After a lot of research, we decided to stay in three different places on the main island of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico travel resources
Day 1: Settling into Old San Juan
March 1, 2015
Miles walked = 4.91
All Day 1 photos on Flickr
Our 7-day vacation in Puerto Rico couldn't have been better timed. After a long stretch of below average temperatures in February, we were ready to shed our winter layers for our tropical adventure. It didn't take us much time to change into summer clothes after arriving in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Sunday, March 1.
We arrived earlier than scheduled to San Juan. At the airport, we took a taxi to our apartment in Old San Juan ($23). The apartment was just as I expected thanks to the thorough AirBNB description and reviews. The apartment is located across the street from Castillo San Cristóbal.
We immediately shed our Minnesota layers, put on our summer clothes and headed out to explore Old San Juan. Right away we were welcomed by the cats of Old San Juan. They are everywhere and it is common to see food and water dishes throughout the city. If we were still using film cameras, Scott would have used at least an entire roll documenting the cats.
Our first stop was on recommendation from our friends Miranda and Adam - a tapas restaurant, el Picoteo in the hotel El Convento. I had my first of many mojitos and a piña colada. Scott had just first Puerto Rican beer and had an early realization that this would not be a beercation. We had white bean hummus with truffle oil, ceviche, chicken croquettes, and chipotle sausage.
After dinner, we walked to the La Rogativa statue and plaza and watched the sunset.
We walked through Puerta De San Juan (the city gate) to walk along the Paseo Del Morro toward the cruise ships.
We retired early and relaxed in our comfortable apartment.
Day 2: Exploring Old San Juan
March 2, 2015
Miles walked = 13.92
All Day 2 photos on Flickr
I woke up and stepped outside of our apartment to enjoy our beautiful view of the ocean and Castillo San Cristóbal. A storm was rolling in and casting some beautiful light on the colorful buildings. We walked to Caficultura for breakfast and sat outside on their patio to wait until they opened at 9 AM (Mondays must be a slow tourist day for Old San Juan). Shortly after the restaurant opened, a torrential downpour started and luckily we were able to get a table indoors right away. Scott had double espresso and I had a café con leche. We split the mallorca bread with guava jam. I had the sweet potato crepes filled with chicken sausage and goat cheese and Scott had the pancakes.
After breakfast we walked along Avenida Ponce de León o the Capital District and saw Departamento de Hacienda (Treasury Department), Ateneo Puertorriqueño (culture center), Casa de España restaurant, Paseo de los Presidentes (Presidents’ Lane), School of Tropical Medicine. We got caught up in a protest involving long haul semis and other large trucks driving to the capitol building while blasting loud music and honking their horns. It took us far too long to realize that we should flee the scene to save our hearing. There were daily protests in San Juan against a proposed tax increase.
We continued our walk and stopped at Luis Muñoz Rivera Park. Since it was a Monday, we didn't get a real sense of how the park is used by residents. Thankfully, we were able to return on Saturday when there was an MS walk, vendors and lots of activity.
We made our way to Caribe Hilton because we were going to pick up our rental car there the following day. While there, we filled up on fruit infused water and laid in their hammocks.
We walked to a nearby Escambrón Beach and Sixto Escobar Park where a giant owl statue stood tall on a hill. I later learned it was created by Celso Gonzalez for Electric Daisy Carnival which took place in the park in February. It is hilarious to think of how different our experience would have been if we had been in San Juan during the festival. While at the park, it started to downpour and about 10 minutes later it stopped completely as if it never happened and we continued our walk back to Old San Juan.
We stopped at the Capitol building and this time went inside and looked around the beautiful interior. After we got to the central part of Old San Juan, we went to Cafeteria Mallorca for lunch.
After lunch, we went to Cementerio Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis, established in 1863 with approximately 1,000 graves, it is one of the more picturesque cemeteries I've ever visited as it almost seems to be floating on the ocean. Next to the cemetery is Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a 16th-century fort designed to guard the entrance of San Juan Bay. After watching the 15 minute video, "The Fortifications of Old San Juan", we went on a self-guided tour. By paying admission to Castillo San Felipe del Morro, you can make a return visit and also visit Castillo San Cristóbal.
For a break from the heat, we headed to Old Harbor Brewery. We wouldn't necessarily suggest a stop here for beer lovers. We headed back to our apartment to rest before dinner.
We chose Marmalade, a restaurant suggested by our friends Dannah and Chris. I later learned that Chef Peter Schindler is from Iowa! Scott had sea bass and a Ron del Barrilito (rum) and I had a curried squash. We were also served a shooter of soup on the house. I wished I had ordered a bowl and am glad I didn't tell them I was vegetarian otherwise they wouldn't have surprised us with it (they ask about allergies and food preferences at the beginning). Full description: Tiny White Bean Soup: scallions, black truffle oil & pancetta “dust”.
