Puerto Rico: An Archipelago Surprise

Puerto Rico

 

Isla de Culrebrita Rocks Alex
Found some rocks for my rock collection

I’ll just start off by saying I had no idea what to expect from this little island. Growing up in Orlando where there is a large Puerto Rican minority dominance, the culture was always loudly prominent. Yet, I didn’t realize how little I actually knew of the U.S. territory until I peaked through the window  as the plane shifted to it’s landing gears to see sprawling mountain ranges. Wtf. Puerto Rico has mountains?

While I will admit many some parts of this adventure are blurry thanks to a delightful local rum called Don Q (what is a gal to do, it was my last spring break of college), Puerto Rico was the best introduction to the Caribbean I could have ever hoped for.

WHERE TO STAY: Airbnb in Old San Juan 
PRICE POINT: $
CURRENCY:  USD
LANGUAGE: Spanglish 
FOOD TO TRY: Asopao de Pollo
TIPPING: 15-20%

DOWNTOWN SAN JUAN

Kiosk ColorsOne of the best things about this island getaway is that it’s easy. For U.S. travelers you can escape to paradise by simply hopping on a quick flight over the Caribbean, no passport nor currency exchange required. Most speak English or a variation of Spanglish and your treasured phone data will work for the most part.

Heinikin Bar
Having none other than a Heineken at the Stop & Go Heineken Bar

Having a member in our spring break squad who’s a Puerto Rican native was a godsend. Not only did we have the luxury of her magnificent tía driving us everywhere (DISCLAIMER: Puerto Rican drivers will have you praying for your life no matter what god or lack of god you believe in – proceed with extreme caution if renting a car), another one of her family members surprised us broke college kids by booking 4 nights at the Best Western in Condado. It was cheap, clean, offered free breakfast, at the heart of everything and just steps away from the beach.

Downtown San Juan was just meh, veryyy touristy. The beaches near our hotel were nothing to brag about, not to mention the rip tide almost mangled our group into a jetty of bone crushing rocks. Low key, it was thrilling though. 

Nights in San Juan on the other hand, now those are some good times. We somehow always ended up closing out the night at the Heineken or Moon Bar with the group of college frat bros on spring break  like-minded travelers we met during our first night in Puerto Rico.

TIP: Catch a killer sunrise at one of the beachfront hotel pools — if you don’t have the privilege of staying at one of those hotels, do what we did. Act like you belong and you’ll be golden.

OLD SAN JUAN 

Day vs. Night

There are two different Old San Juan’s: one that exists during the day, the other at night. The daytime Old San Juan is everything you’d want out of a historical island downtown. Think charming Spanish colonial architecture coated in a rainbow of pastel.  The narrow cobblestone streets of the 7 square blocks were lined with shops selling everything from sarongs to cigars to voodoo dolls.

Then there’s Old San Juan by night. Head out there on a Friday as it’s known to be more of a locals night. Order a Cuba Libre and go through the maze of doors that connect the bars and lounges. For all you females (or whoever else) who like to strap on heels to feel fancy, just don’t.

Cobblestone + heels + cocktails = no bueno.

 

Church in San Juan
San José Church is one of the earliest surviving examples of 16th-century Spanish Gothic architecture in the Carribean
Processed with VSCO with a1 preset
Behold, the moment I found out that I’m terrified of pigeons 

ISLA DE CULEBRITA

“Little Culebra”

Culebra Panorama

Marina Hill
These colorful little townhomes were precariously perched a top the hill overlooking the marina

Another treat to having a native in our group was a (metaphorical) ticket aboard her family’s catamaran to the highly acclaimed Isla de Culebrita – not to be confused with the more popular Culebra. While both offer award-winning sprawling, sandy beaches and twinkling, turquoise waters, Isla De Culebrita can only be reached by private boats and charters. Oh la la.

PR 14After a 2-3 hour boat ride from the marina, we arrived at Isla de Culebrita just east of Culebra. This small, uninhabited island had everything you’d want in a tropical paradise. From waters that resembled Brita water to rocky tide pools teeming with sea urchins and bait fish.

Isla de Culebrita Ally and MegWhile half our crew was content with staying on board to burn soak in the Caribbean sun, the rest of us dwindled away the day kayaking, snorkeling, paddle boarding, and playing volleyball alongside the coconut laden palm trees that lined the horseshoe bay. To top off the full day of margaritas, we were fed some of the most finger lickin’ homemade kabobs I have ever had the pleasure of stuffing my face with. Kinda drooling right now thinking about them, tbh.

