Let’s go! Destination: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Fact: summer’s not over yet, which means there may be time to plan another vacation. If so, take my advice and GO to San Juan, Puerto Rico. It’s amazing, has beautiful beaches, is culturally rich, full of flavorful food and you’ll never be too far from a vibrant party. This island is so full of life and you have so many reasons to book a trip now. Here were some of my personal favorite things to do from my trip this past July.
Reserve a day for Old San Juan
This small part of San Juan houses many quaint restaurants, bars, shops, plazas and beautiful, colorful buildings and houses. And it’s also the location of Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a 16th century citadel that you can walk through and explore for $5 per person. It overlooks the ocean and offers several spectacular views and photo opportunities. A few things to not miss in Old San Juan:
- La Factoria for drinks, awesome food and dancing at night
- La Taberno Lúpulo for a large selection of beer and laidback vibe
- La Sombrilla Rosa for inexpensive drinks and a conversation with locals
- El Jibarito for typical Puerto Rican delicacy, like Mofungo (keep reading to find out more about this delicious Puerto Rican dish.)
Visit the El Yunque Forest
Consider renting a car for this adventure, as it is about 40 minutes from San Juan. Once you get there, you’ll see a visitor center, which costs $4 per person just to enter and essentially grab a map, get back in your car and choose which trail or waterfall you want to visit. The locations along the drive are marked, so you could skip this part… but the map was, of course, helpful.
- If you’re searching for a true hiker’s hike, you’ll want to choose the trail that leads to the peak. It takes approximately two hours each way, but the views are so worth it.
- If you are searching for a view without hiking to the peak, be sure to stop at the Yokahu Observation Tower along the drive. It sort of resembles a lighthouse; you can climb to the top and experience breathtaking views of the El Yunque Forest.
- If you’re chasing waterfalls, stop by La Coca Falls — the smaller of the waterfalls marked along the drive. Keep driving for La Mina trail, which leads to La Mina Falls. It’s a larger waterfall, with a swimming hole below — so consider wearing a bathing suit and water shoes. This is probably the most popular trail, so plan for lots of people, about 40 minutes each way and expect some parts of the hike to be steep and difficult.
- If you want to wind down after El Yunque, drive about 11 minutes to Luquillo Beach. It will look like a campsite, but eventually, you’ll find yourself at a nice, relatively quiet and low key beach. There are kiosks that will have all sorts of munchies, including Puerto Rican style food like empanadillas and Pincho — both fried and delicious.
Spend a day at Isla Verde
This was one of my favorite beaches, but it is touristy. It’s surrounded by many large hotels and resorts, as well as tons of restaurants, both on the beach and on the main street should you get hungry during your sunbathing day. A few tips:
- Pack a cooler with some of Puerto Rico’s local beer, Medalla, as well as bottled water. Puerto Rico gets hot and steamy!
- Ride jet skis — or partake in some of the other water sports available at this beach. There were parasailing rides and banana boats, but we rented a jet ski for two for $80 per half hour… pricey, maybe, but also loads of fun in the open ocean.
Relax and recharge at Ocean Park beach
This particular beach felt most “local” to me, perhaps because we stayed in an AirBnb close by, but it was very relaxed. Go here to:
- Simply chill out and catch a tan
- Eat local food. We were greeted by a Colombian lady selling the best empanadas and stuffed arepas. A melting pot, Puerto Rico is!
- Grab ice cream! You won’t have to look far for an ice cream truck.
- Visit Kasalta — a deli/bakery nearby with delicious sandwiches and juices. Former President Obama once dined there. (Look for the plaque on the wall!)
Drive to Poza de Las Mujeres
We didn’t quite know what to expect from this beach, but it didn’t disappoint. It was about a 52 minute drive from our location in San Juan, and turned out to be a locals spot with several different paths leading to varying styles of beaches. One small and rocky with awesome caves. Another, also small with very calm water, and yet another with beautiful rolling waves and white sand. Some things to know:
- Explore the large rocky caves, but wear water shoes — they are rough! Also, watch out for the little black sea urchins that are painful if stepped on. (I was not unfortunate enough to find out.
- Swim! But be careful in some areas; the waves can be super strong.
- Explore the different areas. We came across a tour guide who offered to lead us down the brush paths to the different areas. He would leave us (and some other visitors) to enjoy our time and come back an hour or so later to lead us to the next spot. And we were so grateful he did.
- Wear sunscreen! (Especially biodegradable sunscreen that won’t damage these beautiful beaches.) I picked up my worst sunburn at this location.
Mofungo is the distinct food of Puerto Rico. It consists of mashed and fried plantains and can be enjoyed alone, but is typically topped with delicious braised meat, seafood and vegetables.
- You can find it all over Puerto Rico. Some of my favorite Mofungo experiences were Ropa Vieja, which claims to have the best in the city, El Jibarito, as mentioned earlier and Mi Casita, a diner-type restaurant in Isla Verde.
- Otherwise, just eat plenty of seafood! It's a tropical island. It's incredibly fresh and amazing!
Rent a car for longer trips; Uber everywhere else
- If you stay in San Juan, you’ll inevitably want to see something outside of the city. And there’s so so much to see and do. Plan to rent a car for those longer trips to El Yunque, for example, and plan the further-distance adventures back-to-back so you’ll make the most of having the rental car.
- Otherwise, Uber everywhere else! When you open your app, they are scattered everywhere, so a ride can get to you in about three minutes. But the best part… they are super inexpensive. Like, sometimes $3 inexpensive. (They aren’t allowed to pick up from the airport, though. But they can drop off at the airport.)
- Drive to Fajardo and catch the ferry that will take you to the islands of Culebra and Flamenco beach. We heard they were AMAZING, but sadly, we didn’t have time to visit.
- Heads up: locals told us that Christmas is the busiest tourist time in Puerto Rico.
- Bring bug spray — we brought home a few mosquito bites.
- Carry some cash; many vendors accept cash only.