This trip was originally published on travelfreak
Puerto Rico is one of the Caribbean Islands popular among tourists in the US for a relaxed beach vacation. It is actually a part of the US, and you do not need a visa to go there if you have a US visa (which was quite a welcome surprise for me!). I always thought PR was a separate country, but somehow its a part of US itself. It seems a bit complicated actually, as they have their own flag and leaders but are still a part of America, but I don't mind! One less visa to take!! We went for a week in September to Puerto Rico and stayed at two places on the island: San Juan (the capital) and Vieques Island.
The weather in PR remains almost the same throughout the year! Temperatures stay mostly between 20-30 degrees always. Therefore the tourist season is in the winters when temperatures are much lower elsewhere, but it was good even in the off season: just a little bit of rain to deal with. Renting a car is also a good idea while on the island, it gives you the flexibility to go wherever and whenever, though taxis are also a good and convenient mode of transport apparently.
On to the trip, we landed in San Juan on a Saturday and stayed at a hotel in Old San Juan, El Convento. I think the hotel was also one of the highlights of our trip:
Old San Juan was as expected, the old and rustic part of San Juan. The city was set up as a settlement by the Spanish people who inhabited the island for the initial years. Therefore, this old part of town has a very European feel to it, with cobbled and narrow roads, multi-coloured houses, numerous outside seating restaurants and lot of squares for people to get together and have a nice time. The feel of the town is marred by the cars lined everywhere on the roads as well as the overhead wires, but I guess that's what you pay for modernisation?
Our hotel El Convento was also part of this old town. It was a 300 year old convent which had been converted to a hotel some years back. It was right in the heart of the old town, with the San Juan cathedral just in front. The hotel has retained its feel of being of a different era, and that was what lent it the romantic feel its so famous for!
Just outside the hotel, in the square, a singer would sit and sing romantic songs all evening. Another great thing about the hotel was the wine and cheese they have every evening, where you come and sip on the wine, taste the cheese and enjoy the sunset and the singing below. Totally surreal!
I would advice anyone traveling to San Juan to stay in Old San Juan. The other option is the Condado region which though closeby is just a long line of modern resorts with a nice beach, and I think staying there doesn't really give you the real feel of being in a different place. We did visit the La Concha resort in the Condado region, to enjoy the beach and beachside pool, as well as the casino. But still preferred staying in Old San Juan only!
It is so so lively and pretty, you can see people out on the roads having a good time dancing to latino music even late at night! Also, on the weekend, there were some cruise ships who were docked at the marina nearby and loud jarring music playing there for all to party hard. Guess the Caribbean weekend spirit showing itself.
Another place we went to in Old San Juan was a cigar house, a shop which sells only cigars. But the interesting thing about the place was that every evening people in the town gather there to smoke them! Quite an interesting thing must say! Also if you are fond of casinos, the Sheraton Old San Juan on the marina in Old San Juan does have a casino too, in case you don't want to go to the Condado region to win or lose money!
THINGS TO SEE
Forts in Old San Juan
Old San Juan has a lot of historical buildings all over the place. The main ones of course are the two forts, Sant Christobal and El Morro. They are majestic forts on two tips of the island and surround the Old San Juan area. They have an interesting history and of course great views of the town below. A must visit.
El Yunque: the only rainforests in the US
The El Yunque forests are about an hour plus drive from San Juan, and a good trip outside of town. At the forest, they have a watch tower to get a birds eye view of the jungles around. And some trails to take in the feeling of the forest. There are a couple of waterfalls there too, like the Coca Falls and La Mina falls.
THINGS TO DO
Zipling: We went for ziplining at Toro Verde which apparently has the best zipline, even though there are a couple more places on the island where you can do it. Toro Verde is a national park located around the center of the island.
It took us about 3 hours to reach there, rather than the expected one hour! And that was because the GPS was taking us to the wrong location!! Anyways we did drive through the gallis of PR, the narrow winding roads along small hills, just after the rains, through small villages. The delay actually turned out worth it, it was a very green and romantic drive through the interiors of the island.
At Toro Verde, there are couple of different ziplining options available and we did the 'Beast' one, which is 4745 feet long and at a height of 853 feet. The whole 'journey' from the top of the first hill to the second takes about 1-2 minutes, unless you are light! In which case you can get stuck in the middle and then need to be 'rescued'!! Which I did. Anyways it was a nice experience, zipping across mountains, with a view of the forests and rivers and paths below. And believe me, it WAS scary like hell! When I was stuck at the middle, I could barely move my head to take a look around! It was just like, get me out of here, till then I refuse to move, lest it make me fall.
