The island with the comeback and everyone should pay attention.
I’m calling it, Puerto Rico is going to be one of the top places to travel to in 2019. While your friends are off to Cancun to party, Punta Cana for a little more relaxing time, or Costa Rica for an adventurous spring break, you could get it all in one island. For the lack of better terms… people are sleeping on Puerto Rico and they need to wake up.
Last week Orlando and I were able to spend seven days on the island where half the trip was spent on the northside in San Juan and Isla Verde and the other half exploring the south side while being based in Guayama. We landed in San Juan around 5AM after an hour delay in JFK, our sleepy selves were picked up by family and ordered some sandwiches at Panaderia Espana. We settled into our Airbnb, sat out on the balcony that looked over the beach’s sunrise, and ate our sandwiches to the sound of humming traffic and waves.
A few hours of sleep motivated us to get ready for the beach to meet a friend. We lounged on Isla Verde Beach as the late morning waves rolled in along with the party goers from the night before. This beach is lined with hotels and apartment buildings that are parallel to a line of restaurants, mini marts, and bars. We took up Chido’s Mexican Wine Bar & Grill for lunch where tacos, margaritas, and Coronas were ordered. It is very much local spot that plays the top hits with the breeze sweeping through the large windows and standard food. No frills, but a safe way to go.
This is the part of the trip where people think, “that is one of the most touristy things ever.” Well ya know, it was actually a lot of fun and incredibly educational. We did a Bacardi Rum Tasting tour at Casa Bacardi. Despite being a tad bit late, the tour was fantastic. We were shuttled to the rest of the group and was immediately immersed into the history of Bacardi, who’s original distillery was in Cuba, but then moved to Puerto Rico after it had burned in a fire. The hour rum tasting included six rums, including Bacardi Gran Reserva Limitada a rum that is aged for 16 years.
After our drink, we met with my friend Danielle, who I had the privilege of working with at my time at Discovery. We’ve visited three bars, where I tried my first queso frito, played a bit of billiards, and was able to catch up with one another. The night ended with a round of jellyfish shots— which I do NOT recommend.
Friday our day was jammed pack. We had booked a two-in-one guided tour on Viator that hikes through El Yunque National Rainforest and a kayak tour of Fajardo Bio Bay. Early in the morning, we had gotten breakfast at Kasalta, a local sandwich cafe where Obama has once visited for a meal in San Juan. Highly recommend the Cuban sandwich! Our first stop after being picked up was a small shop on the side of the road named Batidas De Frutas, where the empanadas and smoothies were recommended and lived up to the expectation.
We found the adventurous hike incredibly enjoyable, while others may not enjoy the extremely muddy trail, climbing over/between boulders, and walking through large bodies of water. The four tour guides lead you through lush botanical trails to a natural water slide, a few cliff jumps, and a rope swing. They were accommodating to all 27 people group, while also educating us on the purity of El Yunque and its’ ecosystem. On the way back the tour stops a calmer part of the river where you can swim, take pictures and relax. One of the guides had been collecting large palm leaves during the day, and at this time we learned he was using it to serve fresh fruit he had bought back at Batidas De Fruta.
Back at the bus, water and chips were served, and we were driven to a strip of restaurants and bars that lined up along Playa Luquillo. We stopped for a meal at Rustic Bar & Grill, then grabbed a drink at Mojito Lab before heading to the beach for a nap.
Around 4:30 we were picked up to be driven to Fajardo Bio Bay for our kayaking tour. This part of the tour is like Puerto Rico’s Disney– in the best way possible. The mangroves– “not mangos”– were fascinating to see as the leading tour guide pointed out various creatures. While the sun fell, one of the tour guides gave a little information on the bioluminescence background, the constellations in the sky, and what Puerto Rico does to protect the bio bay. When it was dark I saw the most stars I’ve ever seen in my life– but this is also coming from a city girl. The bioluminescence glowed like Christmas lights in the water when swishing your hand back and forth. The tour was all around a ton of fun, seamless, and enjoyable. Highly recommend booking tours with Bespoke Lifestyle Management, whether it was for a family, a group of friends, or even traveling alone!
That night we had traveled down to Guayama where we stayed with family. Saturday a family gathering was planned in Pozuelo, Guayama. The day was filled with home cooked food, walks on the beach, hermit crab searching, dancing, rock skipping, and lots of alcohol.
Sunday was a day spent at a local beach, Playa Guardarraya. It was nestled by a small restaurant where we had ordered food and started the long list orders requesting pina coladas with whipped cream. Fun fact: pina coladas were invented in Puerto Rico. The munching and drinking continued to a small bar on the side of the road called, Agua Salada. There was karaoke, fresh octopus empanadas, and beautiful cliffside views. Following we had decided to go to Malecon de Arroyo, where there are bars and food sands scattered across the park that overlooked the ocean. Making it the perfect spot for sunset photos and leisurely walks.
Monday we made the trip to the most southern west coast of the island for another hike to Puente de Piedra, a natural rock arch formation and Faro Los Morrillos de Cabo Rojo, a lighthouse. Although this is a bit of an easier hike it is uphill, but the cliff views are absolutely unbeatable. The trail leads to a slightly hidden beach, Playa Sucia where the water is a bit calmer and has the softest sand out of all the beaches we had visited so far. On the way to the trail, you’re able to stop and take a walk along Las Salinas, the pink salt flats.
Tuesday we finally had a late start to the day and headed into Old San Juan for the second half of the day. We roamed the streets and enjoying the colorful building fronts. Walking by Castillo San Felipe del Morro, stumbling upon La Mallorquina the oldest restaurant in San Juan (we didn’t eat there), walking through Museo de Las Americas courtyard, and finding Fortaleza Street where an art installation was held commemorating International Women’s Day with pink umbrellas.
Wednesday morning was spent leisurely as well, we started to pack our things for our afternoon flight and stopped by some houses for some last goodbyes. This trip has shown me the island life in its most authentic form. From spending the day with locals to hiking the beautiful trails that the island has to offer, Puerto Rico truly has more to offer than just Old San Juan and resorts. It’s filled with rich culture, breathtaking ecosystems, and humbling people that welcome you with open arms and a home-cooked meal.