The DOs and DON’Ts of traveling in Puerto Rico

It’s been a while and I know I have a LOT to write about. I though I would start with my trip to PR as it ended being somehow a colossal failure and exciting adventure all rolls into one nice burrito package, or maybe I should say a Mallorca sandwich.

I’ve been trying to figure out how the best way to write this blog post as I didn’t really know how to approach the subject of traveling through Puerto Rico without writing about the downward spiral of epic disaster which happened on my trip. So I guess the best thing to do is to write about what to do and what not to do while traveling through PR.
But, before I begin, here are some photo from El Yunque Rainforest, the ONLY rainforest in the US.

  • DON’T stay in one location.  When planning our trip to PR we thought it would be easiest to bunker down in one location. We had rented a car and thought we could just day trip to each area of the island. I think I did a google maps route on how long it took to drive around the island. It might have lied to me and said it only took about 4 hours to circumference the island. I might have also has wishful thinking and believed that it told me that. Either way, it does NOT take only a few hours to get around the island.
  • DO find a route around the island that lets you hit up all the locations you want to see. There is more than one reason why I stress this point.
  1. Our hotel was on top of a mountain in the middle of a rain forest during a tropical storm at the beginning of El Niño with roads that only a 4×4 should drive on.  Yes, you read that right. The picture above is the easy part of the road, after that point it got so scary we couldn’t pull out a camera as we were holding on for dear life. The first time we drove up to the hotel was around noon. We though we would drop off our luggage and then run around the island a bit. After crawling up a mountain in a Kia Rio, praying to sweet baby Jesus that we would not only make it up the mountain but also do it without losing parts of the car on the way up and finally having my friend Trish pry my fingers off the steering wheel, I refused to go back down the mountain until I got my nerve up. By the way, I never did really get my nerves back up to fighting. I just forced myself to keep driving up and down that mountain while counting down how many more times I would have to do it. The drive was so bad that every night Trish would listen for cars coming up the drive way, hop out of bed and listen out the window to hear the drivers reactions. Yes, everyone had the exact same reaction. There was a lady in a Jeep who was seriously considering her choice of hotel. Needless to say, if we had booked at other locations through out the week, we would have only had to drive up and down that mountain a couple of times at the most.
  2. It was flash flooding most of the time we were there (which didn’t help out poor nerves with the regarding the road to the hotel), so our options were limited on what we could do. This also seriously limited our driving time as it took much longer to go anywhere. Case in point, the second to last day we drove out to Cabo Rojo on the Western side of the island to see the salt flats and the white cliffs. We ended up getting a later start than we wanted. By the time me made it to the cliffs, I told Trish we had 15 minutes to run up the hill, take pictures, find a bathroom and be on our way again in order to make it back up the mountain to our hotel before the sunset because there was absolutely no way we were driving up that mountain in the dark with our little Kia Rio and possibly more rain.  Here is a photo of the Salt Flats. One day I will go back and take the tour!
  3. We realized we wanted to see some of the islands,  mainly Vieques. I hear the locals think it’s a dirty island because of all the bomb testing that went on there from the US military. But they now seem to have the best bioluminescent waters in the world.  Coincidence?  Not really sure… We were thinking of taking a ferry across, but it’s not something you can do in a day trip. Our other option was to do the bioluminescent in Fajardo. Sadly, most reviews said it wasn’t worth it, especially when it’s been raining. It ended up being a part of the trip that we had to skip, of which I was really looking forward to seeing.  We also wanted to do a trip to Isle de Mona which is a small island nestled between PR and Dominican Republic. It’s called the Galapagos of the Caribbean. I think enough said.
  • DON’T rent just any car. As you have read from my Kia Rio experience, figure out where you are planning on going. To be honest, other than the hotel, the Kia Rio was perfect for our needs. I might have been okay with going up that drive way once in it (which the AC off and in first gear, as the owner stated we should do). It was the multiple times that got to me. Either way, if you are planning on going to a more remote part of the island, then rent a car that can handle it. Otherwise, if you are sticking to towns off the highways, you will be okay with a little Kia Rio too.
  • DO rent a car. You will be stuck in San Juan the whole trip otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, San Juan is amazing. We stepped into this awesome little dive bar called El Batey for a drink. After walking around the city a bit, we were in need for a nice refreshing Cerveza. It was almost too hip for me. But I loved it. We also had the best breakfast I’ve probably ever eaten at La Bombonera. There is apparently a rival place down the street. We wanted to stop in on our last day to try it out but opted to see some cave instead.
  • DON’T stay at the airport hotel. If you are spending a night in San Juan, spend the night in San Juan. As listed above, there are a lot of cool things to see. Plus, I really wish we got to stay at the hotel that used to be a nun Coventry, it’s called El Convento, it’s were my Puerto Rician friend’s family always stays when visiting. I would suggest starting your trip in San Juan. Spend a day or two there then hit up any island you were thinking about going to. After the island trip, go back to San Juan, to pick up your car and start driving around the island.
  • DO research what is going on in each city and on what day things are happening. We realized a bunch of places only have things to see and do on the weekends. If it’s somewhat touristy, it’s probably not open on a weekday, so plan accordingly. We wanted to go on the tour of the Salt Flats in Cabo Rojo but they were not open mid-week. It worked out since we ended up not having a lot of time.
  • DON’T get to immersed into Island Time. I know, I know. You are on vacation and want to relax. Yes, do that. Just make sure your guide, who is probably on island time, doesn’t put you into a situation you don’t like being in just because you figured they know what they are doing. Yes, there is also a story here.

