A 10 DAY TRIP TO PUERTO RICO
Having been born and raised in Puerto Rico has been one of the greatest gifts I have received from life. Although very small (approximately 100 miles long by 35 miles wide), it has become a popular destination by tourists due to its location, warm weather and rich culture. First, let me tell you about some brief history of the island.
|Me in Puerto Rico|
Between the 7th century and the 11th century, Puerto Rico, which was actually called Boriken at the time, was inhabited by the Taino Indians. After the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1493, the Spaniards began to colonize the island, and slowly but surely the Taino population started to decrease due to factors such as harsh working conditions, diseases, and unsuccessful rebellions against the Spaniards.
|Beach in Puerto Rico|
As an outcome of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States of America and in 1917 the U.S. Congress passed the Jones Act, which granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship. To this day, some people dislike and some others do not mind the fact that Puerto Rico is "Americanized." I can agree that there are probably too many McDonald franchises and KFCs here and there, but there is no denial that Puerto Rico has kept its history and cultural influences from our ancestors. You can see it through people's lifestyles, architecture and the many beautiful sites this island has to offer.
Oftentimes, I get asked by friends or friends of friends for recommendations as to what places to visit in Puerto Rico. There are some factors to consider when giving advice on the best sites in Puerto Rico. It all depends on the type of trip you want to take. Some people just want to sit at the hotel and relax, while others are more on an adventurous mode. I love to sit down and write travel suggestions down because I believe that the best way to get to know a place is through a local. Instead of giving you a list of the top 10 places to visit, I will tell you what I recommend doing on a 10 day trip.
DAY 1: OLD SAN JUAN
|Natural Beauty of Puerto Rico|
|Crystal Clear Waters in Puerto Rico|
|Waterfalls in Puerto Rico|
|Joyeus Colors: Typical in Puerto Rico|
|Street Art in San Juan, Puerto Rico|
Although I haven't traveled the whole world to know, I consider Old San Juan to be one of my favorite places in the world to travel to!!! Old San Juan is located at a driving distance of approximately 15 minutes from the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport. I always recommend this to be the first stop because it is really close to the main areas such as Condado and Isla Verde, which have plenty of hotels to choose from. If this is your first time in Puerto Rico, I strongly recommend choosing one of these areas to stay for the first couple of days.
|Colorful Facades in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico|
If your hotel provides it, take a shuttle to Old San Juan, take a taxi or drive in and you will find public parking throughout the area. Make sure you have comfortable shoes on as you will be walking for some time throughout the area and at many times on the blue cobblestones that decorate the streets of this historical part of the city. Aside from beautiful architecture, you will find great restaurants, museums and plenty of shopping. You will see many souvenir shops as well as outlets, such as Coach, Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Dooney & Bourke, Crocs, and Polo. The streets of the Old City, such as Calle Fortaleza, Calle San Francisco, and Calle del Cristo, are the major venues for shopping.
Ok. Get the shopping over with. Get the souvenirs to take back home, walk all the way north to the top of the streets and now.... let's go to FORT SAN FELIPE DEL MORRO!
EL MORRO is one of Puerto Rico's most important historical sites. It is a beautiful landmark which was built during the 17th and 18th centuries to defend the San Juan coastline. As you walk through the ramps, dungeons, towers and tunnels, you can bear witness to nearly half a century of military history that began with the Spanish conquistadores and ended with World War II . Standing on top of this part of history while having in front of you breathtaking ocean views, is a moment I am sure you will never forget.
|Me in El Morro|
Once you leave the Fortress and head back towards the streets of the Old City, don't hesitate in purchasing a piragüa!
Located on Calle de San Sebastián, Nono's is the perfect stop for a cold Medalla (the Puerto Rican beer). The bar is located in a colonial-style building and it is frequented by both locals and tourists. It has an excellent atmosphere and I would say a MUST stop before you head back to the hotel.
As I want to focus on daily things to do, lets proceed to day 2!
DAY 2: PIÑONES, CONDADO, ISLA VERDE
|Isla Verde, Puerto Rico|
Since this is, after all, your vacation, let's take time to just relax and what a better way than enjoying one of our beautiful beaches. Located just 5 minutes away from the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport, Isla Verde is a great area to stay in. Its beach is beautiful and fun!! You can rent jet skis, banana boats, or a beach chair and just relax by the beautiful waters. One of my favorite beach restaurants is located right here. It is called Alambique and beware because it can get a little bit crazy. After a day at the beach, locals and tourists cross over and continue the party. (Did I mention how much Puerto Ricans love to party?) Drinking on the beach is legal and blasting the speakers of your stereo is, too. So, if you want something more quiet, I recommend staying closer to the tourist areas, such as behind the El San Juan Hotel & Casino. Gambling in Puerto Rico is also legal so if this is something you are interested in, I strongly advise you to go to this hotel in the evening. It is a combination of glamour with an island vibe and then great entertainment.
