When we planned on going to Puerto Rico it was for the sun, stunning beaches and great food. However, I could not forget that it has been just over a year since hurricane Maria hit the island. We knew that visiting Puerto Rico would help support the community and we were pleased to see that there was progress and beauty around the island. Thousands of families lost their homes, blue tarps are still covering some the rubble, especially in the central mountains. I was happy that I was able to travel to this beautiful island and experience all it had to offer during the rebuilding process.
I recommend renting a car, as we were able to find parking most places and it was nice to drive ourselves through the rain forest and to the East Island Excursion. I do not believe Europcar was the best option, as they have "fine print" and you have to take a shuttle to their location.
If you do one thing in Puerto Rico, I recommend booking an excursion with East Island Excursions. We booked the Snorkeling and Flamenco Beach, Culebra Excursion. Flamenco Beach, voted one of the top 10 beaches in the world, is a must see. There are only a couple ways to get there; one can get there by flight (around $200 round trip per person), by public ferry, which you have to wait in line and it breaks down or best way there is which is through East Island's high speed boat excursion.
We decided to drive to Marina Puerto Del Rey in Fajardo, which can be about 65- 70 minutes from the San Juan area, depending on traffic. There is a round-trip shuttle option that you can add onto your trip too for an additional fee. It took about an hour and we pulled up to the beautiful marina with tons of parking ans signs for East Island Excursions. Check in was seamless, we got our snorkeling flippers and bought a waterproof phone protector for $8; highly recommended. Prior to check in we signed the waivers, which I recommend as it allowed quicker check in.
The day we were scheduled to go, there were some high winds and the the Captain suggested that anyone on the boat who is prone to sea sickness should take Dramamine before we set sail or get a seat facing forward. With that said, the crew was extremely attentive as they start offering ice water and sodas as soon as you get on board. Once everyone is settled in, the crew does a safety briefing and tell you various things you need to know (like how to use the bathroom and where the life jackets are located). After the briefing, we got started on the 45-minute trip east to Culebra.
The trip was a bit rocky, however we all know it is the destination, not the journey and I would do it all over again in a minute!
The Island of Culebra
The trips first stopped at a tranquil reef in the Luis Peña Marine Reserve. Here, we got a briefing on the reefs and they gave out the snorkel masks. If you needed a lesson or review on snorkeling, the crew was happy to assist.
As soon as we anchored, the bar opened with all the rum drinks, soda and juices you wanted. However, we decided we should snorkel before partaking. The water warm and very clear which allowed us to see some superb marine life, stingray and coral scattered about. It really was very relaxing and gorgeous. After about 30 minutes we got back on the boat for lunch and then a nice cold local can of Medalla ($3 each)! For lunch we had cold cut sandwiches, pasta salads and chips; pretty great meal. We also enjoyed a couple pina coladas, and I am happy to report, they were not skimpy with the rum! After about 1 hour, and 15 minutes the team called everyone back to the boat and we headed for our second adventure.
Next stop; Flamenco Beach, Culbera. This was my favorite part of the entire trip. With the exception of 1 small sailboat, we had the place to ourselves. With a crescent of white sand beach and water in many hues of blue. At this stop, they set up a nice fruit and cookie buffet and let you go explore the beach yourself. Being one of the top 5 most beautiful beaches in the world it did not disappoint! I did not want to leave this island oasis and I could not recommend the trip here more!
TIPS FOR YOUR TRIP
If you're happy, let them know it — Don't forget to tip your your bartender, tour guide or trip operator if you enjoyed yourself.
This trip departs from the marina at 9:30am and returns around 4:00pm. They ask you to arrive around 9am so everyone can sign in, pay, etc. and still get going on time.
Allow a full day for this trip. You will be back to the marina in time to catch a trip to the bio-bay that same evening, so you can check-off 2 things from your list in 1 day.
Bring towels, sun glasses and sunscreen.
Wear light clothing over your swimsuit and possible change of clothes
Underwater cameras, towels,sunscreen and other items are available for purchase at check in or on-board.
If driving to the excursion, make sure you have enough time. Travel time from the San Juan area to the marina is about 60 to 90 minutes, depending on traffic
Always drink responsibly!
This is truly professional organization; staff was friendly, well-trained, knowledgeable, and really managed the entire day so that you can enjoy your excursion. You can visit their website at their web site for more information, East Island Excursions: Link to Book or you can call them at 787-860-3434 for more information.
El Yunque National Rain Forest
I was told that no trip would be complete if you did not visit the rain forest. We decided to go last minute after the excursion because we had about an hour and half of daylight left and we were passing it on the way back to San Juan. Thank goodness we stopped, as it was like no place I had ever been to.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Castillo San Felipe del Morro also known as Fuerte San Felipe del Morro or Castillo del Morro, is a 16th-century citadel located in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is full of rich history and the views are amazing. It is located in the Old San Juan neighborhood, close to where the cruise ships dock. This is the largest fort built by the Spanish in North America and was used to protect against a land based attack in the city of San Juan. We stayed an hour and half and visited the whole fort. The price to enter is $7, however we received free entry as remembrance of George Bush. We enjoyed walking on the grounds and recommend a quick stop here.
Old San Juan Umbrella Sky
63 Calle Fortaleza, San Juan, 00901, Puerto Rico
Exploring Old San Juan we stopped for the most beautiful photo opportunity on La Fortaleza. Our favorite portion of the street is slightly past the shopping hub, it is called the Umbrella Sky. Part of the Governor's efforts to support arts it takes up a large block. It's a mass of colorful umbrellas making a nice shade cover for the shoppers below. "We lost our color, but it was momentarily. We are resilient people," Govenor Fontanez said as the umbrella sky was put up after the hurricane.
Coral Princess Hotel : Av. Magdalena, San Juan, 00907, Puerto Rico
We booked an air B&B about 10 minutes from Old San Juan in Santruce. Honestly, was the first time I walked in and it was not up to standards. Therefore we were lucky enough to find an adorable boutique hotel, Coral Princess in Condado. The place was clean, location was great and the employees were incredible. Morning tea, coffee, fruit and muffins are supplied in the common area. The rooms were nice, including air conditioning, blow dryer and iron. The only down fall is the water in the shower never got warm, but at that point we took the good with the bad. Overall, enjoyed this spot! Click to book
San Juan has become one of my favorite destinations for delicious food. While most popular for its beautiful beaches, lush landscapes and historical sites, San Juan is also home to some of the most delicious cuisine in the Caribbean. The fresh, spicy and bold flavors of each dish had me wanting to ship these meals back home.
Recommended by a friend, we spent an enjoyable evening at Serafina's Italian restaurant. With both indoor and outdoor dining; we sat outside under a the retractable roof. It is beautifully decorated with a real trees and great people watching. Our server, Kevin, was friendly and very knowledgeable of the menu. To start we ordered the white wine sangria, which was good but sweet. Our meals were amazing, we ordered the lobster ravioli and mix seafood pasta, which was on special.