If you’re seeking the beauty of the Caribbean, Puerto Rico has it. But you have to go to the right places. Here’s a quick summary of my suggestions for vacationing in Puerto Rico: Stay at Conrad Condado Plaza first day/night in San Juan, eat breakfast in Old San Juan (La Bombonera is good) and tour 16th century forts, next day get a rent car and drive to Rio Grande or Farjardo to stay remainder of trip at resort (Gran Melia Resort in Rio Grande is luxurious, beautiful, and relaxing or El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo offers water activities, including a water park), that night take bio-bay kayaking excursion if in a good moon phase, then end your trip with a ferry ride to the island of Culebra, enjoying Culebra for a day. My husband and I stayed 4 nights in Puerto Rico, and we had a great time. Continue reading for a lot of great recommendations and detail.
Arrive in San Juan between 3pm and 10pm and take a taxi from the San Juan airport to the Conrad Condado Plaza for about $9 per person, stay one night at the Conrad (book through Bing search). Grab some maps from the concierge desk, and the next morning, get up early and make the very short walk from the Conrad hotel to the nearest bus stop (take right out of the hotel). Wait at the stop for the next bus. The bus ride will be 75 cents per person, be sure to have coins, and tell the driver Old San Juan. The bus will drop you off at the bus station, and you’ll walk through Old San Juan for breakfast and to visit the 16th century forts, refer to your maps. We enjoyed breakfast at La Bombonera for just $15 for the two of us, including tax and tip. My husband loved his mallorca breakfast sandwich. Continue your walk to the forts. They are really neat, and the views are amazing. Admission into one fort is $3 per person, or $4 per person for both forts. We were satisfied with just touring the Morro. Travel back to the Conrad via the same mode of transportation. For the rest of the day, be lazy by the pool, enjoy the swim up bar, the water slide, and the great views. Have dinner either in the hotel or try your luck at a local restaurant along Ashford Avenue. We enjoyed the Eight Noodle Bar at the Conrad, good Lomein for $10.50 per plate, but our dishes were hit and miss at Hacienda San Jose and Aliji Mojili along Ashford. The next morning, rent a car for your drive to Rio Grande or Fajardo (Enterprise is around $50 per day, and Avis is around $38 per day, but Enterprise has Smart cars, and we only spent $11 in gas with the Smart car). Ask for some maps from the rental place and make the 1 hour drive to Rio Grande (Gran Melia resort) or Fajardo (El Conquistador resort). Gran Melia is best if you’re wanting luxury accommodations and a relaxing atmosphere with great views. El Conquistador is best if you’re wanting activities (swimmable beach, water activities, and a water park). For the scenic route on your drive to Rio Grande/Fajardo, take 187 part of the way. Check into your resort and enjoy the afternoon there. Gran Melia has an isolated feel, as if on Its own island. During the day, be at the ferry/port in Farjardo (drive there) at either 12pm, 2pm, or 5pm to buy your ferry tickets to the island of Culebra in advance, call the ferry/port to confirm their sale times. If you’re buying for Saturday or Sunday, buy your tickets as soon as possible, otherwise they may be sold out. Round-trip tickets to Culebra are $4.50 per person. That night, if there’s no moon or a half moon, definitely do the bio-luminescent kayak excursion. Book with an excursion company as soon as possible, online or by phone. We were happy with the company KayakingPuertoRico. Your excursion price might be less if you drive your rental car to the bay, call your excursion company for directions/details or ask the concierge at the resort. If there’s a full moon, I don’t recommend the bio-bay kayaking (the bio-luminescent organisms won’t be very bright, and I ended up with dozens of bites from the “no-seem-um” bugs/flies). If you do the excursion, wear plenty of bug spray, they provided some, but it didn’t work well. The next morning, drive to the ferry/port in Fajardo, be there by 8am to give yourself plenty of time, as well as get a good seat on the ferry. The ferry ride to Culebra is an hour and half. At about an hour and 10 minutes into the ride, head to the first level on the ferry and stand by the door to be first off the ferry. As soon as you unload, there will be taxis available to drive you to Flamenco Beach for $5 per person round-trip. Enjoy the breathtaking beauty of Flamenco Beach. Out of all the beaches we visited in Puerto Rico (including Condado, Isla Verde, and Luquillo), Flamenco was by far the prettiest, with white sand and gorgeous clear/turquoise/blue water. Condado, Isla Verde, and Luquillo don’t have white sand, although some travel guides claim they do. Swim in the beautiful water, walk along the soft, white powdery sand, and take a snooze on Flamenco Beach. You can pay for a locker at Flamenco to lock up your belongings, you can find the lockers in the vendors/food area at Flamenco - in case the locker vendor isn’t working that day, be sure to bring/pack a pad lock or combo lock for the lockers. But before heading to Flamenco Beach, take the 20 minute walk/hike to 2 other beaches nearby, Carlos Rosario and another little spot. At the very entrance into the “parking lot” of Flamenco Beach, there is a chain-link fence/gate to the right (when you’re coming into the lot), go through this gate and take the hike to the other beaches. After about 20 minutes on the rocky trail, you’ll hear the ocean as you come to a split in the trail. The left path goes to Carlos Rosario beach, a pretty beach with some better snorkeling than Flamenco and usually less popular, we had the whole beach to ourselves. The right path goes to a small, white sand beach with even better snorkeling. Once you’re done with those beaches, head back to Flamenco and spend the remainder of the day there. You can rent an umbrella on Flamenco for $10, include 2 chairs for $10 more, the vendors will be near the entrance to Flamenco. Be sure to bring cash for all of your purchases on Culebra. When you’re ready for lunch, grab some hot food from the vendors. My husband loved the chicken kebobs (pinchos), and we ate for $6 each, including drinks. When swimming, be sure to remove or avoid wearing any jewelry. We saw a barracuda while snorkeling at Flamenco and wearing anything shiny can be dangerous. A lot of details here, but I think such details will help make the most of your trip. Other tips: Pack or buy bug spray and apply it constantly (I ended up with 45+ bites), maybe even bring an anti-histamine/Benedryl pen. Buy your own snorkeling gear since you’ll be using it in multiple spots, plus we never really saw anywhere to rent snorkeling gear. If you can find a set of snorkeling gear (mask, snorkel, and fins) for $55 or under, that’s a good price. We managed to find ours for $32 each. Be sure to get a mask with a clear, silicone skirt, get a snorkel with dry snorkel technology, and get fins with adjustable heels and splits in the fins, and buy a mesh bag to carry your gear. Other tourists said that the island of Vieques isn’t as pretty as Culebra and that the rainforest excursions were over-priced/over-rated. Unless you want the nightlife/club/city scene, don’t stay in San Juan for your entire trip, also San Juan has a lot of slum areas, so that’s another reason to head to Gran Melia or El Conquistador for most of your hotel stay. Enjoy your trip to Puerto Rico!
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