PUERTO RICO CHEAT SHEET
- Visa: No for US / Canadian / Australian Citizens for tourist stays less than 90 days + no necessary vaccinations
- Best Time to Travel: Hurricane Season is Mid July-September w/ this month being the cheapest, mid December to mid April is most crowded.
- Currency: US DOLLARS
- Cost of Typical Meal - Dinners are expensive in the touristy restaurants with entrees ($15-$38USD)
- CC friendly: Yes in Old San Juan vicinity. Cash once outside of old san Juan
- Transportation: Rent a Car. Rates are cheap and cabs are expensive.
- Airports: Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (SJU)
- Language: Spanish and English. Everyone speaks fluent English
ONGOING RUMOR: Puerto Rico is a third world country.
MY EXPERIENCE: Puerto Rico is a US territory, and many parts feel very American. Walgreens, KFC and Mcdonald's are typical, and a lot of locals grew up in the states and returned.
OLD SAN JUAN
Cars and gas are cheap to rent, about $17 USD per day / $48USD w insurance and well worth the freedom to explore. Most sites are a drive away from OLD SAN JUAN, including the famous EL YUNQUE RAINFOREST. Since Puerto Rico is an American colony, cellular service works perfectly fine so you'll have perfect access to Instagram away.
Try the local dish of Mofongo, made of mashed plantains and served with meat and sauce. For a light snack, try the dusted sweet bread called Mallorca with a cafe con leche at Mallorca Cafteria. Visit Mate for some delicious baked Empanadas, and Fatties for some real, old school Jamaican Food. To get an old school Puerto Rican vibe, visit Cafe Manolin and sit at the counter with the locals.
Take a visit to La Factoria, a massive bar with rooms to fit any mood; from pumped up dance floor to chill, conversation bar. Explore La Taberna Lupolo to try some of the local drafts on Calle San Sebastian. This whole street picks up on the weekends and is packed with locals and tourists. Otherwise, visit the Placita de Santurce neighborhood during Happy Hour and and head to Jose Enrique for a delicious meal. Live salsa plays at Nuyorican Cafe till 6AM on the weekends.
N O T F O R T H e
F A I N T OF H E A R T
A GUIDE TO ADVENTURE IN PUERTO RICO
Puerto Rico is known for it's soft, sandy beaches and all inclusive resorts for Americans on the prowl for a getaway. Who wants to spend their whole vacation with a watered down Pina Colada and bratty kids splashing in the pool?
It's time for some serious adventuring and exploring in Puerto Rico.
CAVE CLIMBING IN CUEVA DEL INDIOS
"CAVE OF THE INDIANS"
ARECIBO, PUERTO RICO
After driving for an hour and a half through a seemingly standard highway, the city around us slowly transformed to small beachside shanty towns and crisp, blue seas. The music even changed here, creating a palpable shift in the mood. We were no longer in SAN JUAN, Arecibo has it's own distinct personality, a small town with a beach mentality. We took a nondescript turn onto a road with a shabbily made homemade sign that read "CUEVA DEL INDIOS". A sleepy family of Pit Bulls and a squawking, domineering rooster named Michael came to greet us.
Joined by a group of adventure driven friends I met at the hostel, we paid our $3USD to park and made our way in to the park to explore. Cueva Del Indios has had several films shot here including, "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Fool's Gold". Inside the famous caves are PETROGLYPHS, archaic signs drawn in the walls from the local Taino Indians.
ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK
The climb into the Cave is simple and straightforward, climb down a 25 foot wooden ladder. Instead, we found a hole in the wall that we couldn't resist climbing into (See pictures below). It's located directly to the right of the ladder before you head down. Once you climb , you'll find a very narrow opening with small formations in the rock to step on. Be careful since it's a tight squeeze and there's a small drop at the bottom. Make sure you're wearing good shoes.
The hole leads you to the inside of the cave, where you'll see the PETROGLYPHS carved into the stone and families of bats flying around. Pockets of boulders decorate the inside of the cave, and you'll find section after section to climb and explore. There's even a tiny little pond you can swim in, but don't stay in this cave too long. There's so much more waiting to be explored outside.
CLIFF JUMPING AT LOS ARCOS
THE ARCHES OF CUEVA DEL INDIO
Walking towards THE ARCHES is an unbelievable view, clear blue waters as far as the eye can see on the left, spiky, coral like terrain beneath your feet and a secluded beach decorated with swinging palm trees on the right. Adventurous locals come here to cliff jump, even from the highest arch that stands about 60 feet above the water. I WOULD NOT recommend jumping from this cliff since there are massive boulders in the water. Before jumping from the top of the arch, you have to swim to the bottom of the water to make sure the water is deep enough due to tide changes. There's even a HOLE on top of the arch with a tiny ledge that drops you the 60 feet into the water. If you look closely in the picture below, you can see the boulders in the water.
