Our trip to this beautiful caribbean island was filled with amazing colors from Old San Juan, lush greenery and hike in El Yunque National Forest/La Mina falls, once in a lifetime bio bay experience with night kayaking at Laguna Grande, laid back and serene time in Isla Verde and last but not the least unbelievable Culebra Island Snorkeling & Flamenco beach.The history of Puerto Rico can be witnessed by visiting the Saint Cristobal & El Morro forts in Old San Juan.Just like the weather people of Puerto Rico are extremely warm and welcoming. The food is delicious with influences from spanish cuisine.I am totally convinced to visit the other Caribbean islands. Here is my itinerary for you guys. Hope it will be helpful 🙂
Puerto Rico is a United States territory located in the northeastern Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic, and west of both the United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.
The views while landing at San Juan Airport were spectacular. The green, blue and white coastline just mesmerizes you. I captured some pics from the plane.
Day 1 Isla Verde
Reached our beautiful airbnb apmt in downtown isla verde which was 5 min walk from Isla Verde beach.
The district of Isla Verde is in fact the coastal area of Cangrejo Arriba. Isla Verde is bordered to the We decide to chill for sometime on the Isla Verde Beach which is a very long, wide beach with soft, light golden sands north by the Atlantic Ocean, to the west by the San Juan area of Condado, to the east by Santurce (also a San Juan area) and to the south by downtown Carolina.
Isla Verde is one of the hundred tourist areas of Puerto Rico hosting various restaurants, hotels, casinos and discothèques.
We had our lunch at El Alambique which is a nice little hopping place to eat and grab a beer, very lively and local foods. Their ceviche and fried shrimp was melting in the mouth. The mojito was good too mainly becoz the bacardi factory is just across the beach and is the primary source of occupation in Puerto rico.
The beers of the Caribbean are unique to each island in the region, although many are variances of the same style. Each island generally brews its own unique pale lager, the occasional stout, and often a non-alcoholic malta beverage
Medalla Light and Silver Key are commercial light lager beers produced by Compañía Cervecera de Puerto Rico.
Dessert was a lime pie
At Ambique, we met Diane and some other local puertoricans. She was born and raised in Puerto Rico but now was living in Chicago. She was visiting her Mama (mom). She gave us lot of info about the places around and the things to do and best places to eat in Puerto Rico. We were surprised with her love for bollywood dancing and music 🙂
Dinner was at Metropol which is a famous restaurant in Isla Verde for authentic cuban/puertorican cuisine.
We started with Shrimp Scampi. It is one of the easiest ways to quickly prepare shrimp. We simply sauté the shrimp with garlic in butter and olive oil, splash it with some white wine, let the wine reduce while the shrimp cooks, and then toss it with fresh parsley, lemon juice and black pepper. Accompanied with tostada which is bread toasted in butter.
The way indians have chapati or rice on side with every meal, in Puerto rico every dish is accompanied with beans and rice. They are known as habichuelas. Black beans have been a sacred part of the Hispanic diet for centuries.
Today, black beans are more than a side dish. They’re culture, comfort and identity served up in a bowl. There are a few secrets here: first, use dried beans instead of canned. You’ll notice the difference in texture in the first bite. Second, take your time. This dish is all about low-and-slow; with no magic ingredients, just the humble staples they grew up with, cooking this is an exercise in building flavor little by little. Third, the heart of this recipe is the sofrito of onions, garlic, pepper and olive oil, which as any Latino knows always marks the beginning of something delicious.
Zarzuela de mariscos or seafood zarzuela was another main dish.
Zarzuela de mariscos is an excellent seafood stew from the Catalan coast of northeast Spain. Zarzuela means “operetta,” or “variety show,” and perfectly describes the sing-song versatility of this dish. The greater the variety of seafood you add to this dish, the better its flavor will be.
Our dinner was concluded with Flan which is a traditional Puerto Rican dessert. There is no doubt that if you attend a Puerto Rican Christmas party or dinner you will find flan on the table. you will find many different kinds of flan in Puerto rico: Cheese, coconut, pumpkin, vanilla, rum, coffee, chocolate–you think of it, it’s probably been done.
