#328: Go to Puerto Rico

San Cristobal Fort in Old San Juan

San Cristobal Fort in Old San Juan

LOCATION: San Juan, Puerto Rico

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Friday, December 13th: Puerto Rico was chosen by my friend, Becky, due to the fact she didn’t have a passport and this was American territory. Nice way of getting out of the country, without being out of the country I guess. Puerto Rico was given to the U.S. in 1898 when Spain surrendered it as part of their defeat in the Spanish-American war. Since then, the capital of San Juan has turned into a major and profitable port for the U.S. I arrived around 4pm today just in time for me to run to the beach and get my toes wet before sundown. The resort was nice with plenty of hammocks for relaxation on their vast beach. I decided to come a day before Becky since I wanted to relax on the beach before our adventures began. Relaxation would commence NOW.

Isla Verde beach outside the resort

Isla Verde beach outside the resort

Isla Verde beach outside the resort

Isla Verde beach outside the resort

Saturday, December 14th: Today, my plan was to relax on a lounge chair and tan all day. For those that know me, you know this is no easy task as I can’t seem to sit still very long. I’ve never just relaxed on a beach before and after an hour, I was over it. Becky wasn’t getting in till late tonight so my day was going to be long and boring, relaxing though indeed! For dinner, I was thrilled to have an authentic Puerto Rican buffet at the hotel. It was pretty good too.

Puerto Rican buffet at the resort

Puerto Rican buffet at the resort

The meal consisted of tamales, rice, turkey with a spicy cream sauce and fried plantains. The fried plantains were simply amazing since they put a semi sweet sauce on top. I could have eaten an entire bowl of those alone.

Sunday, December 15th: Finally Becky is here and our full day of adventures started at the Bacardi Distillery. This was a bucket list item of its own, so you can read about the experience HERE. After the Bacardi Distillery, we made our way to Old San Juan and to the Castillo de San Cristobal, or the San Cristobal Fort.

San Cristobal Fort in Old San Juan

San Cristobal Fort in Old San Juan

The fort was much larger than I could ever imagine. It was built in 1634 and finished in 1771. It provided one of the largest defenses in America and kept enemies out by its modular design.

San Cristobal Fort in Old San Juan

San Cristobal Fort in Old San Juan

San Cristobal Fort in Old San Juan

San Cristobal Fort in Old San Juan

I believe it too, because Becky and I continuously found ourselves lost in the puzzle of a fort. Soon after leaving, the sky decided to open up and rained on us as we walked along the streets of Puerto Rico.

Old San Juan

Old San Juan

This rain wouldn’t be the only we saw during this trip, in fact, it rained a good portion of the time and sporadically due to a “tropical” nature. The San Cristobal shares its defenses with El Morro, another fort on the other side of Old San Juan.

El Morro Fort in Old San Juan

El Morro Fort in Old San Juan

El Morro Fort in Old San Juan

El Morro Fort in Old San Juan

This fort was also intricate in its confusing design, but looked much more updated in its features. At the top, there were Puerto Rican guards demonstrating a canon fire just before the rain decided to pour on us again.

El Morro Fort in Old San Juan: canon demonstration

El Morro Fort in Old San Juan: canon demonstration

Soaked, we made our way to downtown Old San Juan for some shopping. Old San Juan is a 465 year old neighborhood with many restored Spanish colonial buildings from the 16th and 17th century. The streets are paved with a gorgeous blue cobblestone made from adoquine, brought over from Spanish ships.

Streets in Old San Juan

Streets in Old San Juan

Blue cobblestone street in Old San Juan

Blue cobblestone street in Old San Juan

The town was filled with small shops that provided everything from touristy goods, high end shopping and Puerto Rican art. After an exhausting day of walking and getting rained on, we arrived back to the resort in enough time to enjoy the swim up bar at the pool, something I’ve never done before surprisingly. Maybe that should have been on my list!

Swim up pool bar

Swim up pool bar

Pool bar

Pool bar

Monday, December 16th: Today was our jungle excursion. The adventure took us to a rainforest located 45 minutes south of San Juan near Caguas. The area was the countryside and provided much of the farming crops in the area. We were going to hike, rappel and zipline in the Carite Rainforest in the Yunque region. The day did not start off well with another massive rainfall everywhere. Being a tropical climate, we hoped that the rain would let up soon, but it didn’t. The hike started up a steep roadway and down to a river.

