Puerto Rico Revisited

There’s something to be said every time you return to a place. New discoveries, new lessons, and yet somehow the familiar feeling is there. Like you’re not totally a tourist and every time someone asks if this is your first time, you lift your chin a little and proudly say “No, I’ve been here before.”

If I can sum up my recent Puerto Rican trip it will be beaches and rum, lots of rum.

My Puerto Rico top five:

  1. Rum

Every time you hear me say “I only eat baklava in Greece” or “Tequila in Mexico” or “The finest sushi is in Japan”, I may come across as a snob but I mean what I say. You can never go wrong with tasting the best of the best when you have it at the place where it originated. And Bacardi Rum factory did not disappoint.

I highly recommend taking the Bacardi Rum tour and the mixology class! It was such a blast. I learned the histories of the drinks and how to make them. The mixology class was also a good way to make friends. It was worth it! Read about my review of the Bacardi Rum Factory Tour & Mixology Class.

IMG_0073

IMG_0089 IMG_0102

I’ve had some pretty nasty cuba libres at one point when I went out. Not ALL drinks in Puerto Rico were created equal after all! So don’t expect that every rum drink you buy will be heavenly. Here are some more rum drinks I’ve had outside Bacardi Rum factory that were also pretty amazing:

IMG_0112

The ultimate mojito.

IMG_0113

Guava mojito to go.

Both drinks were from Raices Restaurant, and both were delicious!

Somewhere in Luquillo Beach, I found the best piña colada…

IMG_0114

2. Beaches

If not all drinks are created equal, so are beaches. White sand, black sand, red sand, strong currents, big waves, clear water, full of seaweed, calm waters…. I could go on. I’m very particular with my beaches. Maybe because I’ve seen a lot of them around the world, or maybe because it was in my blood. I am after all used to the unparalleled waters of the Philippines. So pardon me if I may come of a little snooty every time I talk about beaches.

You can say my beach standards are slightly different than the norm. It’s more than just the physical aspect. It’s that “Oh, yeaahh” moment I get when I find “the one”.

I haven’t even been all over Puerto Rico and I’ve had Puerto Rican friends recommend amazing playas across the country. If I can go to every single one of them, I would.

Here are some of the beautiful beaches I’ve been:

Condado Beach – I stayed in the touristy Condado area and I find it the perfect place to go on a relaxing and pampering vacation. It also has more upscale resorts and stores for those who do not want to leave the area. The beach is right in the backyard of most hotels and you will never go hungry because of the many restaurants in the area.

Fair warning: Condado beach has REALLY strong currents and BIG waves.

IMG_0125 IMG_0126 IMG_0132

Isla Verde – Another popular area with waterfront hotels is Isla Verde which is not far from the airport and Condado area. Unfortunately, when my friend and I drove to Isla Verde a storm was brewing. The clouds were getting dark and it did not give this beach a chance to shine. I’m sure if it was sunny the images will look better and more attractive.

IMG_0121

IMG_0122

Local beaches – Loiza & Piñones coastline

For a more local feel and atmosphere, the  Loiza and Piñones coast offers beautiful beaches as well. The area is very family oriented and a favorite spot of local residents. Notice the color of the sand? It reminded me of the desert!

IMG_0118 IMG_0119

Luquillo Beach – Of course, I had to save the best for last. This was my favorite and yes, I had the “Oh yeaaah” moment here. This playa was about 45 minutes away from the Condado area and we had to rent a car.  Luquillo is also close to Fajardo and so we decided to go there before we head out to our bio bay excursion.

IMG_0123 (1) IMG_0124 IMG_0129

Do you see why it’s my favorite?

Luquillo beach is the perfect combination of all the beaches I mentioned. It was local enough but it is still surrounded by small shops and restaurants called the Luquillo Kioskos (where I got the best piña colada). And most of all, no strong currents, no big waves. Just calm waters. You can actually go for a relaxing swim or just float peacefully.

3. Old San Juan

There’s just something romantic about the old world. Old historic towns with intricate architecture and cobblestone alleys always win in my book. But just like any other big tourist attractions like Old San Juan, it can get overrated. Tons of souvenir shops line up the streets selling the same thingamajigs, as well as shopping malls, casino and signature brand shops. Old San Juan is also a big cruise hub and that explains why.

Note: As much as possible avoid cruise days. The cruise crowd is ridiculous. I would know since I’ve been part of that cruise crowd! Guilty. If you want to roam the streets of Old San Juan and enjoy its rich history and take crowd-less photos, go on a weekday or a non-cruise day.

IMG_0223 IMG_0220   IMG_0140 (1)

IMG_0141

IMG_0139

4. Food

One of my favorite things about traveling is the eating part. To be able to taste the different flavors of the world is truly amazing. Puerto Rico’s infamous mufongo is a must try.  The island is proud of this dish and every restaurant will make you try it once they find out it was your first time in Puerto Rico or you’ve never had it before.

IMG_0225

Beef mufongo

IMG_0226

Pork longanisa burger

IMG_0228

Roadside barbeque at El Yunque National Forest

IMG_0233

Flan

IMG_0236

Coconut flan

IMG_0237

Pastelillos

I love flan. I grew up with the Filipino version of it and so I was more than happy to try every flan and tres leche (or in some cases, quatro leche!) on the menu. Puerto Rican flans for me are much sweeter and heavier. I always feel bad not being able to finish the whole thing! But as much as I loved it, I was all ‘flanned’ out by the third day and my friend Jess, was also ‘mufongo-ed’ out as well. So needless to say we were super ecstatic to try the local roadside barbecue when we were in El Yunque.

Having fun with food will always be a highlight for my travels!

5. San Juan National Historic Site

If you love history, you would love this historic treasure.The San Juan National Historic Site (World Heritage Site) is comprised of Castillo San Felipe del Morro, Castillo San Cristobal, the San Juan Gate and Fort San Juan de la Cruz. They epitomize great European military architecture and embody the progression of architectural, engineering, military, and political history. Like I said, there’s just something romantic about the old world may it be about love or war.

IMG_0134 IMG_0198 IMG_0202 IMG_0152 IMG_0166 IMG_0158 IMG_0133 IMG_0159 IMG_0194 IMG_0206 IMG_0212 IMG_0171 IMG_0168

I loved taking photos of the site’s impressive architecture. Walking through it is like time traveling and I can’t help but envision how it was like hundreds of years ago.

The other highlight for me was the bio bay tour in Fajardo. Unfortunately, I was not able to take photos since we kayaked all the way to the bio bay in pitch black! Look out for my separate post about the excursion as I will share my grueling and life threatening but fun experience.

I’m glad I was able to go back to Puerto Rico and experience a bigger adventure. Between the beaches, bio bay and Bacardi, we also experienced the one heavy rainfall and flash flood that Puerto Rico needed. This trip may have been short, but it was filled with memories and stories!

¡Gracias, Puerto Rico!

Jen is a Chicago-based traveler and a full-time Director of Development for an arts & culture organization. Originally from Connecticut, she created Angel of Wanderlust as a place to share her travel stories and photos with friends and family. Now, it is a place for adventurers, explorers and dreamers. Its purpose is to inspire and encourage people to see the world and achieve a better work-life balance.