The winter in Minnesota in 2014 was brutal. Temperatures dropped to -20 (not including windchill), so I was relieved that I had planned a trip to Puerto Rico to escape.
Traveling on a budget in a touristy destination during high-season proved to be more difficult than I expected. The biggest difference I found in traveling to Puerto Rico was that it was hard to get around without a car, and it was expensive. It was a precise example of how the ease of traveling through countries in Europe can mislead a traveler into thinking that “seeing it all” and “doing it all” will just take some map-reading and enthusiasm.
Tours and Top things to do in Puerto Rico
The Bacardi Factory!
La Casa Bacardi, Spanish for the Bacardi House or House of Bacardi, is a great, FREE tourist attraction located in Cataño, a short drive from Old San Juan and Isla Verde.
The tour begins on a little trolley and lasts about 45 minutes, ending with a trip to the Bacardi gift shop and the bar, where you can enjoy the two FREE drinks with the tickets they give you. Pretty sweet deal, tour and drinks, completely free of charge. You’ll learn a lot about the history of Puerto Rico and Bacardi as well as learn how to make beloved Bacardi drinks like the Daquiri, Mojito and Cuba Libré.
Condado Beach and Ocean Park
Condado is a great beach and neighborhood of bars and restaurants just outside of San Juan. The beach is beautiful, although the sea is a bit rough, and the hotels that are situated on it are great options to stay at (or steal beach chairs from for temporary use if you aren’t staying there). We spent a day at the beach here and it was a great, relaxing experience. The best part is that there is a Walgreens a block away from the beach and the Walgreen’s in Puerto Rico sell liquor, so restocking midday was easy.
Ocean park was another beautiful beach location, with calmer ocean waves and soft, white crystalline sand. Beware of parking issues in these locations however, street parking is harder to come by and can pose a threat of frustration, but once it is found, the bliss of being on the beach will wash away any irritation.
Walking and Shopping around Old San Juan
Historic San Juan is a beautiful old town to explore while you’re in Puerto Rico. Check out the fort and little shops in the historic districts. Wander the streets and admire the colonial architecture and stunning colors of the buildings and churches. If you’re in the market for a new purse – check out the Coach store! We got some incredible bargains here, they have some great deals on nice Coach bags and wallets.
Located in the San Juan Hotel, Brava is a swanky and enticing nightclub, one of the best on the entire island, and is an amazing place to spend a night drinking and dancing. The cover charge for individuals not staying in the hotel is $20, free if you’re a guest of the hotel. The San Juan Hotel is one of the most beautiful establishments I have ever been in.
The hotel boasts live music and other scores of entertainment, including a casino. Definitely a great place to check out if you want to get your party on and make great memories (or not remember anything at all) Also – their bar in the main lobby boasts the best mojitos I have ever had in my entire life. While they are more expensive than you’d find other places, well worth the money.
FunCat Catamaran Tours in Puerto Rico
If you can’t rent a boat in Puerto Rico on your own – join a group boat party! What’s better than spending a day on a boat in the Caribbean, with rum punch, food and snorkeling?FunCat Catamaran tours take off from a marina in Farjado, about a 45-minute drive outside of San Juan. It’s $70 per person for the tour.
We left the port around 10am and set sail for an abandoned Spanish Virgin Island, not far from where scenes from a Pirates of the Caribbean movie was filmed. I scoured the area but sadly was unable to find Johnny Depp anywhere. Oh well. They serve you lunch, rum punch and beer, all while sailing around this part of the Caribbean and making two stops to snorkel (the tour company provides snorkeling gear and floatation devices). This was by far my favorite experience in Puerto Rico. I hadn’t snorkeled in years since my family had gone on a vacation in Mexico.
It was really great to swim around in the crystal blue water and see different fish and coral species. We were lucky to have a beautiful, sunny day to experience this and tan magnificently all at the same time.
Food you MUST try in Puerto Rico – Mofongo
You have to eat Mofongo when visiting Puerto Rico. No trip is complete without it. It’s a Puerto Rican dish made of mashed and fried plantains with meats and sauces. It’s delicious and there are many different varieties to try, I had chicken mofongo and we ate at Mojito’s Restaurant in Old San Juan, a great place to stop and try it.
Caribbean Cocktails + Seafood + Plantains
Puerto Rican food is an amazing blend of Caribbean food and European classics. There are lots of great things to try, and in addition to Mofongo, I’d highly recommend getting some form of seafood + rice dish, and trying fried plantains. They are a huge diet staple, and they are delicious! Another big thing in Puerto Rico is rum-based drinks, as you’d gather from a Bacardi factory tour. Drink mojitos, rum punch, and any other tropical cocktails to enjoy the sea breeze and sunshine in Puerto Rico.
Travel Tips for Puerto Rico
US Citizens do NOT need a passport to visit Puerto Rico and the local currency is the USD
The legal drinking age is 18
It’s hot and beautiful almost all year-round, but be careful during hurricane season. If traveling during this time, consider purchasing trip insurance.
Traffic can be a nightmare. If you have to be somewhere at a certain time, be sure to leave early so you’ll have plenty of time.
Enjoy it! Puerto Rico is an absolute gem and mainland Americans are so lucky to have unbridled access to explore it. It’s a tropical paradise worth a visit.