Destination: Puerto Rico
Planning is well underway around here for my annual girls’ trip with one of my best friends – we’ve actually known each other since we were five years old. We survived eight years of Catholic school together, were there for each other during all of the awkwardness of high school (thank goodness social media didn’t exist back then – am I right?), and even roomed together in college. Since then we’ve never lived closer than four states away, so we started these girls’ trips as a way to make sure we stay connected. As we finalize the details on our next mini-getaway, it felt like a good time to share the highlights of last year’s trip to Puerto Rico, along with some travel tips for planning your winter escape.
With no passport required for US travelers, Puerto Rico is an easy choice for a Caribbean vacation since you don’t have to deal with clearing customs. We flew into San Juan International airport, which is fairly close to most of the popular hotels in the San Juan area. Depending on your comfort level, you might want to choose taxis over renting a car – even the locals admit that the traffic laws in Puerto Rico are more like suggestions than rules, and things do get a bit sporty on the road. It was about a half-hour ride to the Caribe Hilton, which is located on a quiet peninsula between historic Old San Juan and the modern Condado area of San Juan. Craving sun, we immediately changed into our swimsuits after checking in, headed down to the pool, and ordered ourselves some tasty Pina Coladas (fun fact: the Pina Colada was actually invented by a bartender named Ramon Marrero at the Caribe Hilton back in 1954. Thank you Ramon!) There isn’t any beach access from the hotel, but check out the gorgeous views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Old San Juan is a quick 10 minute taxi ride away from where we stayed, and is now at the top of my list of places I’d love to return to someday. There’s lots to explore on foot here – the cobblestone streets are lined with shops, restaurants and apartments and are beautiful examples of colorful Spanish architecture. The history dates back to the 1500’s when Ponce de Leon founded the city, and the wall that was built around it as protection from pirates still stands today. Two forts were also constructed during this time – El Morro and San Cristobal, and they are both open to the public.
If you visit Old San Juan, you absolutely can’t miss out on dinner at Marmalade. We had heard outstanding things about this restaurant before our trip, and it certainly did not disappoint. They offer four, five or six-course tasting menus with creative dishes and amazing flavor combinations that I’m still thinking about almost a year later. I highly recommend adding the wine pairings to the courses to get the full experience. Our waitress was very knowledgeable about the menu and we never felt rushed. It’s a bit on the pricey side, but if you want to spoil yourself a little it’s definitely worth the money. Make sure you make reservations well in advance because tables get booked quickly.
Other than relaxing by the hotel pool and exploring Old San Juan, we also spent some time shopping and eating in Condado (just a little FYI – it’s about a 30 minute walk to Condado from the Caribe Hilton. We did it once in the morning to get some exercise, but when we went back at night for dinner we took a taxi. No matter how comfortable I think my dressy wedge sandals are, I wasn’t about to attempt two miles in them #theseshoesarentmadeforwalkin).
The thing that I’m most excited to tell you about was the excursion we booked to beautiful Flamenco Beach on Culebra Island. Flamenco Beach is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 best beaches in the world. How could we go all the way to Puerto Rico and not visit it? I mean, seriously, look at these pictures…
The water really is that gorgeous turquoise color – it’s a postcard-perfect view everywhere you look. The island is only accessible by boat or plane, so we decided to book a snorkeling and beach excursion. We were picked up at our hotel early in the morning by the tour company and taken to the town of Fajardo, where we met up with the other adventure-seekers on the tour and were introduced to the captain and crew of the S.S. Tobias. After being issued our snorkeling gear, we climbed aboard for a 45-minute high-speed cruise (a bit rough at times – we were warned that we might get seasick, but didn’t have any issues) to our first snorkeling destination near the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge. The water there is crystal clear and we were able to see lots of tropical fish and living coral reefs. After spending about a half-hour there, we cruised to a second snorkeling destination, also near the refuge, and had more time in the water while the crew prepared lunch for us. We had some time to eat, drink and relax on the boat before heading to our final destination – beautiful Flamenco Beach. We were given the rest of the afternoon to enjoy laying in the sun, swimming in the ocean, or just strolling on the beach before heading back to Fajardo. The tour really was the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation, and it’s an experience that I’ll never forget.
Have you ever been to San Juan? What were your trip highlights? Comment below and let me know what I missed – I may have to go back!
*this post was not sponsored- just sharing my experiences.