Two Weeks in Puerto Rico - Must See? Must Do? Must Eat? Must Buy?
April 22, 2012 4:55 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I will (very soon!) be spending two weeks in Puerto Rico to celebrate our anniversary and my 30th birthday - Help us get the most out of our trip!

We'll be spending 3 days in El Yunque, 4 days in San Juan, 8 days in Ponce, and 3 days in Vieques (please ignore the math, there are some half days in there!)

What are your must-do experiences in/around these locations? We're looking for great hiking trails, hidden swimming holes, hole-in-the-wall fantastic food, only-in-PR souvenirs, and any other suggestions!

We're planning to do a coffee plantation tour near Ponce (Buena Vista v. Pomarrosa?), a bio-bay tour in Vieques (recommend a guide?), stroll through the history and culture in OSJ, hike in El Yunque, and we're looking for any ideas you have! We like historic stuff (El Morro!), good food (Roast pig in Guavate), live music (?), chances to take pictures with my new camera, unique experiences, and other such things. We'll have a car for a good part of the trip if that helps.

Thanks fellow me-fis!
posted by schwab to Travel & Transportation around Puerto Rico (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You have to see El Morro in San Juan. And make sure you wander around Old San Juan itself. It is an amazing city.
posted by fifilaru at 5:01 PM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This was one of the most amazing experiences I've had in my life. The tour guides are extremely professional, funny and knowledgeable. You have to be up for an adventure, but my wife and I both agreed this was the best part of our trip to PR. Definitely the most unique experience you can have - could not recommend it more.

We also went to Vieques and went on the bio bay tour through Abe's. They did a great job. We stayed at Bananas Guesthouse and it was the perfect, low key place to stay - there are two or three restaurants near by within walking distance.

While on Vieques, we had the good fortune of having the beach Bahia de la Chiva (the blue beach) recommended to us by the locals. My wife and I had the entire beach to ourselves that day.

Other recommendations/thoughts:
-Consider renting a Jeep on Vieques
-Hiking in El Yunque is beautiful
-You can watch live Puerto Rican music and dancing at Castillo de San Cristóbal - I believe it's on Tuesday nights, but call the gift shop and they'll be able to tell you the correct day or if it's still going on (as of last October, it was)
-Walking around Old San Juan will keep you very occupied. A wonderful city.

Feel free to memail with any questions. Have fun!
posted by glaucon at 6:04 PM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding Abe's for the bio-bay tour in Vieques. Make sure you ask if you can jump off the canoe to swim in the bio water, if you would like to do that!

Also seconding that Aventura is an awesome company with good people. I called them once to ask general questions about rock climbing in PR, and the guy said that even though they don't do climbing trips/tours, he would give me his friends' phone numbers, and he helped me meet up with his friends who took me climbing! All out of the goodness of his heart.

Hiking in El Yunque is beautiful. I believe there is a tourist office that you have to pay $3 to go into, where you can get a map and a description of the trails. You can skip it and keep going straight into El Yunque for free, but I recommend getting the map. It would be a long day, but I recommend hiking all the way to the 2 peaks and back, and then doing the 15 minute (each way) hike to the waterfall (I forget what it's called) where you can jump in and swim in the cold but refreshing water. Also, bring a poncho and some kind of bag/cover for your camera, since it is a rainforest after all.

Skip the beach in San Juan by all the hotels if you have time to go to other beaches, because it's so crowded there. Try Luquillo out east, I believe it can somehow be combined with a drive to/from El Yunque. There is also a great little restaurant called Pasta y Pueblo in Luquillo. It's a little tiny shack by the beach, with delicious pasta, delicious seafood, and coconut rice (~$13/entree, I think?). Mmmm. I forget if they don't take reservations, or if you have to show up at the exact seating times, or what, so give them a call to find out what the deal is. The owner was a surfer before, and he is in the restaurant all the time taking the time to talk to the customers and offered us samples of appetizers that they are testing out - super cool!

Make sure to eat some road-side bbq kabobs called pinchos, the chicken has never been bad! If you're ever short on time and are considering McDonalds or something, I recommend skipping that since every. sing. one. of. them. takes. forever, and just going for the road-side stands. Also, buy some fruit from the side of the road. Buy some gasolina (alcoholic fruity drink in a pouch like capri-sun) and drink it on the beach, because you can do that there! Eat lots of mofongo.

Do you have enough stuff to do in Ponce to stay there for 8 days? I haven't been there, but there are so many other amazing parts of PR to see, such as driving all the way to the southwest tip - Cabo Rojo and Playa Sucia. You can maybe go there from Ponce, and then come back to the San Juan area by going north and then east, so you circle the whole island, stopping at Cueva del Indio to see awesome rock formations against the powerful crash of the waves, and some petroglyphs in a cave-like opening, or stopping by Rincon to watch surfers.
posted by at 6:57 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also, Red Beach in Vieques is beautiful. Make sure to stand still in the water long enough to let the little tiny fish nibble on your legs - it tickles! We rented a jeep from the guy whose house we were staying in (no papers to sign or insurance or anything, but oh well!) - it was much cheaper having a jeep than taking a taxi everywhere, and better than renting a scooter/motorcyle thing because we could take longs of towels/water/snacks with us in the jeep. If you go snorkeling (I believe we rented snorkels for $10/day in the main town, I forget what it's called), and drove down to Blue Beach to snorkel, make sure you wear waterproof sunscreen. And just wear sunscreen in general. Sorry, I know that's not PR-specific advice.
posted by at 7:03 PM on April 22, 2012

One of our most fun days was when the POS nav system in our rental car decided to route us from San Juan to Ponce via secondary/tertiary roads. We got to see a much different PR than you see when you're zipping along on the freeway.

