Who doesn’t like warm sunshine? If you live in northeast America, trust me you will understand the importance even more. So when it comes to a long weekend getaway from miserable winters,110 miles long and 35 miles wide Puerto Rico sounds like a dream come true. All types of travelers can easily fall in love with this island since it has something for everybody. Party lovers will find the city of San Juan full of nightlife, surfers will find their solitude on the west coast of island, explorers will have rain-forests and caves to dig around ,cosmopolitan types will have plethora of history, culture and art to soak in and yes beach lovers will have white sand beaches to sun bathe.
First thing first, assuming you are not a beach bum , this handy checklist will give you a starting point to pack. Don’t worry if you forget some things. There are all major stores found in the US readily available in Puerto Rico.
1) Sun Block: Puerto Rico is a sun kissed destination. Even if you are not on beach , you will still require lots of sunblock to avoid sun burnt. At least 50 SPF or above is recommended.
2) Sandals: All the main towns in PR are walk-able and that is preferred way to roam around. So do not forget comfortable sandals or flip flops.
3) Beachwear: Really, do I need to tell why??
4) Hiking boots: Puerto Rico has the only rainforest in US soil., any guesses on name?? It is El Yunque National Forest and has amazing hikes for beautiful views and yes you will have to walk for this.
5) Mosquito Repellent: If you have gone on hikes in any of the rainforests before, you will know the dangers of being bitten by mosquitoes. So, it’s better if you have the best anti mosquito lotion on you all the time.
6) Light waterproof Jacket: It does rain a lot in PR. Specially if you are in rainforests, weather is very unpredictable.
7) Sunglasses : Sun will have no mercy on you. Protect your eyes and look cool. You can also read more on how to manage your contact lenses, if you use them.
8) GPS and maps : Even though PR has well developed highway system, for navigating through off beaten path GPS and maps will be very helpful. Most of the US cellular providers (ATT, Verizon etc) provide good service so your Google maps will work.
9) Evening wear : Puerto Ricans are very fashionable specially when it comes to going to clubs and dinners (mainly in San Juan). A good evening wear will definitely help you to blend in.
10) Camera : Country is beautiful. Enough Said.
Things to see:
Once packing is all done, you are all set for the trip to paradise .Rental car is preferred way to explore the island. The following day –trip itineraries will take you to some known attractions with some surprise discoveries. For most part I would suggest to base out of San Juan and explore much of the island in short drives. Here is a map to help you plan.
San Juan , the city trip:
Old San Juan is a compact historic city which can be explored best on foot. City’s forts, museums , art galleries and cobble streets will keep you enchanted.
If tired of roaming, grab quick refreshment in one of city’s cafe or restaurant.My personal favorite Cuatro Sombras. Excellent frappes!!.
For a quick dip in water head towards Ocean park beach or Isla Verde beach and just relax. You might want to head out in evening as San Juan bustle with night life. There are plenty of good bars , casinos and clubs in San Juan that you don’t want to miss.
A day in Karst Region Arecibo (RioCaves,Cueva Ventana, Cueva Del Indio and Arecibo Observatory):
All the three caves are located in Karst region of Puerto Rico at about 1.5 hours driving distance from Old San Juan. Rio Camuy caves are magnificent. The caves are located in a 268 acre park. The park only allows a certain number of visitors in a day. So it is best to get there before 10:30am. They give 2 hours long tour to the caves explaining history, geography and formations in the caves. It’s totally worth it and costs 15$ per person.Cueva Ventana also known as window cave is located at a a short drive of 30 mins on route 10 from Riocaves. Entry fees is 10$ per person and the view at the end of hike is amazing.
If there is still time left pick between Arecibo Observatory and Cueva Del Indio. Arecibo Observatory is known for world’s biggest and most sensitive radio telescope.Intersting fact,when I saw it I realized James Bond- The Golden Eye was shot there. Cueva Del Indio is famous for petro glyphs. I was amazed to see the rock formations in the ocean near these caves. Beautiful arches rushed with high waves looked spectacular. A must see totally.
