In my last post, I began reviewing my 4 day, 3 night weekend trip to Puerto Rico with my best friend by discussing airfare and hotel accommodations. I hope to continue today by talking about some of the activities available in PR.
Puerto Rico isn’t a huge island, but there is enough to do to keep you busy for a few weeks (trust me, I know). If it is your first time visiting, there are two destinations that I consider to be “MUSTS“: El Yunque National Rainforest and Old San Juan.
El Yunque National Rainforest
My BFF and I visited El Yunque first. Now, if you are docking in Puerto Rico on a cruise, getting to El Yunque can be a challenge and costly, if you don’t know where to go or who to ask. The rainforest is not far from the Gran Melia Resort, about 25 minutes from San Juan and 40 minutes from Old San Juan. You can see El Yunque from San Juan; the mountain is just THAT prominent. And it’s beautiful, especially for two women living in Florida who are constantly at sea level.
Driving up Bosque 191, you’ll enter the rainforest and see the Visitors Center before driving up the one of the most winding roads you’ll ever see. If you are not on a guided tour, why not stop at the Visitors Center? Don’t do what we did…which I’ll get to later. First stop: La Coca Falls, which is located right on the main road. There are two parking lots that you can use. You’ll have the option of either taking photos from the sidewalk, or being more adventurous and climbing up to the base of the sheet rock/waterfall for an up close pic. We chose the latter. Definitely watch your step and you can have some great photo ops!
From there, you can continue to drive up the mountain until you reach Yoruba Tower. At this location, you will get some photos that will make all of your friends jealous. From the top of the tower, you can see all the way down to Luquillo Beach and the Atlantic Ocean; it’s just beautiful. The ascent up the tower is not the least bit strenuous.
The other major attraction for visitors to El Yunque is La Mina Falls, which is accessible via two trails: Big Tree Trail or La Mina Trail. Both hikes take around 30 minutes one-way, and at the base of the trail you’ll find a waterfall with a natural pool. Many people take their swimsuits and lunches in order to enjoy an afternoon of swimming and beauty. The hike back up is mostly uphill and involves stairs, so be prepared for this.
We planned to hike La Mina. I’ve done it twice in the past and the ascent IS challenging; each time, I forgot to bring a swimsuit and jealously looked on as people swam in the natural pool. I refused to be left out again. Problem was, I also forgot to confirm the name of the trail we needed before going to El Yunque. As we drove up the mountain, we passed the trail head for La Coca Trail; because I’ve hiked El Yunque twice, I thought it was the trail we needed and took note to return. And we did.
La Coca Trail is VERY difficult, and only serious or experienced hikers should attempt to do this. It’s 1.8 miles one way, and while you’ll encounter three different streams/waterfalls, it’s VERY VERY HARD. It is not well cleared or marked, so you have to make sure you stay alert and stay on the path. The return trip is almost all uphill, which doesn’t sound like much until you do it. It never once occurred to me that we were on the wrong trail…not ONCE. Not even when we didn’t find La Mina waterfall did I think “oh, this might be the wrong trail”. It wasn’t until several days later that I realized my error and gave a giant MEA CULPA to my Bestie…I’m glad she’s such a good sport!
Old San Juan
I consider Old San Juan as one of the most charming parts of Puerto Rico. It’s also one of the biggest tourist draws, with the island’s cruise port located smack dab in the middle of it. The old world architechure, firmaments and castillos combined with contemporary flair make this a very interesting place to visit. Where else can you visit a fort and get a frappuccino on the same block? (Answer: probably lots of places, but you get my point).
We parked within steps of the Port and walked over to Castillo San Felipe del Morro (aka “El Morro”), the prominent fort located at the tip of the island that is often featured in photographs. Entry fee for the Castillo is $3; if you want to visit Castillo San Cristobal as well, you can purchase a combined ticket for $5. We only visited El Morro. It’s very simple to conduct a self-tour of the fort due to the plethora of signs with historical information. There is moderate climbing involved once inside the fort; you enter on the fourth.
After visiting the fort, I recommend taking some time to walk the streets of Old San Juan. There are shops, boutiques and art galleries sprinkled throughout the area, not to mention the restaurants and bars. The closer you get to the port, the more tourist-targeted places you’ll find.
If you plan to visit the beach away from your San Juan hotel/resort, there is only one beach I recommend: Balneario de Luquillo (Luquillo Beach). It’s located 25 minutes east of San Juan, not far from El Yunque. I’ve been to this beach countless times growing up and it is gorgeous. The sand, the peaceful waves…you will not be disappointed. You can either take a cab or drive and expect to pay $4 for parking.
A few other activities in Puerto Rico worth exploring if you have the time: the Bioluminescent Bay (night kayaking), Caves at Camuy, the Bacardi Rum Factory Tour, and Arecibo Observatory.
Quick note: if you plan to rent a car, be WARY at the checkout counter. We reserved a car for $90 for the weekend, which seemed too good to be true. It was: there are all kinds of hidden fees charged once you check out. The counter agents must be instructed to phrase the offer of ‘extras’ a certain way; I NEVER purchase supplemental insurance and somehow it ended up on our invoice…clearly, because we weren’t asked to decline it (which I normally am), it was given to us. So watch for that.
I’ll be back soon to discuss FOOD! 🙂