Hello! So, let me introduce you to my younger sister, Gabriela. At 24 years old she recently moved to New York City and works a steady 9-5 who loves to travel! As mentioned in my update post, I probably won’t be traveling much this year. But I have a huge family who do travel, almost every month. Gabi has agreed to write some guest posts where she’ll share some tips, insight, and trip reports. P.S. She’s a thrifty traveler so if budgeting is your thing, she’s the one to go to. Read on about her recent Puerto Rico getaway!
Puerto Rico wasn’t at the top of my travel list but I’m so so happy that, given the circumstances, it ended up being my next destination. In the midst of 30 degree weather for months (mild Winter for NY actually, but as a Cali transplant – still rough) a friend and I wanted to do a quick, low cost vacation because;
1. Why not but 2. Rollover vacation days expired end of March so it was necessary.
If you’re on the East Coast, Puerto Rico is a great destination since the flight only runs for about $275 round trip and is only 4 hours South. We stayed in an Airbnb in Condado around 10 minutes from the airport.
Our flight was at 10:45 PM and we arrived around 2:45 AM on Friday. Our other friend, my friend’s brother, had arrived earlier and already checked into our Airbnb. We got a cab to our Studio in Condado which was $21 not including tip. We woke up around 9 and got ready for the day then grabbed an early lunch that was close to Avis who we rented our car from for Friday and Saturday. Tip: always check with your company if you have any corporate discounts. At my company, we’re usually a part of a benefit program like plum benefits or AnyPerk that offers discounts at many different places. We were able to get 35% off our daily rate with my corporate discount. Without extra protection total was $83 for 2 days, with protection it came out to $150 total. A little hefty, but it’s always a good idea to get full coverage especially when traveling. A lot of our plans were 40 miles away on the east side of the island.
For lunch we went to Kabanas – best taco place ever!! It’s a little taco truck with seating and a nice breezy view of a park in front of Condado Beach. They’re known for their fish tacos so I ordered that. The fish of the day was tuna and I got one seared and one raw which were 2 for $15.50. A little pricey, but it was too worth it. My favorite part about the tacos was the flour tortilla which they crusted with breaded Parmesan and was nice and crispy. Afterwards, we picked up the car and headed to Luquillo Beach.
Luquillo Beach was recommended to me by my boss and did not disappoint. It was the only clear day, according to the forecast, so we wanted to make sure we got as much sun in as possible. Parking was easy at the beach, we parked behind the row of little kiosks with food and some retail stuff. Luquillo was beautiful, nice calm waters with a little shack with Pina Coladas served in a hollowed out pineapple and 151 if you want to make it alcoholic. Around 5 we stopped by the kiosks and tried a variety of deep friend Puerto Rican snacks including a ball of mashed potatoes and ground beef, a rolled taco, ceviche, and fresh coconut. Along with the kiosks there were also some bars and we had some cheap beers and danced salsa with the locals- or in my case tried to learn to dance.
That night we had to check out La Placita, which is a well known area with lots of bars and nightlife. Conveniently this was right around the corner from our Airbnb so we just walked. A lot of people just littered the street, walking around with eerie drinks and talking. The bars were fun, packed, and populated with tourists mostly. It was a fun night even though that wasn’t exactly what we were looking for since my friends are big Reggaeton fans – or what they would call it Reggaetoneros – but the local Reggaeton places locals told us about were also dangerous for non-locals to go to without knowing someone.
We booked a day trip to the Culebra Islands from Faarjado marina for Saturday through Viator (a company of Trip Advisor) for ~$100/per person. We just barely made the boat take off time.. we were lucky they were having delays that morning because they don’t hold the boat. The boat ride was 45 minutes long and served beverages, rum punch, and Pina Coladas. Our first stop was by a reef to go snorkeling. They claim its in the top 5 reefs in the world but I highly doubt that. I didn’t snorkel myself, since I realized I’m afraid of being submerged in water, but my friends said the reef was nice but not very colorful and not as much life – unfortunately. Either way the boat trip included snorkeling, then lunch, then we rode over to Flamenco Beach. The beach was great! The sand was really soft and powdery and the water turquoise blue. There were a couple other boats there as well. After the beach we headed back to Farjado marina where we left from. The staff on the ship said they’ll often come across whales and other sea life while traveling back – we didn’t this time.
Tip: If you can, maybe if you have a larger group, bypass the boat tour and book your own boat (w/ driver so you can enjoy) and travel to these islands. That way you’ll be able to dictate how long and which destinations you go to. Would’ve loved if we were able to bring our stuff to shore at Flamenco Beach so we could have laid out, but this wasn’t an easy feat since the boat had to anchor in deeper waters so we swam to shore.
It was a long, tiring day and we were starving so we decided to go to a restaurant our Puerto Rican friends had recommended called Restaurante Raices in Old San Juan. They said this place had great authentic Puerto Rican food and to try their Mofongo, which is meat encased in a plantain bowl. We met some friends that we met the night before at the restaurant since they coincidentally were dining there too. It was a fun dinner, we celebrated one of their birthdays, and it was nice to spend time with good company. I ordered the grilled Mahi-Mahi in a creole sauce and a beef Mofongo to share with my friend while her brother ordered the steak Mofongo. Our dishes weren’t that great – the beef Mofongo came out a little dry – I think steak would have been the better choice.
