What to do when a “visitor” comes to visit me in Puerto Rico?
Here’s my preferred list to take Hector the Honduran during his visit, and with only 3 days I want to stay within an hour of San Juan. Includes ‘must hit’ places that have a good amount of variety, although I might cheat a bit and put in ideas from this visit and another Hector visit 🙂
Aventura Tierra Adentro PR (http://www.aventuraspr.com/) : I’ve now used these guys for both canyoning (see previous post from January 2010) and this trip with Hector caving through the Rio Camuy caves. They’ll pick you up early in the morning (5:30) and bring you back by mid-afternoon (3:30 or so). First, it’s amazing how organized, on-time and SAFE they are given that… well this is Puerto Rico. These things can’t be taken for granted. They have the ‘fun’ aspect down to a science, and great helpful photographers too 🙂 Getting to the Rio Camuy caves you hike in, zip line around the forest and then repell down (truly amazing). Inside the caves you’ll swim, hike, jump, see the amazing stalagtites and stalagmites … you might even have a chance as we did to do a mini-mud run. okay, we’re competitive so thankfully I didn’t land head first into the mud and will concede that Hector won. Lunch is far within the caves and under the stars (or a string of christmas lights, and candles 😉 Trekking out isn’t quite as long, back through the river for a bit of a ride, a few more jumps and you’re back above land. You traverse out ziplining, and climbing. Amazing times – and amazingly coordinated.
El Conquistador Resort, Fajardo, PR: Alright, disclaimer is that perhaps this isn’t exactly the ‘right’ thing to do. El Conquistador is located in Fajardo on the east side of the island. Perhaps about an hour outside of San Juan, really easy to get to and maybe 15 minutes away from El Yunque. The water at El Conquistador is caribbean through and through. Hence, when I’m looking for an ‘outside’ of San Juan casual, laid back day I’ll take people to El Conquistador to lay out at the pool, have a few drinks, etc. This also works to supplement of day with El Yunque in the morning or kayaking out of Fajardo biolumnescient bay at night. The catch is, that technically you’re supposed to be a hotel guest. I hope they don’t put my face up at the security gate for saying this ! I just tell the security guy I’m going to the pool on the way in (in English, no hablo espanol en este caso) and there’s never an issue. There’s two pool bars, the pool is never crowded, the crowd is a mixture of upscale couples, adult ‘getaways’ and a few families but not too many screaming kids.
Surrounded with Locals: This might be hard for you to do if you don’t know anyone on the island. Puerto Ricans are amazingly friendly and welcoming, though, and so if you ever are offered to join a family or get together of any sort do not think twice in accepting. While of course I live on the island, when Hector came to town we also had the opportunity to visit with his family friends for a bit of a get together. Of course, after the party we had another 10 invitations to pack the schedule for the rest of the trip! Thank you to Rolando and his wife for the amazing company, great spirits and I wish I could remember what kind of soup that was that everyone enjoyed.
El Yunque and Inside Puerto Rico: I have written about el Yunque so many times in the past. It really is a must do, and really easy to get to. What perhaps I haven’t mentioned is the lesser known areas of El Yunque. If you drive the usual road into El Yunque about a mile before you get to the turn-off on Highway 3 you’ll see a green bar on the South side of the road. (I recognize right now I sound like a Puerto Rican giving directions here). Always cars are lined up, and for good reason they have some of the best road side Caribe food that I’ve found. If you see it stop. If you don’t want the usual route into El Yunque take a look at the map, there’s lots of other drives around the forest. All of which in my opinion have more amazing views (if you end up on 186, 956, 960) and the southern routes (191, and other turnoffs you won’t find on maps) have waterfalls and other hikes lesser known to tourists along the way that you can stop. Easy to see from the road and many times you’ll see cars pulled off to the side of the road. If you have time for a “Sunday Drive” I would highly recommend taking a few hours extra to just drive the area, it’ll bring a unique sense of the natural surroundings of PR. This visit Hector and I drove down Highway 52, I couldn’t even tell you which road we got off at and stopped for lunch at a ‘mountain’ restaurant, enjoying sangria, mofongo, appetizers, etc.
La Placita (Santurce): This too has been on previous posts but is worth restating. La Placita during the day is an open market with fresh fruits, vegetables, etc. There’s also a place that sells cafe con leche and their Batida’s (smoothies) are amazing. I would recommend the Batida Mixta con leche (mixed fruit with milk). I would actually have a higher recommendation for a Batida made with Zapote but usually this is not available (if it is, grab it!) I’m sure it’s a sugar/ glucose overload but whatever you’re on vacation so live it up 🙂 You can get both for only a few bucks (and the batida is a blenders worth so they’ll give you one to drink and the left over to go… There’s a ton of great restaurants for lunch around La Placita as well with local PR food and a bar is open during the day outside the market (they also sell fresh grapefruit / orange juice which is great to pick-up). At night the place comes alive with bars everywhere, open air music, a number of other stands at the market open up to become bars as well. Whether it’s day or night stop by and you’ll be in for a cultural experience that’s different everytime.
Viejo San Juan: You’re going to end-up here. Living here is amazing, walking around with anyone with easy, El Morro, San Cristobal, cobblestone streets, El Batey bar (on Calle Cristo) when you’re thirsty, Paseo del Morro for a run or El Convento for White Sangria. Just walk, you’ll run into everything in this square mile.
Bodega Chic (51 Calle Del Cristo, Viejo San Juan): My favorite restaurant by far, although it’s not local food. The food is amazing, the wine is good and the company you can’t beat. Every trip on the island starts and ends with Bodega (especially if it’s brunch on Sunday), a french contemporary restaurant owned by Brahim, a french-algerian who worked in New York until opting out of the fast pace for San Juan. Everything on the menu is great, even as a vegetarian I die for the food. French fries (the best anywhere, just go ahead and order one as an appetizer and one with the meal), the asparagus & blue cheese salad (thank you, Brahim, for almost always having one hidden even when not on the dinner specials), the baked goat cheese, soups, salads, eggs florentine. … my carnivorous friends would have the lamb, couscous, baked chicken, etc. also on the list. Yum!
Jam (Condado): Jam on Sundays has (or maybe now had) half off drinks, Mondays half off dinners which is truly amazing. The food here is fantastic; I would call it Caribe fusion perhaps. You have to try the white bean soup with truffle oil and dusted with pancetta. You can google it and find the reviews that say the same. At this point I believe it’s #12 / 412 restaurants in San Juan. Mostly non-tourist probably because Condado is much more local than is Viejo San Juan, especially the east side Jam is located on.
Ocean Park Beach (Ocean Park): If you’re going to the beach (which ironically this time Hector & I didn’t have time to get to…) this is the one to go to. The best beach bar in town in my opinion is also here, Hosteria del Mar. If you’re lucky Graciela will be your server. She’s amazingly nice, helpful and Argentinean.
Old San Juan Hotel (Isla Verde): Last time Hector was in-town we went, this time we didn’t have time as well. But if you’re looking for a great hotel to hang at the pool, a spa day, a great place to go salsa dancing at night or a bar with a view (and a mechanical bull) OSJ has all of this and more.
So much more to put on the list but for now these would be my top ‘must haves’ that I think provide a well rounded experience and all within an hour of San Juan. We had such a great time, but of course with this island and good company you can’t go wrong.