We flew in on Thursday, July 28th, and landed in San Juan that evening. We picked up the keys to our condo (thanks, VRBO!), which had a great view of the Atlantic Ocean and decided to go exploring. We wandered around a bit looking for something to eat, and happened across the Ritz Carlton Hotel that was just up the beach from our condo. We ended up returning there quite a bit for various amenities on our trip. We grabbed dinner in their “casual” restaurant (which didn’t seem to be that casual), but had WONDERFUL food, and decided to call it a night.
We got up and took a short walk on the beach back to the Ritz to see if we could book some excursions through their travel office. We booked a kayak tour at Fajardo Bioluminescent Bay, and a rainforest hike/tour. Once our tour business was taken care of, we asked around, and determined that taking the bus would be the easiest way for us to get out to Old San Juan. After a long bus ride, we arrived at the corner of the island. Old San Juan is a large island on the north side of Puerto Rico, and is a bit of a small historic colonial city within the city. Old San Juan is surrounded by a large wall, and has two large Spanish forts that used to be the gateway to the Caribbean. Before the United States took over in the late 19th century, San Juan was an important Spanish gateway to the Caribbean islands. Fortresses and city walls were made to protect their harbors from invaders. We wandered around the city and walked through both of the massive forts on the island. The forts were really interesting to explore since they all had multiple levels and many lookouts and turrets to traverse. After a long hot day of hiking around Old San Juan, we took a long bus ride back to the condo to rest.
Day three started with a little relaxation. We slept in a bit, and then rolled out of bed to hit the beach. We “borrowed” some beach chairs from the Ritz Carlton and sat in the sun to read a little bit. We may have treated ourselves to a couple tropical drinks before taking a dip in the ocean. We grabbed lunch from a street vendor on the beach (a Puerto Rican hamburger and hotdog). We hung out on the beach a bit more to let our food digest, then headed back to the condo to clean up. After washing out all the sand, we went for a short walk to what became our favorite restaurant on the trip, La Playita. It was our favorite because it was right next door to the condo, sat right on the ocean, and because they made great strawberry Mojitos! We ordered a local appetizer of Steak Mofongos (fried plantain cups filled with marinated steak), and some delicious Mojitos. After our snack, we returned to the condo to rest a bit (it’s tough work relaxing!!). We took a quick catnap, grabbed a bit of dinner, and got our things together for our Fajardo Bioluminescent Kayak Tour. We walked back to the Ritz Carlton again and got in a van to drive us an hour to Fajardo. When we arrived, they were having a blackout, making things a bit tough. We were given a short kayaking demo, and assigned to a two-person kayak and thrown into the water. We were a bit leery at first since it was pretty windy, and in the pitch black it seemed like we were out in the middle of the ocean. That changed quickly when we started winding through a narrow stream covered on all sides by trees and vines. There were about 20 people in our group, so a long line of kayaks wound their way through this canal for about 20-30 minutes in the pitch black. Needless to say, there were a few collisions in the darkness. Throwing a bunch of people who have likely never been in a kayak before into a dark tunnel and having them row in a straight line was a bit difficult. We finally arrived in the bay, and it was really amazing! The water is full of micro-organisms (dinoflagellates) that glow a green-blue light when they are disturbed by something moving through the water. So as we paddled our kayaks, or moved our hands and feet through the water, it glowed amazing blue green light. It’s hard to explain, and none of the photos or videos I could find do it justice because it’s so dark. I found one video that shows it, but it’s something that you really need to experience. After spending a little while playing in the glowing water, we make the difficult (DARK!) paddle back to the van and headed back to the condo where we hit the sack for a short night.
We got up early and followed our well-worn path back to our favorite place (Ritz Carlton), to get on another van to take us to the El Yunque rain forest. The drive was about an hour, and when we arrived our first stop was the La Coca Falls, a fairly large waterfall near the entrance to the park. After a short photo-op, we jumped back into the van and rode to the trail-head. There was a nice path that we followed along a flowing creek through the rainforest. We hiked for about 20 minutes and came across another big waterfall that had a pool below it with people swimming. We were wearing our suits, so we decided to ditch our bag and jump in. IT. WAS. COLD! We carefully made our way back to the falling water, which was very difficult on the uneven slippery rocks in the pool. We eventually made it under the water, and could barely see it was coming down so fast. We had someone snap a few photos, but it’s hard to see it under the pouring water. After getting our photos, we worked our way back out to the trail again to hike down to where the van was waiting for us. After changing clothes, we rode to the last destination on the tour to the Yokahu Observation Tower, an old observation tower with great views of the forest and a city nearby. We climbed the spiral staircase and took a few photos at the top before piling back into the van to head back to San Juan. We arrived back at the condo, cleaned up a bit, and went to our favorite restaurant (La Playita) for a few yummy Mojitos and a walk on the beach to round out a fun-filled day.
On our 5th (and last full day) in Puerto Rico, we slept in a little bit and then walked to the bus stop. We hopped on a bus to Old San Juan, then found Pier 2 and jumped on a ferry that we took to Cantaño, where we disembarked and quickly found a cab to take us to Casa Bacardi. Casa Bacardi is the main Bacardi distillery for most of the world. We exited our cab and walked up to the Bacardi Pavilion (shaped like a gold flying bat), where they gave us our free drink tickets. The English-speaking tour didn’t start for about 30 minutes, so we had a seat and drank some free rum. The tour took us through the history of the company. They originally started in Cuba, and left for obvious reasons. The tour was interesting, but was a little like a big advertisement for Bacardi. They told us about their process for making rum, and we got to smell different samples and flavors of the varieties that they make. After the tour I bought a muddler (to make Mojitos) from the gift shop, and we took another cab back to the pier, and the ferry back to Old San Juan. We visited a Puerto Rican restaurant for lunch that was supposedly the birthplace of the Piña colada. We did a little more exploring in Old San Juan along with finding a couple geocaches, one which was surrounded by pigeons that freaked Jess out. We got back on the bus and rode back to the condo. We cleaned up, and hit the beach again since it was our last night on the island, then we went to our favorite restaurant again for dinner, and went for a long walk on the beach to get some ice cream before heading back to our last night in the condo.
For our last day in Puerto Rico, we got up a bit earlier than we had previously, and took a final walk on the beach, nearly beating a quick rain shower. We packed our suitcases and called a cab (in Spanish!) to take us to the airport. We learned in the airport that Tropical Storm Emily was bearing down on the island. Apparently the governor gave everyone the day off to prepare for the oncoming weather. We were a bit worried we wouldn’t get out, but all of our flights were right on time and we made it back to Iowa a bit earlier than expected.
We had a really fun trip, and it was tough to leave. We really got used to our daily stroll on the beach followed up by a Mojito. Check out photos from the trip in our gallery!