Puerto Rican Paradise

My first trip to the Caribbean waters was a success. Puerto Rico was the ideal destination for a week-long getaway during Thanksgiving break. From its crystal clear waters, numerous islands, and lush rainforest, Puerto Rico was the perfect place to unwind and relax, while still being active and adventurous. 

My sister Courtney, brother-in-law, Derek, and his brother, Adam, all arrived in Puerto Rico and settled into our 19th floor condo in the Playa Azul complex on Luqillo beach. Luquillo was about 25 minutes outside of San Juan, 20 minutes to the port of Fajardo, and about 15 minutes from the rainforest, making it a perfect home base.

The first full day in Puerto Rico was spent enjoying the beach outside of our condo. There were reefs located off the beach as well, but the water was too choppy for snorkeling. Around the corner was a surfer’s beach that produced some pretty sizable waves. For an early lunch, we drove two mintues to the Kioskos – about 60 shacks with all kinds of Puerto Rican flavor. The cheapest option, and something we enjoyed numerous times, were the emanpanadas and Puerto Rican tacos. They are far from healthy, but two made of good lunch for less than $5. That evening we ate at the Rincon de Sabor, a restaurant recommended on Tripadvisor. This was my first time trying the traditional Puerto Rican dish of Mofongo. Mofongo is mashed plantains and is Puerto Rico’s version of mashed potatoes.
Mofongo with chicken inside
Sunday morning we woke up and headed towards the Yunque rainforest.  The Yunque rainfoest is the only rainforest in the United States National Forest System and receives up to 200 inches of rain per year. It has numerous hiking trails that all have rain shelters along the way. We decided to do the .07 mile hike (one way) to Las Minas falls. It was a relatively easy hike, possible for all ages. The waterfall had two pools at its base, so we took a little dip into the chilly water.




Derek, Adam and I swimming in the falls.


An early wakeup call came on Monday morning. We were headed to Culebra island, and needed to arrive at the port in Fajardo to get a ticket for the ferry. People live on the island as well meaning the tickets for the ferry can go rather quickly, so we arrived around 7:00am with the ferry leaving at 10:00. After a 45 minute ferry ride across the sea, we arrived at Culebra where a taxi van took us to Flamenco beach for $3/person. Flamenco beach was the prettiest beach I have ever seen. With this trip being my first time in the Caribbean, I was amazed at how I could stand in five foot water and still see down to my toes. The water contained about ten shades of blue and the beach stretched over a mile long, enough room for everyone to spread out. There were also some reefs in this area as well, allowing for perfect snorkeling with calm waters. There were food shacks close to the beach, so we enjoyed some empanadas for lunch. This beach was a nice getaway from the mainland, and the $2 ferry ride to Culebra was definitely worth the trip.





Derek snorkeling
Tuesday was set aside for old San Juan, a town mixed with Spanish and Carribean flair. Two forts on located on this mini island, both built by the Spanish. The Spanish came in 1493, realized how valuable the deep harbor in San Juan is, and built Fort Morro  between 1539-1540 to defend against sea attacks. The "Castillo de San Cristobal, another fort, was built in 1783 to defend against land invasions and covers about 27 acres. To enter both forts only costs $5, a deal for how much history each fort contains. The town of Old San Juan also includes numerous museums and other places to visit, but we decided to just walk around, roam the streets, and shop. We eneded the night with dinner at a local restaurant back away from the port (they are cheaper, the farther you go). I definitely recommend Old San Juan, and it was a perfect day trip. It was a little piece of Europe in the United States.





Another adventure awaited us on Wednesday, a snorkeling trip. We were able to snorkel a little on Flamenco beach, but really wanted to explore big, calm-watered reefs with tons of fishies. We booked our trip with the Spread Eagle II, which included all-day drinks, lunch, a snorkel to keep, and transportation to two different snorkeling locations, costing $80. I thought the price was a little expensive for a five hour trip, but it was comparable to other companies. The first stop was on an unihabited island, Icacos that had a reef right off the beach. The water was a little murky due to the high tide, but we were still able to see some exotic schools of fish. The next location was off the island Palominos, where Pirates of the Caribbean filmed for two weeks. This reef was in deeper water, so we were able to swim over it and feed the fish leftover bread from lunch.

Island of Icacos


Thanksgiving was spent on the local Luquillo beach, just around the corner from us. The beach extended for a half mile, and had extremely calm waters. It was a perfect family beach, with no reefs and a roped off swimming area. Bathrooms, food stands and chair rentals were all in the area as well. 

Starfish

Luquillo Public Beach

Courtney taking in some rays

Puerto Rico was a wonderful getaway and the easiest place to travel in the Caribbean from the United States. Cell phones work in Puerto Rico, no passport is necessary, and they use the American dollar making for easy travels. They have many stores that the continental US has, but one can also find some Puerto Rican flair. With many activities, endless pristine beaches, and the friendliest and most helpful people, Puerto Rico was a great place to relax and spend Thanksgiving break. 

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