Adventures in Puerto Rico

Top of The Gallery Hotel San Juan The Gallery Hotel San Juan Old San Juan Street Art Beautiful Rincon beach action Overlooking the ocean The Beach in Puerto Rico Old San Juan Mi madre and me At the Beach House Restaurant, Rincon Puerto Rico Sunset Rincon Sunset in Puerto Rico Rincon at La copa llena Restaurant Plaza in Old San Juan

My mom was going to Puerto Rico with a girlfriend, and considering the price of the ticket ($230), I decided to join in on the fun. Why not, right? Our trip took place Dec 3 – 10, for contextual purposes.

What to pack for Puerto Rico in December (and what I missed)

When the weather is the complete opposite of where you currently live, sometimes it can be tricky deciding what exactly to bring. One thing I have learned over the years is to only pack a single carry on. It doesn’t matter where you’re going, or really for how long, you end up using about 20% of the items you packed no matter what (I don’t have the citable source for that stat, but can verify that it’s approximately accurate based on my previous experience.)

So, here’s what I packed that I actually got use out of

  • One long, flowy skirt
  • Two tank tops
  • Two pairs of light, flowy pants
  • A swimsuit
  • A raincoat
  • A pair of flipflops
  • Obviously, undies/bra

Here are the things I packed that I didn’t use once

  • Hair dryer (my hair dried quickly from the heat, but it isn’t too thick)
  • Hair straightener (I didn’t bother, it was too humid)
  • Two or three short sleeved shirts (too hot to wear)
  • One pair of pants (again, too hot)
  • High heels (no way on those cobblestone roads!)
  • One pair of close-toed flats (too hot to wear)

Things I forgot that I would bring next time

  • An extra swimsuit if you plan to get a lot of beach time
  • An umbrella

Some other tips on clothing for Puerto Rico

You should pack a pair of flip flops in your carry on so that you can immediately change your shoes upon arrival. In the same vein, wear layers. You’ll want to shed them when you get there. You may think that you can make it to your hotel without dying, but you’ll be wishing you could take off all of your clothes from the heat and humidity!

Where we stayed

Stay in Old San Juan at least 2 days. There’s so much to see and do there. It’s a beautiful old town, full of colorful, charismatic buildings, and plenty of “holes in the wall” where you can have custom made cocktails crafted by local “bartists”.

We stayed at Da House – a very eclectic boutique hotel. The lady at the front desk is hilarious and incredibly helpful when it comes to advice on where the hottest spots are that night. Read more about it on Trip Advisor.

We also stayed at The Gallery. This one’s trickier to find and get into, but you’ll understand why after staying there. Not only is it like a literal jungle when you enter the courtyard because of the greenery and parrots, but it’s also a museum-like experience. If you wander the passageways that weave through the building, you’ll find all kinds of little rooms set up with different art, antiques, and more. The experience was worth the money. Here’s a link to some of the Trip Advisor reviews.

Island adventures

After our stay in San Juan, we rented a car and headed to the other side of the island called Rincon, where our friends live. Earlier we had met a nice local bartender at the Convent (an awesome convent turned bar/hotel in Old San Juan), who had shared some of his favorite places to visit with us. On that list was Guavate, Ponce, and Boqueron.

Guavate is a teeny, tiny town in the mountains of Puerto Rico, on the east side of the island, only 30 mins from San Juan. It’s best known for their lechoneras – little restaurants that roast whole pigs. This town turns into a big party every Sunday, where locals and tourists flood the streets to try delicious, fresh-roasted piggies. Guavate was made famous by Anthony Bourdain in No Reservations. Snippet below.

After winding through the nausea-inducing, pothole-filled mountain roads, we arrived to Guavate on a quiet Tuesday afternoon. Definitely not the crazy street parties we had read about, granted it was a Tuesday and not a Sunday, and it was right before the busy season. We still ate our fair share of roasted pig and fed the rest to the stray dogs.

Back on the road, we started heading to Ponce. We ended up on the La Guancha boardwalk, which is considered a top tourist attraction in Ponce. Not on a Tuesday, I guess. Again, this place was a ghost town. Definitely a beautiful area, but nothing was open. We wandered down the walkway, admired the ocean, saw some huge fish (tarpon, I discovered), and headed into downtown Ponce. Again, nothing too exciting, just a ton of heat, souvenir stores, and bad Christmas decorations.

An hour later, we ended up in Boqueron. Again! This place was dead! The beach wasn’t really accessible where we stayed (Parador Boquemar – not worth the money, by the way) and nothing was open. It was a combination of construction and it being bad timing – not only was it pre-season, but it was also the day that locals “take a break.” Apparently, they don’t like working Tue/Wed because they usually only work weekends during this time of year.

That’s one thing to note about Puerto Rico – everyone is on their own time. There is no sense of urgency. I didn’t mind it – it kind of forces everyone to slow down, but if you are an impatient person… be warned.

After an okay dinner at Galloway’s, we wandered to only find one bar open, in which three locals were hanging out. They were super-friendly and served us some extra-stiff drinks. Couldn’t tell ya the name – the place is so small it’s not even on Google maps.

Finally, we made our trek up to the north-west part of the island, Rincon. This is known to be a very popular surfing destination for surfers from all over the world. When in Rome, right?

I took up a surfing lesson which was definitely the highlight of my trip. If you’re a snowboarder… it’s absolutely nothing like boarding. I did manage to get up 10 times (my instructor counted) – which was invigorating. I would definitely recommend getting an instructor. It was about $75 for 2 hours; worth every penny.

All in all, my main takeaways from Puerto Rico:

  • It’s hotter and more humid than you think, be prepared to sweat!
  • I would have spent a little more time brushing up on Spanish basics – locals respect it when you at least try to speak their language, especially if you wander outside of the tourist areas
  • Don’t expect amazing food unless you love fried dishes (the best food we had there was a Jamaican place near Da Hotel in Old San Juan)
  • Prices are close to what we’re used to here in the US, especially in the touristy areas
  • Slow down and enjoy island life
  • Take a surfing lesson if you’ve never surfed before!
  • Go to the west part of the island for the best beaches
  • Don’t expect a ton of excitement on Mondays or Tuesdays before their busy season, which begins Christmas week
  • Definitely spend some time in Old San Juan!
  • Puerto Rico felt safe, all in all, for three ladies traveling together

Favorite places:

  • El Batey – a hole in the wall bar in Old San Juan where the walls are covered in writing. Each visitor gets a sharpie marker and can leave their personal mark (if you can find room!) Stiff drinks, awesome experience.
  • El Mezzanine – it wasn’t so much the bar itself, but the drinks. If they still have it, get the Rum Old Fashioned. It will blow your mind. I hear they have great food but didn’t try it myself.
  • Blessed Cafe – the Jamaican place I mentioned earlier. Terrible name, DELICIOUS food. Get the Oxtail stew if they have it!
  • The Convent – another amazing experience. Convent from 1646, turned hotel and bar. A tad on the pricey side, but a must see. Get a blended drink here – they’re all good.
  • Too many other things to list. Just go and wander, you’ll always find something interesting and memorable.

Cheers, Roumena Kratchunova

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