We are back from an 11 day trip to Puerto Rico – overall the trip was really great! We had a lot of fun, soaked up some tropical sun and local culture, and really had a chance to relax.
Day 1: travel day
Took us nearly all day to to get to San Juan, flying through Washington, Dulles with a 3 hour layover. We arrived at our apartment around 11pm after renting a car and getting lost navigating the narrow, one-way streets of San Juan. We found the apartment on www.vrbo.com, and it was very charming. The apartment came with an attached courtyard, which is a common architectural feature in Puerto Rico. We had a full kitchen, bedroom, living room and bathroom. It was quite large but very affordable compared to hotel prices in the area. It also allowed us to live like a local which made the entire experience much richer.
We spent the day walking around Old San Juan, touring Fort San Cristobal, and just taking in the sights. That evening we had a wonderful meal at Aureola and planned to have drinks at an open-air bar. Our plans were interrupted when we had to go find an ATM (the bar only accepted cash), and then discovered we earned a parking ticket (oops). Dave then had to try and find new parking, and determining why we were ticketed. The entire ordeal took nearly an hour, and we ended up having drinks at the bar where he finally found parking. The bartender at the bar helped Dave park the car into the tight spot so to return the favor we had a few drinks there. We met a couple of Germans from Switzerland at the bar as well. In the end it was just another little adventure.
Driving to the ferry in Fajardo was quite an adventure. Just getting out of Old San Juan is a challenge with its narrow, one way streets. Then navigating the not-well-marked highway system to the ferry in Fajardo was also an adventure (Puerto Ricans apparently don’t believe in road signs). We got to the ferry 5 min too late and had to wait 3 hours for the next one. We mostly hung out at a local little dive and drank the local beer, Medalla (pronounced me-dai-ja or me-dai-ya depending on the dialect).
The ferry takes about 1.5 hours to cross to Vieques, and you can easily find taxi’s to take you from there. We stayed at the WildPalm Guest House which is run by a couple from New Jersey. It was small, but clean and air-conditioned and had a little kitchenette so we were able to eat in the first night.
The proprietor of WildPalm drove us to Sun Bay beach around 10:30am. On our walk from the entrance down to the beach we encountered wild horses – a colt who seemed really friendly trotted up to us, I think in the hopes for a sugary snack. He let us pet him but he kept nuzzling Dave who was carrying a cooler. When we wouldn’t give him anything (all we had were some beers) he actually nipped Dave in the back of his arm (there’s a photo I took of the horse just before he did the nipping).
Once we made it down to the beach we laid out our beach towels in the shade of a palm tree and just relaxed and took in the beautiful view. At this point there was only one other couple in the area so we practically had the beach to ourselves. Dave ended up taking a little nap for about 30 min or so to the sound of the waves, and I went to get my feet wet in the water which was (to me) surprisingly warm. (Ok so I’ve never been in the tropics before … I’ve only ever encountered cold ocean water before).
I woke Dave from his nap when we started to lose the shade of the palm tree and decided to walk over to the next beach – Media Luna. I’d read about it in our travel guide and online and wanted to check it out. They were right – this was a fabulous beach. Both Media Luna and Sun Bay were relatively unpopulated, which was fabulous, but Media Luna has the most incredibly soft white sand, and the water was amazing. It remains waist deep for nearly 40 feet out and of course its warm as well. We spent the better part of an hour out in the water – which we regretted only slightly later on when we realized our sun block washed off and we both got ourselves a bit of sun burn (ouch). However it was worth the pain – I could have stayed there all day.
However we only had the 1 full day in Vieques so we couldn’t stay – and after we had our fill of ocean fun on Media Luna we hiked over to the nearest town, Esperanza. By the time we got to Esperanza we estimate we might have walked around 5 miles. I was getting tired and hungry (and therefore a tiny bit grumpy). Dave wanted to sign us up for a kayak tour of the bioluminescent bay, but at the time I was so tired I couldn’t imagine doing it. It took some convincing on his part but I finally acquiesced and we signed up. At this point it was around 4pm and the tour left at 6:30pm so we had some time to kill. We decided to eat at Bili (their menu outside sounded good). The food was excellent – I had the White Snapper which was pan fried and served whole in the pan with plantains (they eat a lot of plantains here). Dave had pork empanandas which were also excellent.