Hang gliding: There is an option to do hang gliding in El Yunque which seems quite a lot of fun! We couldn't do it as it got cancelled due to rains but its something I would definitely recommend by the sounds of it!
Diving: Our diving trip also got cancelled once because of the rains, but then I guess going in the off-season has its disadvantages! The best diving locations are at the south side of the island and around Fajardo. We did our diving at two locations off Fajardo. The sea life there was good, though not the same as the Andamans (the only other place have dived). The colourful corals were very limited here. We did spot a lot of turtles though, which are a pleasure to watch swim. Also there were a lot of jellyfish there, which seem so graceful and unreal swimming around you at a very slow motion speed. Other than that we also spotted a lobster and barracuda and lots of fishes I can't name!
Our first experiment with food was at one of the local restaurants in Old San Juan, think it was called La Danza. It was terrible and expensive. Thereafter we decided to go only to places with good reviews online! El Convento itself has a tapas restaurant, El Picoteo which serves tasty fare. Tantra is a restaurant near El Convento serving excellent (but expensive) Indian fusion food! A must must try, especially with the Indian music playing there! BarraChina is a garden restaurant in Old San Juan where apparently the Pina Colada was invented. It has very very tasty food, including the mofongo which is really yummy and a must try if you go to PR ever. And then there was an Italian place Al Dente (I think) next to Sheraton which was again very good.
Other than the Old SJ area, we had dinner at La Concha's tapas fusion restaurant, called Perla, which surprisingly is not at all expensive given its in a 5-star resort. The food there was really really tasty. Another recommend!
Vieques is a small island just off Fajardo with a size of 6km by 34km only. Its about an hour by ferry from Fajardo and the location of the 'best bio-bay in the world'. The bio-bay is a phenomenon where there are small micro-organisms in the water which luminesce when there is movement in the water. Its an amazing phenomenon but getting to the island isn't! The ferries are highly unreliable in their timings, so taking a flight from San Juan might be a better idea. Getting back from Vieques was an adventure too, the taxi from the ferry at Fajardo to San Juan costs about $80 irrespective of the number of people . Its a good idea to talk to other tourists on the ferry to be able to share a cab.
Anyways in Vieques, we stayed at the 'Inn on the Blue Horizon' which is an amazing property located on a cliff next to the sea and near the town of Esperanza. The Inn again is rated as a romantic resort and it surely is. With small cottages separated from each other. The pool and the cottages facing the sea. A nice seating area and a restaurant within the Inn. Wild horses grazing in its grounds. A truly isolated and relaxing feeling it gives.
As an aside, there are only two 'towns' in Vieques: Esperanza and Isabel II and both are more like villages than towns. So be prepared for the island being very remote and getting the feeling of being away from the modern and busy world as we know it!
THINGS TO DO
Snorkelling: In Vieques, you can snorkel at many if its beaches like the Red Beach, Green Beach, Black Beach etc.. They are all isolated beaches with rarely any people there, so it does pose a problem finding the right place. We snorkelled at the Red Beach which did have some interesting fishes there. Spotted tons of Sea Urchins there which was something new for me. Other than that, there were lots of colorful fishes but I don't remember their names!! You can also snorkel at the Sun Bay apparently but we didn't really see many fishes there, so not sure we were at the right spot!
Bio-Bay: The bio-bay was honestly an experience out of this world. The bay is huge and you are taken there in a boat. (There is the option of kayaking too, but frankly, its too scary to kayak at night with no lights around!). What you see there is surreal though: with any movement in the water, the water lights up! So if you put your hand in the water, its fluorescent around that. Any fishes swimming in the water, you can see the movement through the water.
Its just so difficult to explain it (and difficult to capture on camera either!). You also have the option of swimming in the bay, which apparently is good since as you swim, the water around you lights up. We did not do that either, as it seems too scary swimming in the open bay at night, with no lights around. But if you feel adventurous enough, you should try it out.
Just one warning though, the route to the bio-bay is bad, a kuccha road with huge water puddles in between, lots of ups and downs and the bushes on both sides coming on the way. So not a good idea to drive there in your own vehicle.
Horse Riding: It's organized by one of the resorts and even though we couldn't do it, by the sounds of it, 'horse riding over the cliffs with a view of the sunset over the sea' does sound fun!
We did not try out too many eating places in Vieques somehow. Of those, one was the Carambola at the Inn which itself which was frankly just about ok. The other was Duffys in Esperanza itself. They serve American food which is quite tasty. Plus the place has a very fun feel about it.
So all in all, turned out to be a fun and relaxed trip, with multiple activities to do plus of course being in the water most of the time. A definite recommend!
This trip was originally published on Travelfreak.