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!