May 22, 2017

How To Travel Like a Local in Puerto Rico

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How To Travel Like a Local in Puerto Rico

puerto rico travel guide

Now I LOVE to travel, but I’m not always the biggest fan of the “tourist attractions”. They’re the things that you just have to do while you’re there, but don’t really give you a feel for what a country is really like. That being said, I  did a lot of reading on Puerto Rico to be sure that we hit the must-see tourist spots AND got a feel for what it’s like to live in Puerto Rico. We talked with tons of locals (this is when my Spanish speaking skills especially came in handy) and tried to hit every hike and activity and restaurant that was recommended! 

Regardless of how it appears on a map, Puerto Rico really is a pretty big island. There were so many things that we wanted to do on the west coast of the island, but with us being there only 9 days it didn’t make that much sense to spend so much of the trip just driving (and we were traveling cheap, or else we could have taken a quick plane).

Now let’s skip to the good stuff – here’s our list of things to do/eat in Puerto Rico, followed by the list of things we didn’t make it to but want to see next time. It’s all in the order we did them in! And you guys — if you go to Puerto Rico feel free to LEAVE COMMENTS BELOW for the rest of us! We would love to get a second opinion, especially to get reviews on what we didn’t make it to.

1. Stay In A Treehouse

unique treehouse airbnb in Puerto Rico

Pictured: the swing that broke literally seconds after the picture was taken, sunrises from the rooftop, and the bedroom with a window that opens up to a view of Lake Carite

I was scrolling through Airbnb looking for places to stay in Puerto Rico and all of a sudden I was looking at a beautiful cabin-y treehouse! It overlooks Lake Carite and is the only establishment for miles. Bad: you have to plan ahead and do grocery shopping beforehand. Good: you’ve got the entire area to yourselves with no noise aside from the Coqui frogs. Stargazing, kayaking (the owner gives you one to use), watching the sunset, grilling steaks and frying platanos for dinner, turning on the string of lights that hang above the picnic table, playing music and dancing, … talk about PARADISE. It was a little bit of a splurge for us, but it was so worth it.

Side note – I hope you read my other post about things to know before traveling to PR because this is also where we got a dent in our rental car haha. It is difficult to get there (and we lost cell service which made it harder), but it was worth every dent and every penny.

2. La Guancha Boardwalk

la guancha boardwalk in ponce puerto rico south coast

Cute and colorful boardwalk by day, music-filled party stop by night. La Guancha is the place to be on the weekend! We came to the boardwalk during the week with a plan to take the ferry to Coffin Island (Isla Caja de Muerto) and hike around the lighthouse, find sea turtle nests, and relax on the beach of this wonderfully uninhabited island. But I guess I had looked at a faulty website… the ferry only runs on the weekends. It gave us a day to be spontaneous and explore the south end of the island, but it is definitely something we want to go back and do next time!

We did make a trip back down to Ponce — the city where the boardwalk is located — on Sunday night, and there was so much going on! Carnival games for kids, kiosks, and food trucks selling amazing authentic food (we got Mofongo with shrimp for like the 5th time that trip – or as they say in their heavily-accented cute broken English, “with shrimps”). There was fun Spanish music playing, and people would grab a partner and just start dancing in the middle of the boardwalk. We ate, walked along the boardwalk, watched some Puerto Rican kids throw bread to all the 2 foot long fish in the water, and watched the stars appear one by one as we sat on the edge of the water and lost track of time just talking. It was definitely a memorable night!

3. La Puente Hamaca

La Puente Hamaca (the Hammock Bridge) hangs over the lake “Lago Garzas” in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico. It was about a 7-minute nature walk (I would hardly call it a “hike”) to the bridge, then another 10 minutes to the end of the path. This is definitely one of my favorite hidden gems from the trip!

4. La Cueva Ventana (The Window Cave)

Fun fact for you guys – Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was filmed here! Go watch it again and you’ll see what I mean. 

This place was AMAZING. A few years ago it had become such a popular hike that the government turned it into a guided tour to protect the area.  It’s $19/person for visitors (and cheaper for PR residents). But I’ll hook you up with a coupon for a few dollars off per ticket – just click here! You get to see a few similar “window” caves and walk through caves full of bats and ancient cave drawings – how cool! It is a pretty easy hike, there were some kids on the tour with us. The best part, of course, was the window cave in the first picture that overlooks the city of Arecibo. It was breathtaking.