You can either stay at the beach the whole day and plan a wild or not so wild night out, or you can head out to Piñones, especially when you get hungry. If you are looking for something fancy, I do not recommend it. But, if you want an afternoon snack, then this is the place. Now, when I say snack I am not talking about chips or beef jerky. I am talking about Puerto Rican fried food type of snacks. When in doubt, in Puerto Rico we just "fry it". When we don't know how to cook something we just do that and Piñones is the place to try the best we have to offer. It is an area about five minutes from Isla Verde. You can either stop at one of the first kiosks or keep driving for a scenic road that shows you a more rustic side of the island. Once you choose a place, you will see that the menu consists mainly of 'alcapurrias', 'empanadillas' 'taquitos', 'bacalaitos',... They are greasy, crispy and yummy!!! They consist of different meat and seafood fritters.
|Fritters at Pinones|
From here, either be brave and go back to the swimsuit and a swim in the ocean, have a couple of Medallas in the area or go get ready for what the evening might bring....always great things in the island. For nightlife in the area, you can never go wrong with the bars in the Condado area.
DAY 3: EAST COAST (LUQUILLO & FAJARDO)
|Southeast Coast in Puerto Rico|
Time to pack the bags, check out from the hotel and head east. At this point I recommend renting a car with GPS because now it is road trip time.
Destination: El Yunque National Forest, the sole tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System. What makes this place so different from all the other U.S. National Forests is its year-round tropical climate and immense biodiversity. It has multiple trails for you to hike on while breathing the fresh air El Yunque has to offer. Along the walk you will see different waterfalls which make the sounds in the forest even more pleasurable. Bring your bathing suit with you in case you are feeling a little bit adventurous... and hot. Make sure you bring some water with you and a snack. Also, get a map of the trails so you don't get stuck in a trail you cannot finish. Yep, it kind of happened to me once.
|Map that Focuses on the East Side of the Island|
The Luquillo kiosks consist of a long row of humble little restaurants along the beach. No matter the destination, stopping by is an experience that is uniquely Puerto Rican. Some are vacant, others are numbered and many of them are named. It could be hard to choose but the best bet is to ask a local. It all depends on what you feel like eating. I always go by my gut feeling or to the ones that have the street on one side and the beach on the other.
You can take a walk or swim right on Luquillo Beach, which is located behind the kiosks, or you can head out and relax before nighttime, which is when the next part starts.
A must know before the next destination: Bioluminescence is the emission of light by an organism or biochemical system and It occurs in a wide range of protists and animals, including bacteria and fungi, insects, marine invertebrates, and fish. It results from a chemical reaction that produces radiant energy very efficiently, giving off very little heat.
There are three bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico and one is located in Fajardo, just 15 minutes away from Luquillo. There are many tours and excursions that you can take. It is done at night and in order to enjoy the bioluminescence it is better when there is very little moon light. Once you book an excursion they will provide the kayaks and the life vests. I did this once for my birthday and it was probably one of the best experiences I have ever had.
DAY 4: CULEBRA ISLAND/VIEQUES
|Flamenco Beach on Culebra Island, Puerto Rico|
DAY 5: ROAD TRIP TO THE MOUNTAINS
Once you are back in the mainland, start heading out to Guavate. By the time that you get there you will be ready to taste one of Puerto Rico’s favorite culinary delights: pig on a spit. Even Anthony Bourdain, of No Reservations on the TravelChannel, came to Guavate on his trip here to taste this specialty. The earlier you get out there, the better. It is approximately a 1 to 1 1/2 hour drive from Fajardo. Once your belly is nice and stuffed, head out towards Ponce, Puerto Rico's second largest city. It is such a beautiful drive through the mountains. You will see quite a change in scenery as you get closer to Ponce. It goes from green and moist to dry.
Once you arrive in Ponce you can take a drive to the old fire house, a landmark and pride of this part of town. As you leave Ponce towards Sabana Grande, continue going southwest on highway 102 and you will hit one of the few roads in Puerto Rico that can truly be called an oceanfront drive, leaving you on a stretch of two lane road where you’re driving almost level with the ocean.
|Rio Grande, Puerto Rico|
|Road Trip to the Mountains|
When you get to Cabo Rojo, make it a point to stay here to enjoy the beautiful sunset this town has to offer. In the meantime, you can enjoy the amazing food sold in the restaurants and kiosks in this area. It has amazing seafood. I would stay in the area and continue the road trip tomorrow.