DON'T FALL DOWN THE HOLE.
Continue walking and you'll find a little clearing with the most pristine looking water and a tempting cliff to dive off about 10-15 feet above the water. This is a cliff you could jump off with no fear! NO DIVES! I jumped and my feet tapped the ground.
After feeling confident about myself, one of the locals named Jerry, pointed to the enormous cliff ahead of us and said, " You know people jump off that cliff too?" My friends and I all looked at each other and we knew we had to make our way over.
If all your friends
jumped off a cliff,
From L TO R below: 1. To get to the cliff, you have to hike down from the hill you are on, swim across the narrow waterway, 2.climb up to the top of the cliff (complete with spiky, uneven ground) and then 3. stand at the edge contemplating your life's last moments before jumping in.
SWIMMING AGAINST THE WAVES
DON'T DRIFT AWAY
Strong swimmers can also take the plunge into the water and navigate UNDERNEATH the arch. It's a bit wavy depending on the day, and you'll be thrown around the rocks, and get scraped quite a bit. Two of my friends made their way to take this shot. Make sure to bring some goggles and water shoes!
A WATERFALL BEHIND AN ABANDONED ELECTRIC PLANT
The waterfalls of LA PLANTA are known to locals as a place to relax and picnic. The town of LA PLANTA is slightly less than welcoming to the pack of foreigners coming to visit, so I would suggest being careful when driving around here. Named for a former electric plant that was created here in 1923, a manmade waterfall was built to create energy for the plant. Since then the building has fallen into decay, and the waterfall opened up as an escape from the sweltering heat of Puerto Rico.
Park your car outside of the abandoned plant. An old man stays here and cleans as well as watches the cars, though we were the only ones here.
Inside the Power Plant is an inspector's nightmare, a Tetanus infested wooden ceiling dangles dangerously low, plants grow from cracks within the walls and broken beer bottles and graffiti decorate the walls.
Walk past this building down the side of the river and you'll come upon the first waterfall. Step underneath it's watery pillars and feel the ice cold water cascade over your back.
A trip further down the river through water, boulders and path will lead you to the natural and much larger waterfall that is where all the locals hang and picnic. Make sure you leave before dusk, as you won't want to navigate back in the dark.
EL YUNQUE RAINFOREST
DON'T GO CHASING WATERFALLS..ACTUALLY YES, YES YOU SHOULD
Hiking to a waterfall is the best finish line you can ask for. Thinking of it, they should end marathons in the ocean so that everyone can just jump in and cool off after their run. EL YUNQUE RAINFOREST is the perfect place to get your outdoor hikes and waterfall fix.
A 15 minute hike towards COCO FALLS leads you to a secret waterfall with a natural stone staircase. Driving in EL YUNQUE stay on ROAD 191 until you hit the LA COCA TRAIL. A small parking lot and a map will point you in the trail of the COCA TRAIL. There is a quick hike downhill filled with plenty of rocks, plants and leaves to interrupt your path so be sure to have some good hiking shoes on. As we were trying to beat nightfall, we ended up taking a quick hike to the first waterfall and not attempting the entire 4 hour COCO FALLS hike, but the first waterfall was definitely worth it. You'll be skipping and hopping across wet, slippery boulders only to climb up a 15 foot natural staircase to meet a small, cascading waterfall. It'll be a great reprieve after a hot, sweltery time hiking down.
A RANDOM STOP LEADS TO
AN EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURE
As we drove towards EL YUNQUE on the 191, we drove across a little bridge where locals sat on massive boulders over streaming water. On the lookout for some rock climbing, we decided to pull over and see where the path would lead. What we found, would be one of my favorite experiences in all of Puerto Rico.
From L to R below: 1.From the rocks, we heard the sound of running water so we made our way downhill and came upon a small pool of water. 2. We took a dip into the water and knew the waterfall was behind this massive boulder blocking the way. 3. A large tree trunk was lodged in between the boulders, and in between, just enough space to squeeze in through to the other side. 4. A swim through a narrow entryway leads to the waterfall 5. Success!!
The water was freezing cold and the rocks extremely wet and slippery to climb. None of us had water shoes and the climb was pretty difficult in some parts shoe less. As long as you take your time and are careful you will be fine. The swims go between deep and shallow waters, but there is slippery walk to grab onto. The walls are close enough so you can plank across should you get tired close to the waterfall. Watch out for the alien like silverfish looking bugs that frequent the wall. Climbing back up the slippery rock difficult.
VEGA BAJA BEACH
A PERFECT COMPROMISE
On our last full day in Puerto Rico, half of our group wanted to go rock climbing and the other half (me) wanted to spend the day at the beach. To make both parties happy (me), our group decided to visit VEGA BAJA BEACH. With it's pristine and calm, clear waters and clean, dig in between your toes sand, this beach was one of my favorites. Behind the beach were restaurants and food trucks with live music blasting Puerto Rican hits and selling local treats. Directly across the water, were two massive rock formations begging for a climb.
