Hello from Puerto Rico!!! I’m writing this blog post from our hotel’s picturesque balcony, listening to the calming crashing sounds of the waves, and glancing up occasionally to watch a few surfers catch waves.
To be honest, Puerto Rico wasn’t ever on our radar until friends of ours decided to get married here. When we received the invitation, my husband and I were both really excited as neither one of us had been here before. We were a little concerned about the whole Zika scare, but decided to build the CDC’s recommended safety precautions into our family planning. From what I understand, only people who are interested in starting a family or women who are currently pregnant should use major caution traveling here. Obviously, chat with your doctor first if you have any questions.
Where to Stay
La Concha Resort – We chose to stay at this resort because it is a Marriott affiliated property and were able to use points. The open air lobby gives off Miami vibes and is very pretty. There are multiple restaurants, two pools (one is more secluded and for adults only), a spa, very nice fitness center, and a casino. The rooms are slightly outdated. We opted for the ocean tower suite. It included a kitchen area, living room with a dining table, spacious bathroom, bedroom, and balcony. From looking at their website, it seems that maybe some rooms are more updated than others. If you choose to stay here, I think it would be worth asking to be put in an updated room.
Condado Vanderbilt Hotel – This is the hotel that the bride and groom had their wedding and also where they secured a room block for their guests. We initially booked a suite here, but when we realized La Concha was right next door we switched. The Condado Vanderbilt hotel is definitely more upscale and has nicer rooms. If we were paying cash, I’d probably choose to stay there over La Concha. However, the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel sends their guests over to La Concha’s beach because they don’t really have any beach space. They are also not a gaming hotel. If you like to gamble like we do, you’d end up back at La Concha again. I also heard La Concha has a better breakfast, but I can’t speak on that because we only ate at our hotel. Vanderbilt has a better spa. Honestly – it’s likely one in the same to stay at either property. You can’t go wrong. This hotel also has pools, restaurants, and a very nice lobby lounge. Their event space was beautiful too.
What to Do
The Forts of Old San Juan – We explored Castillo de San Cristóbal. It took about an hour and we likely didn’t see everything it had to offer, but it was scenic and a great place to take photos.
Walk Around Old San Juan – Old San Juan is…. old. Haha. But, it is very colorful, rich with history, and fun to explore. It seemed like every turn we took had something interesting. We had lunch, walked through a cute little park, saw the Governor’s house, explored one of the forts, and did a little shopping.
El Yunque Rainforest Nature Walk and Bioluminescent Bay Kayaking Combo Tour – My husband and I booked this 11 hour excursion and were pretty pumped to do both activities. What we didn’t know is that we would end up seeing and doing a lot more than what the tour described. Our tour started with us stopping at a bakery to pick up a quesito (a popular Puerto Rican sticky pastry filled with cheese) to nosh on while we drove 40 minutes to the El Yunque Rainforest.
We saw three waterfalls, learned about native plants and trees, and swam in a river.
We stopped for lunch at a traditional Puerto Rican food stand on the side of the road. My husband went for the kabobs and I tried the traditional Puerto Rican “tamale” called pastels. I also got to try my first coco frio.
The pace of our tour moved a little faster than planned. Our guide kindly took us to Seven Seas Beach to relax and hangout before moving on to the kayaking portion of our tour that was to begin around dusk.
The kayaking portion of this tour was intense. It was almost called off due to the wind, but luckily we were still able to do it. It was a little difficult to kayak against the wind. Chris and I were in a tandem kayak which made it slightly easier. It had a clear glass bottom for optimal viewing of what was below us.
We kayaked through the mangroves and into Bio Bay. Bio Bay is unique because of the bioluminescent organisms that light up when you touch the water. The ocean looks like glowing glitter.
I was a little disappointed because the pictures I saw online of this excursion were breathtakingly dramatic. (Google image this.) In person, it wasn’t nearly as dramatic, but I learned that these organisms are dying off from all the tourism… As our paddles moved us through the ocean, the water would glow under our glass bottom kayaks and with every movement of the water. It was pretty incredible. On our way back to our launching location, Chris and I were terrified. We were kayaking in pitch black darkness. We ran into the mangrove trees three times. Obviously freaked out, we tilted the other way and it made me feel like our kayak was going to tip. I got a little panicky, but to be honest, this tour was still phenomenal and I would do it again for sure.
Beach/Pool Day – I think this is pretty obvious considering Puerto Rico is a tropical destination, but it’s always nice to relax in the sun.
La Placita – We didn’t get to check this out and I’m bummed about it. Apparently, it is a cute little plaza that is surrounded by bars and restaurants. There is live music and everyone basically hangs out on the plaza (similar to what you’d find in New Orleans). La Placita is only fun on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. We tried going on a Monday and everything was closed.
Visit Casa Bacardi – This is another tour we didn’t get to, but I would definitely do this if I came back. They have three different tours you can experience – a historical tour, rum tasting tour, and mixology tour. It’s located about an hour away from our hotel, which is why we couldn’t fit this in.
Where to Eat
Tacos and Tequila – This restaurant is located inside the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel. It’s name says it all… we had tacos and spicy margaritas. My favorite taco was the cod taco.
Barrachina – This restaurant is located in Old San Juan and is the perfect place to stop when checking out the neighborhood. It’s where the world famous piña colada was created in 1963. They give you free samples of the piña coladas. It is a little more tangy than what you find in the states. We ordered the mixed paella and the combination mofongo (a traditional Puerto Rican dish with plantains as the main ingredient). Sit in the courtyard!
Serafina – This restaurant was located right next to our hotel, but had really great pizzas. It has a trendy atmosphere and a great patio.
Casita Miramar – This place was awesome. They are limited on their reservations, but they keep availability open for walk-ins. We didn’t have a reservation, but only waited a few minutes. As soon as we sat down, they brought us complimentary fritters and plantain soup. They bring a chalkboard to your table with their offerings for the evening. Every single thing we ordered was delicious. I ordered their ribs in a bbq guava sauce. I was prepared to get messy, but the meat slipped right off the bones. They were the most tender ribs I have ever had in my life.
We didn’t get to try these particular restaurants, but they came highly recommended to us and would definitely check them out if we come back.
Marmalade – A romantic, fine dining restaurant in Old San Juan.
Santaella – This restaurant is located near La Placita. We wanted to eat here, but they were closed on Mondays. Make sure to go on a Friday or Saturday night.
Asere Cubano – Also located near La Placita, the highlight here is to go upstairs and have a drink on their balcony. The food is supposed to be good here too.
Jose Enrique – Again, located near La Placita, this restaurant does not take reservations. You put your name on the list and they call you. Jose Enrique is one of Puerto Rico’s most famous chefs.
St. Germain Bistro and Cafe – This restaurant is closed on Mondays, but was suggested to us for lunch while walking around Old San Juan. Expect organic, healthy food here.
Taxi – You can negotiate taxi fares. Make sure you google how far your location is and throw out a fair price to the driver. They will make a deal with you without hassle.
Uber – Uber is super easy, just like in the states.
AT&T – If you have a newer plan with AT&T, you will have service as normal in Puerto Rico and Mexico. Double check to make sure you have a current plan. If not, you can rely on wi-fi. Almost every place we went to had free wi-fi for their guests.
All the best restaurants are closed on Mondays… plan accordingly.
You do not need a passport to come here. We brought ours just in case and haven’t used them once.
Have you been to Puerto Rico? If so, what were your favorite things to do? Leave me a comment below.