Also, the trip out to Arecibo was fun, if geeky.

And yeah, eat the roadside food instead of McD's.
posted by Runes at 7:53 AM on April 23, 2012

Best answer: They don't usually let you swim in the biobays anymore (I did Abe's in Feb and they did not). I would recommend the clear canoe experience from Vieques Adventure Company--it costs a little more than the regular biobay canoes but it seems like it's sooo worth it. (We did Abe's, but befriended a VAC guide at one point, and he genuinely thought it was amazing and a better experience.) But either way, the biobay is incredible! Make sure you check the moon charts and try to go on a night as moonless as possible.

Some of this may already be set, but:

- If you haven't booked housing yet for Vieques, stay in Esperanza instead of Isabel Segundo II, if possible. Lots of restaurants in walking distance and a beautiful malecon (boardwalk).

- If you can, fly from the Ceiba airport (about $30 each way) rather than taking the ferry. (If you're renting a car you can park it at the Ceiba airpot for about $9/day, which came out cheaper than doing a 1-way car rental or cab from SJU.) Some people say the ferry is pretty, but they have been doing construction/updates and it doesn't run as frequently as it's supposed to. If you do take the ferry, get there EARLY so you can be sure to get a spot!

- You may want to rent a car/jeep if you plan on doing any venturing out of walking distance from your guesthouse. (You may want to look into that now, if you decide to do so--cars go fast on the island.) You can also rent scooters by the day (there are a bunch of rentals by the malecon in Esperanza) but some of the roads to the beaches are pretty rough. As long as you don't mind jolting a bit, you'll be good.

Also, this truck (Sol Food, at the entrance to nature reserve) is as good as they say. And decently priced!

The beaches on Vieques are pretty amazing -- they are startlingly different, but Playa Orchid and Plata Playa on the east side (in the nature reserve) were some of the most beautiful spots I ever saw.

Eh, what else ... the butter mallorcas at La Bombonera in OSJ are really amazing (and it's much cheaper than many other restaurants there). Oh man, I'm jealous you're going!
posted by alleycat01 at 8:06 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, and El Hippie swimming hole on the northeast side, near Naguabo/south side of El Yunque, is pretty cool. You might be able to do El Yunque and El Hippie on the same day if you get to the rainforest early enough.
posted by alleycat01 at 8:08 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Please note all information/experiences contained herein are from a 2007 trip, info may be dated.

Regarding the Bio-Bay, if you want to make the responsible choice be sure your outfitter doesn't use an internal combustion engine in the bay itself. Engines like that are quite bad for the organisms in the bay. Go with a canoe outfitter or an electric motor boat (I think there may only be one of these).

On Vieques be sure to eat some of the amazing street food, as others have mentioned. Be sure to visit all the bays and beaches you can, they're amazing, doubly so if you take photos. Homebrew-timelaps pics of sunset at sun bay turned out really well.

Also on Vieques you can tour some of the closed bunkers on the western side of the island and see some amazing and classy anti-war, pro-peace graffiti on the abandoned bunkers. If the other side of the island has been cleared of landmines/unexplored ordnance then you could go over there as well, it's likely to be awesome if they've kept it as a wildlife preserve as they said they would.

On your way to Vieques you can take the high speed ferry or take a puddle jumper plane-ride. Either is enjoyable and fun but the plane trip is probably the scariest I've ever been on, if you're familiar with a 7 seater plane and the way things work then ignore this warning as you're 'in the know'. I was... surprised at how rustic/basic things were on that sucker.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:13 AM on April 23, 2012

Best answer: If you do take the ferry, get there EARLY so you can be sure to get a spot!


Also the mosquito pier on vieques is worth a visit. As is this ceiba tree that is on the roadside near the pier.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:14 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

We were not allowed to swim in the bio bay in October 2011. Apparently, bug spray and other human body chemicals are really bad for the ecosystem. Also, a lady was bitten by a shark while swimming in the bio bay, we were told. They said she saw a large, glowing object in the water and swam towards it. True or not, not a good idea.
The Luquillo shacks are a great place to eat and swim. I recommend it, too!

Very, very, very jealous. You're going to have a great time.
posted by glaucon at 7:25 PM on April 23, 2012

For future visitors:
No tourists have been allowed to swim freely in the biobay since September 2011. But (as of December 2012) if you kayak in, you can dip your arms, and if you go out on an electric boat, one person at a time gets to briefly submerge their entire body and move however they like as long as they hold on to the boat's ladder.

(That's primarily because of the minor shark attack in 2011, less for eco/preservation concerns, because of course submerging your entire body and moving around for a while is not that different from swimming in terms of chemicals such as bug spray.)

Even without free swimming, the biobay is utterly amazing. No pictures can prepare you for the experience of your arms or body covered in countless tiny flashes and light running down your skin.

There are several biobay tour companies and most do multiple types of tours (kayak, paddleboat, and electric boat). I recommend against Island Adventures, a.k.a. biobay dot com (real sexist asshole of a tour guide -- totally harshed our buzz with blonde jokes, period jokes and other girlz-R-stupid banter -- while there's no guarantee other guides will be better, he's not somebody we'd support again).

The ferry ride to and from Vieques is gorgeous and easy (and only $2). It's worth being somewhere near the front of the line so you can choose your seats on the upper deck. Avoid sitting in the last few rows behind the engines (major fumes); anywhere else near the edges is fantastic.

Vieques is changing FAST, both in terms of development and in terms of rules/accessibility, so my best general advice is to put the most stock in the most recent advice.
posted by kalapierson at 7:37 AM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

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