Gavin and I decided to book a long weekend to Puerto Rico. It’s only 95 miles away from Beef Island and a short 40 minute flight.
Puerto Rico is only 100 miles long by 35 miles wide. It is made up of one main island and a number of smaller ones including Culebra, Mona and Vieques.
We arrived in San Juan Luis Munoz Marin International and got a taxi straight to Old San Juan, where we planned to stay for 4 nights. Coming from a sleepy little rock, Puerto Rico was a metropolis for us. The roads were so busy, there were buildings everywhere and a lot more people compared to what we are used to.
We stayed at the S.J Suites hotel. Nothing fancy as we weren’t planning on spending any time in the hotel, but it was clean and comfortable and located right in the centre of town. We dumped our bags and headed straight onto the streets to go and explore.
San Juan is known as La Ciudad Amurallada (the walled city). Old San Juan is full of character and charm due to it’s 17th century Spanish colonial buildings, narrow, bustling cobbled streets and it’s amazing Latin vibe.
We walked along the Paseo de La Princess, the beautiful promenade elegantly landscaped with trees and statues, passing La Princesa (a sculptured fountain) and the Puerta de San Juan (large wooden doors built into the large city walls which are 20 ft. thick and 40 ft. tall). Part of the promenade has been taken over by cats. Apparently they were brought here to control the rodent population years ago and never left. There are food and water bowls located in amongst the rocks and are fed regularly by Save-a-Gato Cat Sanctuary. The walk then took you on the Paseo del Morro trail and up through the monumental 16th century Spanish fort of San Felipe del Morro Fortress. The fort is located on top of the cliff side overlooking the San Juan bay. The historical architecture is beautiful with cannons pointing out into the sea and a maze of dungeons, barracks and tunnels to explore.
Once you reach the grassy entrance at the top of the hill you get amazing views of the colonial cemetery, the residential area of La Perla and Castillo de San Cristobel in the distance. La Perla is known as the seaside slum with it’s colourfully painted houses. We were told the scenic shantytown was a no go for tourists, but it was beautiful to look at from afar.
Walking into Old San Juan the buildings are splashed with bright colours and you feel like you’re in a European city with it’s cobbled streets and romantic ambiance. We found the Parque de las Palomas which is filled with thousands of pigeons. Pigeons are one of my biggest phobias and the sight of them all flapping, whilst little children fed them sent shivers running down my spine! Down the road we came across the Barrachina restaurant which was the birthplace of the Pina Colada. We obviously had to go in and try where the world famous cocktail was introduced. We sat in the beautiful little courtyard in the centuries old building and waited for our cocktail to be served. I must admit, I was a little disappointed, the cocktail was nice, but it had been mass produced in a large slushy like machine and was dispensed directly from it. If I was attracting people into my bar based on the fact it was where the first Pina Colada was introduced, I would expect it to be served by a bar tender showing off his mixology skills.
That evening we went to a restaurant called Inaru for dinner. Our evening there was exceptional. It was some of the best service we had had in a very long time. The waiter was friendly, attentive and very knowledgeable of the dishes on offer. We tried one of the Puerto Rican national dishes called Mofongo. Mofongo is essentially mashed fried plantains combined with either meat, seafood or vegetables and served typically with rice and beans. It was very filling, but a delicious meal.
The following day we had another day exploring the old town. We got on a free trolley bus that drove you around Old San Juan showing you the sights of local theaters, museums, the forts and cathedrals. We were doing a lot of walking on this trip and our feet were starting to throb. The previous day we found a quirky little bar that offered massage and a free Sangria, so we headed back there for an afternoon of relaxation. It was called the Anam Spa and Cocktail lounge. We thought it was a strange concept at first having a beauty salon at the back of a cocktail bar, but why not. It was a great little bar overlooking the sea. We had a full body massage to relive the stresses of work and our poor feet from all the walking, and we enjoyed our free sangria with a cool breeze gazing over the waters edge. It was fantastic. On our way home we stopped at a local vendor selling jacket potatoes. I hadn’t had a potato filled with chilli and cheese in a long time, it was incredible. The vendor was located on the side of a busy street and was making a fortune from passing trade. As we were waiting for our food we would watch him get custom from people on foot and also by car. The traffic in San Juan was extremely busy. People would place their order as they drove past, did a couple of loops around the block and picked their food up the next time they drove by. It was a great idea.
