Last September I found this crazy seat sale and decided that I’d like to visit Puerto Rico; an Unincorporated US Territory. Once there it wasn’t difficult to feel at home (being fluent in Spanish was a bonus but not a necessity, everyone from Fajardo to Old San Juan spoke English with ease); yet, the place has so much culture and distinction, it honestly feels like you’re visiting a completely different Country (one with a little bit of US influence, but not an abundance).
PR doesn’t really seem to be a vacation destination for most Canadians (at least it isn't a location commonly chatted about) …apparently, back in the day, San Juan and Old San Juan had a bad rep of being “unsafe”…although I can honestly tell you I ventured out at all hours of the day and the night, and not one time did I feel a threat. Sure, a few people asking for change, but that was about it. Locals say that it’s really cleaned up in the last 3 years, but I feel that it's like anywhere; if you aren’t smart about where you visit (like going to the beach by yourself at night or taking a short cut home through a park), I’m sure you can happen upon trouble.
Puerto Rico, especially the area of Old San Juan, is a Port location so many people fly in, stay one night and then sail out on their cruise. I decided to stay for two full weeks; not in Old San Juan, but in San Juan. And in an area known as, Ocean Park. It’s predominately a local place with a few hostels & hotels (or Airbnb if you’d rather) to add a few tourists to the mix; yet, not many. Perfect place for a Holiday Heidi Adventure.
Before getting into the daily stories and adventures like I always share (and soon will for this trip too)...I've documented some of the highlights instead.
Beach: Ocean Park and Condado. Only a 40 minute walk to Isla Verde; great, calm beach area there too (and typically the most touristy area of town). Ocean Park beach has some waves and wind; great kite surfing.
A must see: Old San Juan. And while you’re there, visit Castillo San Felipe del Morro, Fort San Cristobal, the Port itself. Take note of the blue brick cobblestone streets…these were purchased at a discount. In Europe, since everyone loved the Red Brick, a company there decided to make a full batch of Blue … the blue wasn’t so well loved it seems and the company ended up offering to sell them at a discounted price. They ended up on the streets in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico; absolutely beautiful.
Night life: best in the area called Santurce (and a few places for fun on Calle Loiza). Thursday nights you’ll happen upon the best street party at La Placita (by day a market, but at night this entire square is full of bars/night clubs and all the patrons fill the streets). Every night there was something to do. Karaoke on Tuesdays, Hip/Hop at La Repuesta on Mondays. La Junta on Calle Loiza on Sundays. Etc. (The owner of the Hostel knew where and on what day to go OMG so very cool). Oh, and don't forget Candela's Shot Bar which didn't open until 2am (and closed at 8am). Ahh so much fun!
Transportation: Taxi, UBer, buses are so cheap .75 cents every ride (have exact change though) and even a bicycle in Ocean Park would be wonderful (not as hilly as Old San Juan). If you want to make it around the island, you’ll need to rent a car (public transportation isn’t really an Island wide thing). There’s a free trolley in Old San Juan (good to know, those hills are killer, click the link, check it out).
Things to do:
- Visit El Yunque. It’s a 29,000 acre National Rain Forest. Trails, waterfalls, wildlife, towers etc. Plan to spend the day. Pack your swimsuit, picnic and your water. You’ll need a car, a tour or an UBer to at least get you there (if by UBer, I’d suggest starting at the top and working your way back down).
- Bioluminescent Kayaking Bay tour. We did the one in Fajardo, it was awesome. But the best is on the Island of Viesque (ferry can get you there from Fajardo).
- Catamaran all day tour. We did a combo day of the kayaking and catamaran on the same day, the catamaran took us to a beautiful place called Icacos Island, but had we just did the one day catamaran, we would have gone to Culebra (heard that one was the prettiest by far). Travelers and EcoAdventures.
- Visit a cemetery, there are a few. I stopped at the one on the main street in Isla Verde. Puerto Rico Memorial Cemetery. Open daily from 8am – 5pm. Nestled between skyscraper hotels and the ocean. Beautiful.
Where to Eat: it’s all so delicious and I can recommend at least 10 places to eat. On Calle Loiza: Fish Tacos at La Cueva del Mar, Mexican food at Panuchos, sit out on Ana's patio and try anything, taste a guava & cream cheese fritter at La Luna or a delicious breakfast sandwich at Pinky’s – where it’s good and cheap, etc.
What to Eat: Mofongo is the main dish in Puerto Rico. It’s mashed plantains; picked green then mashed with salt, garlic and oil in a wooden “Pilón” (a specialized kitchen device). I liked mine buried in seafood, otherwise I found it way too dry. Give it a try and see for yourself.
Drinks: no draught beer was found (perhaps it had something to do with the water, we only drank bottled aqua just in case). But a local bottled beer called, Medalla Premium Light Beer, was clear, cold and perfect. You could also find sangria, mojitos or rum punch pouches that you could freeze (straw included on the inside). Great to transport to the beach. "Open Container" on the beach and in the street, where it's okay to walk around with your beverage in your hand (not permissible, but they don't enforce any action...unless of course you're being a jerk).
Where to stay: Villa Eshta is an awesome place. Offers single beds and entire flats. Good for single travelers or for couples. I’m not sure if it’d really be a family kind of place, although I believe that they could accommodate any and everyone. The owner and the staff there are amazing. The location!! Affordable. Easy. You can’t beat it for the value. (THANK YOU)
Would I return: YES. Hardly scratched the surface of things to do and see.
- Take note of the graffiti. It’s everywhere and with such artistic talent, it is mind blowing. Streets, trees, skateparks, buildings, mailboxes. Masterpieces.
- Tree species, the colors of the bark and things they do when they cut a limb off (the painted pac man lol).
- The benches, trails and all the details they create on sidewalks and bridges. Cool place.
I can't wait to tell you about the Full Moon Beach celebration. The details of exploring Old San Juan on the Hop on / Hop off Bus. How great those waves felt while playing around in the ocean and how the daily tropical breeze was strong enough to fill your ear with sand haha.
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