A November 2005 trip
to San Juan by Pony Boy
Quote: Our trip to Puerto Rico was fun-filled and adventurous. Rather than spending all of our time in the tourist town of San Juan, we also rented a car and explored the entire northern half of the island, planning various activities and experiencing new things along the way.
If you are in Puerto Rico, you should definitely try to get outside of the city of San Juan. Even though the tourist areas are nice, it does become somewhat mundane. There are many nice restaurants in San Juan and most people there speak English well. If you don't know Spanish, it should be an issue IF you stay around the tourist areas. The farther out you stray from the tourist area, the more broken English you will hear. If you decide to rent a car and travel out, I would highly suggest the East Islands Excursions, Tropical Trail Rides and the Bacardi Rum Factory Tour. The sailing is located on the eastern part of the island and is only per person.
Activities include snorkeling at couple different spots, exploring a deserted island, a lunch, and you get all the free rum drinks you want. The staff was very friendly, funny, and it was a great time. On the sail, you can also see the Virgin Islands and St. Martin off in the distance. The tropical trail rides takes you on a two hour horseback ride through forest trails and beaches. This is located at the western part of the island. The Bacardi Rum tour is actually in the city of San Juan and offers a free tour with two free rum drinks of your choice.
Many locals talk about the Camuay caves. There you can do some exploring, kayaking, and rock climbing. Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit this. Exploring Old San Juan is another exciting venture. There you walk through the old cobble stone streets, and see many interesting things, including the San Juan Cathedral (the burial site of Ponce de Leon), the old and pastel colored housing, talking parrots, ocean front views, and numerous street vendors selling shell necklaces and bracelets.
You should also visit the El Morrow, which was and old Spanish fortress that protected the harbor back in 17th century. The fortress stands 150 feet above see level and you can get some fantastic views of the harbor, Old San Juan, and the south Atlantic.
The best way to get around the San Juan area is to take a taxi. From the airport to the main tourist area is about . Interestingly enough though, there were no running meters in the taxis we took. The prices are listed on the side of the vehicle but they tell you the price after they drop you off. So, it might be good to tell them your destination and ask for the price before you get in.
Traffic in San Juan is an absolute bear. It is jam packed most times of the day and week. The roads are not very wide either and drivers tend to cut other drivers off quite frequently. You can rent a scooter to help you avoid some traffic. It's apparently legal in Puerto Rico to drive in-between vehicles.
Walking is an option to some places close by, but to really see Puerto Rico, you should rent a car and drive to other parts of the country outside of San Juan. If you do rent a car, GET CAR INSURANCE. Car drivers tend to not obey traffic laws in some areas. They run red lights, cut in and out of traffic, and speed.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 6, 2005
Radisson Ambassador Plaza Hotel and Casino
1369 ASHFORD AVE
San Juan, Puerto Rico
This place is located in the city of San Juan and is about 20 feet away from the ocean, and if you get a seat next to the open-air windows, it is a relaxing break away from the sun and heat of the day. They serve both Puerto Rican and Mexican food. I highly suggest the pork and onions with rice and beans, a Puerto Rican dish that is very good. The food was pretty good and the portions were decent.
The hotel is about a 10-minute cab ride (20-minute walk) from the tourist area of Ashford Avenue. If you decide to walk, the neighborhood is nice. There didn't seem to be much crime or poverty, so you should be pretty safe. We also didn't run into any beggars along the way. There are quite a few restaurants, bars, clubs, shops, and hotels along the way, so the only thing that might happen is getting sidetracked on your way there or back. They have a friendly staff and they spoke English pretty well.
Hacienda Don José
1025 Ashford Ave.
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00907
This place is more of a dress-up restaurant with a nice atmosphere. It is located on the tourist street of Ashford Avenue. Depending on what time you decide to eat dinner, you may want to make reservations. We arrived around 8pm and didn't have any problems getting a table. The dress attire here is a little dressier than most places we visited. Nice slacks and a dress shirt should be fine.
