One of my top recommendations for travel is Puerto Rico. it’s a US commonwealth, so you don’t need a passport if you’re a US citizen. the main form of currency is the dollar, plus they except credit at most places. it’s a 3 hour flight from houston. but even with US influence and its proximity, the culture is so unique you feel like you’ve landed in another country or continent altogether. i am most drawn to the pride of puerto ricans and how everyone goes out of their way to help you experience their culture. the people make Puerto Rico a truly amazing place to visit. and my travel buddies on this trip made Puerto Rico an unforgettable memory
places to stay – la concha renaissance hotel, el san juan hotel & casino, caribe hilton
my cousin allie graciously booked la concha for my birthday weekend using her frequent flyer miles. this hotel is 5 stars in my book. it’s luxurious in its simplicity, and the ocean views do wonders to calm the mind.
pros: helpful concierge, ability to book excursions in lobby, beach/pool access, large comfy beds, beautiful bathrooms, happening hotel bar, breathtaking ocean view, walking distance to casinos and restaurants.
cons: cab ride to old san juan, nightlife, and excursion sites; i’d consider spending a night or two in old san juan to experience the historic feel and the night life.
getting around – we got around fine in san juan by cab, but i’d recommend renting a car so you can get out and explore some of the other areas of PR. luckily the freeways and streets are well maintained so it’s easy to drive around.
excursions – surfing, catamaran, bio luminescent bay, el yunque rainforest, ziplining, canyoning
puerto rico is where i discovered my love for surfing. the concierge recommend babby quinones for lessons, and we met him across the street from super mercado to enter the beach. he taught me that i’m goofy-footed and how to pop-up on the first try. surfing is an amazing way of life and babby truly embodies the free spirit of the waves. every single girl took lessons and was able to stand up on their first day. he charged approx. $50 US for a 1 hour lesson.
the other notable activity we did was hike in el yunque rainforest. our tour guide was not great, but the hike was beautiful in general. lots of fauna to see but not many animals. the highlight was jumping in a freezing waterfall at the midway point!
most of the excursions are pricey compared to other places i’ve been like costa rica. i think the bio luminescent bay was near $100 and canyoning was $120. most trips included lunch if they lasted a few hours. i would be selective in choosing a few activities to explore.
beaches – isla verde, condado, luquillo, culebra, and fajardo
there are ton of beaches in puerto rico and they all have their own unique appeal. since we didn’t have a car to get around, we mainly went to isla verde to surf (10 min cab ride from our hotel) and hung out around condado beach at the hotel. however, if i were to do it again, i’d rent a car to branch out a little further. luquillo, culebra, and fajardo were all highly recommended and located on the northeast coast. without a rental car, you could also book a full day excursion, including transportation out to the beach, boat ride, lunch/drinks, free time on the beach, and ride back, but you pay a premium for it.
food – el Jibarito, Ropa Vieja
the most memorable restaurant of the trip was el jibarito in old san juan. we were told by locals that this is the place for authentic puerto rican food, and it was amazing! our waitress elizabeth took care of ordering all the most popular entrees for us to split. she was so extremely helpful and knowledgeable. i asked if she was born and raised in PR, and she proudly told me she’s 110% puerto rican. the cuisine is very tasty and includes lots of plantains. i love the sweet plantains as a side. but my favorite was mofongo, a dish of mashed plantains stuffed with pork, beef, or chicken. yes it’s as delicious as it sounds and reminds me of hearty southern cooking!
at ropa vieja, allie and i devoured paella on our first night. if you’re familiar with ordering paella, you must allow 30 minutes for prep time or call in ahead to order. it consists of saffron rice, tons of seasonings, and usually seafood (mussels, squid, shrimp, etc.) having first sampled paella in spain, this was pretty comparable and overall good. this restaurant is another local favorite.
things to do – casino, spa, mall, old san juan, bacardi factory
yes there’s vegas, lake charles, and indian reservations in minnesota, but you haven’t experience gambling in puerto rico! baccarat is the big game and the casinos are filled with asian men. go figure.
the gals treated me to a 1 hour massage at el san juan hotel spa, and it was so relaxing. the facilities were beautiful, and i think you can actually get massages on the roof on a nice day. i’d highly recommend a spa treatment on any vacation! prices were typical, approx. $100 for a 1 hour massage.
we also took time to tour the bacardi factory, although it took a $45 cab ride to get there. the tour itself is pretty awesome, it’s free, and you get 2 drink tickets for any mixed bacardi drink of your choice! we watched the history of bacardi in puerto rico, took a quick tour, then visited the souvenir shop. i brought home bacardi reserva, which isn’t distributed on the mainland.
nightlife – nuyorican cafe, club brava
nuyorican is a force to be reckoned with and a perpetual party. this is the local dive bar, featuring live salsa music, a diverse international crowd, and fantastic bartenders. we arrived early and headed straight to the bar and were warmly welcomed by the bartender. he created a shot or chupito called ‘chicas con faldas’ in honor of us, the chicks with skirts. we met the band, danced our feet off, smoked delicious cigars, and met friends from Switzerland who loved haribo gummy bears. como te llamas was the phrase of the night. this place is a must!
club brava was another happenin recommendation and is located at el san juan hotel & casino. it’s similar to a new york or miami style night club with cover to get in (approx. $10-$15) and average-priced drinks. they played techno all night.
souvenirs – coffee, trinkets (jewelry, wood carvings, etc.)
with help from a local named enise, we found a small coffee shop in old san juan that produces puerto rican coffee beans that smelled like a bistro in heaven. she was so nice to ask around then walk us for a few blocks to find the shop then lead us to el jibarito (this is the epitome of puerto rican friendliness!). i scored a few bags for souvenirs for my parents and relatives, and they were a hit! check back for the name, i’ll dig it up from somewhere. we also found a few gems in old san juan that sold unique jewelry pieces, beautiful wooden decor, and typical fun things like sarongs.
the people – enise, elizabeth, babby, bartender at nuyorican
the people of puerto rico are truly amazing. everyone couldn’t stop commenting on how genuinely nice and helpful everyone was during our stay. this trip was a whirlwind of fun and an unforgettable birthday!
if i could do it again, i would: go to bioluminescent bay, go canyoning, and gamble more