Puerto Rico (PR) is a fabulous long weekend retreat. You can get there in approximately 4 hours on a direct flight from the east coast of US. We had the best 3 days in Puerto Rico and I am sharing our trip experience below in the hopes that some of these tips and lessons learnt will help you guys with yours. TIP: Look for online deals, book fast, book cheap.
Our itinerary (Traveled in the month of September)
- Day 0: Landed late afternoon and headed for Bio bay tour that night.
- Day 1 & 2: Were adventure packed with all sorts of activities during the day and strolling around Old San Juan city in the evening.
- Day 3: Visited the fort in Old San Juan before flying back home early evening.
TIP: Pace out your activities.
Where to stay
We stayed near the heart of PR i.e. Old San Juan in Miramar although a lot of people choose to stay across the lagoon in Condado which certainly has the bonus of many beach resorts. However, Condado to me was a replica of south beach Miami and I don’t feel we missed much by not staying there. Both Miramar and Condado are about 10-15 mins drive from Old San Juan which was extremely convenient. TIP: If you are not renting a car, mind you, Uber is not yet operational in PR but taxis are available around the hotels or you can have your hotel make travel arrangements for you. We really didn’t hang out at the beach in Condado, instead we went to Culebra Island’s famous Flamenco beach. Another place with highly recommended beaches is Vieques Island. TIP: Recommend you to plan on staying in Vieques for a night and experience the exquisite Mosquito bio bay (and I will tell you why this is important in a bit). To put things in perspective below is a helpful map of this region, Culebra and Vieques are small islands east of mainland PR.
Go for the $5 parking for an entire day in the parking garage opposite Racies restaurant (red color building). We spent $11 for 3 hours on our first day in the parking lot next to it. Somethings are learnt the hard way.
Places to see
The best way to see Old San Juan is to just walk around the entire city which is absolutely doable. It has always given me a sense of belonging when exploring every nook and corner of a city on foot. TIP: If you can, grab an interactive map of the city from your hotel reception. It will prove to be a huge asset in identifying landmarks around Old San Juan. Yes, go back to the old way of doing things, say no to google maps for a change, it can be quite fun. Walking isn’t your thing? Don’t worry, there are free trolleys for tourists running around the city. Just make sure to account for the wait time at appropriate trolley stops. Our weekend visit to San Juan was very different than weekdays, it was busier, more crowded, several local vendors on the streets and many cruise ships docked at the port.
Here are a few landmarks I would recommend you definitely see –
- Paseo de la Princesa promenade (very pretty at night)
- Paseo del Morro – A pretty beach trail that follows the fort walls. TIP: Be mindful that although some maps show this trail to end at Fort del Morro, the entrance to the fort from this road is closed. Thankfully, I caught this tiny bit of information online and we took a detour on the trail at Old San Juan Gate. While at the fort, we found ourselves on the other side of the wall to a couple who had walked this trail all the way and were struggling to open the fort gates. I had neither a key to the old blacksmith lock nor a rope to assist them but I did inform them to retrace their steps back and enter from the main fort entrance
- Old San Juan Gate – The walk on Paseo del Morro will take you to this gate which happens to be a historical landmark.
- La Rogativa – This lovely sculpture in the city near Old San Juan gate has a great story to tell too
- Castillo San Felipe del Morro – Majestic view and harsh history describes Fort del Morro
- Castillo San Cristobal – We didn’t have time to visit both forts so we skipped this and went for Fort Del Morro
Places to Eat
Below are the places, in order of preference, we tried in the limited time we had. Nothing here can stop you from getting in a food coma if you are a foodie. I think we ordered Muffongo/Trifongo, rice & beans and flan besides other things at every place we ate. And ofcourse, I shouldn’t have to remind you to try rum based cocktails no matter where you go, afterall you are in Puerto Rico 🙂
- Orozco’s – Best Muffongos/Triffongos I had was here, this restaurant is in Condado
- Pikoya – Hilton Hotel restaurant also in Condado, a fine dining place
- Raices – The Pina Colada flan here simply stole the show. Also tried an interesting and rather unique appetizer here called Malanga chips & chicken dip
- El Jibarito – This place was suggested to us by our rainforest tour guide but it goes last on my list. The yellow rice (which I didn’t try) was a recommended dish here
Puerto Rican Coffee Stops
PR is known for its coffee plantations and you are going to miss out on something if you don’t go to one of these places if not both –
- Cafe Cuatro Sombras – They brew their own plantation picked coffee, how can you beat that! Try their Guava cake while you are at it
- Cafe Don Ruiz – Where do I begin – This place made our rather sleepy & tired morning on the last day in PR the freshest morning of our trip. My husband got his coffee with rum, one of those and you are set for the day. I wanted to have a regular chai latte but the barista suggested adding an espresso shot to my chai. I was horrified at the suggestion, imagine mixing tea with coffee! They belong to two different worlds. But on his insistence, I gave their specialty a try. Boy was it the best drink ever! I can’t stop raving about it, I will have to try that at home some day
What to wear
It gets very hot and humid during the day in Puerto Rico so carry light, airy and comfortable clothes for Old San Juan.