Our waiter (I believe his name was Carlos) had our wine order to us literally 20 seconds after we ordered. He was on the ball with everything we ordered, and the service there was great. The menu was in both English and Spanish, and the staff was is very willing to accommodate you in any way they can. The halibut and the steak we ordered were excellent! If you’re looking for a nice restaurant for dining and good conversation, I would suggest this place.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 6, 2005
1052 Ashford Avenue
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00907
+1 787 725 9195
Attraction | "East Wind Excursions"
The sailing place we went through was called East Islands Excursions (http://www.eastwindcats.com/.) I’m going to plug them because that was the highlight of the trip. For $60 per person you go out on a 4-hour sail; have all the free rum drinks you want (yes, I said free), along with lunch; visit two snorkeling spots, where you can view some coral reefs; and stop at a desert island to explore the beach or go swimming. The staff was very friendly and funny, and it was a great time. On the sail you can also see the Virgin Islands and St. Martin off in the distance. I highly suggest this place as a top to-do on your list.
The sailing place is located in the city of Fajardo, which is about an hour or so east of San Juan. You can rent a car, and they do have a shuttle that picks you up and drops you back at the hotel for $20 a person. If you drive out there, beware the traffic in and out of San Juan. Try leaving in the early morning or late evening. Traffic in and outside of San Juan is horrible.
East Wind II - Sailing
Puerto Del Rey
San Juan, Puerto Rico
It takes about an hour or so to get to the national forest, and the roads up the mountain are like something straight out of a movie. The forest is located in Rio Grande and is east of San Juan. You'll need to rent a car to get there. Some hotels, like the Holiday Inn Express, do offer shuttles. You get beautiful views of the rain forest and countryside.
There were a total of 10 trails you could venture through. Out of time, we choose only one trail, and it was about a 40-minute walk away from a cascading waterfall you could swim in. Try to get there somewhat early or you'll run into numerous other people exploring the trails. Some of the trails are paved and others are dirt, and there is one path that isn't kept up at all. If it happens to rain, be careful; the paved trails are very slippery and the unpaved ones are very muddy. It's suggested that you wear hiking boots, and if you decide to wander off on the unkempt path, you should consider wearing long pants. That one is more for the adventurous explorers. There is station at the bottom of the hill where you can purchase a map of the trails, water, and other trinkets. Some trails are flat; others are more up hill and challenging. I highly suggest picking up a map beforehand and planning your day's hike.
Walking through the paths is very peaceful. If you look carefully up at the trees, you can see all sorts of birds, parrots, lizards, and other sorts of creatures of the forest. I could have spent all day on those trails, but we had plans to drive across the island.
Rain Forest Hiking
Hc-01 Box 13490
San Juan, Puerto Rico
My girlfriend and I planned a 5-day trip down to explore the island of Puerto Rico. The trip was both relaxing and adventurous. It was a first time for both of us down in the Caribbean, and being from the Twin Cities, it was a great getaway from the early December snow and cold. The first day we flew into San Juan and arrived late evening. In total, the plane ride from Chicago was a little over 4 hours. They are 2 hours ahead. We were staying at the Radisson for the first two nights, so the first night we were going to take things easy for the long day ahead. The taxi from the airport to the hotel ran us about $20 (it seemed to vary by a few dollars each time we went to the airport depending upon the cab, and there are no running meters.) We wandered down Ashland Avenue, which is a heavy tourist area. Many of the restaurants and bars are pretty well kept, and most of the workers spoke pretty good English. The Radisson was very nice, clean, and spacious and had a casino downstairs. We went out for dinner that night at a bar/restaurant down Ashland Avenue called Orozco’s. The food was good and drinks were pretty reasonable. We then headed to the casino at the Radisson, which had slot machines, black jack, Caribbean Stud poker, and roulette, but unfortunately, no craps table.
The next day we took a taxi out to explore Old San Juan, which is an area about 15 minutes east of San Juan. We toured through the old cobblestone streets and saw many interesting things, including the San Juan Cathedral (the burial site of Ponce de Leon), the old and pastel-colored houses, talking parrots, oceanfront views, and numerous street vendors selling shell necklaces and bracelets. We also visited the El Morrow, which was an old Spanish fortress that protected the harbor back in 17th century. The fortress stands 150 feet above sea level, and you can get some fantastic views of the harbor, Old San Juan, and the south Atlantic.
We then took a ferry across the harbor and visited the Bacardi Rum Factory. The tour itself is free, although there is a small fee for the bus to take you there. The rum tour explained the beginnings of Bacardi Rum Factory, its founders, how its made, and drink recipes, and best of all, you get two free rum drinks of your choice at the bar. We then ate dinner at a place called Hacienda Don Jose back in San Juan, about a 15-minute walk from our hotel down Ashland. This place is about 20 feet away from the ocean, and if you get a seat next to the open-air windows, it is a relaxing break away from the sun and heat of the day. I highly suggested the pork and onions with rice and beans, a Puerto Rican dish that is very good.