 

Horeshoe Bay

EL YUNQUE NATIONAL FOREST

Tower Overlook

Tower
Yokahu Tower
PR 18
La Mina Falls

Take a break from the surf and sand to head over to El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rain forest in the United States. Home of one of the most biologically diverse forests, hike through the ferns and towering greenery to La Mina Falls. Follow along the trail to Yokahu Tower and catch some of the most breathtaking views of the island.

Horseback RidingWant to make a whole day of it in El Yunque? Book a horseback riding tour. Doing this not only allowed us to see more than we would have achieved by foot, there was something nostalgic atop horseback in the rainforest…minus the lunch lady hairnets under our helmets.

Tip for Females: Do NOT wear a bathing suit top. Protect those tatas and throw on a sports bra and thank your lucky stars you were warned of the extremely bumpy ride – unlike us.

 

LUQUILLO FOOD KIOSKS + BEACH

Luquillo

As we left the rainforest, the majestic mahogany, teak, and rosewood trees getting smaller and smaller in our rearview mirror, a row of bright pastel kioskos emerged on the side of Route 3. Here you’ll find a food connoisseurs wet dream – 60+ shacks offering only the most authentic of Puerto Rican grub. After you fill your belly full of plantains or asopao de pollo (<- Find the recipe here!), hop to the other side of the road and relax on the blissfully less crowded sands of Luquillo Beach.

 

 

Although my time on the island was short yet oh so very sweet, I’ll be seeing Puerto Rico again at some point I know. But this time I’ll be checking off new adventures like kayaking the bioluminescent bay, exploring 400 year old forts like the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, hike through caves at Las Cavernas De Camuy, and starfishing on a beach towel on Palomino Island in Fajardo.

Adios my friend, ’til next time Puerto Rico.
palm trees3

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16 comments

  1. Ohh glad you enjoyed it! I really want to go to the Carribean, I wish I had gone when I lived in the US as it’s so much more accessible. It’s quite the trip to plan to go there all the way from the UK!

    • Haha yeah it’s just a wee bit far from the UK, if you ever go I would highly recommend island hopping to get the most out of it! Being born and raised in Florida I have the whole Caribbean in my backyard but have only explored Puerto Rico so far which is a damn shame. Hoping to make it out to more places soon!

  2. Absolutely LOOOVED this post! I am travelling Latin America and so this post just got me even more excited! (I know Puerto Rico isn’t in South America LOL). Looks like you had a great time and got to enjoy a variety of activities. I want to visit Isla De Culebrita – looks like the perfect getaway!

    Thanks for sharing and upping my wanderlust Lool (:

    Ashlee
    ashleemoyo.com

    • Ah I’m excited and definitely jelly you’re traveling Latin America! I’ve lived in Florida my whole life so I’m very keen to tropical destinations, I just need to get out there and explore more of them! What has been your favorite place so far?

    • I’m 5′ 11″ so heels are never in my suitcase at any point in times. On the few occasions that I have worn them though I resemble something of a baby giraffe trying to walk for the first time.

    • Hahaha dude did you see how many pigeons there were though! But also it probably stems from the time I got shat on by not one but TWO different pigeons before… my life in a nutshell

  3. Looks like a lot of fun! I love your photos and little tips (i.e. wear a sports bra for the bumpy ride). My family takes a trip to the Caribbean every Christmas, so maybe this year we’ll check out PR!

    • Haha thank you! I had to at least try and make sure no other females had to go through that because besides that, the horseback riding was baller!

    • I wish I could say the same! I’ve only been to Puerto Rico so far which is pretty nuts seeing as I was born and raised in Florida so I’m trying to make a goal to see more of the Caribbean soon 🙂

  4. This looks amazing. I also know a lot of Puerto Ricans living in NYC, but don’t know much about the island. I am going for a school project for two weeks this summer but now I am worried I won’t get to enjoy the island as much as I would like. I might need a second trip if we don’t get enough free time to explore. I would love to see so many of these places. Especially waterfalls!!!

    • Thats so awesome that you get to visit an island for a school project! What is the premise of the project? If you can’t explore much of the island but happen to be based in San Juan be sure to make it to the old historical areas, the buildings and cobblestone streets are so picturesque

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