On the last day we decided to check out some caves. Trish found some that were open even though it was crazy raining our whole trip and (bonus!) it was only about 1 1/2 hours away from the airport in San Juan. We left early in the morning but still just barely missed the 10AM tour. We hung out for the hour and went on the next tour as they were only an hour long and that should give use plenty of time to get back to San Juan to catch our 5PM flight. The caves, Cavernas de Camuy, were stunning. But again, we are in PR and I’m just not sure how safe everything really was. We entered the first cave, called the light cave due to the fact that it had lights set up for us to see. Problem was that the lights were not working and instead of bring us the flash lights they had set up for us at the next cave, we were informed to use our phones in order to see. That’s not even the best part.

We get to the next cave which requires us to climb down some “stairs” which are about a foot deep each step. Not really an issue if you are at least at little fit, in which I mean you can walk around the grocery store without having to take a break. Unfortunately, we had a few elderly people on our tour. Now, I don’t mind they were on the tour with us. I don’t mind that we need to wait a few minute extra for them to catch up to the rest of the group. What I mind is that I’m pretty sure NO ONE informed this couple there would be a little bit of climbing involved in this trip. Needless to say, they didn’t not seem pleased and were struggling a lot.

At the end of the cave, we came to a big opening called the picture window, and it definitely was picturesque. We took some photos and then realized it was starting to rain. Then it was starting to rain harder. At this point, let me remind you of the situation. We are in cave that was formed by rain water making its way down the cracks and carving out a huge hole in the earth. We are also in this cave while it is flash flooding (yet again) outside. Lastly, we are this cave, flash flooding outside with an elderly couple who could barely climb down into the cave. The guide looks at us and said “when you are done taking your photos feel free to wander around aimlessly in the dark to find your way back out of the cave. Oh yeah, and watch out for the bats, they bite.” Okay, he didn’t really say that but he might as well have.We did eventually find our way back to the cave enterance with only becoming lost a couple of times. The last time we got lost I said, “I think we are supposed to turn here because I don’t remember a river running through the cave… Oh wait….” I then looked up to see the enterance of the cave now had a beautiful cascading waterfall at the opening where the stairs used to be. We. Were. Fucked.

Not really. I had to use the bathroom so I said “fuck it” and climbed up the waterfall.  I then proceeded to run down the trail towards the bathroom. At that point it occurred to me that I probably could have just peed my pants because there was so much rain that my pants probably would have been clean again within minutes of being out there. I opted for the lady like option and still ran for the loo.Even with the flash flood, we still somehow managed to get the car returned somewhat on time and making it to our gate before our plane took off. We were soaking wet, but we made it! Thank god for Pre-check at TSA.

 Well, that was some of my trip. I hope it helped you to plan your next adventure in PR. Although it was a little crazy at times, I am definitely planning a trip back. Island hopping, here I come!

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