Sea breezes and sun drenched vistas, Alex explores beautiful Puerto Rico and finds out how to spend a perfect day on the island.
Australian’s don’t often dream of going to Puerto Rico so when two friends and I decided to spend a week in PR over the 2019/20 New Year break we received a lot of quizzical looks, but in just seven days Puerto Rico has stolen my heart.
Now, a brief lesson on PR. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States. This means that Trump is their president, and they use US dollars, but they don’t have the same rights as a state. Puerto Rican’s mostly speak Spanish, and 41% of PR’s population live below the poverty line.
You may remember that Puerto Rico was recently hit by a series of hurricanes and earthquake activity. PR is heavily reliant on tourism to boost its economy, so during our stay we made conscious efforts to spend locally. So here is an economically responsible way to spend a day in beautiful Puerto Rico!
Look, the mornings in PR have two options:
Option one is that they’re a write-off. You lay around your apartment like you’re on a proper tropical holiday and surface around 11am. If you’re a brunch fiend and you cannot live without it, then I would recommend Tostado* on Calle Condado or Abracadabra on Ponce de Leon. These were local suggestions, and they’re definitely good for a brunch.
Option two is that you drag yourself out of bed early and head on an adventure. PR cannot be done without a car, they’re cheap as chips to rent from the airport (we paid $26USD/day for a brand new SUV including insurance).
Your adventure choices are to drive over to Ceiba on the east coast and catch a ferry to either Culebra or Vieques. Culebra is famous for it’s Flamenco Beach, which combines crystal clear turquoise water with pristine white sand. On the other hand, Vieques has a bioluminescent bay and snorkelling. We could not get tickets on the ferry, so book these well in advance!
Another option is Tanama River Adventures, an hour and a half west of San Juan. This river is on land owned by a First People’s family. Local guides take you on a short hike to the river where you can participate in cave tubing, cliff jumping and repelling. This tour was super fun! We learned a lot about the history of the area, spent some time in the water, and saw some absolutely beautiful views. I talked a lot of trash to the boys I was travelling with, but our guide Gabes had to hold my hand to get me to jump off this big cliff.
If you’ve done the Tanama River Adventure, then I cannot recommend anything more highly than calling in to El Indio, a restaurant and pizzeria just up the road. This restaurant was so much fun! It’s owned by a beautiful husband and wife team, they serve a mix of traditional Puerto Rican food and pizzas. My favourite part of this restaurant, besides the delicious passionfruit mojito, is that they treat everyone like family. 11/10, cannot recommend more highly.
Continuing our theme of local adventures, we stumbled across Buye Beach on a road trip to the west coast of the island. Buye felt like the beach that the locals go to when they want a holiday. Full of a mix of families, teens taking insta-pics and drunk twenty and thirty-somethings this beach was PUMPING. Lots of people with esky’s taking some tinnies into the water, throwing a ball around and just having a good time in the middle of winter.
PR’s beach culture is impressive for so many reasons. Still, my favourite is the balls to the wall confidence of Puerto Rican women. It does not matter what size, shape, age or colour you are, you are wearing a bright bikini with a level of confidence I have never seen on an Aussie beach. I have not felt more comfortable in my own skin than in PR.
Beach option numero dos: Mar Chiquita in Manati. Hoo boy, I could spend this whole article talking about Mar Chiquita. It’s a little alcove where waves come through a break in the rocks. It’s perfect for swimming, snorkelling and generally just lazing in the sun. What makes Mar Chiquita so fantastic though, is that locals have got this place set up. There are food trucks that will serve you Pina Coladas for $5, there are umbrella’s you can shade yourself under and chairs you can rent. Locals will even throw in a garbage bag as a reminder to keep the beach clean. For $20 I had, hands down, the best afternoon in PR. I swam, I lounged, I drank, I didn’t get sunburnt, and I ate the greatest empanada of my life.
If you’d rather stay in San Juan for the day, then I would recommend calling past the vintage store Johnny and June and grabbing a fabulous outfit. The store owners buy vintage clothes from PR locals, as well as travelling to the US for buying trips. The store has something for everyone, our party left with a fur coat, a floor-length dress and a letterman jacket.
Once you have your gorgeous new outfit on then head on over to Old San Juan. This is the sort of place that you want to be taking your insta pics of. It’s multi-coloured, pristine houses and cobbled streets, coupled with a 16th-century fortress or two make it feel like it’s been plucked right off a Disney movie. This area is extremely touristy, with lots of cruise ships coming into port here, so remember to support local businesses and avoid the chains where you can.
The evenings in PR are still warm, so night time swimming is definitely an option. We chose the tourist beach Isle Verde for ours, it’s got a beautiful view of the San Juan skyline as the sun sets, and the water is toasty warm.
If you’re looking for something slightly different, then La Placita is the place to be on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. It’s basically a town square that turns into a giant open-air night club. Bars around the square serve cheap drinks, play live music, and people dance in the street. We went here for New Year’s Eve and danced with cups of $3 sangria while the locals set off fireworks mere metres away. La Placita feels like a uniquely San Juan experience, and you can’t visit without going.
Puerto Rican meal delivery times are significantly longer than what we were used to. I would recommend preparing for food to arrive between 45mins and an hour after you order it, regardless of where you are. So if you’re in La Placita and think you’ll be hungry in an hour then look no further than Boronia. Boronia serves traditional Puerto Rican food, in meal sizes that would suit a professional eater. Someone in your party should order the KanKan pork so that you can see what a ‘meat mohawk’ looks like. This was also the night that I fell in love with fried plantains and creole sauce. Yum!
Honestly, a week in Puerto Rico wasn’t long enough, it’s such a beautiful place, and there are so many things that we didn’t do. Locals are more than happy to recommend places to you, most of the ones we visited were based on recommendations from Nick’s tinder dates. Thanks a bunch, ladies!
*Editor’s note – Puerto Rico has experienced recent earthquake activity so sure make sure you check travel updates prior to visiting. Shopping, dining and exploring with local businesses is a great way to support the economy.