Puerto Rico is a beautiful country, and it really surprised me how many fun things there were to do.  With my blindingly pale skin, it’s no wonder I’m not a “lay-on-the-beach-all-day” type of girl.  I can hike and snorkel for days, but watching my skin blister isn’t my cup of tea.  However, there is so much more to Puerto Rico than getting a sunburn.  There are rocky cliffs, turquoise water and white sand beaches, jungle hikes, bio-luminescent bays, fresh cocktails and loud dancing music.

There are many places to explore on the island, and you can drive from one side of the island to the other in less than 3 hours.  It’s easy to navigate.  We met some friends there who had explored the west side of the island (Ponce, Guanica and Rojo Cabo.) Looking through their pictures, I would say that Rojo Cabo is the one place I wished I had seen for myself, and will go back to when I visit in the future.  (Here I go quoting Rick Steves again, but he makes a good point.  He said that you should always plan on returning to somewhere again.  If you act like you’ll never visit again, you’ll try to jam everything you can in one trip and you’ll be miserable.  Just plan to go back and see the things you missed.)

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Budgeting:  I thought the prices of everything were very comparable to visiting Florida or another beach-destination in America.  They are obviously on the American dollar, so money is easy.  Flights from Columbus were around $400, and excursions ranged from $50-$100 each person.  Gas and car rentals cost the same as they do in the states, and my food budget was spot on.  We budgeted (per person) $5 for breakfast, $10 for lunch and $15 for dinner.  Even if you go to the grocery store and get some items, you will save a little $, but if eating out, that was pretty accurate to what we experienced.  Hotels, b&bs averaged $115-$130 a night.  I thought the accommodation prices were reasonable.  I didn’t think anything was a “steal”, but prices were competitive and I didn’t feel that I was getting ripped off by anything.

What we did:  We stayed at a beautiful place called El Escondido Guest House.  The house is situated in the El Yunque National Forest, and has a beautiful view overlooking San Juan.  (The place is about a 45 min drive from the main part of San Juan.)  It wasn’t difficult to find, although they recommend arriving in the day time so you can see where you’re going.  The place only had about five guest rooms, which made it a more relaxing experience.  The pool was wonderful with a water fall, and the property had walking trails to explore their fruit trees, flora and fauna.  What I especially liked about this place, was the recommendations from the hosts.  They have maps they provide you to show you the touristy route, and the non-touristy route so you can decide if you want to do the typical things, or some of the local things.  We chose the local, and their recommendations lead us to some wonderfully fresh Mexican food, and a waterfall in El Yunque that we could swim in all to ourselves.  (It also helped us avoid lots of traffic!)  The park is easily laid out with signs, and we chose one hike, Mt. Britton, that lead to a lookout tower with views of the park and the coast.  We took their recommendation and hiked to one of the lesser known water falls, Juan Diego, which meant we could get soaked all alone.  There were a few people hiking around, but for the most part we had it to ourselves.  This was remarkable, considering all the tour buses of people going to the park.  Most go to La Mina Falls, which one person staying at our b&b said there were 100 people there!  So naturally, we opted for the road less traveled.  In the evening, we went to Luquillo for dinner, where there are dozens of kiosks of food to choose.  We ate at Edelweiss Grill and Bar, which had German decor, but Puerto Rican food.  (A little odd.  I wondered if this is what it looks like to see beach pictures up in an Ohio home.  There were deer antlers up in a place right by the beach.  Odd… but I kinda liked it.)  We had fresh mojitos, and wonderfully made food.

After exploring the jungle, we were ready for some snorkeling.  We drove to Fajardo, which is where you can do the bio-luminescent bay tours.  We did one, even though it wasn’t the season for it, and we still enjoyed the kayaking at night.  Even with bug spray, you do get bit up a little in the canals, but it’s still worth it.  The kayaking is challenging at night (especially if you’ve ever done it before) but the stars are beautiful at night while you’re floating in water.  I thought it was a fun experience even though we didn’t really get to see the bay light up.  (They put a tarp over you, so you can at least see some of it, but it’s not like seeing the whole water light up.)  Prior to the kayaking, we ate at a recommended food truck called Bistro del Mar, which had some of the best food of the trip.  It was an adorable little truck.  They set up tables with centerpieces in front of the truck, and had black boards with their daily specials.  It felt like an upscale food truck, with delicious Puerto Rican fare and drinks.

The next day, we enjoyed a snorkeling excursion with SSTobias company.  We really wanted to snorkel on either Culebra or Vieques, but realized that taking the ferry was unreliable and would have wasted a lot of time and energy trying to take the ferry, only to be disappointed if we couldn’t get a seat.  We went with a tour company that would take us to the island via boat and provided lunch (plus rum punch!)  It was a lot of time on the boat, but we got a solid two hours on the white sand beaches, and snorkel gear to see the fish and coral reef on Culebra.  It was a beautiful day, and the scenery is breathtaking!

All-in-all, I would go back.  I had some fresh mojitos, got soaked in a water fall, got sun-kissed, stood on a coral reef (OK, that was an accident, I had no intention of destroying wildlife… and yes I got yelled at for it!).. and most of all, had a great time.

Nina Thomas

Travel lover and writer

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2 comments

  • Amanda March 28, 2016 on 10:52 AM Reply

    I love this article! I’ve only traveled in the continental US, and going out of the country seems exciting but a little daunting. Puerto Rico sounds like a good first step. Thanks for the tips!

    • Nina Thomas Amanda March 28, 2016 on 12:48 PM Reply

      It really would make a great first tip out of the country… You don’t even need a currency converter or a passport!