5. Pamela’s Caribbean Cuisine

THE BEST SHRIMP MOFONGO

a plate of shimp mofongo at Pamela's Caribbean Cuisine in puerto rico

We ate out at a restaurant at least once a day, and over half of those places gave us MOFONGO. It’s a food unique to Puerto Rico and it is amazing. But out of all the meals and all the mofongo we ate, this one was our favorite. The restaurant is built on the beach – that was the view from where we were sitting outside! The people were so sweet and friendly and the food was incredible and decently priced – definitely recommended! Fried platanos are another favorite of mine. My sweet Colombian friends made them all the time when we were living in Argentina! We also tried alcapurria (second pic), which is another food from Puerto Rico. If I could eat this every day, I totally would!

a plate of alcapurria and where to eat it in puerto rico

6. Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico – MAPR

For our first couple of days in San Juan, it was raining sooo hard! I love the rain, but you can only play outside and dance in it for so long. Especially when you both forgot to pack towels and can’t get the inside of the rental car soaking wet. Thankfully, $5 towels from Kmart saved the day.

When we woke up to rain that first morning there, I was scrambling to find things to do that didn’t involve jungle hikes or beaches, which was half of what I had planned.  One of the first things was the art museum, which we both loved! It has 4 or 5 floors of beautiful artwork – lots of contemporary and modern work. It also has a koi pond in the back with lots of greenery – a great place to kick back and relax!

If you ever need to find things to do in Puerto Rico in the rain, I would definitely recommend coming here!

7. Old San Juan

Another fun fact, Pirates of the Caribbean was also filmed here at the castles. These are amazing to explore! It’s about $5 for a ticket to see all of them, and most people don’t realize this but you can show your ticket any day within the next week after you bought it and they will still let you in! Not a bad deal, right? According to the workers that we talked to, these castles are haunted and they told us a bunch of crazy stories! For example, several people have come up to the workers and said “I didn’t know you were doing reenactments today!” “Umm, we actually don’t do reenactments here…” “Oh, well why are there people walking through the tunnels in colonial Spanish uniforms?” How cool! So when you go there, keep an eye out, friends.

Something that was so crazy to me is that these castles – almost 500 years old – are still part of the city. The “modern” buildings and restaurants are literally built on or around the castles! I don’t know why, but that was so cool to me. The rest of the city is covered in the most beautiful colors! It’s really touristy (this is where you can get your dream mug that says “I heart PR”), but it’s one of those places you’ve got to see and experience. We also got Jamaican food here and it was AMAZING.

8. Baños de Coamo

These are Puerto Rico’s only thermal hot springs. Now I’ll be honest, I was expecting some steaming, swimming pool-sized craters in the ground in the middle of a jungle somewhere. It has actually been turned into a small resort with the thermal water being channeled through pipes into small pools. It’s $2 a person for the whole day. This was also the perfect place for us to go because A. it was raining in San Juan, B. it wasn’t raining down south, and C. it was right on the way to the boardwalk in Ponce which is where we were going for dinner!

About Thermal Hot Springs: Hot springs have been proven to improve your health and are even used as a “medical treatment” in many countries. It helps your digestive system, increases your metabolism and blood flow, improves circulation, and helps your body absorb its essential minerals. Feel free to do some more reading online, it’s really interesting to learn about!

9. Santurce es Ley Street Festival

Now Mason and I are both big fans of art. I especially have this weird obsession with street art. I have been Banksy’s number one fan since we learned about him in my high school art history class. I love finding it. So on Instagram, I found @santurceesley where they were posting the location of the most recent festival, which is basically a group of super rad artists who go around town making beautiful things. We got there a few days after the festival had ended, but we went to the location that they had posted to see the art. I posted pictures of just a few of my personal favorites! This particular festival had taken place in San Juan, but they travel all over.

10. Cocobana Cafe

This place was so good that… I didn’t even think to take a picture. To be honest, we didn’t eat any food there (even though it all looked really good – it’s a vegetarian restaurant!). But you guys. 

Fresh. Coconut milk. Smoothies.

All with any kind of fresh fruit you could imagine! They were amazing! It was also a cute little spot to hang out, music playing with a huge bookshelf in the corner, and artwork for sale on the walls. I wish I could get breakfast here every day!

