It’s been over a year since Anna and I returned from our vacation in Puerto Rico and I still want to go back.
We first considered Puerto Rico as a destination because flights were inexpensive and we knew that in April we’d be ready to leave the cold weather behind. A few quick google searches later and we had a growing list of things that we wanted to do and a hankering for some piña coladas.
Where We Stayed
We absolutely fell in love with the quirky Tres Palmas Inn, a medium-sized inn located in a residential neighborhood in San Juan. We were looking for a clean, safe place to serve as our base of operations on the island and Tres Palmas fit the bill perfectly. For this trip we knew that we’d be spending a lot of time away from our hotel so shelling out for a resort didn’t make sense. The Inn is directly across the street from the beach and we made full use of their complimentary beach chairs, umbrellas, towels, and bicycles as there are several shops and restaurants located nearby.
We chose the most expensive room they had, their King Ocean View suite with a balcony and it was still very reasonably priced. We enjoyed being the only room on the second floor and often treated the rooftop patio area as an extension of our room since much of the time we had it to ourselves. Having a kitchenette in the room also helped keep our food costs low. This place felt like our temporary home as we explored the island. The continental breakfast buffet was adequate (even for a vegan) and made the first meal of the day a no-brainer.
By Car: We rented a car from the airport because we planned on exploring outside of the San Juan area. GPS was invaluable and knowing some Spanish would be useful as I often had no idea what the road signs were saying! Street parking was free at our inn and we never had a problem finding a spot, but some hotels charge a daily parking fee.
By Taxi: We took a taxi into Old San Juan so that I didn’t have to worry about navigating the traffic or dealing with parking. Of course that also left me free to enjoy as many piña coladas as my heart desired.
By Van: Two of the excursions we did provided transportation and we were picked up at our hotel in a van.
By Foot: We walked or biked where we could – I mean the weather was pretty great and it’s one of the best ways to immerse yourself in a new place.
What We Did
Old San Juan
We spent the better part of a day here and could have stayed longer. We toured the 225 year old Fort San Cristobal and wandered around the nearby cemetery.
We poked around the shops and spent some time people watching in one of the plazas where Anna met the ‘pigeon guy’ who helped her make some new friends.
El Yunque Rainforest
El Yunque is the only US National Park that is also a rain forest. We didn’t have much of a plan and weren’t sure exactly which trails we should hike, so we winged it.
This was a pretty amazing experience though and we were rewarded at the end of our hike with a waterfall to swim in (the water was surprisingly cold!)
This may have been our favorite day. I can’t recall who we booked our trip with, but there a many companies offering snorkeling day trips. A van picked us up at our hotel and after a short ride to the marina we were off on a high speed catamaran headed to the island of Culebra for a snorkeling adventure. They made a few pit stops along the way at spots know for good snorkeling action before anchoring offshore of the island. We were able to swim ashore and spend some time on the island. This was a day filled with good music, the bluest of blue water, a gorgeous and friendly crew, and snacks and piña coladas on the trip back.
Anna was looking for adventure and found it at Toro Verde home of the world’s largest zipline.
They are located in Orocovis which was about an hours drive from San Juan. I opted out of the zipline adventure and instead appreciated the amazing mountain views while eating my lunch.
Camuy River Cave Park
Part of the third largest underground cave system in the world this was pretty cool to see. I was a tad disappointed that this was such busy commercial tourist attraction maybe because large groups of kids were there on a field trip from school that day. We purchased a tour and waited awhile until they called our tour number, then we waited some more for the trolley. The trolley took us through the park and to the mouth of the cave where the guided tour began. There was no opportunity to explore outside of the tour. Next time I go, I may opt to check out some of the other less popular cave hikes in the area. This was an hour and a half drive from San Juan, but the Arecibo Observatory is located nearby and it would be very easy to visit both of these destinations in an afternoon.
We attempted to go kayaking on the bioluminescent bay in Fajardo, but were thwarted by bad weather. The tour we scheduled with Enchanted Island Eco Tours included transportation from our hotel to the bay. So there we were – trained, geared up and ready to go when the tour guide received a weather warning on his phone and decided not to chance it. Bummer. They refunded our money though and transported us back to our hotel, but the next time I’m in Puerto Rico this is a must do.
Where We Ate
Since we had a kitchenette in our room, we were able to hit up a grocery and a few roadside stands to stock up on fruit and snacks to keep our food budget reasonable. We did have a few great meals out in Puerto Rico though.
I was on a quest to visit Barrachina Restaurant in Old San Juan. They are one of the two bars on the island that claim to have created the original piña colada. While chatting with a local woman in a nearby shop, she directed us to a nearby restaurant which she claimed had superior drinks and food.
I wish I could recall the name of the place – it was cute, the piña coladas were amazing and we munched on tostones and avocado salad.
Someone later sent me a link to the Puerto Rico episode of No Reservations where Anthony Bourdain was disappointed to learn that Barrachina used a pre-made mix – so I don’t feel like I missed out on anything by skipping it.
The view is breathtaking and we stuffed ourselves with more tostones, beans and rice, arepa, and virgin coladas. In fact we loved it so much that we ordered takeout to bring back the hotel with us for later.
I ate here while Anna was on her zipline adventure. The food here was very fresh and I finally tried Mofungo!
Mofungo is the national dish of Puerto Rico and is made with mashed green plantains, the one I ordered was cooked with roasted vegetables in a red wine sauce and was delicious. I also sampled yet another piña colada while I relaxed and enjoyed the view.
We headed to this cafe because I’d read that they had some vegan options and we were not disappointed. Cute place with juice bar menu. We shared a pink hummus plate and a salad.
Where We Shopped
We didn’t do much shopping on this trip. We poked around the shops in Old San Juan and spent a few rainy hours at the Puerto Rico Premium Outlets in Barceloneta on our way back from the Camuy Cave Park.
It was difficult to say goodbye to Puerto Rico. The weather was amazing and the people were among the friendliest I’ve ever met.