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Category Archives: Puerto Rico
First Happy New Year to everyone! Sorry I haven’t been posting for awhile. I enjoyed a nice Christmas break with my family. Our boys absolutely loved Christmas. I hope this new year brings everyone much happiness.
I’ve talked about how I lived in Puerto Rico for a year and a half in other posts. In one of the posts, I made mention of Culebra and Vieques. They are smaller Puerto Rican islands. Vieques used to be the home of a US military base until 2003.
If you are looking for a more secluded Carribean vacation, you should consider Vieques. I spent a weekend there with my coworkers back in 1999 and it was one of my favorite weekends of my time in Puerto Rico. It was so relaxing since it wasn’t crawling with tourists and it wasn’t over-developed. We rented Jeeps and stayed at a remote B&B. In 2008, Travel & Leisure named Vieques the Best Island in the Carribean, Bermuda and the Bahamas.
If you decide to take a trip to Vieques, you may feel like you’re stepping back in time when you try to find information about the island and book reservations. Many of the hotels, rental car companies and restaurants do not have web sites. Don’t let this deter you. I think this is part of the reason that the island is still so remote and such a great find.
The Vieques Travel Guide web site is a great start for planning your trip. It gives you information about the options you have to the island, lists of various accommodations (B&Bs, luxury villas and resorts), rental car companies, attractions and beaches. I did a quick review of the web site and it has great information. I like that it gives you the different options of how to get to the island (make sure you check out both the Air Services page and the Getting to Vieques page). My assumption is that most people take flights from San Juan Airport because it’s easier. When we went to Vieques, we flew from Ceiba Airport to Vieques. You could also take a ferry from Fajardo. I can’t say what would be the best for you. It really depends on your plans. If you’re not planning on visiting the main island, you probably will want to book flight from San Juan (SJU) to Vieques (VQS). However, if you’re going to spend some time on the main island, you might consider flying out of one of the other airports or taking the ferry.
If you’ve never been to Puerto Rico, I’d suggest spending at least a few days on the main island. Old San Juan and El Yunque (the rain forest) are not to be missed. In my other posts, I talked about all the other activities you can do on the main island.
If you go to Vieques, do not miss the Bioluminescent Bay! It is a bay with micro-organisms that glow when touched or shaken. The best way that I can describe it is it’s like fireflies in the water. When you go on a tour of the bay, you are allowed to jump in the water and it just glows around you. You can lie on your back and make “snow angels” in the water.
Also make sure you go scuba diving or snorkeling. There is information about it on the Things to Do page.
I talked about my favorite sites in Puerto Rico in Tuesday’s post. Here are more options.
- Bacardi Factory Tour – This is a must see for some people. I personally didn’t visit it when I was there. Several friends did and enjoyed the tour. The tour is free. The factory is located in San Juan, so it’s an easy visit for most people. However, if you are looking to buy Bacardi, go to a grocery store. You will find the best prices there.
- Beaches - There are so many great beaches in Puerto Rico. If you’re staying at a resort, chances are it has a great beach. Tour around the island though. You’ll be amazed how many great beaches you’ll find.
- Horseback riding – You can go horseback riding on the beach, through rain forests or through mountains. I wish I could remember which company I went horseback riding with, but it’s been too many years.
- Snorkeling – If you want to go snorkeling, head over to Fajardo. There are many companies you can go with. Most of the trips will take you over right off Culebra for snorkeling. The snorkeling in Puerto Rico wasn’t as nice as when we went in Hawaii, but it was very nice.
- Culebra and Vieques – These smaller islands have a lot to offer. They are more remote than the big island. People go to the islands for relaxation. One of my favorite memories from Puerto Rico was a weekend trip to Vieques. We rented Jeeps (highly recommended because it is more remote), stayed at a B&B, went to secluded beaches, and went to the bioluminescent bay. I loved stopping by roadside stands and getting roast chicken – so yummy.
- Casinos – There are many casinos at the major hotels in Old San Juan and in Isla Verde. You’ll also find many night clubs and cool roof top restaurants.
- Golfing - I’m not a golfer. In fact, in high school, a friend of mine and I created a club called G.A.G. (Girls Against Golf). I actually don’t mind golf now. And there are many great golf courses.
- Zip line tours – I don’t remember zip line tours when I was in Puerto Rico. I saw sites for them when I was putting together the post and I thought people would be interested in it.
- Hacienda Buena Vista Coffee Plantation
- San Juan Botanical Gardens – Located at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Peidras. It is free to visit. If you’re looking for a nice, beautiful, relaxed time, visit the gardens.
- Arecibo Radio Telescope – Do you remember the movie Contact? The beginning part of the movie was filmed at the Arecibo Radio Telescope. I know this site may not be for everyone, but it’s pretty darn cool for people who are into science.
- Rio Camuy Cave Park – Also located near Arecibo. Make it a science day trip. After visiting the radio telescope head over to the caves. They have tour guides who speak English. I really enjoyed visiting the caves.
- Ponce – I’d be willing to bet that most people who visit Puerto Rico stay around either San Juan or Fajardo. You’re missing out if you don’t also visit Ponce and the south side of the island. We visited beautiful lighthouses, beaches, a bioluminescent bay, and other attractions when we toured the south side of the island. See the picture below of the amazing Ponce firehouse.
- Hacienda Buena Vista – You get to tour through the coffee plantation while the tour guide gives you the history of the plantation. Hacienda Buena Vista is also located close to Ponce.