I absolutely love everything Latino, from the people to the music to the dancing. That evening we had booked a restaurant called ‘Trina’. It was a flamenco and tapas restaurant. We were seated around 7.30pm, and were able to enjoy a glass of wine and some Paella before the show started at 8.30pm. The guitarist was fascinating, I’ve never seen somebodies fingers moved so fast. Juan Carlos was the amazing Flamenco guitarist. As he told us about his life, he played some beautiful music as his dancers hand clapped, finger snapped and spun their elegant dresses around the stage. I thought the performance was fantastic, the food was good and the overall atmosphere was thoroughly enjoyable.
On our third day we got up and headed to the ferry dock. We caught the ferry over to Catano and jumped into a taxi to take us to the Bacardi factory. The queues to get in were long and the entrance fee was pretty expensive for what you got. Gavin and I have made it our mission to explore every rum factory we can get to, so we have had some great experiences around the Caribbean. We decided to take the Historical tour which only lasted 45 minutes. You learned how they made their rums, and the family owned company’s history of craft and innovation. After the tour had finished you were entitled to one free cocktail, and it was only a very basic cocktail at that, unless you wanted to pay for a better one. Once we had finished our drink we hopped back into a taxi and headed to the ferry dock. The ferry wasn’t coming for a while so we went across the road to a local bar called Casa Catano and grabbed a quick drink before the ride home.
We went to a restaurant called Dragonfly that evening which was recommended to us by a friend. It was a trendy little Latin Asian restaurant. Set in a dark, candlelit room, and with some cool beats in the background, it was the perfect way to spend our last night. After dinner Gavin had promised me he would take me Salsa dancing. I had heard of a bar called the Nuyorican Cafe which was located underneath ‘Da House’ hotel. It took us a while to find the bar as it was located down a little side alley. It was pretty early in the evening when we arrived, but they were just about to start Salsa lessons! Excellent, just what I wanted, Gavin on the other hand was not too thrilled. I made him get up on the dance floor with me and he showed me his moves. Neither of us were great, but his footwork was all over the place. He got frustrated and told me to go and dance with the teacher instead, so I jumped at the chance to dance with a professional for a while and I loved it. I love the Latin rhythm and the music makes me feel so happy. There was a live band later on in the evening, but after a long day and a lot more walking, we decided to call it a night and made our way back to the hotel.
On our final day we decided to catch a taxi out of Old San Juan to Condado. This is a busy beach resort where you find sophisticated bars and restaurants, designer stores, hotels and casinos. Gavin and I arrived early so we thought we would grab a bite to eat for breakfast. We went to a place called ‘Pannes’ which was very American, selling pancakes, french toast, waffles etc. They served big portions and the restaurant itself was nice, but we thought the food was pretty average. We then decided to walk the whole length of the strip and back up the beach. The beach was beautiful, the sea was blue, and the contrast between some of the buildings varied enormously. There were some fancy apartments and villas one end and derelict hotel blocks the other. I think we came out of season as the beach and the streets were very quiet, but I can imagine in the height of summer it’s busy and looks like the place to be! We had a bit of time to spare, so we decided to see how far we could get walking back to San Juan before we melted in the blazing heat. We got about halfway when we decided to nip into a fancy hotel on the way back for a dip in their pool to cool off. We got a taxi back to our hotel just in time for us to pack our bags and head back to the airport.
I have fallen in love with Puerto Rico and will definitely return. Old San Juan is captivating and charming and I would recommend a visit to anyone. Hopefully we will be back to Puerto Rico for another visit in the not too distant future. Next time we want to check out El Yunque Rainforest and head over to the West Coast to see places such as Rincon, which we have heard great reviews about and Gavin is desperate to check out the surf!
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