How shall I spend my Puerto Rican vacation?
October 6, 2005 9:16 AM   Subscribe

What are the "don't miss" things in Puerto Rico for a first-time visitor?

On Saturday my girl and I wing off to San Juan for a week. (I can hear the celebration already - a week with no phearlez postings!) A good friend was sent there for work and put up in a 2 bedroom condo in San Juan and provided with a car, both of which she is graciously sharing with us during our stay.

We've already booked tickets for the three of us to go to Vieques on the first day we arrive to enjoy the bio-bay and we come back the following day. Our generous host has already seen the San Juan forts so we'll be doing those on our own during the week when she's at work. What else shall we make sure to see?

While our host is okay with us pissing off with the car I'd like to somewhat minimize the number of times we force her to bum a ride to and from work. So overnight or long driving trips are okay but I don't want to do that more than once or twice. Host and I are SCUBA certified, my dear is not, so SCUBA outings need to offer snorkeling as well. Physical activity is great but I run only when chased.

What are you most glad you did? What did you hate? Are you there now and interested in having a beer some evening or lunchtime?
posted by phearlez to Travel & Transportation around Puerto Rico (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The Bacardi factory across the port from the old town is fun for an afternoon out.
posted by londonmark at 9:21 AM on October 6, 2005

Arecibo is pretty interesting (especially, for me, the radio telescope), but it is a several hour drive (on the coast road, around the north side of the island) from San Juan, and driving in PR can be taxing. You might look into inter-island flights & buses, once you get there. The center of the island is mountainous, the roads twisty and frequently potholed, and the traffic can consist of everything that moves, including animals. But, the rainforest can be lovely, and you haven't seen PR until you get out of San Juan, IMO.
posted by paulsc at 10:14 AM on October 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

There are fantastic caves in Río Camuy Cave Park south of Arecibo.
posted by nicwolff at 10:14 AM on October 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

For at least one day, take a cab into Old San Juan. Wander the streets-- it's a peninsula and everything's walkable.

Visit at least one of the forts, either El Morro or San Cristobal, for a little history. The southern half of the city has shops, and if you head northwest inside the wall, you'll find some beautiful, secluded plazas and gardens. If you are into clubbing, check out the northwest part of the city, in the area of the University of Puerto Rico.

One last recommendation: Check out Amanda's Cafe at Calle Norzagaray 424, near San Cristobal. Cheap eats, pitchers of sangria, and a view overlooking the ocean. It's a magnificent place for a leisurely lunch.
posted by Scooter at 10:54 AM on October 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

Lares. They've got chicken ice cream! You've missed the Grito, tho. Right on the border of a very cool rainforest.
posted by By The Grace of God at 11:01 AM on October 6, 2005

Go to the El Conquistador hotel lobby for drinks and dancing - it's like going back in time to the 50's. Live music, salsa dancers, etc.
posted by kdern at 11:01 AM on October 6, 2005

I would definitely recommend El Yunque, the rainforest National Park. It's the only rain forest in the US, and has some really spectacular hikes if you are at all interested in plants/animals.

I'll second the day or two in Viejo San Juan...the shops and foods and such will keep you busy for some time. El Morro is a must, and if you can get to Arecibo or Camuy, those are great as well.

The last time I visited, we were going to visit Vieques, and due to protests/naval issues decided instead to visit Culebra, and we didn't regret the choice at all. Punto de Soldado on Culebra was amazing, and had some great swimming/snorkeling. Not sure about SCUBA, though.
posted by griffey at 12:41 PM on October 6, 2005

Although it would definitely violate the stealing the car rule, if you could, you should do an overnight trip to Ponce. Great Spanish colonial architecture, good art museum, and to the west of Ponce on the Caribbean coast is Guanica dry forest, with unique cacti because that part of PR is a rain shadow. It is a UNESCO World heritage site, I think. To me the best beaches on the island are around Guanica.
posted by xetere at 1:59 PM on October 6, 2005

Response by poster: I'm okay with stealing the car for an overnight or two or five if there's some compelling reason. Or I'll rent one. I just don't want to abuse the hospitality. It's just a datapoint, ya know?
posted by phearlez at 3:04 PM on October 6, 2005

Hope you can adjust your plans on the ground. Vieques is really a treat, and you may want to spend more than just a day there. Yes, it's small and easily "doable" in that time. But because of the US Navy presence until recently, the island is unusually unspoiled and charming. It won't stay that way for long.
posted by rob511 at 5:06 AM on October 7, 2005

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