After that we walked around the town a bit in search for more sunscreen. We finally found some along with a few articles of clothing (a t-shirt for me, a hat for Dave) and a cool little water-proof container for cash that came in handy for the rest of the trip. The shop was part of the Trade Winds restaurant, bar and guest house. We stopped at the bar and had a couple of Piña Coladas.
We then made our way back to Blue Caribe for the Bioluminescent Bay kayak tour. That was truly a magical experience and one I would highly recommend doing. We went with a group of about 16 people, plus 2 tour guides. They drove us to Mosquito Bay (which is the name of the Bio Bay), and had us all suit up in life jackets, equipped us all with kayak paddles, and then had us line up and one by one row out into the bay. Then the main guide put on a blue glowing necklace so we could follow him more easily (it was very dark out). We paddled out to the middle of bay (I was a little too slow so they ended up anchoring me to Dave and he got to pull me … *grin*). As we kept going farther out we started noticing the lights around our paddles and shooting lights in the waters (which were actually fish that were being scared off by our kayaks). They tied up all the kayaks in the middle of the bay and anyone who wanted to was welcome to jump in and swim. I opted not to, but I did stick my hands in .. the water was extremely warm, and whenever you moved in the water, millions of little sparkles would light up. Of course its even more amazing when you actually swim in the middle of it. Unfortunately its not something easy to photograph and they asked us not to bring cameras so I didn’t even attempt to.
That night we slept really soundly after all the outdoor adventures and exercise we had that day.
This day was relatively uneventful. We got to the ferry on time with a taxi, had a smooth ferry ride back to Fajardo. We met a couple from Colorado on the ferry, and they had found a stray little doggie on Vieques. She never left their side on the island. They tried to find an owner and couldn’t, so they had the dog checked out and decided to keep her and bring her back to Colorado with them. They even invited us if we ever wanted to crash at their place in Evergreen. Apparently they live very close to the Red Rocks ampitheatre and so if we ever attend a concert there we are welcome to crash at their house instead of driving all the way home. That was very nice of them to offer.
From there we got back into our rental car and drove back to San Juan. We decided at this point to turn in the rental car (driving and parking in Old San Juan is an adventure we didn’t want to repeat again). We just took a taxi back to our apartment. We arrived a little early and they were still cleaning when we got there so they let us drop off our luggage and we decided to head out to a bar for a drink and we did some souvenir shopping as well. I ended up buying myself a Sarong. Every shop was selling them and even though its more of a South Pacific mode of dress, it seemed appropriate for the tropical climate. It took some trial and error to figure out how to wear it but I ultimately found a way that I liked.
The rest of the evening we just relaxed at the apartment and sipped on DonQ rum.
We slept in very late and had a late start to this day. We didn’t go out until nearly dark. We wanted to stretch our legs and also get an idea where to catch the ferry that goes across the bay to Cataña. We were planning to go there to do the Barcardi rum tour the following day. Then we wandered around some more, did some more souvenir shopping and then went back to our apartment where I fixed a spaghetti dinner for us.
We headed out around 11am for the ferry, which leaves every 30 min to Cataña. From there we got a taxi that took us to the Bacardi Rum plant. The entire operation there is very slick. Where the taxi drops you off, there is an open-air bar and an attendant who gives you a tour ticket and 2 tickets for free drinks. We had one drink before the tour began. They loaded us into an open-air trolley/tram and drove us over to another part of the compound. From there we went inside a building where we learned the history of Bacardi and the process of making rum. They started in a lobby area and then ushered us into a little movie theatre where we saw a 10 min movie. From there was a replica of the early offices of Bacardi and more history. From there was a museum like display with audio/video presentations, sniffing samples of different rums, molasses and yeast, and a video cam area where you can make a video email to send to friends. From there we were driven back to the open-air bar and enjoyed one last drink.
