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One week in Puerto Rico

girl on Puerto Rico beach
It's already 6 months since we came back and content keeps piling up on my disk... My iMac broke and my travel schedule was craziest than ever (2x Bangkok, 2x Jakarta, Tokyo, Beijing, Taipei, Stockholm, Berlin and Delhi in a 6 month period) but still, here comes our mini-guide to the lovely little island of Puerto Rico - have you noticed? Their flag is just like Cuba's but with opposite colours!

While I have not travelled around the Caribbean as much as around Asia, Puerto Rico seems to offer an unusual excellent balance between unexplored nature (not as commercialised as e.g. Punta Cana) and safety (not as dangerous as Trinidad). I suppose this is partially thanks to being an unincorporated territory of the United States. If you are after days of chill in pristine empty beaches, a bit of history, hiking, surf and diving, wrapped up by a Piña Colada - Puerto Rico's National drink! This is the place for you.

Anytime but better avoid May - November it gets humid in May and then, it comes the hurricane season.

We tried 4 different spots during our vacation, spending 2 nights on each:
- Andalucia Guest House [WEB] while visiting San Juan and El Yunque
- El Navegante [WEB] in Culebra
- Flamboyan Guest House [WEB] in Vieques
- Rincon of The Seas [WEB] in Rincon

All of them have 4.5 in Tripadvisor and are also featured in Lonely Planet's Puerto Rico guide. Highly advisable. It's been a long time since we went on a trip as "shaky" without counting a single bad experience with the hotels, but hey! Magic happens. Make sure to book well in advance, specially in the smaller islands where the options are few and quickly sold out. One important thing to consider though is that Puerto Rico is not cheap - at least coming from Spain. None of these is a fancy spot, but they were all already around 120-150$/night.

We arrived from Miami by plane. During our stay in PR big island and Vieques, we rented a car. During our stay in Culebra, we rented a golf car - which was simultaneously fun and scary. Highly recommended to book all cars in advance, using SIXT or another major company in the big islands and the local operator (right in the airport) in Culebra. Uber also works well to move around San Juan.

We went by plane - call it private jet because 8 passengers was the total - from San Juan to Culebra anda from Vieques back to San Juan. We moved between the islands with the local ferry because we were diving in the morning, and there are no direct flights between the islands anyway... The local ferry is a very cheap alternative (1$) but subject to delays. The ferry does not go directly from Culebra to Vieques either, a layover in Fajardo (east of PR big island) is mandatory and sometimes risky business - actually our trip turned nightmare when we ended up waiting for 6h in Fajardo with no food or water...

We spent a total of 8 days in Puerto Rico, 2 nights on each place:
- We flew from Miami on NYE, arriving to Ocean Park (2 nights)
- Full day in San Juan and 1 whole day in El Yunque
- Morning walking around Ocean Park and afternoon to get to Culebra (2 nights)
- Full day in Culebra
- The morning after diving and in the afternoon, a ferry ride to get to Vieques (2 nights)
- Full day in Vieques (wrapped up by a night kayaking in the bioluminescent bay)
- The morning after exploring the south of the island and in the afternoon flight back to San Juan, followed by a long drive all the way to Rincon (2 nights)
- Full day in Rincon
- The morning after visiting the Goldeneye radio telescope which is located in Arecibo, driving back to San Juan on time for an afternoon flight to Miami.

1. Old San Juan
We kissed goodbye 2016 with a dinner in Greengos Caribbean Cantina, a random Mexican restaurant that turned out to be pretty awesome and popular among the locals. Then we went for some dancing, following the people and spent January 1st exploring the Old San Juan. While the main historical sites - Fuerte de San Cristobal and El Morro - were closed we walked through the rest of it, all the way down to the lively square called "La Placita de Santurce", where all bars were packed so we opted for an Uber home and a quiet dinner in Mango's Ocean Park nearby our hotel, which was one of the few places open and packed with locals celebrating the New Year.

