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Old 28th March 2014, 01:02   #1
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Default Ridiculously enchanting island in the Caribbean: Puerto Rico

Being a student in the US means that you are obliged to make Spring break count. The herd generally heads to Florida and spends days at Miami.

Some of us decided to make Spring break *really* count and explored options in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Now, given a limited budget, quite a few of the Latin American countries were out of contention. And considering visa constraints, we werenít very keen to step out of the US.

Puerto Rico seemed perfect: it is a nice little island off the coast of Florida, is very Caribbean and is also a US territory. Yay!

We booked flights as early as January so got tickets for a reasonable rate; thereís very good connectivity between mainland US and Puerto Rico. We were flying in and out of San Juan: the capital of PR. There's a couple of other airports that you can consider but San Juan is most convenient and the most relevant. After booking flights, we pretty much forgot about the trip; so, no hotel bookings or any further research on this. Suddenly, March dawned and we realized that we had only about a fortnight to figure out our 9-day trip.

We read blogs, reviews on travel websites and talked to a few people who had already been there and came up with a plan. Hereís how we were planning on doing the trip:
San Juan (the capital): 2 days
West coast: 2 days
Culebra, an island off PR (yea, very fancy. We go to an island and find an island off that too!): 2 days
East coast: 2 days

We had a rough outline of what we wanted to do at PR and decided on the itinerary based on that. For eg., the bio-luminscient bay was one of the main attractions and there are specific days (based on the stage of the moon) that are considered to be ideal to visit it. So, we planned the anti-clockwise trip accordingly.

March 13th: We set off from the US (where it had been snowing and was about -20deg C) and landed at San Juan to a comfortingly warm (26 deg C), slightly humid afternoon. What a welcome! The US was experiencing some really harsh winter so this weather seemed blissful.

We had booked a rental car for the entire trip (pick-up and drop at the airport); collected that and headed to Dorado.

Now, hereís the thing: thereís old San Juan which is a beautiful place that retains a good amount of the Spanish culture and thereís new San Juan which is like any other city. We were earlier looking for a home stay or an apartment in old San Juan but most had a 3/4 day minimum stay requirement. Plus, there was some skepticism on how ďrealĒ pictures of the apartments were.

Eventually, we booked a beach front hotel in Dorado, that is a half an hr drive from the airport.

The waters around Puerto Rico are magnificent: clean, ridiculously clear and beautifully green.

We stopped en route for lunch and got to the hotel by early evening. Now, traffic in PR isnít bad; in fact, people follow rules for the most part. However, we werenít exactly in the mood to drive back to old San Juan after checking in. Luckily, the hotel we were staying in at Dorado has their own private beach which was really nice.

So, we ended up spending the entire evening and a good part of the night on the beach itself.

March 14th: We started our day at 10am and headed towards old San Juan. Our first stop was the Bacardi Distillery (Casa Bacardi) that is half way between Dorado and San Juan. This distillery makes about 85% of the Bacardi rum distributed across the world. We had a short tour that included the rum-making process and spent some time in the facility.

Shortly after, we reached old San Juan. And boy, is it beautiful!

Hereís what I love about that place: it has everything you need- restaurants, hotels, places to hang out and yet, has a wonderful Spanish culture essence to it. The pebbled roads, small, colorful houses, restaurant seating out on the sidewalk: it felt as if we were in an European country itself.

We spent almost the entire evening just roaming around on the streets. In the process, we saw a dance performance by a local band and ate at half a dozen restaurants and had local coffee.

We finally headed back to our hotel at Dorado post midnight.

March 15th: We were now traveling westward; our first stop were the caves at Arecibo.

Thereís a whole bunch of caves around that area, we went to La Cueva del Indio. These are a few caves, inhabited by harmless fruit bats, underneath rocks on the shore.

We engaged a guide who told us rather colorful, but seemingly true (after the typical artistic exaggeration) stories about the history and significance of the caves. These were where the Indians (most likely, those of our ancestors who decided to have some fun and got on a boat) hid when the Spaniards invaded. There are some carvings on the walls of the rocks and quite some history associated with them.

This place has a beautiful view of the ocean which by the way, is simply stunning!

Thereís also a observatory/radioscope at Arecibo but we didnít go there.

