Planning a trip to Puerto Rico
November 8, 2014 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Are our Puerto Rico plans realistic? And how best to get around?

My boyfriend and I are going to Puerto Rico (first time for both of us) in December. We will be there for 9 days (7 not counting the days we fly in and out) and I am trying to plan our itinerary. He's a beach bum, and I have heard great things about Vieques and would like to go there. Is it realistic to spend around 3 days on Vieques, and the rest of our time on the main island? I would like to see El Yunque and maybe drive around a bit on the main island, as well as spend a day or two in San Juan.

If it's realistic to do both Vieques and the main island in 7 full days, what is the best way to get to Vieques? We don't want to spend $200+ to fly there, and I don't want to rent one car in San Juan just to drive to Vieques and rent another, and then a third when we return to San Juan. Is there a bus system that is realistic to navigate? I heard it's difficult but I do speak fluent Spanish. Or is hiring a taxi the best way?

Lastly, from your experience would it be realistic to spend our time on the main island with San Juan as a "home base" and plan day trips from there? I know I want to do El Yunque but I'm not sure what else is a good day trip.

Any general suggestions of things to do, food to eat, beaches to go to, etc. are very welcome! Thanks in advance.
posted by queens86 to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I'm pretty sure that only citizens are allowed to take their car on the ferry to vieques. Youcan park your rented car in fajardo for $5 a day and take the ferry over. Might be cheaper to get a car for the week than to rent twice. Vieques is much better than any beaches around San Juan, so do your beaching there if it'll be enough for you. In vieques I remember the blue beach red beach and biobay the most. Pretty sure you're not allowed to swim in the biobay anymore but still rent a kayak instead of a glass boat so you can touch the water. If you want to do some hiking or see really windy mountain roads, head to the center of the island. You can combine that with the arecibo observatory if you like science stuff. Rincon and ponce are nice day trips too, but I would do el yunque first. Cabo rojo is pretty far but also an amazing beach and cliff with a nice view. sorry for the long paragraph, I'm using my phone
posted by at 1:16 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yep, realistic. I did a similar trip recently: about a week, first half on Vieques and second half on the main island (in Luquillo, because it has pretty beaches and is close to El Yunque).

We just took a taxi from the airport to Fajardo, then the ferry to Vieques. Vieques is small enough to get around via walking, though we also rented bikes at one point. The way back, we took a shared van to Luquillo, and then rented a car for a day or two, solely for the sake of being able to get to El Yunque. No Spanish required for any of this.

Vieques is incredible, El Yunque was lovely. You'll have a great trip!
posted by orangejenny at 1:20 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Away from San Juan is best, unless you like more touristy things. Some of our favorite travel experiences were had in Puerto Rico, but none in San Juan. Staying in the paradores is much more adventurous than the big resort hotels. You'll definitely need a car to explore the main island. We especially like the northwest coast (approximately from Rincon to Arecibo) for the wild surf and blue water. And the bars on the beach. There, I said it.
posted by DrGail at 1:59 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

It would be best to stay on the main island the majority of the time. There's nothing you can't do in Vieques that you can't do on the main island. In San Juan, you'll be close to El Yunque and El Morro. Renting a car for a week is your best bet to drive where you want to go. San Juan is a long drive and traffic is pretty terrible. Not much to do in Vieques, I recommend Caja de Muertos instead. Caja de Muertos is a gorgeous island with fantastic beaches, about a 30 minute boat ride. You could probably spend a whole day there. Guavate is good for food, but you'll be able to find great places to get food on every corner. I recommend getting pan de agua which is fresh baked bread you could get for $1 pretty much anywhere. You could visit Cuevas de Camuy and El Museo de Ponce. You're going to have a great time just don't try to fit everything in and miss out on the experience, because I'm sure you'll definitely want to come back. There's also a lovely luminescent boat ride depending on the time you go and kayaking if you're feeling adventurous. Also, El Yunque is a rainforest, so keep in mind it will rain.
posted by lunastellasol at 3:03 PM on November 8, 2014

In the same timeframe, we did San Juan, El Yunque, Vieques and Luquillo, as others have mentioned and didn't feel rushed. We rented a car in San Juan and took the ferry to Vieques, leaving the car in Fajardo, just as never.was described. Your plans sound totally workable to me! Enjoy -- you'll have a fabulous time!
posted by kittydelsol at 3:35 PM on November 8, 2014

One thing I know from many trips to the island - if you're looking for a calm island experience, you want to get away from the touristy areas. Old Town San Juan is nice; the rest of San Juan, not so much. I loved Vieques, including the bioluminescent bay, but that was a longish while ago now, so I don't have any specific advice on that.

If you want to do something a bit off the beaten track, drive to Arecibo, take the twisty roads, and visit "El Radar" - it's the world's largest single dish radio telescope and their visitor center is pretty nice. Evening at the observatory is something special, with the fog and the coquis calling and the giant radio telescope looming like something out of science fiction, but you probably won't want to brave those roads after dark... But the telescope is worth visiting. It is so LARGE that it sort of boggles the mind - look for the tiny-looking full-sized door on the dome hanging in mid air, or for people doing maintenance work on the structure, to get some sense of scale.
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:43 PM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

We did this trip last December! It was wonderful. We kind of wished we'd spent a couple more days on Vieques (we were there for two nights and threeish days; because of the short time frame we did fly on a teensy plane); it is also worth noting that if you aren't staying in Esperanza (and probably even if you are), a car will improve your trip a lot. And at this point you will probably not be able to rent one. We were able to borrow one from the person whose house we were staying at, and that's your best bet if you're doing an airbnb-type thing. But we LOVED Vieques, and we're not even huge beach people.

We spent a couple days in San Juan, which was perfect, and a day in El Yunque, and a day going out to Arecibo. Honestly everything we did was great. We had an awesome trip, and you've got plenty of time for the things you want to do.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 3:53 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Make sure to try the mofongo.
posted by Che boludo! at 7:50 AM on November 9, 2014

Hooray! I love Puerto Rico and Vieques. I think you should have plenty of time to do Vieques as well as San Juan and El Yunque.

Definitely rent a car. We rented one on the big island, parked it while we went to Vieques, rented a jeep on Vieques, and came back to the car. It was not ridiculously expensive and made everything much easier. If you are completely opposed to doing so, many of the resorts have day trips to El Yunque and other popular destinations.

San Juan is a pretty big city and would not make a great "base" for getting out of the area-you will spend a lot of time driving if you do that. I would spend one day in old San Juan and then pick a resort somewhere else. Somewhere near Luquillo would be good, or Fajardo.

I absolutely love Vieques. You will have the most fun if you get a jeep. The US military owned a lot of the island and turned it over to the fish & wildlife service when they pulled out. A jeep will give you access to isolated, virgin beaches on the western side of the island. There is awesome snorkeling. We spent a day out there at a few different beaches and saw maybe 6 other people, total. I cannot recommend this enough.
posted by Missense Mutation at 10:34 AM on November 9, 2014

I second (third, whatever) not staying in San Juan for a base. The traffic there is crazy and most of the sights that you are talking about are on the other end of the island. We spent a week in PR for our honeymoon and rented a vacation house in Rio Grande, near El Yunque. That location was great for day trips to the beach, the kiosks, the bio bay (don't do it), and the islands to the east. We did take a day trip to Old San Juan as well. Have fun!
posted by checkitnice at 7:04 PM on November 9, 2014

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