Specific Puerto Rico Travel Tips
April 9, 2017 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Hi all, Looking for specific tips for our visit to Puerto Rico next month regarding bio bay tours, visiting El Yunque, and restaurants.

We're visiting Puerto Rico next month (May 8- 11, if it matters). I've already browsed previous questions, but am looking for more detailed suggestions. Specifically:

We're definitely doing the bio bay kayak tour at some point. Because of the logistics of where/when we're staying, we're likely to do El Yunque and the bio bay tour on the same day.

1) Any suggestions for bio bay tour companies? And does it matter if we do early evening vs nighttime (e.g. 6:00 pm vs 8:00 pm tours)?

2) For El Yunque, should we book a hike with a tour company? I generally prefer to explore nature on my own, but the Forest Service site says there is construction on roads in the park starting in May, and suggests going with a tour company.

3) Any updates to restaurant suggestions in San Juan or Luquillo? (The last question I saw about this was from 2012). No dietary restrictions, and we like both hole-in-the-wall gems, as well as nicer/hipper spots.

Feel free to throw any other suggestions my way. Thanks!
posted by too bad you're not me to Travel & Transportation around Puerto Rico (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
El Nuevo Acuario is right outside San Juan and is super good, super hole in the wall, with lovely staff and chef. Can't wait to go back!
posted by wemayfreeze at 7:35 PM on April 9, 2017

Best answer: My boyfriend and I got home yesterday from our first ever trip to Puerto Rico! It was sublime.

1. Bio bay: we went with Pure Adventure in Fajardo. It was fine, with some caveats. We went for a 6PM tour. Our night was a three-quarters moon, and it was very bright. The guides looped all the kayaks together and threw a tarp over us to make it darker. We dipped our hands in the water between the boats and saw the bio-luminescence swirl around our fingers. It was exhilarating but very brief. That part lasted about three minutes, tops. Watching the light fade over the bay while we waited for it to get dark was a lovely experience, but the better part of the tour was spent actively kayaking. I would say it was intermediate-level; kayaking in a strong current through mangrove-lined passages to get to the bay. Same trip back, but in complete darkness, just following the lights on the next boat. (Cool but a little spooky.) Several folks were new to kayaking and had a tough time.

Other tidbits about the tour: they picked us up in San Juan and drove us in. It was $20 cash per person for transportation there and back. The guides were very energetic and fun, but I would have appreciated less time with them talking and more time to hang out stargazing in the bay on our own. We waded in to get to our boat, so don't wear anything below the waist that you'd mind getting soaked.

2. We didn't get out to El Yunque this round, sadly!

3. Food! We stayed in Santurce, and most of our meals were in the area. My two favorites were Jose Enrique in La Placita, and Ocean Park Cafe on Loiza. I'm a vegetarian. There wasn't much for me on the menu at Jose Enrique, but when we consulted the waiter he said they could do a couple of special dishes, which turned out to be a dressed avocado and a root vegetable mash thing. It doesn't sound special, but they were delectable. We had lunch at Ocean Park Cafe after a long afternoon walking in the heat; I had an avocado dish with tofu and vegetables. It took what felt like ages to come out but once it arrived, I'm not sure if I've ever enjoyed a meal so much. It was incredibly fresh and flavorful and every bite tasted like someone had prepared it from scratch with love. I'm still dreaming about those avocados.

My boyfriend's top two were Jose Enrique and El Vagón, a casual outdoor taco place. He is decidedly not a vegetarian. He got the skirt steak (he described it as a "beef blanket," apparently that's a good thing,) and the chicken tacos respectively, and spoke of them both with dreamy fervor.

Other standouts: coffee at Hacienda San Pedro Coffee Shop. Fantastic. Lote 23 is also totally worth a visit or two - it's a delightful outdoor plaza with permanent food trucks, picnic seating, canopies and fans to keep things cool. We tried a half-dozen or so of the different vendors between us over a few visits; all great. We especially adored the coconut gelato popsicles at El Vagón. Boulevard Cafe in Santurce has fine food but quite amazing fresh-squeezed passion fruit juice made from fruit grown by our server. Besides the fresh juices, she and her colleagues were superstars in terms of service. Quite the loveliest folks.

Chicharrón was pretty meh, probably my least favorite. Abracadabra cafe has a really cool interior and fine food but nothing out of the ordinary.

Also wonderful: mangoes and bananas from street vendors. Pretty much all the fresh local fruits and veggies tasted miles better than what our New England palates are used to.
posted by prewar lemonade at 9:25 PM on April 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oops, missed the window to correct. The coconut popsicles were at Señor Paleta at Lote 23, not El Vagón.
posted by prewar lemonade at 9:33 PM on April 9, 2017

Best answer: I can absolutely 2nd the recommendation for El Nuevo Acuario - seriously the best fish dinner I've ever had. And bonus for us, we met a Mefite who lived in PR there when we were visiting! (I think he's moved back to the states).