DAY 6 AND 7: THE WEST (RINCON, AGUADILLA, ISABELA)
|Guaynabo, Puerto Rico|
|Map that Focuses on the Westside of the Island|
After Rincon you have the town of Aguadilla. It is said that it is through here that Christopher Columbus came in to the island in 1493. I have a special place in my heart for this town. This is where my family is from and where some of my best childhood memories come from. I drive through this town and I feel my grandparents are there with me, even when I know they now accompany me only in spirit. This town has so many special places in my heart. I will mention what I consider to be the best beach in Puerto Rico. It is called Crashboat.
From the town of Aguadilla go to Isabela. In Isabela you can find outstanding panoramic views as well as more beautiful beaches, rivers, caves and archaeological sites. Among the attractions are Jobos Beach and Pozo de Jacinto, a pit cave with a very interesting story.
These three towns are located pretty close to each other and although you can see them all in one day, it is my recommendation to stay out here for day 6 and 7.
|Isabela Poso de Jacinto|
DAY 8: ARECIBO OBSERVATORY/LA CUEVA DE LA VENTANA IN UTUADO
As the trip might be coming to the final days, start heading North East back to San Juan. The next destination will be in Arecibo. As you may know by now it can get very tricky trying to get around Puerto Rico on a GPS. For Puerto Ricans directions could be as easy as "Make a left right after the green garbage can and then go straight and you will see a Church, keep going and then you will see speed bump, take two of those and keep going and when you see a big tree, then that is when you are going to make a right and then just ask someone for more directions". The best I can do is to tell you that the next destination is in Arecibo and it is called Cueva Ventana. It is located on Route 10 at KM 75, right next to a Texaco gas station. There is a trail that begins adjacent to the gas station. This trip will take you about three hours and you will need a flashlight as you walk inside the cave. Once you pass this you will be introduced to a view that is out of this world.
|Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico|
Once you leave the cave you can head out to see the world's largest single-aperture telescope at the Arecibo Observatory. The radio telescope is 1,000 ft and it is used in three major areas of research: Aeronomy, Radar Astronomy and Radio Astronomy.
DAY 9: PLAZITA DE SANTURCE
This day I would leave it open to do that thing in your mind that you are curious about, that one thing a local told you about and you said it is something that would be done a "next time". I always recommend an open day to do whatever you feel like doing. It could either be going to Plaza las Americas (the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean and the second largest in Latin America) or it could be to just relax by the ocean or pool by your hotel.
|Plaza Las Americas, Puerto Rico|
One of the places that I miss the most when I am away from the island is as simple as a market area in a middle of a plaza (or square) in San Juan. We know it as "la Plazita de Santurce". It is a bit tricky to get here so the best bet is to take a cab. It is about ten minutes away from the aiport area. Although located in the main city, this place shows how the Puerto Rican culture has not been lost. While it is a market during the day where you find fresh fruits and vegetables, at night it becomes a party scene.
It has a variety of restaurants, bars and cafes lining the streets that surround the marketplace. As you go walk down the streets you hear different music coming from the different venues. Sometimes the music is live, and then sometimes it is people just singing while they dance or sit to play a game of dominoes. My recommendation here is to stop by the bar located right next to the marketplace. It is called El Coco de Luis and they serve amazing but strong drinks which you can combine with fresh cocounut water or my favorite, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. I recommend wearing something light as it can get pretty hot around here... call it weather or call it that latin heat, consequence of the music, the dancing and the partying.
I would say this is the perfect way to end an amazing vacation in Puerto Rico. It will definitely leave you wanting to come back and you should as there are so many towns I did not even mention.
DAY 10: PERHAPS A LAST SPLISH SPLASH?
Time has come to return the car and head out to the airport. If you have more time, go for that swim on the ocean before heading out. Don't be surprised if you get a musical farewell at the airport by our 'Pleneros'. Plena is a Puerto Rican folkloric type of music which is part of our traditions, especially during the Christmas season. They can be seen walking around the terminals while singing and playing the 'panderetas', a type of drums used to play this particular music. I would cry everytime I had to board a plane listening to them on the background.
|Parranda de Bomba y Plena in Puerto Rico|
It was a little bit hard for me to narrow it down to ten days. I always tell people that they should come for two weeks minimum. There is so much more to see and experience. One more thing I want to mention is that you do not need a U.S. Passport to come to Puerto Rico! I hope this information serves as some kind of guide for your next or first visit to the island. If you ever have a question do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Flag of Puerto Rico|
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