Puerto Rico-The Island
It’s Puerto Rico round 2! This trip was so different from our first. We visited Puerto Rico for the second time in January of 2017. We called it our honeymoon even though it was months after our wedding, and we technically did another honeymoon later in the year. More on that in a later post. This time around we spent basically no time in San Juan. We rented a car and explored the island and fell even more in love than we already were from the first trip there two years before. Settle in if you’re wanting to read this whole trip, it’s a long one, but I didn’t want to skip anything good, and there is so much good in Puerto Rico.
Mauricio is so brave and willing to drive in unknown places. I’m grateful I have him for that because I don’t even like driving in places I’m comfortable with. I would be an absolute mess in a foreign place. Our Nuvi navigation system works in Puerto Rico without having to install any extra programs, because Puerto Rico is included in the standard United States package because, you know, it’s a part of the United States. Having the Nuvi in new places is amazing! When I’m left to navigating with paper maps, it can get bad. So seeing right where we are is ideal. It also helped that everyone is Puerto Rico drives like Mauricio does, all for themselves. It’s a driving style that sort of stresses me out, but Mauricio fits right in so after a few days I got more comfortable with the madness. There were so many crazy things on the road of Puerto Rico, most rememberable was a pickup truck full of goats. Just standing there in the bed of the truck, driving down the highway.
Then there is the fact that Puerto Ricans will spend more on a sound system for their car than the car itself. You’ll hear cars blaring music through the streets, on the highways by the beach, literally everywhere. One local told us that if you want to party just follow somewhere playing music and eventually you’ll get to a party. While we didn’t fully test this out, we were following a car blaring music for a while one day and I kind of wanted to see where it ended up. From what I could tell though it was just roaming around the streets with no real direction.
Another notable thing about driving in Puerto Rico is that emergency vehicles always drive with their lights on. We were so confused about why no one was moving over for the ambulances or cops. After 2 days of witnessing no one caring about emergency vehicles, I looked it up. Apparently emergency vehicles always have their lights going to help reduce crime… ?
While it didn’t make sense to us, at least we knew that you only have to move over if their sirens are going as well, that’s how you know its a real emergency.
Our first day on this trip we drove to the Northwestern town of Isabela to our AirBnB on Montones beach. There is a little resort on the beach, but we were staying in an apartment, which was just as close as the resort to the water. While there is a resort there, it’s not a very touristy area. The beach is nice and quiet and we spent one afternoon/evening just lounging on the beach watching people parasailing. On Jobos beach, just around the corner from us, was a line of restaurants that I hope are still there after the hurricane. We had lunch at Sonido del Mar with awesome ocean views and open windows to feel the breeze. It was seriously so beachy and perfect. The food and $1 Heinekens weren’t bad either. That’s another note, Puerto Ricans love Heineken, which I found a bit funny. While they love Heineken, the beer of Puerto Rico is definitely Medalla. It’s made in Puerto Rico, and while we hadn’t heard of it before, Mauricio became quite a fan over our trips. I, on the other hand, choose to support the local Bacardi factory and stuck to Mojitos and Pina Coladas.
While we were staying in Isabella we drove to a resort for dinner one evening. We didn’t really realize we were going to a resort. I had just found a restaurant that looked good and it ended up being tucked away in the forest in a resort. Getting there was interesting, even with the Nuvi. We weren’t 100% sure it was taking us the right way when we got in to the trees so thick it almost turned dark and the road narrowed off to barely single car. But then all of a sudden we were at the gates of the Villa Montana Resort. It looked like an awesome place to stay, tucked away and very private. Our dinner was even right next to a wedding party which was kind of fun. Our stay in Isabella was quiet and relaxing and just the perfect way to start the trip.
When we left Isabela we were scheduled to stay in the Northeast part of the island in Luquillo. But instead of driving across the north of the island, we decided to drive down the western coast, across the south a bit and then up to Luquillo. While that sounds like a crazy idea, the total drive time was about 5 hours. That’s 5 hours to go around the whole island. So we decided it was worth it to spend a day going around the island before heading to Luquillo where we would spend the rest of the week.
We started out the day by going to Rincon, which is the place to be if you want to surf. We first stopped at Faro Punta Higueras, a lighthouse sitting on the westernmost point of the island. We wandered around the park area gawking at giant iguanas and the amazing ocean views. We sat for a while and watched some surfers. We weren’t there in prime surfing season, but the waves are apparently the best on the west coast so there is always people out surfing. We drove a little bit through Rincon and found a little shack to get smoothies on the beach. It was a very cool little area that I’d like to explore more next time we visit.
After our snack we continued on to our next lighthouse. For some reason I had found lighthouses to stop at along the way, don’t ask why because I don’t know. This one was the very southwest point of the island, Cabo Rojo. Little did I know on our way there that I was about to find my happiest place in the world. The drive was questionable at best. We went through a little run down town and started through some very dead looking vegetation on a barely there road. I could tell Mauricio was really starting to question where I was leading him, and I won’t lie, I was wondering about it myself. But there was no opportunities to turn around, so we just kept on going. Eventually we came to a parking lot full of cars. So we stopped, got out and started walking.