We did El Yunque on our own - spent the day there and did two hikes, one shorter one to swim under the waterfall, and then hiked to the summit. The hike to the summit is actually kind of boring - you are mostly walking up a gravel forest service road.

We did an electric boat instead of kayaks at the bio bay. I thought it was better as we could concentrate on listening to the guide, and not on keeping our kayak upright.

We also spent 4 days in Rincon which was lovely. It's a very different vibe than the eastern half of the island, more laid back sleepy beach town.

If you didn't see my blog posts on on our trip linked in the previous posts they are here.
posted by COD at 6:09 AM on April 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Biobay: I would say the Fajardo biobay is not worth it. The Vieques one is amazing, but you would need to overnight on Vieques to do it. The luminescence is almost nothing; on a full moon night, you won't be seeing much. I also found the kayaking really frustrating and boring - it's dark and it felt like a waste of time.

El Yunque: You won't need a guide. Sometimes the park gets so crowded that they stop letting people in, but you're there midweek - should be okay. As someone mentioned, it would be neat to spend a night out in Rio Grande -- it's lovely over there.

Check out Puerto Rico Day Trips (despite the SEO-y name) for local festivals and activities. So rather than Fajardo, I would check out this swimming hole (I've been...at least four times, once two weekends in a row) or go down to Caja de Muertos for the day (uninhabited island, you take a ferry back at 3) and then eat conch on the boardwalk in Ponce. (And I have so many Ponce recs...)

Ocean Park / Calle Loiza: So many gems; my favorite area. Ocean Park Café is fabulous, as already said. Acapulco for tacos; Bocca (right nearby) for homemade pasta. Punto Media for coffee. Cueva del Mar (on Loiza, though I think they have other branches) is pretty typical seafood, but their breadfruit tostones are stand out. You can just wander down Loiza (start at de Diego by the Supermax and head east) on a nice day and stop at stores (some cute vintage) and eat wherever, then end up at Ocean Park beach after grabbing sandwiches and whatever from Kasalta (traditional Spanish bakery).

Santurce / Placita: Gallo Negro is fantastic - hip and great cocktails. Lote 23 is fun; get the donuts by the entrance. Hacienda San Pedro for coffee. Mai Pen Rai (Thai) and Junglebird are good.

Old San Juan: Senor Paleta (in Lote 23) also has their original storefront in Old San Juan. Verde Mesa is fantastic. El Hamburger right by the entrance for an amazing, greasy burger with cheap beer. Lupulo for beer and La Factoria for a maze of craft cocktail bars (there's 5 - don't stop at the first one! and get the lavender mule). El Batey by Hotel Convento for super divey.
posted by quadrilaterals at 6:09 AM on April 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In case you didn't know, to eat in Luquillo, head to the Beach Kiosks, which is basically a strip mall with dozens of small places, ranging from cheap takeout to nice small restaurants, but nothing very fancy.

I read the Forest Service page as recommending a tour company only if you are not going to "the main attractions and trails along PR 191 corridor." There's plenty of great hiking in that section, so unless you're looking for real backcountry adventures, you should be fine. However, the trail head parking lots did fill up quickly, so you might want to try to get there on the early side to beat the crowds.

I found the Puerto Rico Day Trips site useful for recommendations of smaller sights.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:38 AM on April 10, 2017

I wished we'd had more time so we could have visited El Nuevo Acuario twice. The food was amazing and the location is fun. The owner gave us a lot of recommendations for tourist things, coffee shops and so forth.

My followup at the end of this question contains tips for finding the place, which is not really easy in the dark. We kept driving back and forth with our GPS telling us we'd just passed it.
posted by BibiRose at 7:04 AM on April 10, 2017

My favorite dining out experience was El Jibarito in Old San Juan. Traditional PR food, very good. Apparently it's very popular, but my friends and I stumbled on it and had no trouble getting a table.
posted by lunasol at 7:17 AM on April 10, 2017

FWIW, I was there in Dec 2015 and Google Maps got me right to El Nuevo Acuario (from Ocean Park) without a problem.
posted by COD at 11:18 AM on April 10, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the answers, folks!

I think due to the full moon (and all the reviews about the chaotic kayaking experience), we're going to skip the formal kayak and just do a moonlit self-guided walk on the beach instead.

It also sounds like we're fine to explore El Yunque on our own.

Really looking forward to trying some of the restaurant suggestions!
posted by too bad you're not me at 9:20 AM on April 13, 2017

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