Day 3: Drive to Rincón via the "Pork Highway"
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Miles walked = 5.81
All Day 3 photos on Flickr
After walking all the way to Ben & Jerry's Cafe (random mash-up of the ice cream shop and a local cafe well-known for its banana pancakes) only to discover it didn't open until 11 AM, we chose Casa Cortés Choco Bar for breakfast. As my mom said, that is when she knew we were in paradise - chocolate for breakfast! Scott, who is normally indifferent to chocolate had both a hot chocolate (which comes with a slice of cheddar cheese and a small milk chocolate bar) and "chocolicious" waffles. I opted for the vegetable egg scramble and cafe con leche. We both had an choco frío to-go which was basically a frappaccino with a milk chocolate bar on top. Definitely the guiltiest of treats I had on vacation.
After breakfast we retrieved our belongings from the apartment and caught a cab to Caribe Hilton. It is laughable that I thought we'd be able to walk there with all of our stuff. After getting our rental Jeep, we took off for the Pork Highway. It was a beautiful drive and we arrived at Lechonera Los Pinos
for an early lunch. We ordered pork, rice and beans and some kind of weird tasteless boiled banana.
We drove back to PR-52 and continued our westward journey to Rincón. I originally wanted to stop in Ponce but the drive was taking much longer than I anticipated. In fact it seemed like I was watching the time estimate increase instead of decrease as we drove! So, we kept driving to our B&B without stopping.
When we arrived at Blue Boy Inn, the owner, Marc greeted us and gave us a thorough tour of the property and we settled into Room 3. We walked along the closest beach and then walked to the town center. After the long day of driving both of us wanted to keep our dinner plans simple so we walked 2 minutes to La Copa Llena at The Black Eagle and had a drink at the bar while waiting for an oceanside table for dinner. It felt so luxurious to have dinner on a deck by the Caribbean Sea - I could get used to that. It was great to be able to walk back to our B&B and relax in the common area above overlooking the pool.
Day 4: Rincón exploration
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Miles walked = 5.34
All Day 4 photos on Flickr
As per usual I woke up before sunrise and took off for a morning walk. The sun rising behind a large hill casting a glow on the palm trees was an amazing way to start the day. Scott joined me and we had breakfast at the Inn.
After breakfast, we headed to a nearby beach (without phones or the camera!) and went swimming and for a walk. We saw some sea glass and talked briefly with a woman hunting for it. We got cleaned up and went to Carta Buena for lunch smoothies and split a date cookie bar. The fresh food stand is on an small farm of sorts and it seems as though the owner may live in a home I was admiring on my morning walk. It is a gorgeous slice of Rincón. We drove to the Rincón Lighthouse and watched the surfers at Domes Beach. While there, people were setting up for a surf competition to take place that weekend.
It is not clear to me now why we didn't continue to explore and go to Sandy Beach? Instead we went back to the B&B and went swimming in the pool. I will say that being hot, sweaty, sandy and full of greasy sunscreen is not my idea of an excellent time so perhaps that is why we went back. Another indication that if/when we go on tropical vacations we should do our exploring in the morning, lounging in the afternoon and more exploring in the early evening.
We drove around Rincón a bit but they were doing construction at a major intersection and it was not clear to us where we should go. So, we headed back to La Copa Llena for happy hour and we sat on adirondack chairs on the beach to watch the sunset. At that point we were once again too lazy to drive anywhere for dinner so we crossed the street to El Ancla where I tried my first and only mofongo dish.
Day 5: Drive to Luquillo via Arecibo Observatory
Thursday, March 5, 2015
Miles walked = 4.81
All Day 5 photos on Flickr
Since I knew we'd be in the car most of the day, I woke up early so I could go for another Rincón walk.
We took a detour as we crossed the island so that we could visit the Arecibo Observatory, the world's largest radio telescope. The drive was gorgeous and we stopped at a scenic overlook and also at a Walgreens in Lares, PR. A memory burned in my brain but sadly not documented in a photo or even witnessed by Scott was seeing a clown driving a small hatchback car in the mountains. That's right - a grown man dressed as a clown by himself diving a small car. Who knows, it could have been a clown car comically full of clowns but I only saw the driver.
We actually didn't spend that much time at the observatory. I am not sure if Scott was really into it and I thought it was interesting but maybe not worth going out of the way.
We kept driving east and decided to stop in Dorado for lunch. We ended up at El Meson Sandwiches. This was the beginning of the only travel breakdown I had the entire week. I wasn't even that hungry and should have just gotten the grilled cheese. Instead I ordered a veggie wrap which I thought was a straightforward order. I was asked if I wanted it to be roast beef or turkey flavored. Um what? I guess it involves some weird meat substitute that is supposed to taste like the meat that most people ordering a vegetarian sandwich are trying to avoid. It was as disgusting as it sounds. Scott had the "Minnesota Feast" as it was the only sandwich named after a state so he took it as a sign. In a nutshell we should have just driven through lunch.