We could see the lighthouse up on the hill, so we went towards it since there was no real signs. Once we got up there I fell in love. The lighthouse, obviously, sat high up on the cliffs and down below us was a gorgeous little beach in a cove off the sea.
If we had taken a lower path we would have ended up on that beach, which we could see a lot of people from the parking lot had done.
We continued walking around the cliffs, looking out over the sea and came across la Puente de Piedra which was an arch over the water that I thought was amazing. Around the corner from that was a tiny little sandy spot that we could get down to. It was really hot that day, and we hadn’t worn our swimsuits to visit the lighthouse but I couldn’t help but jump in the water and take in the great opportunity in front of us. We played in the water and sat on our own little beach for a while. To this day it was the best time I’ve had. I think part of what made it so great was that it was completely unplanned. I thought we were going to a lighthouse and instead we found an amazing little getaway for just the two of us. If I lived on the island, that would be my go to spot to get away, for sure.
The only thing that was able to peel me away from my heaven on earth, was hunger. We hadn’t eaten since Rincon and after all the hiking and swimming we were hungry. So we said a sad goodbye to our beach and went inland to find some food. We finally found a place right on the beach called Annie’s Place. We had a very long experience there. I won’t go in to my whole TripAdvisor review but I’ll just say it took about an hour to get our food which we ate in about 2 minutes and were left still hungry. The views were amazing though, and we saw a guy catch a giant fish during the sunset while we waited.
By the time we got done with dinner it was dark and we still had to get to Luquillo. We spent way longer in Cabo Rojo than I anticipated so the drive though the island was pretty uneventful since it was dark. We did make it to our next AirBnB before it was too late, but we didn’t realize how amazing it was until the next morning.
We spent the rest of our week stationed in Luquillo in the most amazing apartment. Amazing to us because the windows opened and the ocean was right below us with the breeze coming in and through the apartment. It wasn’t anything too fancy but to us it was breathtaking. Since we showed up in the dark, we really didn’t know what our view was until the morning. When we got there in the night, we decided to leave the windows open so we could hear the ocean and feel the breeze. It was so beautiful and peaceful. Until I woke up to Mauricio jumping out of bed yelling that he was getting rained on.
We had a few days we were spending in Luquillo, and we had a few things planned in the area, but the first day we went to the rainforest, El Yunque. It was just about a 30 minute drive to the entrance of the park and we decided to go through the visitor center to decide where we wanted to go. That was a pretty big waste of time and money. You have to pay to get in to the visitor center, I can’t remember how much but I expected it to really be something since I was paying for it. It was basically a kind of nice building with maybe 1 movie showing every hour. There was hardly anything too it and basically no information about the trails. We were able to track down a cartoon map of the roads and buy a magnet and postcard in the tiny gift shop they had. Other than that, I’d say skip it if you’re in the area.
There’s one main road in and out of the forest, so we opted to go all the way to the end of the road, then work our way back down stopping at the hikes we thought looked good. At the top of the windy forest road is Torre Mount Britton, which we thought looked like a short hike to an awesome viewpoint.The hike to the tower is about .8 miles long and it’s paved basically the whole way but it’s a steep almost mile. We climbed a lot of elevation in the hour or so walk but it was so worth it at the top. Being up in the tower overlooking the greenery of the island was amazing to us. It also helped that it was only the two of us up there for a while, so we could play around the tower and gawk without feeling stupid.
Once we made our way back down, which took a lot less time that it took us to go up, we decided to stop next at the Big Tree Trail which connects to Cascada la Mina. I had seen that you could swim in the pool around the waterfall, and we were prepared to swim if we felt so compelled. It was another largely paved hike and was basically the same distance as the tower, but it had much less elevation change so it was easier. The Big Tree Trail can actually be done as a loop with trail for the the waterfall, and that’s exactly what we ended up doing. The bad part for us was we didn’t have a car at the parking lot for the waterfall, so we had to walk back down the road to get to our car. It wasn’t too far or anything, just not as fun as hiking a trail.
The waterfall itself was pretty cool. It was nice to relax by the water, but after feeling it a bit we were pretty set on not swimming, It was super cold! There was one guy who got in the water while we were there, but mostly it was a bunch of people taking selfies and squealing with how cold the water was when they touched it. It was a lot more populated than the tower had been, so we moved along pretty quick. One of the best things about the hike was hearing the coqui chirps. Coquis are a little frog that supposedly only lives on Puerto Rico. One local told us that they had tried relocating some to another island and they couldn’t survive, they can only live there. I don’t know how much I believe him, but they consider them good luck and we got to hear a lot of them on that hike, so I guess the island frog was looking out for us.