We ordered the traditional vanilla flan.
Day 2 El yunque National Forest & Bio Bay Kayaking
After relaxing the earlier day at the Isla Verde beach, today was the day to do some hiking and kayaking and shedding those extra calories from a nice puerto rican dinner.
We booked our day tour with “Be spoke” company and they were amazing. We were ready to for our hike at El Yunque national forest and the unique bio bay kayaking in laguna grande.
Just before hopping on to our bus ride from Isla Verde to Fajardo, we had some nice tropical fruit smoothies and breakfast at Ba Juice which was on the ground floor of the same building where we were staying.
They served great smoothies from fresh fruits like pineapple, bananas, coconut water, etc.
The “Be Spoke” tour guide Jerry picked us from the hotel and we were accompanied with 2 more fellow travellers karen and her boyfriend Jonathan. We drove to the Fajardo National Rain Forest which is like a 40 min drive from Isla Verde.
Our agenda for the forest was to visit the Information center, Yokahu Tower, Big Tree Trail and finally the La Mina Falls.
Reached the National Forest Information center where Jerry gave us some great info about the fruits, plants, birds, history, etc of the forest. He showed and shared with us some interesting facts about the coffee plant, elephant ear, the wild ginger plan, sugarcane, papaya tree, termites etc.
El Yunque National Forest, formerly known as the Luquillo National Forest and the Caribbean National Forest, is a forest located in northeastern Puerto Rico. It is the only tropical rain forest in the United States National Forest System. The forest is commonly known as El Yunque, which may be attributed to either a Spanish approximation of the aboriginal Taíno word yu-ke which means “white lands”, or the word “anvil,” which is yunque in Spanish. The second-tallest mountain within El Yunque is also named El Yunque. El Yunque National Rainforest is located on the slopes of the Sierra de Luquillo mountains, encompassing 28,000 acres of land, making it the largest block of public land in Puerto Rico.
It was renamed Caribbean National Forest on 4 June 1935. It is home to over 200 species of trees and plants, 23 of which are found nowhere else!
Because Puerto Rico is south of the Tropic of Cancer, it has a tropical climate. There is no distinct wet or dry season in El Yunque; it rains year round. The temperature and length of daylight remain fairly constant throughout the year. The average temperature year-round is 80 degrees (high) and 70 degrees (low). All of these factors provide a year-round growing season.
Mushroom growing on the tree trunk. Laetiporus is a genus of edible mushrooms found throughout much of the world. Some species, especially Laetiporus sulphureus, are commonly known as sulphur shelf,chicken of the woods, the chicken mushroom, or the chicken fungus because many think they taste like chicken.
After the information center we headed to the Yokahu Tower.
The Yokahú Tower is one of the two observation towers located in the park. Constructed in 1963, it is widely considered the better of the two with regard to the view offered. The other tower, Mount Britton Tower, is situated at a higher altitude. Owing to this, the view from it is frequently obscured by cloud cover. When it comes to convenience, Yokahú Tower again has an advantage over the Mount Britton Tower. Yokahú Tower has a parking lot nearby whereas the Britton Tower is in the middle of the forest
In addition to the wonderful views and ease of access that Yokahu Tower affords you, there are also many informational signs around the tower
El Toro, the highest mountain peak in the forest rises 1,065 metres above sea level. Ample rainfall creates a jungle-like setting — lush foliage, crags, waterfalls, and rivers are a prevalent sight. The forest has a number of trails from which the jungle-like territory’s flora and fauna can be appreciated. El Yunque is also renowned for its uniqueTaíno petroglyphs.
Big Tree Trail & La mina falls
Several trails are scattered throughout this impressive park, and two of the most popular are the Big Tree Trail (0.9 miles one way) and La Mina Falls Trail (0.7 miles one way). These two trails are both a means to the same end, that end being the 35-foot tropical beauty of La Mina Falls—an exquisite waterfall that drops over a jumble of huge rocks into a picturesque pool where hikers can choose to swim or simply rest and enjoy the lush rainforest.
