3 days may seem like such little time but it’s actually enough to see plenty in Puerto Rico. If you’ve got limited time and still want a tropical getaway with a little bit of everything, Puerto Rico is where you want to be! The best part is there isn’t any visa hassle if you’ve got a U.S visa or are an American citizen because its a United States territory (I had no idea), it sure does feel like another country!
San Juan being the capital, has the most flight options. Walking shoes, sunscreen, bug spray and a camera are almost essential to this trip.
Day 1: Beaches, poolside and delicious food
We went from Chicago which was 15° F (-9° C) to San Juan at 82° F (28° C)! Sunshine, cool breeze, sandy backdrops with palm trees and the sound of waves is all that I wanted. So the first thing we did as soon as we checked in at the Caribe Hilton was exactly that! Our hotel had beautiful ocean views and was very close to the historic downtown of San Juan. (There are some gorgeous Airbnb’s and home aways that also offer beachside accommodation).
After what seemed like nearly not enough time in the pool and the beach, we stepped out of the hotel to get food. We picked walking over driving and were thankful for the choice we made. The streets in old San Juan especially, are narrow and finding parking is a nightmare. It took only a few minutes into our first walk to realise this. Besides why would you want to miss the old world charm of this tropical island by driving past everything! One of the best meals we ate on this trip was on our very first day at Casita Miramar. We ordered cassava mofongo with seafood, pork ribs in tropical BBQ sauce, Buñuelos and two of the best craft cocktails we’ve ever had(I think mine was rum based and infused with coffee)!
Some of the other places to eat and drink I highly recommend are
Don Ruiz for excellent coffee and Mallorcas (Puerto Rican bread which is soft, sweet, fluffy, very light and can be used for sandwiches too!)
Innato for another wonderful dining experience. Their menu is less evolved than casita miramar but worth a visit none the less. They have some great cocktails and a very interesting bread pudding like dessert which we loved!
La Factoria a very unique bar which has seven bars inside it, which were more like different sections with separate menus and music.
Cafe Tropical : A small bar + store + restaurant which has outdoor seating, isn’t expensive and serves great food. (Calle Los Rosales, San Juan, 00907, Puerto Rico)
Day 2: El Yunque National Rainforest
We had an extremely early start the next day and woke up at 5:00am to head out. If you are like me, bitten by the trail bug you will love this rain forest and everything it has to offer. OR if you’ve always dreamt of that quintessential swimming-with-a-waterfall-backdrop photo, you will want to visit this place. We drove to El Yunque, a beautiful rainforest 46 kms away from San Juan, which took less than an hour to get to.
The La Mina waterfall hike is the most popular one which takes about 45 minutes one way. There are two ways to reach these falls, one is via the big tree trail and the other is the La Mina Trail. Both trails are approximately 0.8 and 0.7 miles long but are open seasonly. From what I read they sustained heavy damage during hurricane Maria, and are still not open to public.
We had to change our original plan of hiking to those falls and instead we discovered two other beautiful trails with seriously rewarding views. Mt Britton trail led up to Mt Britton peak, that had a watch tower and you could see the entire rain forest from up
top. It took us 40 minutes to walk up and about half of that to come back down. It was an easy trail, which was paved half the way but ascended quite a bit. The second trail we headed to was Angelito trail and I’m so glad we did.
This trail was very short and started off as paved, but had an uneven muddy track later, and a bridge that helped cross a beautiful natural pool. If you do this hike, this is the point you may think is the end but keep going because the actual surprise is at the end.
The trail ended at a beautiful water pool that is known for swimming especially in the summer. It was about 8 feet deep in parts and the rocks looked slippery. They can be dangerous during flash flooding. We were lucky to have the most quiet, quaint experience here as there was nobody but us. The water was crystal clear and we saw little fish all over as we waded through the water.
Pro tip: The hike will make you sweaty and it will be warm as hell by the time you get here but don’t be fooled by that, because the water will still be very chilly!
After our two short but beautiful hikes we drove around the park taking photos at various view points and watch towers, stopping wherever we felt like, until we finally got hungry and headed back to the city to eat and rest until our next adventure in the night.
Bioluminescent bay : There are only 5 in the world
3 of the 5 exist in Puerto Rico and when we found out, there was no way we were going to miss this experience. A Bioluminescent bay is where the water appears to be glowing which is the effect of a million micro-organisms that produce light for a millisecond once every 24 hours when you touch them. The logistics of this tour are tricky, because the brightest one lies the furthest from the city and one has to stay overnight. Given that we had such little time we chose to do the closest possible one. It is called Laguna Grande, in Fajardo and was easy to get to, that late in the night. We went with Yokahu Kayaks, and found them to be super nice and knowledgeable. Our tour started at 8.30 pm and ended by 10.30 pm. We kayaked through a pitch dark canal surrounded by mangroves, leading to the lagoon.
The key to really enjoying this experience lies in the following :
Lower your expectations. All the photos you’ve seen on the internet are edited. And I mean ALL. A little research will show you, the glowing lasts only for a millisecond or less which can’t be captured by a camera unless you take long exposure shots which clearly alter reality!
This experience will remain an unforgettable memory for me, because even though I didn’t see a sparkling bay full of magical light coming from underneath the ocean, I witnessed something that I probably never will again. I don’t have a photo to put on Instagram, and my words don’t do justice to the description, but I must try. As I put my hand in the water, an absolutely magical glow in the dark struck my eyes and when I splashed the same water and took my hand out, I could see a teeny-tiny diamond twinkling on my fingers. Only for a split second. It was beautiful.
The kayaking was fun/adventurous too. I was horrible at it and needed help at some point. I kept hitting the mangroves and was so scared the kayak will capsize. The fact that I am writing this post means we made it!
Day 3: Old San Juan
This was my most favourite part of the trip.
Founded in 1521 by Spanish colonists, old San Juan is a potpourri of old world Spanish and Carribean culture. It’s a riot of colours that I never got tired of looking at. Imagine colonial style cobblestoned streets, lined with vibrant coloured houses, all of which had gorgeous balconies draped with flowers, add in palm trees, soft white sand, big beautiful sunsets by the Atlantic and one could fall in love! I certainly did.
We walked by artisan shops, family owned restaurants and bakeries that smelt heavenly.
We also visited two forts Castillo San Cristóbal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro, and realised they were a part of the U.S National Park service, both of which had amazing views and a very rustic feel.
Fresh seafood was our best friend this whole trip. We tried shrimps, mussels, mahi-mahi and fresh tuna served with a delicious mash of fried plantain and tropical flavours.
Puerto Rico had great food, amazing weather, wonderful sights, so much to explore. I enjoyed our three days in Puerto Rico very much and hope you will too!