While floating in the warm water at Luquillo Beach reflecting on my morning trek through the Puerto Rican Rainforest, the hot sun above me with the white sand beneath my feet, I started to realize how remarkable this vacation was becoming. As it was mid-January, I couldn’t help but wonder how my friends and family were getting along in the snow and frost back home in New York City. I was so content, I hadn’t given into another monotonous Caribbean vacation of sitting on the beach all day with only the option of doing various water sports. Puerto Rico is the best of both worlds: a little culture with paradise.
The most popular destination in Puerto Rico is Old San Juan, most famously known for its year-round festivities and its Rum. You can take a 20-minute ferry ride to the Bacardi Distillery across San Juan Bay for a free tour.
You can stay at the various beautiful yet affordable hotels in the area. Most people like to stay at a hotel along the main strip in San Juan, Ashford Ave., but the hotels outside of this area further east are much cheaper. Puerto de Tierra, Condado, Miramar, Santurce, Ocean Park or Isla Verde are all towns to seek out along the northern coast within San Juan. Keep in mind, you can always walk over to the grand hotels, such as the El San Juan Hotel & Casino, The Inter-Continental Hotel & Casino or the Ritz-Carlton San Juan Spa & Casino for massive gaming and innumerable restaurants.
There are a number of great things to do during any given day in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s National Rainforest, El Yunque, is a 45-minute drive away. This lush rainforest, one of the best preserved in the U.S. National Forest Service system, is a great way to indulge in the tropical aspects of the island with various tropical plants and birds not found anywhere else in the world. The Radio Telescope, Observatorio de Arecibo, is the biggest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world (featured in the movie Contact with Jodie Foster). It is used for government and private research projects, such as SETI, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.
Fort Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, built in 1540, and Fort San Cristobal, built in 1634, are now museums and are “must sees” (and literally “can’t misses” because of their sheer size) in Old San Juan. Several battles have taken place here, both repeatedly attacked by the English and the Dutch, and San Cristobal fired some of the first shots from its cannons for the Spanish-American War. The city walls are also a huge spectacle to see, built in 1630 and surrounding all of San Juan (again, literally can’t miss it), they were built to protect against European invaders and Caribbean pirates.
The places and sounds of Puerto Rico will always be in my mind until I return again: the dual sights of city and tropical paradise and the sound of the distinct call of the native coqui frog.