El Yunque National Forest and Laguna Grande ( BIO BAY), Fajardo :
Located 25 miles east of San Juan, El Yunque National Forest is must see for its wide variety of flora and fauna. One can get all details, maps and guidance from El Portal Tropical Forest Center. You will have the choice of hiking trails or driving through. Trails range from easy to intense and a hike will allow you to take in a variety of sights, including waterfalls, lookout towers, and mountain peaks. There are no designated canteens or restaurants in El Yunque. So , if you are planning to hike, do carry food and water with you. Be prepared for rain. After spending most part of day hiking in forests, take a break at Luquillo beach near Fajardo. Come on you deserve it .
A rare natural wonder that you cannot miss while visiting Puerto Rico is bio-luminescence. There are three bio-bays in Puerto Rico. La Parguera (Southwest and least bright), Mosquito Bay (Vieques island and most bright) and La Laguna Grande (Fajardo and veru bright). There are only two ways to enjoy this trip either by Kayak or Electric Boats. It costs 40-50$ for Kayaks and 90$ for electric boat. All tour operators have their base at Las Croabas where they brief about the tour and give safety guidelines.My Suggestion will be not to miss the briefing section. You will realize its importance as you kayak through dark mangroves. Each trip takes about 2.5 hours from start to finish and by the end of it two things are sure to happen.
1) No matter what , you are going to get wet.
2) Your arms will be too tired , especially if you are going against the current.
Tips for Bio Bay:
a) Book well in advance. There are very rare chances of cancellations by others, so don’t bank on that.
b) It is best seen on a dark night, try to go when it is moonless or close to it.
c) Prepare to get wet. Wear shorts that will dry quickly.
d) Do listen to the briefings by tour operators. They are the life saviors in mangroves.
e) Do not carry any electronics, car keys, go pros(unless its waterproof and will remain attached to your body) etc with you to bio bay. You are bound to lose them.
f) There are no tours on Sunday. So plan accordingly.
Culebra and Viques Islands:
Travel (by plane or ferry) to Vieques or Culebra from Fajardo. A lot of companies run their day tours from Fajardo where they would take you to the island by ferry and will take you to fun activities like snorkeling. Flamenco is the most popular beach on Culebra and is gem of this island. It is one of those “picture postcard”beaches with white sand, blue water and pal, trees on the backdrop.Explore the island by renting car or bicycle.Vieques is famous for its bioluminescent Mosquito Bay and scenic trails along with pristine beaches. There is very limited accomodation options on both the islands so plan accordingly.
Ponce-Cabo Rajo :
Located in southwest part of Puerto Rico, Ponce is second largest city and the so-called “pearl of the South.”Head southwest on 52 for Ponce and you’ll notice a drastic change in landscape—from moist and lush to dry and cactus-marked arid mountains. But I guess that is the beauty of this area. You can take a trolley tour to visit all major landmarks of Ponce or visit some coffee plantations. Puerto Rico is famous for its coffee.
An hour further in southwest, there lies this beautiful town Cabo-Rajo which is famous for its dry forests. You will be surprised to know that Cabo-Rajo is always on alert for wild-fires, something you do not expect from a tropical place. If you manage to get to the lighthouse , the views from the top are beautiful. Take a peek over the edges of the cliffs. I assure you,it will be amazing.
You can enjoy the view of blue water followed by pink water and then green water. Yes you heard it right pink water and that is because of salt mines.
Cabo Rajo is famous for salt harvesting and the observatory people will be happy to give you a tour.
If you feel tired after a long drive, the beach next to lighthouse is all that you need. Its one of the most beautiful beaches in PR.
The places above are just to give you the idea of diversity and breaking the stereotype of Puerto Rico being termed as beach destination. If you budget your time carefully and tour around the island you’re likely to see why Puerto Rico’s nickname is the “Island of Enchantment.” If you have any questions email me or leave me a comment. I will try to answer as soon as possible. Do share your experiences. I will love to hear from you.
(All photo credits to www.photostains.com)