The big 5 0! We need to celebrate, right? Well, that day came and went. It was in 2020 though. That year that didn’t really count, so 51 it is! Mi compadre, Jonathan, and his wife were also celebrating big this year with Jonathan turning 50 so we ventured out on a couple’s weekend to “La Isla del Encanto!”
We all work a lot, had a limited budget and more importantly, limited time, so Puerto Rico made for an easy option for us.
- It is only about a 2.5 domestic flight from South Florida.
- Since its part of the USA, we didn’t need to think about trip insurance, long flights, different currency, etc.
- We could speak Spanish and feel a little bit like home.
Covid-19 travel has gotten a bit out of control recently. Flights, hotels and rental cars were all expensive (especially when you compare with some of our recent great deals!) For this trip, we decided to book a JetBlue Vacation package. Flights were from FLL direct to San Juan and the hotel was packaged into our per person cost. It was super easy to purchase and the only thing we regret not doing was adding on the rental car when we booked. My wife didn’t think we needed it since we were taking such a short trip and the prices already seemed high. Well, lesson learned…Just get the car!
Our flight was leaving FLL on Friday afternoon at 2:40 p.m. and we couldn’t secure a car until about 10:00 a.m. after calling nearly all local car rental agencies. We finally got one with Cabrera Car & Truck Rental Agency.
Before leaving the San Juan Airport, we needed to show our QR code that we had completed before leaving, which had our uploaded vaccine information and travel records. The airport was somewhat disorganized for showing the QR code but in the end, it only took about 25 extra minutes. We had to wait for the Cabrera Shuttle to pick us up and bring us to their off-site lot. Rosa attended us and gave us their last car available, a small economy car that had a hint of cigarette smell but let me tell you how good it was on gas!
We headed straight to Old San Juan where we located our hotel, Casablanca. This hotel is located right in the heart of Old San Juan, on Calle Fortaleza. I believe this property would be classified as boutique and quite artsy. The front desk was accommodating, and the rooms were clean and classic. They have a unique rooftop amenity with some bathtubs that overlook the city! We did not use them, but we did see other couples enjoying them! Overall, the hotel had a great price, a great location and a good quality. No frills but all you need for a weekend of adventure in the city. Make sure you check out their bar too- cozy and cool.
Friday Night and we were hungry but Old San Juan was packed! We walked from our hotel towards the main street to find endless waits in all the restaurants but one! Cayo Caribe allowed us to come inside and be their last table of the night. Service was friendly and the food was good. We had our first Mofongo con camarones, delicious. We decided to take a walk to see what else we could find after dinner. There was some street entertainment right before we turned near the pier and found some food trucks and a cute bar to have some drinks. Due to COVID19, places are still closing early. We had the last call at little café called “La Casita de Rones” that overlooked one of the piers. It has a whole menu of handcrafted cocktails. My wife had the “Baquine” which had an interesting mix of “Rums of Puerto Rico añejo rum, fresh lime juice, raspberries and rose infusion syrup, Crème de Violet, rose water and aqua-fava.” We continued our walk back up towards the hotel and found one more bar that hadn’t closed, Douglas’ Pub. The owner welcomed us in with arms wide open and we enjoyed a few more Puerto Rican Medallas.
Saturday – Day 2
The plan was to meet in the lobby at 8:30 a.m. as we had a full day planned but the truth was closer to 9:30 a.m. Breakfast was not an easy task. We wanted to go eat at a local Venezuelan restaurant, but it was not open in the AM and by 10:30 a.m. we were in desperate need of some coffee! There were not Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts or local bakeries on every corner, at least where we were at. We didn’t want a brunch or fancy breakfast either but just some coffee. Anyhow, we kept driving and found Las Canarias Bakery. It was nothing fancy. You order at the register and grab a table. They had everything from all American Breakfast to empanadas and of course, coffee.
