Hola friends! Have you ever thought to yourself “Self, let’s go to Puerto Rico”? No? Well maybe it’s time you had that conversation. I recently spent about 72 hours in PR and this is how it went:
Mike and I landed around 4, grabbed the rental car (all car rental companies share one building and it is directly across the street from baggage claim- no need for a tram, bus, or anything but your own two feet), then headed straight for the San Juan Water and Beach Club on Isla Verde. They were packing away the beach loungers by the time we checked in, changed, and made it to the the beach so naturally we headed up to the rooftop bar. We had to try the local brew (Medalla) and decided it was fine. Nothing to write home about, but it was cold so we were happy . And the views from the top didn’t hurt.
A quick discussion with our bartender about local food and drink led us to the conclusion that we needed to leave the hotel and head to Mi Casita (a 5 minute walk down the street) to try their famous mofongo. Rumor has it that tourists and locals eat there and it did appear that way once we arrived. Mike had the pork mofongo with a Magna (the other local beer) and I had the shrimp mofongo with red wine. Mine tasted better than his, but that was just my opinion. (But I was right)
After dinner and a bit of wandering we ended up back at the rooftop bar for nightcap. I desperately wanted a mudslide but they were completely out of chocolate syrup so I had a Kokok instead (vanilla, cinnamon, and coconut). It totally satisfied my dessert craving.
Day 2- Beach & Old San Juan
We started the day early with an awesome breakfast at a place we’d seen the night before- Playa Papaya. Mike had some sort of eggs and vegetables and I had the biggest most beautiful parfait ever.
After breakfast we made a quick walk over to Walgreen’s for important stuff like sunscreen, bug spray, and wine. Then we headed for Playa de Isla Verde (the beach at the hotel). The sand and water were perfect- no debris on the beach or in the water and the surf wasn’t rough.
Around 11 we left the beach (sad face) so we could shower and check out by noon. We opted to leave our luggage at the hotel with the car and catch an Uber into Old San Juan so we wouldn’t have to deal with parking, etc. That turned out to be a great idea. Our Uber driver dropped us at the Plaza de Armas and off we went. We meandered along the Paseo de la Princessa Calle Shumberg toward El Morro stopping to take pictures of the multitude of statues and giant trees along the way.
Entry to El Morro is $5/adult and there’s plenty to explore. Bonus is that it’s on a hill with a great breeze. In fact, the grounds in front are popular with kite flyers and we saw several while we were there. After our visit we walked down into the city to find Senor Paleta for fresh made ice cream as recommended by our Uber driver. The ice cream was cheap and delicious. Try the dulce de leche. I would have taken a picture, but I was hot and my ice cream was melting so you’ll have to take my word about the whole thing. We passed some interesting things along the way.
A quick Uber trip after that took us back to the San Juan Water & Beach club to collect our car and head down the coast for the Wyndham Rio del Mar. (Pro tips- Waze works great in PR. Download it and use it if you plan to drive. Also, leave San Juan before 4 if you want to beat the traffic).
Sixteen miles and 40 or so minutes later we were pulling into the Wyndham Rio del Mar. Check in was painless and the room was lovely though freezing (the AC worked very well). Room keys are bracelets (a la Disney World style Magic Band) and they are different colors based on your resort (The Wyndham is connected to Margaritaville). In all honesty I was concerned about the 2 resorts in one but it wasn’t a problem at all and the facilities throughout were the same with no noticeable difference from one side to the other.
We made it to our room and put on our swimsuits then headed down to the pool bar. Sometime around then I realized I’d lost my camera. After some frantic searching and phone calls we discovered I’d left it in the Uber driver’s car. So we killed time at the resort then went back to San Juan where we killed some more time waiting for our guy to get out of class. Dinner that night was at Church’s Chicken. I’m pretty sure you don’t want pictures of that which is good since I didn’t have my camera. Anyway, that pretty much killed that evening. We were exhausted by the time we made it back into the hotel and crawled into bed.
Day 3- El Yunque, Los Kioskos de Luquillo, Wyndham beach/pool
We woke up bright and early and ready to explore El Yunque! We grabbed coffee and muffins at the hotel, picked up the car, then headed across the highway to begin our exploration.
We arrived at the first point of interest shortly after 8AM. Our early arrival gave us loads of time to explore the trails, waterfalls, and towers without fighting crowds. We spent approximately 5 hours wandering the park and loved every minute of it.
