The Caribbean Hopper – Exploring Puerto Rico

El Morro in Old San JuanHow do I sum up Puerto Rico in one post?

Puerto Rico has it all. Beaches, resorts, rainforests and mountains. We went swimming in waterfalls and exploring the “old city”. And the odd part of it all is that Puerto Rico is a US territory. Sometimes it felt like Latin America and other times I saw highway and national park signs that are US branded. I guess it’s the perfect vacation for someone who wants to step into the Caribbean without ever getting a passport. Okay, it’s a nice vacation for everyone. And now that it’s a Southwest flight, I have a feeling a lot more of you will be visiting. Well you and your companion. ;-)

Old San Juan and El Morro

We scored the first two nights free with Best Rate Guarantees. And spent sometime exploring the city and the old forts. El Morro was a fort that started it’s construction in the 16th century to defend the San Juan port so the Spanish could defend themselves… against us? Well, eventually it became “American”.

There are two forts actually and they are both incredible. Gigantic but my favorite is El Morro simply because of it’s scenic coastal surrounding. I’m not normally taken aback by little cities. I thought Old City Panama (the day before) was cute and all but this this was a castle built on a cliff. Maybe one of my favorite parts of the trip.

El Morro Puerto Rico

We spent two days exploring the forts and just walking around the old city experiencing local food and taking in the views of the eclectic, old-world style town. They’re crazy about their plantain dishes and if you go make sure you try “mofongo”. It’s the signature Puerto Rican dish.San Juan Puerto Rico

 

El Yunque Rainforest

El Yunque Rainforest TreeIf seeing El Morro is the 1st “must” of Puerto Rico, El Yunque is number 2. Get in the mountains and go hiking. Even the drive through the forest with the windows down is an experience. My friend who grew up in Puerto Rico said that you need to listen to the “coqui” to truly experience Puerto Rico. He said to forget the AC and leave the windows open and listen to the frog named after it’s sound (like “co-key”). Sure enough, my friend let the balcony door open at the InterContinental and slept to the coqui’s voice. If you don’t hear them at night, then you’ll surely hear them in El Yunque.

For whatever reason we decided to hike to El Toro, the highest point in the rainforest. We went around the closed trail sign and after a mile we realized why it was closed. Mud. In hindsight, the view was worth it.

In reality, there are easy paved hiking trails if you follow the main entrance into the park. It was one of the more dense rainforests I’ve been in and had great island views, overlooks and waterfalls alongside the road.

El Yunque Rainforest El Toro

The Beaches

The best beaches we saw were definitely in the Northeast corner, in Fajardo. Luquillo was a local hotspot with clear turquoise water. My favorite was Seven Seas beach along to the far Northeastern point. The further you went the fewer the people and the better the water got.

Unfortunately, it did not work out that we could catch one of the ferries to Culebra or Vieques. Very disappointing as I’m really curious to snorkel there. I heard good things and the snorkeling we did in Luquillo was not all that.

Puerto Rico with miles and points

Getting there with miles is super easy. In this case we were able to book a trip to Puerto Rico for 17,500 United miles, with layovers in Aruba and Panama. And we were able to fly back using 8,000 Southwest points, which I think is a great deal. I’ll write some more about using United miles in such a way, but have written plenty already.

There are also plenty of points hotels in Puerto Rico. Plenty in San Juan at least. If you have the chance though, I’d really recommend getting a hotel on the east coast of the island. It might make it easy to do a day trip to Vieques; ferry tickets are only $2.50.

We had a blast. It was no Bali but it’s also a 4 hour flight.

I’ll leave you a few more photos.

Old San Juan Old San Juan cemetery El Morro El Morro San Juan El Morro Old San Juan DSC_8056

 

El Yunque Rainforest El Yunque Rainforest Waterfall El Yunque National Rainforest DSC_8282 DSC_8280

 

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