One thing I noticed was that you could not order a Piña Colada there (“Barcardi does not mix with Pineapple” I was told rather roughly). So I had a Daiquiri. We were also told on the tour that you could only buy the special Bacardi Reserve rum at their gift shop (for $150). And they did not allow any tastings of it. However we later found this same rum at the airport duty free shop for $80 (in other words they told a bold-faced lie).
From there we went back to Old San Juan, had a snack back at our apartment and then went walking around and took a few more photos. Then we stopped by the open air bar we didn’t make it back to on our first day (when the whole parking ticket debacle happened). We enjoyed a few drinks and chatted with the proprietor who was really cool. We also watched as folks were queuing up by some tables being set up … we were told that every Tuesday they set up there to feed the homeless and needy. They get a meal and a cup of coke. We saw a few people in line that honestly didn’t look that “needy” too.
Day 8: Lazy day
Just stayed in and chilled. Played Spore on my laptop and listened to the rain outside.
We decided we really liked Don Q rum better than Bacardi (Bacardi even markets their rum as a mixer, not one to sip straight). We discovered a little Don Q shop in Old San Juan, which has a little history of the company, a gift shop, and a free tasting bar. They even let us taste their high-end sipping rum the Grand Anjeo. It was excellent and it sold Dave – he got a bottle. Unfortunately they do not yet have US distributors for their Anjeo and Grand Anjeo rums so we also got a bottle of Anjeo to bring back too.
From there we decided to try a Japanese restaurant that came highly recommended – J-Taste. Their sushi was expensive but quite excellent. We went back to the apartment for awhile and then opted to go out for dinner later as well. First we tried to find another place that was recommended (the Brickhouse) but opted not to eat there after seeing the menu (just burgers and hot wings … eh). On the way back we contemplated Dragonfly (more japanese-fusion fare) but ended up at a Spanish Tapas place instead. We had salted cod croquettes, mussles and some kind of egg concoction (said it was a pancake but it was served like a slice of cake). All very good.
The rest of the evening was mostly relaxing and packing in the apartment.
We had to check out of the apartment a day before our flight (they had other guests arriving), so we booked our last night at the Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde Beach Resort. It was a nice transition back to “real life” – all upscale and airconditioned. The resort and beach were beautiful but the day was marred with heavy rain. We were not able to eat at the restaurant we wanted to (closed due to the weather), but the other restaurant there were serving the menu for anyone who wanted it so we were still able to enjoy. We had 2 appetizers and shared an entree (pan seared halibut). Then we enjoyed some drinks at the bar and spent some time in the casino.
I’ll admit it was nice to sleep in a real bed again (the apartment only had 2 futons). It ended up being a nice way to end the trip, but we were both glad we didn’t spent the entire trip at the resort (we would have really missed out on the real flavor of Puerto Rico).
Day 11: Travel Home
Typical long day back home. Highlights include finding a classic Galaga arcade game near our gate (Dave completely crushed 85,000 to 6300!). He also got a 2nd bottle of the Don Q Grand Anejo at the duty free shop. Then it was 3.5 hours to Washington Dulles, with a 2.5 hour layover. We thankfully were in the C concourse which was ideal because a friend recommended we try a tapas/wine bar there called Vino Vollo. We spent our layover there enjoying the tapas (a penne pasta with cheese, a cheese sampler plate, and a meat sampler plate) and trying different wine flights.
The flight from Washington Dulles to Denver was overall uneventful except for the last 45 min or so when I became quite queasy. I felt terrible for about an hour after the flight as well but got better by the time we finally arrived home, sometime after 11pm.
So that chronicles our adventures in Puerto Rico – I think this is officially my longest blog post ever!