Several of you know that my hubby and I headed down to Puerto Rico for spring break and I’ve been meaning to find time to post our Top 5 Must Dos while on the Island. I can honestly say that it was one of the best vacations we’ve had, the people are warm and welcoming, sights and history are glorious and the food delectable!
1. Old San Juan
Old San Juan is the oldest settlement in Puerto Rico founded in 1508 by Juan Ponce Leon’ and was officially christened San Juan by Christopher Columbus in 1521. The walled city is now under US control however the local culture is still richly Puerto Rican.
We didn’t pre-plan our day in the city but instead “winged” it and had a blast! I do suggest you ask your hotel concierge when the cruise ships dock so you can avoid those days and times to visit Old San Juan. The streets, restaurants and historical sites can get packed with people when the ships come in but we were able to avoid that and have the city mostly to ourselves.
Our first morning in Puerto Rico we grabbed a taxi and headed into the city. We asked our driver to drop us off at Colon Plaza near the San Cristobal Castle. We wanted to walk the entire city and explore the all sights slowly. We found a local cafe’ and had some of the most glorious coffee in one of the most beautiful historical locations I’ve ever seen. Puerto Rico does coffee right so don’t go to a Starbucks or American tourist locations, just find a local one all the coffee there ROCKS and will get you moving!
We walked down San Francisco Street window shopped, and headed South to take in the sights by the piers. The heat in Old San Juan is no joke so stay hydrated and we do recommend that you indulge in an authentic Panama Hat. We went to Ole’ since they have reasonable prices for some really stylish hats and they will custom fit them for you. Prices range between $60-$75 each hat but believe me they are worth it to help you with the heat.
We continued to walk around the island to the east side and visited San Juan Cathedral for some spiritual enlightenment.
Such a beautiful sacred place, just remember that there are services going on inside and don’t forget to remove your Panama Hat before entering.
You can continue your walk outside the city wall on the El Morro Promendade & Trail to see the ocean and get a better prospective of just how high the wall goes.
Then head north-east to the San Felipe Del Morro Castle. This is a national park with small entrance fees but they do take US currency or all major credit cards.
Really cool old fort with cannons, lots of levels (some come prepared to walk) and a great way to see how they protected the city from being overthrown. You can continue sightseeing around the top / north side by way of Norzagaray Street but we suggest you stay inside the wall for this trek. La Perla is just outside the wall and a bit sketchy so stay on the main streets and make your way to other sites such as the San Juan Museum and finish with the San Cristobal Castle. You can use the same pass from the San Felipe Castle to get in free to the other castle so keep your ticket!
We spent the entire day in Old San Juan and highly suggest you do the same. There is so much to do and see here and all the food, drinks, cafe’ are delicious so dig in and enjoy!
Puerto Rico has some of the best beaches in the world so I hope you plan a day to visit at least one. Each of the beaches is different some have heavy winds and are perfect for swimming and snorkeling like Escambron Beach right between Old San Juan and Condado. Trendy beach goers like my hubby and I stayed on Condado Beach wich has a more Miami city vibe. Or try out Isla Verde beach in Carolina great for water sports jogging and swimming. Bay beaches have low winds and vendors will rent you a paddle board so you can get some core work in and paddle out near the marina. On the south-east side of the island you will find more quite beaches with cliffs or hiking mountains. snorkeling and romantic getaways are amazing on some of these secluded beaches.
3. El Yunque Rain Forest
The El Yunque National Forest is a must do for travelers to Puerto Rico. We did a day trip coordinated trough the hotel and I highly recommend having a guided tour. The guides can manuever traffic and parking which can be a total mess! They also are well versed in the plant, insects, and even the natives that still live in the rainforest. The hike into the large waterfall La Mina Falls is paved stone covered in moss and can be slippery . It takes about 30-45 mins to hike into the falls then another 30-45 mins to hike out. Be prepared for a lot of people at the base of the fall. We suggest that you stop at one of the smaller watering holes you will see on the hike in and take a swim rather than to brave the crowds at La Mina. Either way its worth the trip.
On our way out our guide stopped to let us order some food cooked by the El Yunque native families. There are a few families that still own property in the rainforest and farm their land or cook for tourist to survive. We enjoyed a few chicken kabobs which were cooked over charcoal and quite yummy. Please include a stop to grab a bite in the rainforest and support these wonderful families.
If you are sitting there reading this and have no idea what mofongo is then please let me enlighten you. This is a traditional Puerto Rican dish made of smashed plantains, either chicken, shrimp, pork, veggies and your choice of garlic or tomato sauce.
Let me warn you…this dish is delicious and a must while in Old San Juan but please know that you can split this dish between 4 people! Do not order all on your own, it will crush you. The plantains are so dense that you will never get through the entire dish. We did our research and found that the reviews for Punto de Vista were absolutely correct! This rooftop restaurant bar serves up THE BEST Mofongo in Old San Juan hands down.
We went for an early dinner to beat the rush and found that it was happy hour with 2 for 1 mojitos. Let me tell you that the mojitos at Punto de Vista are also THE BEST in Old San Juan! We stayed around to watch the sunset from the outdoor rooftop and tested several mojitos just to be sure that we could totally back them.
As the sun began to set the cruise ships came into port and the restaurant started to fill in, so we stayed to people watch. A large group of what appeared to be a summer church group of teens and two adults sat near by us and two teens ordered the mofongo. Admittedly we were curious to see if they could polish off their dishes.
5. Day Sail
Most visitors to Puerto Rico spend their time on the land and why not? There is so much to do and see on this island that it can keep you busy for weeks. We love to hit the sea wherever we go so this trip was no different.
Living in Savannah GA for 13 years I can honestly say that if you don’t view the islands from the rivers then you are missing some of the best parts of Savannah.
So I’ve always taken that belief to any island we visit. We chose a small private charter Sailing Dreams that offered a tour around Old San Juan, pass the Gate to the City and over to San Felipe Del Morro Castle. Not sure I can describe just how breath-taking the views are from outside the city wall. The weather was glorious and our captain and co-captain were wonderful. This was the most relaxing day we had during our stay and we would do it again in a heart beat!
We also took in some cocktails at the historic Condado Vanderbuilt one night and enjoyed other local restaurants in Old San Juan and Condado that really were spectacular. Just too many to mention here so if you want some recommendations then let me know and I’ll gladly send you several options.
So that’s our trip to Puerto Rico; as I’m writing this I keep saying to my hubby that we must go back. It was a wonderful experience and I hope you might get to visit the island too.