Sunday, September 9, 2012

Puerto Rico Luquillo San Juan Vacation Report Review Itineracy

What this post is about is all right there in the title. This isn't a fun vacation post, its just a guide in case you ever find yourself vacationing in PR. 

We did a quick jaunt down to the Island, and I would highly recommend taking a trip Puerto Rico for anyone on the east coast. It may not be worth it for someone who is on the West Coast, because you have Hawaii. We went over Memorial Day weekend (last week in May)

Car Rental: We flew in late Saturday and rented a car from Charlies - this was a recommendation from a friend, and beat out my costcotravel.com prices by about $50- which is surprising because for years I've found the best car rental bargains through Costco. I assumed since I booked for an airport transfer they would be waiting for us- we had to call them for the van to come get us. Even though there were about 6 people also waiting for their shuttle it was clear they wouldn't have come with out that phone call. They didn't have our economy car so they gave us a free Jeep upgrade, which was so perfect to drive around the island with the top off. If you have it in your budget, I would say get a jeep or convertible. However, upon our return they claimed the reservation was to be returned at 1am instead of 1pm and charged us for an extra day. I didn't have my paperwork, so we just paid up- but I double checked when I got home and they were wrong. I bet they try to do this a lot, they even put it in the computer that way, so double check when you sign for your rental. I believe we paid about $25/day, all inclusive for the car rental. 


top down, windows up- jeep ride through the rain forest
We then drove straight to our condo rental in Luquillo on the East Side of the island. It took about 45 min to drive there, and there was a toll, which we had to buy a toll card but did so at the toll booth. We chose Luquillo for a few reasons- it was a centralized spot near the beaches, the rainforest, the bio bay, and was outside of the city a bit so accommodations were more affordable. 

Condo Rental: I found a beach front condo rental in Playa Azul Building 1, through homeaway.com - I set up the rental through the owner, who then transfered the business (payment, parking, etc) to the condo property management company. The communication was terrific and the price was great. The condo itself was safe (front desk, 24 hour security, gated parking) and the condo had spectacular views, was clean, the pool was clean, it was great. I really liked having the beach right outside and a pool to relax in whenever we found ourselves with a bit of free time. 


View from front door of condo rental

view from the balcony of the our condo rental

We woke up Sunday and had McDonalds breakfast- there is one right across the street from the condo, as well as a grocery store. However, in Luquillo they don't open most stores until after church, which translates to 11am.  McDonalds was open.

El Yunque Rainforest- We got there mid-morning and drove around a bit and found the trail head to La Mina Falls at this point it was around 11am and the parking was sparse, but we found an off road spot, which other regular cars seemed to park just fine, but it is on a bit of an incline. The hike was fully paved and I was tired, complained the whole way, it was humid (duh, rainforest) and there were lots of ups and downs. I did it in flip flops though, so it couldn't have been too bad. And I have hiked much worse conditions- though I kinda hated the hike (not in shape, whatever). It was very pretty and we got there before the big crowds came. We were there on a holiday weekend. To swim at the base of the waterfall you have to scramble some slippery rocks, but nothing crazy. Again, I was able to go right down the the swimming hole section just fine in my sandals, but chose not to swim because I didn't want to be wet for the uphill hike out. 


on the hiking trail
after the crowds came
la mina falls before it got crowded

We then grabbed some lunch/groceries/sunscreen/etc and headed to the beach right outside our hotel. 

At night we had booked a bio bay tour through the only motorized tour company. We drove to the Fajardo docks and it was A) Really hard to find and B) packed with traffic. We were over an hour late, but were in constant (bad) communication with the tour company and they waited for us- the other people on our tour were also late. 

Bio Bay Tour- One of the most magical nature based activities I have ever done. We chose a boat tour of the bio bay in Fajardo - there are either kayaking tours or two electric boat outfits who tour the bio bay. The kayak tours had reviews that said it was hard to navigate the mangrove tunnel at night and there were too many kayaks in each group. Also, its vacation, I wanted to be relaxed. There is only one kayak company and one boat company that does Sunday tours. Choosing sunday not only fit our plans, but gave the added benefit of having a more secluded experience in the bay, since there are ELEVEN tour companies that run tours Monday-Saturday. We went with a tour company that you have to call to book through, then bring cash to- also, you have to book in advance, we were lucky and booked about 3 weeks out, but I would suggest booking 6-8 weeks in advance. Tipping is appreciated.

As you probably know, you can not swim in the bio bay (too bad, so sad) and it is extremely hard to capture the bio luminescence with a camera (even more sad). Also I had read all over the internet that the Veiques bio bay was better. However, everyone in PR seems to think they are comparable since the Fajardo bay stopped allowing swimming a few years back. I enjoyed trolling through the mile long mangrove tunnel and the bright moon lit sky just as much as the bio lum waters. The guides were great and they give you sticks to play around in the water. Though, my favorite way to see the bio-lum was to scoop up a handful of water and watch it fall off like magic glitter. 


mangrove tunnel on way into the bio bay 
The next day we wanted to go to an off-island island. There are catamaran tours that offer snorkling, lunch, and island time or there are ferries that can take you to islands further out. From what I read online and talking to people who have been the ferry system is hard to navigate and frustrating, so we went with a private boat. 