You can hike these two trails separately, or you can form a 3-mile loop trail by incorporating Hwy 191 into your trek. We chose to do just that, by beginning our hike along the Big Tree Trail, hiking 0.9 miles to La Mina Falls, continuing on along the La Mina Falls Trail, following the La Mina River upstream for 0.7 miles to the Palo Colorado Recreation Center, and then back to our car at Big Tree a mile down the road. As stated, we began our hike on the Big Tree Trail, a self-guided interpretive trail complete with a number of informative signs in both Spanish and English that describe in detail the wonders of the Tabonuco Forest—a visually stunning collection of over 240 different species of trees, epiphytes, giant ferns, and mosses which make up the true rain forest of El Yunque.
Sections of the trail are quite steep, but you only descend 164 feet to the falls—ending at an elevation of 1,640 feet. Along the way, the hiker is treated to spectacular views of the diversity and magnificence of this ecosystem that was declared a United Nations Biosphere Reserve in the 1970’s.
When you arrive at La Mina Falls, you will likely encounter several people swimming in the refreshing pool, unless you arrive really early in the day.
We timed our hike for an early arrival in order to photograph the cascade sans swimmers.
Leaving the falls, you will begin climbing the 492 feet up the La Mina Falls Trail to the Palo Colorado Recreation Center—elevation 2,132 feet. The trail has several sets of concrete stairs that can be slippery and somewhat arduous, but you will soon forget any difficulties encountered along the trail when you find yourself immersed amid the lush tropical trees, red bromeliads, pink impatiens and numerous still pools and tiny cascades of La Mina. When you finally reach the parking lot, sweaty and a little out of breath, you will no doubt be smiling—content in the fact that you have now hiked two of the best trails in the CNF system—all that is left to do now is return to your car and savor your accomplishment.
Lunch at Restaurant Do Estanba
After the scenic hike and dip in the refreshing waters of la mina falls we were ready for a nice puerto rican lunch. Jerry took us to Restaurant Do Estanba which was a family run puerto rican cuisine small restaurant in fajardo.
We were served with fresh puerto rican red grouper sauteed in butter and garlic, accompanied with black beans and rice, Platanos maduros (fried sweet plantain) and Puerto Rican Tostones (fried savory plantain). I also had the best pina colada made from fresh pineapple juice. And finally the homemade Tres Leches Cake Boriquena as dessert was the best tres leches cake which i had in my life so far. Later i found the secret of this recipe which was the Puerto Rican rum used in it.
Ritesh had the Puerto rican beer Medalla.
Bio Bay: Bioluminescent bays at La Laguna Grande
After this great lunch, Jerry bid us Goodbye and we met Jesus who drove us to the Las Croabas in Fajardo for our Bio Bay Kayaking experience. We did our tour with The Kayak rental company and they were totally awesome.
There are three bioluminescent bays (bio-bays) in Puerto Rico. One in the SouthWest – “La Parguera”, one on Vieques – “Mosquito Bay”, and the one in Fajardo – “La Laguna Grande”. Out of all three, Mosquito Bay is the brightest, and La Parguera is the least bright. La Laguna Grande in Fajardo is very bright, and it is convenient to do from San Juan and the main island.
A bio bay is a body of water that contains millions of micro-organisms, called “dinoflagellates”, that glow in the dark for a second when agitated. It is a rare, natural wonder that you can easily experience while visiting Puerto Rico. It is best seen on a dark night, try to go when it is moonless or close to it. It also is best on a warm night (summertime is brighter than wintertime, no rain is better than rainy days). But even on a less than ideal night, the bioluminescence will be visible. It is a fragile environment, that can be destroyed (as was the La Parguera bay) by excessive abuse from motor oil, sewerage, sunscreen and bug repellent.
The usual way most people visit the Fajardo BioBay is on a kayak. There are many kayak operators that guide tours into the bio-bay. They are all similar except for the snacks at the end and the color of their glo-sticks. They all meet at Las Croabas, which is a small bay with a public boat dock.
All the tours start off near the boat ramp, and then you kayak across the boat marina to a thin channel that leads to the lagoon. You have to go single file to avoid hitting each other and the sides of the channel. The mangrove trees make a canopy over your head, which is low in some spots. But as you get closer to the lagoon, you will notice little sparkles as you dip your paddles into the water.