You can reach the formations by one of three ways. 1. Swimming 2. Walking 3. Paddling on your floatie (my favorite option)
Swimming takes about 15 minutes so do not swim unless you are a good swimmer, whereas a land walk would take about 20 minutes. Floating however, offers the best option as you can see the whole view from above the water. In between the two rock formations is a natural land bridge with waves crashing in from the opposite side. You can walk on the land bridge, with sea urchins and various aquatic plants and creatures.
Word of the wise: I wouldn't wish this terrain on my own worst enemy. I'd rather sleep on a bed of Lego pieces than ever have to step on this terrain barefoot. I'd relive the "Home Alone" scene where Harry sneaks in the window and steps on the broken Christmas ornaments with bare feet for the rest of my life than step on this again. I'd rather drink a gallon of orange juice after I brushed my teeth than walk on this shitty, rocky, spiky, uneven and difficult rock. Did I hammer in how much this terrains blows? Make sure you are wearing some good and sturdy shoes to make this walk because it is awful, but the views are more than worth it.
BEACHES OF FAJARDO
Though FAJARDO is seen mainly as a jumping off point, Fajardo has a local beach called SEVEN SEAS BEACH. You can skip this beach, the sand is not clean, water is murky and filled with palm fronds/ various plants and the beach is narrow. Many locals frequent this beach and throw family parties which is nice, but if you're visiting Puerto Rico, you want to visit the beautiful waters. Instead, take a visit to LUQUILLO BEACH where the water is warm and calm, with soft sand and no need to fear of stepping on anything weird. We played a game of Paddleball with some friendly locals and even caught a mini rainstorm. At the end of the beach are stand up paddle board classes.
BIO BAY AND SUN BAY
Vieques is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in Puerto Rico, the Flamenco Beach of Culebra. You'll hear of Vieques as you are in San Juan as being the beauty queen of Puerto Rico. From Old San Juan, you'll have to drive about an hour to the town of FAJARDO, where you can pay $2USD per person to take the one hour ferry to VIEQUES. There's also an option to fly in a small plane from San Juan to Vieques, but that will cost you upwards of $100. If you are pressed for time, then you can try that as an option.
THE BIO BAY
We went with Abe's Snorkeling, paying $50USD per person. The Bio Bay is a lake with bioluminescent properties due to micro organisms that light up when the water is agitated. Dip your hand into the lake and you'll see tiny green specks drizzling down your hand. As we kayaked across the bay, schools of fish swam beneath us and knocked into the bottom of our kayak, causing an iridescent glimmer of the waters around them. I liked kayaking at nighttime and seeing the stars above mostly, I don't know if the tour was worth $50USD, as we had a massive group of 16 kayaks that kept bumping into each other. I'm sure you could go with a lower priced one and have the same outcome. After kayaking, and a detailed explanation of the organisms you are able to wander on your own before heading back.
DIVING OFF old BRIDGEs
SNORKELING IN THE SUN BAY
Visit the old bridge called Sugar Pier, where locals dive off and go snorkeling under. A rusty ladder is tied to the side of the pier to climb up. Snorkeling is said to be amazing here as well, so be sure to bring your goggles.
The Sun Bay is a beach completely in solitude. The shallow water is clear at the end of the bay, but step in a little deeper and there are massive patches of underwater plants. With the snorkels there were a few fish underwater, but mainly what looked like an underground forest, with each blade of "grass" populated with micro crystal bubbles.
Two of the guys decided to swim across to the island directly in front of the beach, and they made it back in twenty minutes. Within the bay is also a sunken boat that calls for some good snorkeling and surrounding the lands are wild horses.
Things worth bringing: Water shoes, snorkels, a blow up floatie
Where I stayed:
Posada San Francisco in Old San Juan: $15USD pp in a 5 person dorm / $19USD pp for a private double. Clean and centrally located hostel, with extremely social/ friendly people and balconies on each floor. It's located in an old apartment building with murals on the ceiling in the lobby. There is no sign for the hostel so you just have to take the elevator up to the lobby on the sixth floor. I recommend getting a room on the 5th floor (which is nicer) if you can, and going to hang out on the 4th floor. Great for solo travelers + friends!
The Lazy Hostel in Vieques: $25 in an 8 person dorm. Felt like I was at an 8th grader's sleepover. The bunk beds were tiny and had flannel bedsheets with kid like designs on them. I'm also not sure if anyone had switched out my sheets but there was decent air conditioning and tiny curtains and a light for each bed. The hostel itself is pretty open and hippie-esq, has a bar/restaurant attached and many ex pats in the area. Within walking distance to many ex pat bars and restaurants and directly across the street from the water.