The start of the Jungle/Waterfall hike

The start of the Jungle/Waterfall hike

The river was at our ankles when we started the trip, but due to the rain, it was up to our knees by the end of the hike. The entire way we trekked through the river bed with waterfalls around every corner.

Jungle/Waterfall hike in the Yunque

Jungle/Waterfall hike in the Yunque

Jungle/Waterfall hike in the Yunque

Jungle/Waterfall hike in the Yunque

Jungle/Waterfall hike in the Yunque

Jungle/Waterfall hike in the Yunque

We also did some climbing up rock formations to get through the area. As we walked further into the forest, the water began to get more murky and rough from the flash flood that was approaching. We reach a rock wall that we needed to climb up to get to our 80 foot waterfall rappel point (the one thing I really wanted to do on this trip). However, the access route was blocked by water gushing over and the guide had to make the call that the flash flood was way too dangerous to pass through or do the rappel, which meant no waterfall rappel and no waterfall swimming was getting crossed off today. The tour wasn’t canceled though, as we could still finish with the three ziplines out of the rainforest. The tour ended with a meal provided by a local Puerto Rican family. We were provided chicken (which was probably killed that morning), rice and beans and a coconut flan.

Eating at a Puerto Rican family's house after the Jungle/Waterfall hike in the Yunque

Eating at a Puerto Rican family’s house after the Jungle/Waterfall hike in the Yunque

Bird in the Yunque

Bird in the Yunque

Chickens on the family's farm. We probably ate one of them for lunch

Chickens on the family’s farm. We probably ate one of them for lunch

While the jungle adventure was short, what we did get to do was very intense, strenuous and super fun. I highly recommend this tour for a true adventure into the jungle…just go during a much dryer time.

Since we finished the tour earlier than we thought, we made our way to the town of Condado. This area provided lots of shopping much like Old San Juan did, but it looked much more upscale than any of the other areas I’d been to.

Beach in Condado

Beach in Condado

If I was to stay in Puerto Rico again, this would be the area I would go to for sure. We decided to eat at a place called Hacienda de Jose.

Authentic Puerto Rican food

Authentic Puerto Rican food

This was the first place out in town that we were eating at and provided authentic Puerto Rican food, I wanted to know what the food culture was really like! Much of the menu was seafood like octopus, red snapper and squid.

Typical Puerto Rican menu at Hacienda de Jose

Typical Puerto Rican menu at Hacienda de Jose

There were also a lot of variations on the plantains. I stuck with a breaded steak and plantains, and the local beer, Medalla light (which is fantastic!) The meal was good, however I’d really like some American food right now!

Monday, December 17th:  Today’s adventure took us snorkeling in the beautiful region of Fajardo. We were taken to a beach area for practice and then a local 18 foot reef.

Beach in Fajardo

Beach in Fajardo

Snorkeling in Fajardo

Snorkeling in Fajardo

The reef was not the prettiest I’ve seen, but a great start for Becky who was new to the sport. While on the boat, I managed to complete my goal of sending a message in a bottle. You can read about that experience HERE. After snorkeling, we headed to our kayak adventure to see the bioluminescent bay. You can read about that experience HERE.

After arriving back late, we were tired and ready to leave the next day. Our mini adventure was fun, beautiful and made a great place to travel. After so much variations of Puerto Rican food, I’ve determined I really like plantains, but that is about it.

Merry Christmas from San Juan Puerto Rico!

Merry Christmas from San Juan Puerto Rico!

The other food just wasn’t that appealing, and especially not for the price. Everything in Puerto Rico seemed to be extremely high on the price scale and I’m not sure why. I’m also in awe of the vast language barrier there. Since it’s a U.S. territory, I didn’t think that the Spanish/English gap was going to be so large, but it was. However, Puerto Rico provides a great “international” experience for those not able to get out of our Country.

*Thanks Becky for accompanying me on this adventure.

WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? It was a fun island, and I enjoyed visiting it very much. However, I’d like to enjoy other places before making it back here.

HOW TO DO THIS: I would personally stay in Old San Juan, Condado, or Isla Verde for good hotels. Taxis here offer flat rate prices to get around town and are very convenient. It does cost a lot to park a car, and the driving is really awful, so taxis might be the smart choice.

The jungle tour is highly recommended. It was $148 www.ecoquestpr.com

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