We arrived in Luquillo in the late afternoon and I was ready to be done driving. Once we found the Luquillo Sunrise Beach Inn my heart sank. It was next to some pretty sketchy abandoned looking buildings and there was a gate around the entire property with no instruction of how to enter. It was a popular time to arrive and we figured out with the help of two other guests how to get checked in. Once we settled into our third floor room I felt a bit better but Luquillo definitely isn't the type of town set up for urban hikes. We drove to the Luquillo Kioscos for a drink and ended up having a slice of pizza at Revolution Pizza Shop.
Sorry to be such a downer but Day 5 wasn't my favorite of the vacation.
Day 6: El Yunque Rainforest and Playa Azul
Friday, March 6, 2015
Miles walked = 14.12
All Day 6 photos on Flickr
What a difference a day can make! After a good night of sleep, I woke up in time to take photos of the sunrise because duh we were staying at the Sunrise Beach Inn! Scott and I got ready and went to the outdoor patio for breakfast.
We then headed to El Yunque National Forest. We drove to the Palo Colorado Information Center and started our day of hiking on the La Mina Trail. This is a great trail to start your day in El Yunque (caveat: it is great when you start early in the day before most visitors show up for the reasons this article points out). We didn't swim in the falls but it looked fun and is a popular photo op.
We made our way to the El Yunque trail and had the amazing experience of walking through the clouds. The weather changed three or four times while we made our way up to the peak of El Yunque. It was pretty incredible to be able to look out and see Luquillo and the ocean.
We then hiked the Mount Britton trail to the tower. Scott and I both prefer not to return the same way so we walked along a road which may not have been the brightest idea. We got kind of lost but managed to find our way back to the La Mina Trail. This is when we discovered it is not as much fun to be on this trail when a lot of visitors are in the park as it is crowded and difficult to pass slower walkers.
When we emerged to the parking lot, there was a vendor selling ice cold drinks and snacks - brilliant business plan. We stopped and looked at the La Coca Waterfall before returning to our hotel. We rested up and then went to Playa Azul (the beach closest to our hotel) to relax in the sun.
For dinner we returned to the Kioskos and started at one end and walked the entire length before making a decision of where to eat. I definitely recommend that approach since it is quite overwhelming to have so many choices. We ended up at Congas by the Sea. We drank rum drinks and both had seafood specials. I'm so glad we were able to end our time in Luquillo on a high note.
Day 7: San Juan via Piones
Saturday, March 7, 2015
Miles walked = 11.28
All Day 7 photos on Flickr
I made sure to wake up before sunrise so that I could walk to the beach to capture it. I was treated to an even better show than the day before.
After breakfast, we started our return to San Juan. We chose our route so that we could stop at Pionones Mangrove Forest. We had a difficult time finding it so by the time we parked, the sun was in full force and since most of the waterfront boardwalk is unprotected, we didn't really feel like spending much time there so we journeyed on to San Juan.
We returned our Jeep at Caribe Hilton and instead of stressing out about where to eat, we just grabbed a sandwich at Quiznos in the hotel. We walked through the hotel's nature area and saw white and black swans, peacocks and baby gosling. We then caught a taxi back to Old San Juan and returned to the same apartment where we started our trip. It truly felt like returning home.
Since it was a busier tourist day, more was open and we spent the day returning to the places we were unable to see on Monday:
We took a late afternoon break for cocktails at Mezzanine at St. Germaine (warning: autoplays music). It is a gorgeous spot and perfect for sipping and nibbling.
We made our way back to El Morro for sunset. There were a lot more people flying kites than when we were there earlier in the week. It's a fun spot for people (and sunset) watching.
For our last dinner in Puerto Rico, I wanted to eat at El Jibarito but we were not alone in this wish. We were too hungry and tired to wait so we ended up at Hecho en Casa.
Day 8: Farewell Puerto Rico
Sunday, March 8, 2015
Miles walked = 7.54
All Day 8 photos on Flickr
I woke up early to experience one last Puerto Rican sunrise. It was such a treat to be able to step outside to see the sun rising over an ocean every morning of our vacation. Wearing shorts no less! Knowing I'd be returning to bundling up in a down jacket upon my return, I was determined to savor these final moments in 70-80 degree temperatures.
We returned to Caficultura for our final Puerto Rican breakfast. Since we had been staying across the street from it for three nights of our trip, we finally visited Castillo San Cristóbal. Forts are cool. I don't know what else to say about our visit other than I definitely recommend you visit them when in Old San Juan.
By subscribing to the Puerto Rico Daytrips blog, I was made aware of events. We lucked out and were able to attend El Morro Pet Fest before checking out of our AirBNB and going to the airport. It was bananas. Puerto Ricans take dog fashion pretty seriously. I'm not embarrassed to admit that this was one of the highlights of our entire trip. We sat and talked to some Puerto Ricans about their dogs and enjoyed some excellent people and canine watching.
I highly recommend Puerto Rico as a vacation destination. I'm confident we'll return. If I had to to it over again, I'd spend another day in Rincón and only one night near the rainforest since I'm sold on the importance of starting the hiking there as early as possible to avoid the crowds. If we return to Puerto Rico, I'll want to stay at El Blok on the island of Vieques.
The Nivens Family