajuice Juice Bar is temporarily closed.] Bajuice is a super cute salad, sandwich, smoothie cafe right off the main strip and had I discovered their amazing Acai Bowls sooner, you better believe I would have eaten them every morning.

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{The most amazing Acai bowls from Bajuice Juice Bar}

We spent the morning and early afternoon lounging around Condado at the beach behind La Concha Resort and our hotel pool and the afternoon on the Historical Tour at Casa Bacardi. The tour costs $12 and is fun and informative but most importantly comes with a free adult beverage at the end.

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{Visiting Casa Bacardi}

November 11, 2015 – Culebra Island

When asking after the best beach in Puerto Rico, we were consistently told Flamenco Beach on Culebra Island. It was rumored to be ranked anywhere from #1 – #10 for most beautiful beach in the world. I have no idea where it actually ranks but it did NOT disappoint.

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{Flamenco Beach, Culebra Island}
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{Flamenco Beach, Culebra Island}

Getting there though was no easy task. We woke at the crack of dawn to make the drive from Condado to Fajardo to catch the ferry. We had been told that the ferry to Culebra fills up pretty quickly [especially during high season] and so we arrived a few hours before the ticket window opened to wait in line. Tickets were $2.25 each way.

Once on the island, we rented a golf cart to get around from Carlos’ Jeep Rental. It was fairly inexpensive and definitely worth it because, honestly, who doesn’t love driving a golf cart?

When we arrived at Flamenco Beach we beelined to the local food stands for some frozen cocktails. We also rented snorkeling equipment from a local guy named Limuel and went to Tamarindo Beach on the other side of the island in search of sea turtles and sting rays. Luckily, we saw both swimming along the bottom near all the tall grass but there weren’t a ton of fish to see.

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{Snorkeling with sea turtles at Tamarindo Beach on Culebra Island}

After that, the day flew by and before we knew it, it was time to return the golf cart and catch our return ferry. Before boarding the ferry, we stopped for a slice of pizza from Heather’s Pizza which hit the spot after all of our snorkeling.

[A few notes about the island and ferry – it’s very cold onboard the ferry so bring layers or a change of clothes, no open container food or drink allowed, the island is CASH ONLY and there are only two ATM’s on the island, one of which was out of order when we were there. In addition to the ferry, I believe you can fly to and from Culebra Island relatively inexpensively though we didn’t explore that option.]

That night we celebrated my friend Brittany’s birthday at El Picoteo, Hotel El Convento in Old San Juan. [It appears El Picoteo is now Santísimo Restaurant in Hotel El Convento.] The ambiance was perfect and the tapas, delicious. We didn’t do this but apparently you can also order a pizza from the spot next door to accompany your tapas! To top off a great day we went to Pizza e Birra for $4 mojitos and karaoke and Sombrilla Rosa for some Puerto Rican flair.

November 12, 2015 – Old San Juan

On our last day in Puerto Rico, we finally made it to Old San Juan during the day. In the sunlight all of the colorful house and cobblestone streets were even more beautiful and charming than we remembered. We grabbed brunch at Cafe Berlin and then spent the rest of our time just wandering and stopping in the cute stores around town. We opted not to visit the old fortresses but they are definitely cool to see, even from the outside.

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{Old San Juan}
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{Old San Juan}

Accommodations & Country Specific Details

Stay: The Condado Plaza Hilton San Juan

We chose to stay in Condado based off of a few recommendations we received. The hotel is modern and clean and the staff are helpful. They have a pretty large pool with a swim up bar and tons of lounge chairs and small urban beach area. Overall the location was good as we were able to walk to most everything in Condado.

Transportation:

To San Juan: By air through United.

Around San Juan: We rented a car from Enterprise which was conveniently located next door to the Hilton. We used the car to visit the rainforest, Isla Verde and Fajardo. At night, when we went into Old San Juan, we typically took cabs [about $10 USD each way]. I took a cab from the airport to Condado since I arrived later than everyone for about $20 USD one way.

Currency: US Dollar (USD)

Language: Spanish and English.

Outlet Adapter: The standard voltage is 120 V. The standard frequency is 60 Hz. The power sockets that are used are of type A and B. They are the same as in the United States.

Passport/Visa Requirements: No U.S. Passport required as Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States.

Vaccinations/Medicines: N/A

Weather: Although climate doesn’t vary too much in Puerto Rico, we visited in November which is technically considered Hurricane season or the “off-season.” Temperatures were warm but not super hot and there were sporadic rain showers almost every day.


Additional Recommendations: We didn’t have time to do everything but we also heard great things about these restaurants and things to do!

Restaurants:

  • Old San Juan Restaurants
    • Dragon Fly*
    • Aguaviva
    • Pirilio Pizza Rustico
    • Punto de Vista Restaurant & Bar
    • St. Germain Bistro & Cafe
    • Marmalade*
    • El Jibarito
    • Cafe Cuatro Sombras
    • Restaurant Raices, 315 Calle
  • Condado Restaurants
    • 1919
    • Oceano [temporarily closed]
  • Isla Verde Restaurants
    • La Playita
    • El Ambique
    • Pui Bello
    • Mist
    • Cafe La Plage

*received multiple recommendations

Things To Do:

  • Bioluminescent Mosquito Bay – we wanted to try this but had heard there was construction near by that was causing low bioluminescence while we were there.
  • El Morro
  • La Perla
  • Cementerio del Viejo San Juan
  • Museo de Casa Blanca
  • Vieques – another island off off Puerto Rico.If we had a few more days, I would have loved to explore or even send a few days on this boutique island.

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