The next day, we rented a car and decided to drive to the rain forest trails just outside of Fajardo. It took us about an hour to get there, and the roads up the mountain are like something straight out of a movie. Beautiful views of the rainforest and the countryside. There were a total of 10 trails you can venture through. Out of time, we choose only one trail, and it was about a 40-minute walk away from a cascading waterfall that you could swim in. I could have spent all day on those trails, but we had plans to drive across the islands. The paths were not dirt but were more of stone. If it happens to rain, be careful, as they are very slippery. The drive across the island to Camuay was horrible. The traffic back through San Juan and beyond was awful. We left around 1 that afternoon, and it took us a little over 4 hours to drive 100 miles. We were on a highway (which had traffic lights every mile or so), and the drivers are crazy. People don’t seem to obey traffic laws. Some ran red lights, some drive extremely fast in tight spots, and others merge into a 6-foot space between cars at the drop of a hat. GET CAR INSURANCE IF YOU PLAN TO RENT A CAR.
The hotel we were staying at was called the Sea Side Beach Resort in Camuay. If you look at the pictures on the Internet, it looks very inviting. However, buyers beware. Although the place is out in the country (a relaxing break from the chaos of driving) and on a deserted beach, it is not what is portrayed on the Net. It might be different during tourist season, but it wasn’t what we expected; of course, it was only $90 a night, so I guess you get what you pay for. The place is very difficult to find, as you have to drive about 20 minutes down a lane-and-a-half, two-way country road that winds up and down and all around. Cars come whipping down that road at 40mph, and you half to split the lane and half road to get by. We were the only guests that night, so we had the pool and pretty much a deserted beach to ourselves.
The staff was very friendly, and it grew on us pretty quickly when we saw the beach. There is a lot of surf and rocks, so actually, swimming isn’t much of an option. If, however, you decide to go native and run around on the beach or play in the surf in your birthday suite, it can quickly turn into an exciting affair! There isn’t a whole lot of English spoken once you get out to the countryside. The next day, we drove out to Isabel to do some horseback riding. The outfit is called Tropical Trail Rides and is definitely worth the $35. Your horseback ride through numerous trails, forests, and beaches at a leisurely pace. It was about a 2-hour venture.
After that, we finally decided to go to a local beach and hang out. We asked our tour guide (who was very nice, and I think the family is from Texas) on what a good local spot was for lunch and a beach. She suggested a little beach town about 15 minutes away for lunch. I think it was called Belly’s BarSide Grill, and it sits right above the ocean. The town seemed like a surfer town. We passed a couple surf shops on the way and watched people surf on the huge waves while we ate lunch. We then drove a little ways to a public beach, where we laid out on the beach and swam for a few hours until the clouds came in and it started to rain a little bit. The water was like bath water and was relatively calm. We wanted to explore the Camauy caves but ran out of time. Many locals talk about the cave exploring, kayaking, and rock climbing that can be done there. If we go back, that would be first on our list to do.
The next to last day we drove all the way back to the eastern side of the island past Farjardo to do some sailing. We got up pretty early to avoid traffic, and this time it only took us 2 hours to get there. For drivers there are tolls along the freeway. You hit about three of them leaving San Juan and four of them coming in. They are cheaper going out than in, but the most we paid at one toll was $1.25. The sailing place we went through was called East Islands Excursions (http://www.eastwindcats.com/.) I’m going to plug them because that was the highlight of the trip. For $60 per person you go out on a 4-hour sail and have all the free rum drinks you want (yes, I said free), as well as lunch; go to two snorkeling spots, where you can view some coral reefs; and stop at a deserted island to explore the beach or go swimming. The staff was very friendly and funny, and it was a great time.
On the sail you can also see the Virgin Islands and St. Martin off in the distance. I highly suggest this place as a top to-do on your list. That day we dropped off the car and taxied back to our hotel in San Juan. This time we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express. The place was reasonably priced but was very small. We ate dinner at a restaurant called Ajili Mojili, which was just off Ashland Avenue. This place is more of a dress-up restaurant with a nice atmosphere. Our waiter (I believe his name was Carlos) had our wine to us literally 20 seconds after we ordered. He was on the ball with everything we ordered, and the service there was great. The halibut and the steak we ordered were excellent!