2. El Yunque
We started the day picking up our car from SIXT and driving all the way to El Yunque, a tropical rainforest that offers waterfalls and hiking opportunities for all levels. It was a bit hard to find a parking spot, but once we did we killed ourselves walking 3 trails - I almost passed out, the humidity and the heat are hard to bear. We drove back and enjoyed dinner in a lovely little restaurant hidden behind Mango's called Bagua, that served excellent fish.

3. Arrival to Culebra
After a great brunch a Pinky's and a walk all the way to Ocean Park beach, we squeezed a colada from Pirilo - a great spot facing the hotel, drove back to San Juan, returned the rental car and ubered ourselves to the airport where both our luggages and ourselves got weighted, so the 8 passenger plane would not get out of balance. After a rough landing in "the most difficult airport in the Caribbean" - according to a fellow passenger - we managed to get our large suitcases in the golf car and drove back to El Navegante, our home for the next two days. Culebra's restaurant choice is not very wide, so we spent both nights in Dinghy Dock - come when you are not yet hungry as the wait is long.

4. The beaches of Culebra
We drove all the way to Playa Flamenco at sunrise, to shoot some pictures and drone videos. Then we went back to the hotel area and waited for quite long to get breakfast in Pandeli, the only café opened at the time. Pandeli is great for wraps, sandwiches and donuts but extremely understaffed so you have to wait for very very long time. Then, we drove to the ethereal and empty Playa Zoni, missed the chance to check out Playa Carlos Rosario (as cleaning activities were ongoing) and wrapped up the day with some snorkelling at Playa Tamarindo. Dinner again, was on Dinghy Dock.

5. Diving the Luis Peña Marine Reserve in Culebra
The last day started early with another long wait at Pandeli, a dive with Culebra Divers and the luck of catching the 13:00 ferry to Fajardo. Everything worked according to plan, except for the 4h delay on our ferry to Vieques, where we arrived at around 22, having eaten a total of 2.5 protein bars / each in the entire day. We dropped our stuff between the cute purple walls of Flamboyan Guest House and run to Lazy Hostel, the only place serving food at 11PM. Trust me, even I ATE PIZZA that day.

6. Vieques National Wildlife Refuge
After a basic yet amazing breakfast in our balcony featuring local fruits, bread and all-you-can-drink coffee, we drove to one of the highlights of the trip. This 18000 acre refuge occupies the land formerly used by the US military. The 3100 acre segment at the west end was used mainly as storage area, so it is very quiet. However, the remaining 14700 acre eastern segment includes a former firing range is still off-limits, despite including some of the island's best beaches. We stopped at Pata Prieta, Playa Plata and some other I don't even remember... It was an amazing day by the beach. We took a shower and got ready for kayaking in the Bioluminiscent Bay, another highlight of Vieques. On New Moon days, you paddle and see the water microorganisms glitter. Dinner was this time in Duffy's the bar under our hotel, where we shared table and conversation with some cruise ship crew.

7. From Sun Bay to Punta Arenas
We spent our last day in Vieques hanging out with the wild horses of Sun bay as preparation for a dip into the wilderness of the West Point of the island, all the way to Punta Arenas. Another flight back to San Juan, followed by a drive all the way west, to Rincon - the surfing paradise of PR. We ended the day with a quick bite in the hotel restaurant.

8. Rincon
Rincon ain't big but memorable. We started the day checking out the weekend market in Rincon's main square, then drove all the way to BONUS - the abandoned nuclear plant - and Punta Higüero Lighthouse. Then we walked along the beaches surfing spots, from Antonio's down to Sandy Beach. Then we went back and chilled at the bar of Hotel Villa Cofresí, where some locals had recommended us to try the speciality called Cocotazo which is like a humongous Colada inside a large coconut. I'll remember that sunset for the rest of my life.

9. Observatorio de Arecibo and the way back to San Juan
We started our last day in Puerto Rico with a great breakfast at Cafe 473 followed by a visit to the largest radio telescope on Earth, located at Observatorio de Arecibo. We just dropped the car on time for the plane back to Miami, but thinking about it - was all well worth it, there aren't many who can claim to have visit the 007 Goldeneye radio telescope!.

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