Once you get through the channel, it opens up to a large lagoon. By now, your paddles leave a swirl of glow behind at each stroke. Your tour guide will gather all of the kayaks on your tour together, explain the bioluminescence phenomenon, and answer questions that you might have.
After spending some time playing with the water making sparkles, the guide leads you back through the channel. You may meet up with another group, but if everyone sticks to the right and it all works out. The guides are all bi-lingual, and knowledgeable about the area, the bio-bay and kayaking. They will answer your questions and may even suggest places for dinner after your workout!
We were back to Isla Verde after the amazing experience and had dinner at El Alambique. We had the good old tacos with fresh fish. Also were had the chicken empanadas know as Pastelillos de Carne.
Day 3: Old Town of San Juan
A walk through the central streets of Old San Juan reveals a city in ferocious competition to become the most souvenir-clogged metropolis on the planet.Old San Juan is justifiably cherished for its beautifully preserved buildings and its sleepy charm.
Best way to reach Old San Juan from Isla Verde..Autobus just 75 cents one way
Its super hot and this coconut icecream is a saviour.
Wander its streets with their distinctive blue-glazed cobblestones.Amid the colorful historical buildings and old fortresses, this charming Puerto Rican locale is bustling with life. Today, San Juan is known as La Ciudad Amurallada (the walled city) and is one of the biggest and best natural harbors in the Caribbean and is the second oldest European-founded city in theAmericas (after Santo Domingo, which was officially founded on August 5, 1498.)
The city includes more than 400 carefully restored 16th- and 17th-century Spanish colonial buildings.
A leisurely foot tour is advisable for those who really want to experience this bit of the Old World, especially given the narrow, steep streets and frequently heavy traffic. To really do justice to these wonderful old sites, you’ll need two mornings or a full day.
Old San Juan provides a free trolley service to get you around the city. The trolley runs every day Monday through Friday from 7am until 6 pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 9am until 7pm every 15 minutes. Most of the trolleys are accessible for wheelchairs and mobility devices and identified with the blue International Symbol of Accessibility.
The streets here are paved with cobbles of adoquine, a blue stone cast from furnace slag; they were brought over a ballast on Spanish ships and time and moisture have lent them their characteristic color.
Bacardi Factory Tour
Puerto Rico is known not only for beautiful beaches and deep green jungles, but also for the sweet fermented juice of the sugarcane, otherwise known as rum – and Bacardi is one of the premiere companies concocting the powerful spirit for the world to consume. Tour the Bacardi Rum Factory to learn how rum is made, try your hand at mixing cocktails, and of course sample some of the delicious Bacardi rum while you’re there.
Visit to the Castillo de San Cristóbal and San Felipe De Morro to relive the history!
View from of the city from San Felipe del Morro which was named in honor of King Phillip II, commonly known as El Morro, is a 16th-century citadel.
Castillo de San Cristóbal (San Cristóbal Fort) is El Morro’s partner in the city’s defense.
The flags of the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Spanish Empire float over Fort San Cristóbal
Picnic Area outside the El Morro Fort
El Morro is studded with small, circular sentry boxes called garitas that have become a national symbol. The views of San Juan Bay from El Morro are spectacular.
San Cristóbal was supported by a massive system of outworks which provided defense in depth and is is one of the largest defenses ever built in the Americas
It features five independent units, each connected by moat and tunnel; each fully self-sufficient should the others fall
It’s a World Heritage and National Historic Site, administered by the U.S. National Park Service. Open daily from 9am to 6pm
It rose 150 feet, covering 27 acres of land. As if its size and height weren’t sufficient to intimidate enemies, its intricate modular design was sure to foil them.
Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery is a colonial-era cemetery located in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is the final resting place of many of Puerto Rico’s most prominent natives and residents. Construction began in 1863 under the auspices of Ignacio Mascaro.
The cemetery is located outside the walls of Fort San Felipe del Morro fortress, one of the island’s most famous landmarks.
The average height of the wall is 40 feet and the width ranges from 15 to 20 feet.It was named in honor of Saint Maria Magdalena de Pazzi.