Having spent a couple of hours at the place, we travelled to Cabo Rojo, our pit stop for 2 days. Thereís nothing so special about that side of the island except that thereís the Playa Sucia beach.

Cabo Rojo is also one place where locals gather for the weekend; quite a few have beach front property and visit this place on the weekends.

March 16th: We spent some time in Cabo Rojo and then headed to Playa Sucia. As wonderful as the beach is, it was slightly disappointing.

Not sure if this happens everyday but you can only drive up to a point and have to walk about half n hour to the beach. We went on a weekend so probably that's why there were cops blocking entry. There were some vehicles already at the beach so they might restrict vehicles after a point in the day on weekends.

The beach is beautiful; the water is green and clear and then beach is clean. There's the half moon shaped beach and a lighthouse on the other end. The part near the lighthouse has a rocky hill with a steep fall into the water. Has a stunning view of the sunset.

Worth spending time if you're already there or have a lot of time.

March 17th: We had planned to go to Culebra next so we set off on the 4 hr journey from Cabo Rojo to Fajardo where we were taking the ferry to the island. We took one of the main highways in PR so the drive was a breeze.

There are a couple of islands off PR: Vieques and Culebra. After going through reviews, we decided to go to Culebra.

There are 3 ferries from Fajardo to Culebra/Vieques each at about 4 hr intervals. The fare is a nominal $ 2.5/person for the 1.5 hr ride; you can carry your vehicle but it is quite the hassle. You might as well take up a vehicle in Culebra. You can pre-book tickets or get them by going to the ticket booth 2 hrs prior. Thereís also a extensive parking lot at the terminal so you donít have to worry about parking.

We reached the island around 4pm and found our hotel only by 6pm so we didnít want to explore the island a lot that day. We went to a good restaurant based on a localís recommendation and called it a day.

Culebra has mostly Jeeps and golf carts for rental; either are very expensive! (~$ 60/day).

March 18th: We set off early (at 8am) to hike to an beach on one side of the island. The hike itself was about half n hour and fairly easy. Playa Brava (the beach) was wonderful; isolated, deserted and very clean. We spent a couple of hours just walking on the shore and returned to the main area of the island.

There are a couple of simple restaurants around the terminal that serve really good breakfast so we checked those out.

We then headed to the main attraction: Flamenco beach; the main reason why we made the trip to Culebra.

The beach is about a 15min drive from the Ferry Terminal. Once you're there, you park your vehicle, have a few food/drink stores and then hit the beach after a 1min walk.

The beach and water are absolutely stunning! The water is clear for quite a distance and the water is fairly calm. The beach is slightly rocky at some patches; but the water is so clear that you know exactly where.

We spent a good part of the day and evening there; had dinner and returned to the hotel.

March 19th: We took the early afternoon ferry back to Fajardo. That night, we were staying at Ceiba (for easy access to the bio-bay and El Yunque).

Bio-luminiscent bay: one of the main attractions at PR. There are 3 bio-bays at PR and we were going to the one at Fajardo. There are 2 ways you can go there: kayaks and motor boats. We choose the boats since we did not want to spend the better part of our energy worrying about pedaling or navigating through the water. Wise decision in the end. Even if you choose to take the kayaks, they are very well managed with your tour guide continuously tracking your progress; some even stand in the water and navigate you.

This place is hugely popular and you have to have prior reservations. We had booked spots a week earlier and luckily found some. You absolutely canít find a spot if you walk-in.

The biobay itself is quite an interesting phenomenon. It is located near the shore with a mangrove forest in between. The bioluminescence is caused by micro-organisms that emit light as a defense mechanism. So, whenever you move something in water, it lights up. The mangroves ensure that those organisms never really leave the water. So, theyíre effectively trapped there ensuring the phenomenon goes on.

The ride from the dock to the bay through the mangrove forest is quite a treat.

March 20th: With an early rise, we went to El Yunque, another marvelous place.

Once you arrive at the forest, the Visitor Information Center is about 10min before the first trail. Although it is not necessary that you visit the Center, I'd recommend you do, if you have time. Entry is $4/adult and the Information Center has a lot of information about the rainforest, a cafeteria, restrooms and a gift shop.