Pro tips for El Yunque- bring a rain jacket, shoes with some sort of traction (my trail running shoes worked great and Mike’s hiking sandals were pretty good except for a few spots where he had to watch his toes on rocks), water, and a snack if you plan to explore as much as possible. There is a snack shop in the park (there may even be more than one), and rumor has it that the food is good, but we didn’t stop. Also, as mentioned earlier, arrive at the park early so you can enjoy the trails in peace and get some great photos without fighting crowds.
Los Kioskos de Luquillo
Playing in the rain forest made us hungry so we left the park and drove about 2 miles down the highway to the Kioskos de Luquillo. In my head I pictured Oistens in Barbados- just a total warren of food shacks, but it turned out to be more of a really long strip center of food shops. Mike wanted ceviche so we stopped at the first place that advertised it and looked good. Three Medallas, one ceviche, one crab arepa, & an order of tostones later, we were full and happy. Yareh- Kiosko 43 is the place to go!
The remainder of the afternoon was spent at the beach and the pool back at the resort. We briefly considered going kayaking that night on Mosquito Bay to see the bioluminescence, but quickly discarded it as being too much work after our morning adventures (plus Mike didn’t want to drive).
For dinner we ordered a large pizza from the resort bakery (it was actually pretty good), took it to our room, and enjoyed it on our balcony. And remember that bottle of wine we bought at the Walgreen’s? Yep. We had that with our pizza. So we saved a ton of money and didn’t even have to leave the resort to do it. Pro tip- bring your own wine/whatever to enjoy in your room or on your balcony. Wyndham does have a strict no cooler policy so don’t expect to hang out at the pool with your budget beer.
Final Day- Day 4- Day 3.5?
Yes, I know I said three days in the title and now I have a day 4. What can I say? We spent the morning hanging around the beach and pool then gathered our things and said adios to the lovely people at the Wyndham. A few things to note- check out time is 11 AM. They’re happy to store your luggage for you if you want to enjoy the pool/beach after your check out, but there are no showers at the fitness facility to get cleaned up before you head back to the city to catch your flight. I did ask the concierge about this and he referred me to the night manager who informed me that I could shower at the golf pro shop. I got the impression this isn’t highly publicized, so now you know. Make sure you turn in your towel cards AND your wristbands upon check out or you will incur fees. And the valet will want to see your final hotel receipt before you depart (probably to make sure you were honest and paid for valet instead of self parking). Though it’s only about a 35 minute drive back to the airport the Wyndham manager told me they usually recommend departing the resort 3 hours in advance of your flight due to increased Sunday traffic (people driving back to the city in anticipation of the work week) and to give yourself plenty of time to get through “agriculture” (a quick x ray of all your belongings as soon as you enter the airport). He said sometimes it takes 10 seconds, sometimes more. Luckily we were in the 10 second group. Easy peasy.
A final note about the airport- you exit security straight into the duty free shops. A & B gates are to your left and that’s also where you’ll find the cheap food- Subway, Church’s Chicken, and a handful of others. C & D gates are to your right and there are limited options on this side. Most notably there’s a Margaritaville where you’ll pay $10 for a beer and $18 for a sandwich. So save yourself some $$ and go to the left.
Final Thoughts/ Miscellaneous Info
1- First of all, everyone speaks English- this isn’t surprising, but now you know in case you were wondering.
2- The roads are in good shape and Waze works like a charm so do yourself a favor and rent a car. We ran into a woman at the resort that had not rented a car but really wanted to go explore El Yunque at her own speed without signing up with a group. Bummer for her. (BTW, El Yunque is part of the National Park Service and it’s free).
3- The Wyndham offers an All- Inclusive option. Skip it. The people I spoke with on the AI plan were disappointed in their options. Apparently not all restaurants at the resort are part of the plan.
4- The beach at the Wyndham isn’t all that great. Yes, I know we spent a lot of time there, but there was organic debris all over the beach and a few yards out in the water. Maybe it’s from the river up the coast or maybe it was from recent storms? Either way, that combined with a rough surf made for a sub-optimal beach experience. The pools (adult/quiet & family/activity) however were great as was the service we received from the entire staff.
5- Bring a reusable water bottle. The tap water is fine to drink and doesn’t taste weird so why spend the extra money on bottled water if you don’t have to?