By the time we got done with our second hike and our sandwiches we had brought along, it was getting dark so we figured we didn’t have time for more stops, which was kind of okay because we were both pretty tired. We like to go on hikes at home but the steep hike in the humidity was a lot different than the desert hikes we are used to. We found our way back to the apartment, after a few poor navigational turns on my part, and pretty much fell right asleep.
The next day we had to get up pretty early and drive to Fajardo for a snorkeling tour we had booked. We met at the marina and discovered that our group was very small, there was only 2 other couples and a family of 3. We were pretty excited that it wasn’t going to be a large group of us going out. We all got aboard and went for about a 30 minute boat ride to the reef we would be snorkeling at. The guides we so nice and helpful for anyone who hadn’t been snorkeling before and basically just let us do our own thing for about an hour. Then they rounded us up and took us to another location.
Some of the more experienced people went out and did a dive that you had to swim under a rock underwater. Mauricio and I stayed on the boat and relaxed with another couple while the others did that excursion. They then took us to Cayo Icacos while we had snacks and could explore around for an hour or so. We wandered around the beautiful beaches and snacked and wrapped up a perfect island day in my opinion.
Back at home we realized that we wore way to little sunscreen for our perfect island day and had to go to Walgreens and get some aloe. Side note, there is literally a Walgreens on every corner in Puerto Rico. Later that evening, we were scheduled to be back in Fajardo for a night kayaking trip to the bioluminescent bay of Laguna Grande. After meeting our group for the evening, we heavily sprayed ourselves with bug spray and got fitted into lifejackets, which were required this time since it was a real company and not a guy in a van as you might remember from our first Puerto Rico visit. We had three guides that were in charge of keeping their group of about 20 kayaks organized. While that might sound difficult let me just remind you that this was a night kayaking trip and also let you know that of those 20 kayaks I’d say 2 of us had ever been in a kayak before. It was chaos. We had to get organized and go through a narrow, tree covered creek to get into the bioluminescent bay. Now if you don’t know what a bioluminescent bay is, don’t feel bad. It’s a pretty rare thing, there are 2 bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico and I think a few more in the Caribbean. Basically the water glows. But the reason it glows is a lot more sciency, and our guides were able to explain it to us once we got ourselves into the bay. There are little lifeforms that can only survive under the right conditions whose defense mechanism is to light up. So while we were kayaking, each time we put our paddle into the water and moved it back there would be a trail of light behind the paddle. You could also see a glow under our boats as we moved through the water. Laguna Grande is a protected lagoon, to help keep the fragile life alive, so you can’t swim or touch the water because it will harm the little creatures. I think some in our group were expecting something greater, a lot of the ads online made it look like it was a really strong glow all the time. That’s not the case at all. They light up when they are touched, and their health also depends on how much they light up. Our guides did tell us it wasn’t a very good day for seeing the bioluminescence, and we actually got a small refund because of that, but I still thought it was beautiful. If nothing else it was a fun night kayak experience too.
Both of the trips we did were with the company Kayaking Puerto Rico and I can’t recommend them enough. All of our guides were amazing and friendly. They kept our tourist needs met and it just seemed like a good company to me. I thought about them a lot during Hurricane Maria and I’m happy to say they were able to get up and running not long after the devastation so I don’t think they had much loss with the storm.
Our final day in Puerto Rico was a little strange. Our flight didn’t leave until 5 in the evening from San Juan, so we had a full day to get to the airport which was about 40 minutes away. Since we had already seen San Juan for a whole week two years before, we decided to drive through more of the island. Instead of heading west to San Juan, we went east to Fajardo, then south to Humacao and then wrapped our way back northwest to San Juan. We only stopped a few times, at some pretty spots and to eat basically. That part of the island is more industrial and there wasn’t a whole lot to see. And to be honest I hadn’t researched a lot of the area so there could have been some good stuff we drove right by without knowing it.
We made it to the airport in plenty of time, maybe we should have made better use of our final day but I was afraid of getting wrapped up in something and missing our flight. Also Mauricio was complaining of his sunburn and bug bites. He was telling me all day how itchy and red he was. Come to find out he’s allergic to conch and was having a slow allergic reaction from trying my dinner our final night. By the time we got back to Denver he couldn’t even tie his shoes because his feet were so swollen! Bad wife award right there.I felt horrible for brushing it off as him not being able to stand a few bug bites and a sunburn, but a few benadryl later he was just fine.
If you made it through this whole thing, good for you! I know it was a long, hopefully not to rambly, post. But I just have so much love for Puerto Rico and I wanted to share all of my favorite moments from our trip. If you’re thinking of visiting Puerto Rico, I highly recommend doing it this way. Rent a car, see the island. I know there is still a lot we didn’t get to, like Ponce and Vieques, but they are on our list for the next trip, and you can bet there will be another trip to Puerto Rico for this little family of mine.