Captain Mingo/Icacos Island- Paradise. We spent the whole day there. The difference between the beach on the main island and this small private island is drastic. It has crystal clear turquoise waters, soft white sandy beaches. You have to carry anything you want (umbrellas, chairs, food, etc) with you, and there are no bathrooms on the island. The Baby Bay people from the night before hooked us up with Mingo, and I had read about him on the internet beforehand so knew he was legit. We were able to talk to him Sunday night and make arrangements. He took us across and picked us up for $100 (3 people). He also didn't have any thing booked after us, so he stopped off shore a bit and let us use his snorkeling gear for about an hour. Great service. You can call him to book or you can find him down at the docks in a bright yellow boat in the morning/afternoons. 783-383-6509 is his cell phone. 
boat ride with captain mingo (and his young captain in training)

view from the beach on icacos island, looking at the main island
a view of the private boats docked on the beach on icacos island
snorkling off icacos island
Monday night we went to dinner at Pasta Y Pueblo in Luquillo

Pasta Y Pueblo- Fantastic meal. Simple island foods, fish, seafood, steak with either pasta or coconut rice. Delicious. The place has five tables, a gravel floor, and is open air with a shack like room. Hard to find, put "Luquillo Sunrise Inn" in your GPS, and it is next door, right near the round about with the sculpture facing the beach. We also took a stroll down the beach afterwards. The food was the star, and I appreciated the laid back atmosphere. 
dinner at pasta y pueblo

Luquillo after dinner walk on the beach
The next day we packed up and drove back to San Juan. On our way out of Luquillo we stopped for lunch at the kioskos. Its a row of little restaurants. Some nice and had seating, some just little walk ups. Many are only opened on the weekend. They are numbered and have names. We ate El Jefe Burger Shack, #12. 

El Jefe Burgers- Fried cheese was gross. The nachos were delicious. No one got a burger because they were out of buns after the weekend. The onion rings were good/greasy. The fish and chips were ok. 

We stayed in the Radison in San Juan. It was priced right (we used the Friends & Family discount code "CarlsonF" and had no questions asked upon check in). The hotel had on site parking, was walkable to lots of food options and the beach, and had a small casino down stairs and roof top pool. We were tired and actually went to their bar and watched an episode of Hatfields & McCoys (real classy). We ordered a trio of desserts which were average at best. We took a cab ride to Old San Juan from the hotel. It was about $15. 

Old San Juan- we were dropped off at the old fort Castillo de San Cristobal but didn't pay to go inside, it was only a few dollars though. We decided to walk around the streets. There were toursity shops and a few restaurants; brightly colored row houses and such. We bought ice cream from a cart. It was like a dollar and I didn't like it. It was really hot and I didn't find anything too interesting. We made it down to the wall 
the fort at san cristobal


old san juan street
That night we went to a nice dinner out. We walked to Jose Enriques. From the Radison it was walkable, but also in a seedy part of town. We went under a freeway underpass. I was with two men and felt safe, but also urban environments aren't threatening to me. It would not be unreasonable to taxi cab there or drive if you have a car, there is ample street parking. 

Jose Enriques- The food was top notch. We shared the avocado to start, which was dressed. I then had a nice portion of fish with a fresh salad and some tropical fruit. So good. The atmosphere is smart-casual. Many there seemed to be regulars and/or celebrating special occasions. From what I overheard/witnessed they only turn the tables twice for dinner service. People seemed to all order apps/mains/desserts/drinks. It was about $30 for entrees and then additional for the other courses. Worth it. 

The next day we ate at a local cafe, can't remember the name of it, it was rated high on yelp, but the food was nothing special in my opinion- obviously forgettable. 

Flew home. 

Overall, I loved it. I'd spend less time in San Juan and more time everywhere else. Four days was a fast jaunt, but totally doable. I didn't feel rushed and I got to see a diverse amount of attractions. When I return (soon) I'd like to check out the West Coast and the Southern Ponce areas. It was also great to feel like I was in another country but have everyone speak english (enough) and take US cash. 

The weather called for sparse showers daily, but we didn't have any problems. Rained about 10 min in San Juan, but none other than that. Tropical places usually have rain or overcast for brief periods and then sunshine the rest of the time, such was the case on our trip. 

A few places did not have websites, and we had to call to book. Also, many places did take plastic, but you will want cash for tours. 

GO! 


LINKS

Charlies Car Rentals- http://www.charliecars.com/

Costco Travel- http://www.costcotravel.com/

Condo Rental- http://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p264865

El Yunque Rain Forrest- http://www.fs.usda.gov/elyunque

La Mina Falls Hike- http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g147324-d150258-Reviews-La_Mina_Falls-El_Yunque_National_Forest_Puerto_Rico.html

Baby Bay Bio Tours- 1 (787) 655-2739 or email captainsuarezbiobaypr@gmail.com

Captain Mingo (Private boat ride to Icacos Island)- http://www.puertoricodaytrips.com/icacos

Old San Juan- http://www.nps.gov/saju/index.htm

Pasta Y Pueblo- http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g635965-d1510373-Reviews-Pasta_y_Pueblo-Luquillo_Puerto_Rico.html

El Jefe Burger Shack Kioskos #12 - http://eljefeburger.com

Jose Enriques- http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g147320-d1818329-Reviews-Jose_Enrique-San_Juan_Puerto_Rico.html

Radison Ambassador Hotel- http://www.radisson.com/condado-hotel-pr-00907/prsanjua




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