Beyond Old San Juan
There are plethora of things to do in PR beyond the city. Pick and choose your activities carefully to balance your trip without burning yourself, afterall, you are on a vacation. From hikes in El Yunque rainforests to beautiful beaches to hidden caverns, you will be tempted to do it all and if you have the time there is nothing like it. In my case, as in most I figure, we only had 3 days so we decided to pick our poison carefully i.e. Snorkel in Culebra’s Flamenco beach, do an adventure excursion in the rainforest of Caguas and finally wouldn’t have missed the biobay tour in PR. If you are interested in any of these activities then read along but if not then trip advisor is your best bet for a successful activity hunting.
Two of the 3 activities started from Fajardo which is about 45 mins drive from Miramar or Condado and with traffic over an hour. (Traffic can get really bad early morning and evening rush hours). On our drive back from Fajardo we explored the scenic road 187 as recommended by a local instead of taking main highway. TIP: Try this road to experience some real PR beach villages and towns that you wouldn’t get to see otherwise.
- Biobay tour – There are 3 bio bays in Puerto Rico. The best of them is called Mosquito bay in Vieques and the second best is Fajardo’s bio bay. We went with Yokahu kayak tour in Fajardo bio bay, there are many other companies conducting these tours in Fajardo and you wont go wrong with either. However, I highly recommend you go for Mosquito bio bay in Vieques. But keep in mind that you will need to stay there for a night. There is no transport back to mainland PR from Vieques after 6pm so plan accordingly. We didn’t find out about this very important detail until it was too late to make any changes to our reservation. Abe’s tours was recommended per my research in Vieques but I am sure there will be other people conducting similar tours. You must check the moon calendar before you book a bio bay tour to pick the best or rather darkest night possible. TIP: You would want to schedule your trip closer to new moon day otherwise you will miss seeing bio-luminescence. But there are other factors not in your control that can hamper bio effects too such as the one we encountered. It was supposed to be one of the best night as per online moon calendar yet the bio luminescent microorganisms decided not to light up to their full glory. Reason given to us by the tour guide was that recently seaweeds have been covering the bay in Fajardo causing hinderance for microorganisms to recharge from sunlight. We still saw the water sparkle (Tinkerbell!) when disturbed but apparently that was not even close to what people see on a good night. A clear view of the mesmerizing Milky Way from Fajardo lagoon and kayaking through the mangroves on a pitch dark night added to the lost sparkle of our trip. A boat ride might be better if you planing on capturing these shots through your lens. What to wear: If you choose to Kayak then wear clothes that will dry fast or carry a change of clothes since you are sure to get wet. No such problem with a boat ride.
- Snorkeling, Flamenco Beach – A catamaran with East Island Excursion took us from Fajardo to Flamenco beach in Culebra in roughly 45 mins. Other ways to get there would be local ferries from Fajardo or flying out of San Juan airport. Flamenco beach is considered in one of the top 10 best beaches in the world by the likes of Discovery channel and National geographic. True to its hype, it was a non-commercial, secluded beach with beautiful transparent blue green waters crashing on snow white sand and just oh so perfect water temperature. One of the best waters I have swam in. Our lovely catamaran crew served us delicious lunch while rum based drinks were flowing non-stop when docked complementing the Reggae music. For snorkeling, our crew showed us a couple spots around the beach to check out coral reef and underwater life. We just saw a few small fishes by the coral reef. Next day we befriended another couple who mentioned they went snorkeling to Flamenco beach with Kayaking Puerto Rico who took them on a kayak from the beach to a spot where they swam with sea turtles, jelly fishes and plenty of other under water life. TIP: Read user reviews of the tour before booking if you want to do some serious snorkeling. What to wear: No brainers, but still.. carry an extra pair of swim wear.
- Rainforest Adventure tours – We booked EcoQuest adventures for the San Salvador Rainforest Ziplining & Rappelling full day trip in Caguas after not finding any spots in Acampa tours (Toro Negro adventure tour) and Rocaliza adventure tours (El Salto waterfall trip). TIP: Book ahead of time to reserve a spot. Ecoquest turned out to be such a great adventure. We went hiking through the rainforest, crossing waterfalls, drinking fresh spring water, rapelling down 180’ waterfall and finally zip lining through the rainforest to get back to home made Puerto Rican lunch. The guides were so funny and helpful that even my husband who is scared of heights managed to complete this tour laughing. Do the full day tour for most fun, it says full day but it really ends by 3pm if not sooner. TIP: Carry your cellphones and cameras to take pictures on the hike as the tour guides usually carry a water proof bag with them. You can even take a selfie video when zipping through the lines and then shoot your partner that follows. What to wear: Definitely carry change of clothes and change of shoes; you are bound to get soaked. Carrying a towel to dry up is also not a bad idea. Wear shoes with good grips for the hike which you don’t mind getting wet.
Last but not the least, check out Nuyorican Café for some nightlife (some people might call it Club New York). It was highly recommended to us by a friend. TIP: They have salsa nights only on Friday’s and Saturday’s.
No matter what you do make sure you guys have a wonderful time in Puerto Rico! Adios.
PS: Don’t forget to buy a little souvenir for yourself.