Now we were ready to go explore. We drove where the road took us, and it took us to the eastern part of the island where it appeared the locals liked to go to the beach. We passed a few kiosks on the side of the road selling empanadas and other local food (just no coffee!) It reminded us a lot of the roads heading towards the beaches in Venezuela. We stopped by two different beaches. It was a pretty gray day with on and off rain, but the beaches were clear and once again reminiscent of our Venezuelan beaches, perhaps Margarita style.
We had a 3:00 p.m. slot at Toro Verde Adventure Park and it, unfortunately, was at the other side of the island, more north center so we had to cut the beach visits short. The drive was scenic, and we had the windows down. The fresh mountain air felt so good. The car ride was, once again, similar to a Venezuelan route with many curves, narrow roads and animals en route.
Luckily the rain desisted, and we were able to make it to Toro Verde to go on “El Monstro!” Although we wanted to go on their other adventures, they do stop at 5:00 p.m. and the Monster experience was really what we were there for. There is ample parking, a great gift store, a delightful café, clean restrooms and a full-service delicious restaurant as well! Toro Verde is a place where you can truly spend a whole day.
You need to weigh 100 pounds to ride “El Monstro” but there is no minimum age. We only saw adults riding it though. We were geared up and walked across the bridge to make our descend! My wife was a bit nervous as there was not a lot of typical “Gringo” safety videos, speeches, etc. but up the stairs we went and down the mountain we flew! Check out the video we made about the park here. The adrenalin rush was like no other. It was long and exhilarating. The views were beautiful from 3500 miles above the sea! We decided to stay for dinner at the restaurant on the top floor, which also had great views of the majestic mountains. Service was friendly, the food came out quick and the beers were cold! This time we tried the Puerto Rican craft beers from Ocean Lab Brewing. The Bob, the Mambo and the Blond Ale were favorites.
We had grand visions of going back to the hotel to get changed and head back out “on the town” for a night of live music and FUN. BUT that didn’t really happen. We decided that if we were going to accomplish the “fun” part, we should probably just continue. So, we made our way to the “Coca Cola Plaza” as it was described to us, which is really where the San Juan’s five-acre El Distrito entertainment district is and “Coca Cola’s Music Hall.”
This place is amazing! It is a 50,000 square foot plaza with massive LED screens all over and several restaurants and bars to choose from. They also had a few outdoor bars to grab a drink and enjoy the music by as well! We arrived just in time for a live band to start a set. They featured music in both Spanish & English. It was one giant outdoor party! After they finished, a female DJ got on stage and treated us for a continued nightclub experience, all outdoors and all free (except for your beverage of choice.)
There were chairs available, artificial grass to lay on and ample space to dance! The Toro Adventure Park also had more zip lining available here, so much fun! We stayed until they closed. The exit from the parking lot was hectic, with long lines but that was to be expected. It was a busy Saturday night, and EVERYONE wanted to stay until the end because it was such a fun night!
Sunday – Day 3
Our trip was coming to an end, but we had so much still to see and do! Although we were going to set our alarms for 8:00 a.m., we decided to let our bodies rest a bit. We checked out of boutique hotel and walked our luggage to the parking garage, just a few streets away (about a 10-minute walk.) There was a cute bakery near the parking garage where we grabbed breakfast. Nothing special but it did its purpose! Caffeinated and ready to go explore!
We did a self-guided walking tour of Old San Juan and went to visit the “Castillos”, el “Forte” and of course grab a picture by “La Perla!” After we had made the trek up to “Castillo San Cristobal” we realized that we could have taken one of those electric scooters…but hey, we got some more steps in.
The views were gorgeous. The entrance fee into this one castle also got you entrance into “El Moro” as well. A visit to both is worth it. They offer similar yet different views and experiences. We walked from San Cristobal over to El Moro. On the way there, we entered the “La Perla” neighborhood. Some locals told us that it was NOT cool to take any pictures inside their neighborhood. This colorful neighborhood was made famous by the song “Despacito” but has a long history and sits on a beautiful setting in Puerto Rico.
We got poured on after leaving “El Moro.” We mean full blown, down pour. We had some laughs but unfortunately also missed out on visiting a few stores, local artists in tents, etc. C’est la vie!
And that was a wrap.