The first trail we went to was the La Mina Waterfall; it is about a half an hour walk on a fairly easy trail. The view is beautiful and you find wonderful flora/fauna along the way. The waterfall isn't exactly grand and the water doesn't seem very clean. It's not dirty; just that way too many people enter it.

Make sure you go here early because it gets crowded very quickly and most people enter the waterfall. We went on a Thursday and yet it got crowded by 10am.

There are a couple of rest stops along the way where you have restrooms and cafeterias.

Post that, we looked out for the Mt. Britton trail; there were supposedly two start points earlier, now there's just one.

The trail is slightly more work than the La Mina waterfall; you walk (at times, slightly steep) through the forest for about 20min, then walk on tar roads for 10min and then there's an easy 5min walk through the forest to the tower. The view from the tower is wonderful and absolutely worth it.

We overall spent 6 hrs at this place and one can definitely spend much more.

Once we were done here, we went to old San Juan again to spend some time there.

We didnít see as much as weíd have liked since we lost some time at the hotel.

We did walk around the lighthouse, which incidently is one of the 3 points of the Bermuda Triangle. Thereís a fort there that we didnít visit either.

Overall, old San Juan is a beautiful place to just stroll around.

We called it a night and went back to the hotel.

The next morning, a couple of flights brought us back to reality after a delightful vacation!

The trip was fabulous; Puerto Rico is one amazing place! The beaches, sunshine and people make it a truly wonderful holiday destination. Just allow yourself to soak in the local culture and you'll be amazed at how much you'll enjoy the little island!
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Old 28th March 2014, 01:22   #2
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Default Re: Ridiculously enchanting island in the Caribbean: Puerto Rico

First visual at San Juan: the green ocean!

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Sunset at San Juan:

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Around old San Juan:

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At the Bacardi distillery

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At the Arecibo caves

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From Playa Sucia

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Half an hour later, from Cabo Rojo

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Cabo Rojo - Fajardo: passing thru' Ponce

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Playa Brava, Culebra

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Flamenco, Culebra

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Lighthouse at San Juan

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Last edited by libranof1987 : 28th March 2014 at 01:26.
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Old 28th March 2014, 06:02   #3
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Default Re: Ridiculously enchanting island in the Caribbean: Puerto Rico

If you had put this travelogue up a couple of weeks ago, when I was literally buried under snow, I would have openly cursed you for this thread.
But, since today was a sunny day and above 0 deg C, I am in a good mood and can bear to look at beautiful beaches and green seas.
Thanks for the amazing pictures and the detailed writeup!
I have added this to my list of places to see.
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Old 28th March 2014, 06:49   #4
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Default Re: Ridiculously enchanting island in the Caribbean: Puerto Rico

Carvings at the cave: carvings of a kid/woman/soldier depict presence of them in the cave. This made it easier for the Indian men to know where their families where and ensure their protection.

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Fruit bats; helped the hiding people survive

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Playa Sucia

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Sunset somewhere around Cabo Rojo

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El Yunque

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Coqui: the prominent species at El Yunque. This is the male, that guards the eggs.

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La Mina Falls

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Mt. Britton Tower

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View from Mt. Britton Tower

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Last edited by Aditya : 31st March 2014 at 12:20. Reason: Picture correction as per reported post
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Old 28th March 2014, 07:05   #5
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Default Re: Ridiculously enchanting island in the Caribbean: Puerto Rico

Quote:
Originally Posted by amitoj View Post
If you had put this travelogue up a couple of weeks ago, when I was literally buried under snow, I would have openly cursed you for this thread.
But, since today was a sunny day and above 0 deg C, I am in a good mood and can bear to look at beautiful beaches and green seas.
Thanks for the amazing pictures and the detailed writeup!
I have added this to my list of places to see.
Haha! I should have just emailed you some pics

This place enjoys a really nice tropical climate so you're good to go any time. It might just rain a bit during latter part of the year.
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Old 28th March 2014, 15:48   #6
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Default Re: Ridiculously enchanting island in the Caribbean: Puerto Rico

Wow, wonderful pictures! A nice read as well.

That white sand and blue water in Flamenco, Culebra looks awesome.

Thanks for sharing!
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