11. Yunque Rainforest

couple hiking in the Yunque Forest in Puerto Rico

This was one of my favorite parts of my first trip to Puerto Rico with my family back in 2010. It is also pretty touristy, but for good reason! It is actually the only rainforest on US territory, so that’s pretty cool. There are SO many hikes to choose from, and it can be overwhelming when you pick up a trail map and there are 30 of them that span several miles!  My personal recommendation is to hike to La Mina falls (in the pictures above). You see 2 waterfalls, not too hard of a hike,  and the destination is gorgeous. There are even picnic areas found towards the beginning of the trail. This hike starts at either km 10.2 or km 11.8 – you’ll see the signs. You can also see a map of the trails here. When you pass the Yunque Forest sign, you’ll see a visitors center where you can pick up a map and learn a little more about the forest!

12. Luquillo Beach

We went to a few beaches, but I think I liked this one the best. Not too crowded, pina coladas to drink, beach chairs and paddleboards/wave runners to rent, and the water was clear enough to see lots of fish and crabs! We’d been running around exploring for most of the trip, so it was nice to get a RELAX day in there. And let’s talk about the pina coladas IN a pineapple – genius and incredibly delicious! 

13. Las Paylas Natural Waterslide

There’s a guy who lives in a house that stands between the road (where you are) and the waterslide, so he got some kind of legal permit to charge people $5 to park in front of his house and sells concessions through his window. Haha and it is so worth the visit! I was afraid the rocks would be sharp or hurt when you go down, but it isn’t at all. It was a blast! There are 2 different slides, and if you keep walking down and hike over some rocks, you find this little pool where there is a rope swing. The water was warmer than the ocean and we made some friends there that hung out with us for a while!

14. Nuyorican Cafe – Tango Bar

Sorry, no pictures because it was mostly lit by candles. But what a place to visit!! We ordered some tacos and watched the live band get ready and start to play tango music, then guys would go out and ask girls to dance! They have lessons there throughout the week so I’m guessing that’s how they mostly know each other (and how they are SO. GOOD.), but it was such a beautiful thing to watch. Maybe it’s because I was a dancer for 16 years, but it was definitely a highlight!

Also – the address online is wrong. The flyers they hand out say: 312 Calle San Francisco, Old San Juan 00901 PR.

15. Georgetti Heladeria

CAUTION: You are about to start craving fruity ice cream.

I don’t know how we found this place but it was the best discovery of them all! They use real fruit to make this ice cream fresh every day and it is one of the most amazing things I had ever eaten! Then on the left of the picture is Mason’s mango/coconut milk smoothie (of which I ate a lot more than my fair share). If there is only one thing that you do on this list, go to Georgetti Heladeria!!

16. The Bioluminescent Bay

There are 3 bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico, and few others throughout the rest of the world. The best and brightest one is in Vieques, but since we weren’t staying the night on the island we went to the second best in Fajardo. This is one of those things that you just can’t really take pictures of – you just live in the moment and enjoy mother nature! We met up with our guides and the rest of the group, split into smaller groups, and kayaked to the bay. The weather wasn’t perfect (cloud coverage affects it), but the guide had a tarp to put over us all so we could see it even better. When you put your hand in the water and move it around, it glows! It’s borderline expensive, but definitely worth it!

16. Check for local events

Throughout the week we kept seeing billboards advertising a jazz music festival, and we realized that it happened to fall on the week we were there! San Juan is a huge city with so much going on, so be sure to check google for any events going on while you’re there!

Things We Didn’t Make It To…

  • Take the ferry to Culebra island (I was giving directions to Mason and still don’t know my right from my left and after several missed turns off the freeway, we got there 4 minutes after they had sold the last ticket. I hate myself.)
  • Cerro Punto (recommended by at least 3 locals)
  • Camuy Caves
  • Spend some time on Vieques – rent scooters instead of a car!
  • Flamenco Beach
  • We also want to take some time to visit the west side of the island!

Thanks for reading! I hope this helps with some of your vacation planning. If any of these tips helped you out, leave a comment below or tag me on social media so A. I can be jealous that you’re on a super cool trip and B. so I know what tips and tricks are most used/helpful so I can keep ’em coming. 

xx

Comments +

  1. Kim says:

    Next time go to las tinajas, its so fun. Vieques is a must, been there 9 times and each time we discover something new! Also charco el hippie was pretty cool and the infinity pool in nagaubo that we never made it to cause we had a 5 year old with us!!

    • Ashlyn Buonocore says:

      I’ve heard about Las Tinajas, I’ll definitely go next time! I was sad to miss vieques — third times the charm haha. Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Ashlyn B says:

    So glad to hear, thanks for reading !!

  3. Nancy says:

    These places look so awesome. I’m very tempted to visit a few of these but you didn’t put the locations(city)on many of these so it’s hard to plane visiting them.

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