After long walks along the streets and forts it was time for lunch at famous El Jibarito
Lime and fresh mango margarita!
Yuca Mofongo with shrimp.
Mofongo is a fried plantain/yuca based dish. It is typically made with fried green plantains mashed together in a pilón (wooden mortar and pestle), with broth, garlic, olive oil, and pork cracklings or bits of bacon. It can be filled with vegetables, chicken, crab, shrimp, or beef and is often served with fried meat and chicken broth soup. Mofongo relleno is mofongo served with braised meat or seafood poured over it.
Plantains anywhere and everywhere!
The famous DanQ which is the authentic Puertorican Rum.
Cuba libre is the famous cocktail made from it which is nothing but rum and coke with dash of lime.
Located in historic Old San Juan, the Cigar house store features the largest selection of cigars in the entire Caribbean. The selection is magnificent, from all the hard to find to all the Opusx, anejos, Davidoff, etc. And even better at online prices. Excellent spot. A must visit. They have everything but Cubans.Plenty of options everywhere from 70 cents and up. Drinks are affordably priced at around $7.
Cuatro Sombras is a nice little cafe in Old San Juan and is also the name of the single origin coffee from Yauco, Puerto Rico. In the cup it reveals a medium bodied coffee with a vibrant acidity with notes of semi-sweet chocolate, caramel and spices that contribute to a classic and clean cup.If you want a good cup of coffee in a great atmosphere, this is the place. With my lattee I had the Puerto Rican Quesitos, this Puerto Rican cheese puff pastry is super delicious and easy to make.
One of the most popular pastries of Puerto Rico. The cheese is usually whipped with vanilla, eggs, and sugar. The cheese can also be whipped with guava, papaya and other tropical fruit preserves. The mixture is stuffed into a dough that resembles puff pastry, coated in a sugary caramelized syrup, and baked. Quesitos are sold at bakeries and “bomboneras” (literally cozy sweet boxes, a word also used to refer to sweet shops selling this type of item).
What if i was not able to spot the Puerto rican parrot in El Yunque, i had its glimpse in Old San Juan 🙂
Dinner at Pani Aqua..Unique cafe with a blend of indian spices with puertorican flavors.
Their tandoori plantain was awesome with chicken tandoori topped on sweet plantain cakes.
Day 4 at Culebra Island & Flamenco Beach
Last day of our vacation was at Culebra Island & Flamenco Beach. We booked our snorkeling and Flamenco beach tour with SS Tobia company. These guys were totally awesome. They help you with snorkeling if you are a newbie and also serve non stop pinacoladas, cubalibre and fruits punch on the boat
The Island of Culebra, just 20 miles off the northeast coast of Puerto Rico has fabulous white sandy beaches teeming with amazing sea life. The SS TOBIAS will take you to the clearest, warm snorkeling waters of Culebra where it’s not uncommon to swim with sea turtles through stunning reef gardens! The island is also known as Isla Chiquita (“Little Island”)
Flamenco Beach, Culebra
This is the iconic, horseshoe shaped beach famous the world over as one of the 7 most beautiful beaches on the planet! It is Culebra’s most popular destination. The sand is super white and the water is crystal clear with National Wildlife Refuges on either side of the “horseshoe”.
A popular landmark is a World War II-era tank that lies just short of the shore, a relic of the time the U.S. Navy controlled the area. The surrounding area across much of the island’s coast is a nature preserve that protects nesting sites for giant sea turtles and large colonies of tropical birds.
Culebra is characterized by an irregular topography resulting in a long intricate shoreline. The island is approximately 7 by 5 miles (11 by 8 km). The coast is marked by cliffs, sandy coral beaches and mangrove forests.
Almost 80% of the island’s area is volcanic rock from the Cretaceous period. It is mostly used for livestock pasture, as well as some minor agriculture
After coming back to Isla Verde from Culebra we had dinner at Micasita. We some amazing Asopav which a ship soup with rice and also the famous Tres Leches 🙂
You can also spot some iguanas on the shore.
& Finally say goodbye to this beautiful island with lot of memories to treasure for life 🙂