Word of caution – Stick to major highways when traveling. I had a very unfortunate incident when we were traveling to the Hacienda Buena Vista coffee plantation. The day before I was in the hospital on an IV because of a virus that I had. I was told not to eat for 24 hours after I left. My roommate, our husbands, and I decided to take a trip to the coffee plantation. And instead of taking the highway down to Ponce, we decided to try a different route, I believe PR-149 (since we had taken the highway many times). We took a road right through the middle of the island since it looked about as long as the highway. What we failed to notice is the middle of the island is mountains. Right before we hit the mountain road, we stopped for lunch. I ate a sub which was the first thing I ate in 24 hours. Right after lunch we went on the mountain road which was miles and miles and miles of switchbacks.
If you can possibly time your trip around one of the Puerto Rican festivals, do it. Puerto Ricans really know how to have a good time. I kid you not that on Tax Day, they throw a party with a mariachi band at the tax department. Seriously, any place that does that, must be a lot of fun.
Also if you can, stop by at least one roadside stand and get some roast chicken or pork. And you have to try mofungo while you’re there! It’s a dish that is made with mashed friend plantains and some kind of meat. My favorite was pork mofungo. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Speaking of food, if you’re in Old Juan. I’m not sure if it’s still there, but my favorite place to grab a sandwich for lunch was Cafe Zaguan. The bread was delicious.
If you’re looking for an interesting place to stay in Old San Juan, try El Convento or The Gallery Inn. As you can probably tell from it’s name, El Convento used to be a Carmelite convent. It has beautiful architecture and an interesting history. The Gallery Inn is such a neat place. The owners are definitely art lovers. You will find all different kinds of art around the inn. My roommate’s husband was studying piano in NYC when we were in Puerto Rico. The owner, Jan, allowed him to practice at the inn on their grand piano. It is a truly special place.
And one last story to close out my Puerto Rico posts – I had a college friend visiting and we decided to tour around the island. We traveled to the west side of the island where a lot of people don’t English. We were hungry, so we went to a fast food restaurant’s drive-through window. Unfortunately, I wasn’t exactly fluent in Spanish. I wanted to order a quarter chicken sandwich, but I didn’t know the word for quarter. So I tried saying one over four chicken, but they didn’t understand what I meant. I ended up with 4 whole chickens!
Beach in Isla Verde
Trip to Vieques
B&B in Vieques
Beach in Vieques
Golfing – rough view, huh?
San Juan Botanical Gardens
There are so many great things to do and see in Puerto Rico. I was so fortunate to see a lot of it over the year and a half I was there. Here are my favorites:
- Old San Juan – You can’t not visit Old San Juan when you go to Puerto Rico. The history and architecture are amazing. I loved Fort San Felipe del Morro. It’s a fort that dates back to the 1500s. It is so beautiful and the grounds are great. It is windy so many people fly kites on the grounds. There are many great museums and shopping in Old San Juan. I loved just walking around Old San Juan and admiring the architecture.
- El Yunque – This is a mountain rain forest. There are many hiking trails, including one that goes down to a beautiful waterfall. It is very common to see people swimming in water along the way.
- Bio-luminescent Bays – What is a bio-luminescent bay? The best way I can describe it is it’s like fireflies in the water that light up when touched. It’s actually micro-organisms that glow when moved. There are 3 bio-luminescent bays in Puerto Rico – one in Fajardo, one in Vieques, and one in Lajas on the southwest area of the main island. I went to both the one on Vieques and in Lajas. You must, must, must visit one of them. It is best to go on a dark night.
There is so much more to do. Those are just my absolute favorites. Puerto Rico is so family friendly. You don’t need a passport to visit, since it’s a U.S. territory. If you stay in well-traveled areas, you should not have an issue if you can’t speak Spanish. English is a little less common in the more remote areas and the western side of the main island. But I will say that the people are so nice and welcoming. Even if they don’t speak English, they will find a way to communicate with you.
Here are a couple of pictures. I wish I had some from the bio-luminescent bays, but the flash made it so the pictures didn’t turn out.
My first job out of college was for a large consulting firm. I was based out of our NYC office and at the time my then boyfriend, now husband, was working in Mississippi. I didn’t know many people in the NYC area so I wasn’t particularly tied to the area. So whenever any of my coworkers asked how I liked my job, I told them I liked it, but I really wanted to work out of town. The first time there was an opportunity to send someone out of town, they sent me. And boy did I luck out. They sent me to Puerto Rico.
I worked in Puerto Rico for a year and half. Our office was in Old San Juan literally across the street from where the cruise ships came into port. Now that may sound nice, but remember I was working. And I was working really long hours. The room my office was in looked out on the cruise ships. It was a tad bit torturous watching tourist getting off the ships all day – so nice and relaxed and on vacation.
But I did have the weekends. The apartment I was put up in was right on Isla Verde beach and it looked out on the beach. I did not know how good I had it.
I really enjoyed when people came to visit. Several of my siblings and friends came to visit. And of course my boyfriend/husband came to visit several times. Believe it or not, I visited him in Mississippi more than he came to Puerto Rico. Since I was in consulting and everyone went back to their homes over the weekend, it was normal for people to leave between noon and 2 on Fridays.
I did stay in Puerto Rico many weekends. I had a great roommate. She was very motivated to see as much of the island as we could. When we went down, we didn’t know how long we were going to be there (we were initially told 6 months). So we decided to make the most of the time we had. I’ll cover some of our adventures this week.