My husband and I took a recent vacation to Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is an island in the Caribbean that is a short two-hour plane ride from Miami, it is a United States territory so no passport is required if you are a United States citizen. My husband and I do not get a chance to go on vacation often so I was very excited to be traveling to a beach resort on one of the oldest European settlements in the Americas. Unfortunately, our resort made our stay not as enjoyable as it should have been and I spent a lot of time upset. I am convinced that I would have fallen in love with Puerto Rico had we stayed somewhere else.
We stayed at the El San Juan Resort and Casino in the Isle Verde district of San Juan. DO NOT STAY THERE! The hotel is located directly outside the airport and you can hear the planes flying over on a nightly basis. The hotel staff is unorganized and not friendly. The four restaurants you have to choose from our over-priced and not enjoyable. Why would I travel to Puerto Rico for a steak house, italian, and BBQ? The dining options were terrible. While the pool and beach-side was not terrible, it was mediocre and small. The guest rooms are sub-par as well. Our hotel room had a mildewed bathroom and wallpaper peeling from the wall. We paid extra for a beach-view room, and instead we got the beach in the distance with a view of permanent residences and the roof of the lobby. On several nights we woke-up around 3am to the sounds of children running in the hallways screaming, people talking loudly next door, and dumbbells from the work-out room above us being dropped on the floor. Needless to say I did not like this hotel at all! When you are paying for a Waldorf-Astoria resort, you should not experience what we experienced! Where should we have stayed? The El Conquistador Resort on the other side of the island outside the rainforest. If you are planning a trip to Puerto Rico, stay there!
While we did not like any of the dining available in our hotel, Old San Juan had a plethora of dining options available for a $50 round-trip taxi ride.
Raices — When you think of Puerto Rico cuisine, think Mofongo! Mofongo is smashed fried plantains filled with meat, seafood or vegetables, and garnished with a fried plantain chip. Raices is THE place on the island to get the best Mofongo. We tried the Salt Cod Mofongo and the Steak Sirloin Mofongo. Both were great, I can’t decide which one was better!
Aguaviva — You would think that on an island in the middle of the Caribbean that you would be able to get seafood on every corner right? Wrong! It was very hard to find seafood on the island. Craving oysters, ceviche, and fresh fish we tried Aguaviva in Old San Juan. My husband and I shared the whole fried red snapper stuffed with lobster mofongo. After taking a picture I had to turn the fish to face my husband. Something about my food staring at me creeps me out! The fish was flakey and tender, like butter. However, the mofongo was not nearly as good as Raices.
Toro Salao — Home to the best Sangria on the island, Toro Salao was a Spanish Tapas lunch stop for us. We sat the bar top and enjoyed Gazpacho, Empanadillas, and fried Salt Cod. I could not stop thinking about the Sangria the entire trip, I could have had a couple of pitchers of the refreshing white wine with chunks of Mango.
Of course being on an island on vacation the best thing to do is drink. Puerto Rico has three rum distilleries so rum drinks are prevalent throughout the island. For the exception of the delicious Sangria, I enjoyed a variety of rum drinks. My favorite was the Pina Coladas (the Pina Colada was invented in Puerto Rico so it makes sense that they would be delicious).
My husband enjoyed Medalla Light, the only beer brewed on the island. It was like a Mexican Lager married a Miller Light, except it actually tasted pretty good.
Puerto Rico is a big island and has many adventures you can partake on. The only problem is paying the taxi fees to get to places. We could not do everything we wanted to do until we were willing to pay upwards of $300 for taxi rides, but we enjoyed three fun adventures.
Bacardi Rum Factory Tour — With a $50 taxi ride, $2 ferry ride, $15 taxi ride, and half of a day, you can visit the Bacardi Factory. The Bacardi Factory put rum on the map nearly 150 years ago. With a trip to the factory you get a free two-hour tour along with two complimentary rum drinks. A great way to spend an afternoon.
Bio luminescent Bay Kayaking — Puerto Rico is home to one of the only Bioluminescent Bays in the world. What does that mean? It means that the water “glows” at night when you move in it. At dawn you Kayak through the Mangroves of Laguna Grande, a Nature Reserve on the eastern side of the island near El Yunque rainforest. The Mangroves give the organisms in the bay a bioluminescent glow when vibrated. When night falls and you see the stars in the sky you swirl your had in the water and watch the sparkle of the organisms move down your hand, you can also see a faint glow of a school of fish swimming beneath you. (Unfortunately I could not bring my camera because it would have gotten soaked).
San Cristobal Castle — A fort built in the late 1600′s to defend the city of San Juan from attacks over-seas. It was considered the Gibraltar of the West Indies. Being one of the largest defenses ever built in the Americas, it covers over 27 acres of land and rises 150 feet. The fort is connected by a system of moats and tunnels. It is a beautiful piece of history that you can walk-around and under. The dungeon and underground tunnels were my favorite. (If time permits you can take the trolley to El Morro, a fortress on the other side of Old San Juan).