We headed back to the apartment to rest and get ready for the night.. which turned into all of us knocking out and missing out on meeting up to go out. We were okay with this since it had been such a long two days so far.
Rested and ready for another eventful day! Our flight back to New York was at 3:45 AM (yes, ridiculous flight times but these were the only ones available) so our plan was to eat, return the rental and get another rental – this was because Avis, our initial rental company closed early Sunday while Enterprise closed later and the decision to rent a car for Sunday was kind of last minute – then head to the rain forest, and then spend our last night out until our flight. For lunch we planned to get tacos from Kabanas again… we just couldn’t leave PR without them one more time. Although we saw a farmer market set up close by Kabanas in an open field in front of the beach and decided to go there instead. It was the cutest little farmers market (cash only of course) with all kinds of PR and Spanish influenced food as well as little crafts and products. I bought a really tasty salsa verde hot sauce from one of the stands to take back with me. Then we ordered several food items from the stands to share between the three of us. We ordered a breakfast burrito, Ceviche Areppa, and a pork shoulder hot dog – all delicious!
Next we went to Enterprise, witch was close by to pick up our car. We reserved it that morning using my corporate discount which came out to ~$40 total for the day. We were only planning on keeping it until 5 PM so that we get it back by the time Enterprise closed but they informed us that they have a drop box we can leave the keys if they’re closed, a plus compared to Avis who did not offer this! Then, to our surprise when they brought us our car is was a big Jeep! I had to confirm they had our order correct and we weren’t going to pay the $100+/day rate that Jeeps would run for and they said we got a free upgrade! Again, corporate discount perks – always check if your company offers any deals it definitely paid off. The rain forest was about an hour away – most nature attractions are on the East side of the island which we had traveled to every day of our trip. Driving up the winding roads of the rain forest in our Jeep was adventurous and felt like a scene out of a Jurassic Park movie. We were a bit worried it would rain on us when we hiked to the waterfalls, but so far so good. The waterfalls were easy to find with clearly marked signs and roads.
First we stopped at La Coca Falls which is a tiny dribbling fall down the side of a huge rock wall. Its easy to climb onto the rocks for some good photo ops. Then about 10 more minutes up the mountain you’ll see a small parking lot for the La Mina Falls hiking trail. There is also parking along the side of the mountain and fortunately we were able to find a spot quickly. The trail was fairly easy, about a 30 minute hike with a decent amount of inclines, but still a mild hike. The whole trail is paved and there are was a moderate amount of people on it, although we weren’t heel to heel, I can imagine it can get that crowded. Once we arrived at the falls it was littered with people. But the waterfall was beautiful and there were several levels after the initial fall where the water stream down into other small pools and eventually to a small river. Apparently water fall water is freezing – which, when you think about it makes sense since its fresh. But we went in and waded in the water and got our pics, which was kind of difficult to get a good one since there were so many people in the background. Eventually we found a good rock we could stand on top of that allowed a great view of the waterfall with limited people. By the time we were about ready to head out it started pouring rain! We were fortunate it didn’t come earlier! So we hiked back in the rain which wasn’t terrible since the rain forest was sheltered enough to protect us from most of the rain and by the time we got out the shower was over.
We headed back to Condado to return the car and decided we wanted to get Kabanas finally! Best decision ever – we wanted to eat at another Puerto Rican restaurant afterwards so we only got one taco. This time I got a steak taco with melted cheese and it did not disappoint. Then we headed to Cafe del Angel which was down the street from Kabanas. Cafe del Angel was delicious! We got the Mofongo again, just to give it another try and their Canoa which is a beef stuffed plantain with melted cheese on top. The food was much better here and they had good Pina Coladas too. Then we walked home to get ready for the night.
We went out in Old San Juan, first to this one kinda dive bar that has 3 for $5 beers. The whole trip everyone would recommend this bar called La Factoria but after looking it up and seeing the phrases “like a New York bar” on Yelp we decided that’s not what we were looking for – we go to New York bars all the time. But we headed that way and as we were on our way the place next door to La Factoria was playing some really fun Salsa music. We asked how to get in, because we didn’t see an entrance and turns out that WAS La Factoria! They have multiple rooms that played different kinds of music. The salsa room was kind of hidden in the back through a serious of doors, but it was the liveliest. I get what people meant when they compared La Factoria to a New York bar because they served pricey-for-PR crafted cocktails and had a more upscale-ish feel but was still a lot of fun. People were dancing great salsa and it was entertaining to watch! I’m pretty sure this couple was professional. Then the whole room joined in on dancing, even myself. The atmosphere at this bar was really friendly and open. Around 2 we grabbed a Lyft, picked up our stuff, and headed to the airport where security was a breeze to go through.
Puerto Rico was a great destination for a short, quick vacation. If you plan to go there, be sure to do your research and plan your excursions out. No need to always opt for the purchased tours, for example the La Mina hike is definitely doable on your own. Although most of the adventures were on the East side of the island, an hour away from San Juan, I would still recommend staying in San Juan so you’re close to all the night life and just rent a car. There are some things we didn’t get to do but would love to experience in the future like exploring old San Juan, spending the day in Condado and Condado beach, Visiting the fort, and going to Bio Bay or some other bio-luminescent water excursion. It’s a great place that I would definitely visit again and you could easily fit it into a 3 day vacation or spread it out over 5 or 6 days and experience more!