A long weekend away in Puerto Rico was the perfect remedy to the busy build up to Christmas. We fell in love with the warmth of the people, the place and its fusion of Caribbean and Spanish culture: so, think late-night tapas, mojitos, and salsa (to dip and to dance!) Busy isn’t an issue when you live by the laws of ‘island time.’ A meal isn’t something you eat, it’s a shared experience. And having fun is far more important than looking cool.
San Juan’s Old Town has a distinctly European feel. It’s pastel-coloured houses, castle walls and winding cobbled streets create the impression of a living museum and make the city an absolute joy to tour by foot. We stayed in the heart of the old town in a fabulous Airbnb, complete with orange-pastel exterior, two balconies and a mezzanine for the bed (accessed by spiral staircase of course!) A picturesque and perfectly sized apartment for two, which was certainly one of the highlights of the trip, and something we’d highly recommend.
This felt like a compulsory section because as many of you know, we love to walk our way around the world and always seem to find hidden gems along the way! Within Old San Juan there are some wonderful walk ways that take you around the perimeter of the castle walls and offer beautiful views of the sea (and the sunset if you time it right!)
On our second morning we were loving the coastline so much that we decided to continue our expedition further, and walked all the way from Old Town to Ocean Park and Isla Verde. It’s not a short trek: we walked over 14 miles in a day which included a few stretches of road. But as we always seem to find, the walk was well worth it. Particularly when we stumbled across a beach side seafood restaurant, hungry and happy to find a sea-facing table for two. Long walks, rewarded by long lunches, lounging on the beach and several beers. My perfect ‘hybrid holiday’ kind of day that ended with octopus, mojitos and a much-less demanding Uber ride home!
One of the highlights of our trip was a tour we booked with Jerry Adventures. We’re not typically ‘tour’ people, and prefer to DIY it ourselves where possible. However, due to the relatively recent hurricane (which has still left people without power after 18-months) much of the El Yunque tropical rainforest is closed to the public. Thankfully, we stumbled across Jerry’s highly recommended tour online and found ourselves on a real rainforest adventure that took us to a hidden waterfall (even Google maps doesn’t know about!) Jerry discovered the magnificent waterfalls as a child and since the hurricane, has been running tours to this secluded spot, set-back in the depths of the rainforest.
So, expect to get active! The tour involves a good 30-minute hike, climbing and bouldering over the riverside rocks. And even if you’re not treated to a rain storm as we were- expect to get wet! When we reached the bottom of the falls, we had to swim across a small pool, climb up and over the bottom section of the falls, before showering under the gorgeous falls- an absolutely magical experience.
The tour was topped off with a ‘family lunch’ at a local rainforest restaurant (set high in the mountain). Big- all your-can-eat plates of local favourites were brought out and shared as a group. Which was exactly what we needed after the morning’s adventure! We'd highly recommend the tour- Jerry, his son and the two friendly dogs who accompanied us along the hike provided us with a really fun, energetic and off-the-beaten track exploration through an (almost ) unexplored part of Puerto Rico's rainforest.
Cantano and the Bacardi Tour
On our final day we decided to take the ferry across to Cantano to visit the Bacardi factory. The tour is worth doing as it includes a free drink at the beautiful outdoor bar overlooking the sea. The mojitos are fabulous but there's also an elaborate rum concoction severed in a coconut if your feeling tropical (but be warned..it's very strong!)
Yet, what we loved most about the day was exploring the unexpected peace and quiet of the North side of the island. The ferry costs 50 cents each way and offers a great view of the shoreline, so it's well worth a trip even if you're not planning on going on the rum tour. Cantano is not touristy at all and offers a nice break from the resort-style attractions in the more popular parts of Puerto Rico. We found an excellent restaurant serving fantastic local cuisine at local prices. Think massive, family-style paella dishes and other seafood delights !
Food and Drink
Every meal we ate was fabulous. Which seems to be everyone’s reaction, as it’s hard to find a restaurant with any bad reviews on TripAdvisor. So, here are a few of our favourites:
San Juan Old Town:
Coffee and corn bread at Cafe Cola'o
Piña Coldas at Barrachina, the birth place of the tropical drink!
Tapas at T Tuan
Hot Chocolate at Chocobar
Spanish Food at La Taberna Lupulo
Live music and late night wine at La Factoria Vino
Roof top drinks at Al Fresco
Mofongos at The Chapel
(NB. You can get Mofongos almost everywhere and they are a must-try local delicacy. It’s essentially plantain mashed potato with yummy extras on top!)
As mentioned above...
Ocean views at Alambique
Grilled Octopus at Yerba Beuna
Local lunch at Los Serranos (NB. it’s a 10 minute Uber ride from the Bacardi factory).