Travel Guide: Puerto Rico

Tales from my four-day, three-night trip to Puerto Rico.

Before I left for Puerto Rico, I consistently got two pieces of advice: 1. Have fun and try everything, and 2. Whatever you do, don’t leave the group and Don’t. Get. Lost.

Within three hours of landing in Puerto Rico, guess which I had already done.

“Um. I think we’re lost,” I said to Diane, a photographer I’d just met. After wandering around the historic El Morro fort in San Juan with our travel group of journalists, we were in the middle of talking about iPads when Diane stopped walking. Wait, she said. Is this our group? We both froze. Granted, I had just met my group – 8 journalists, two representatives from NFJ Public Relations, and guides from Dragonfly Tours – a few hours before, but I was pretty sure the people we’d been following weren’t the ones in front of us.

After a semi-panicked phone call to our guides, the charming sales director at the hotel we were staying at, Hermes, came to our rescue. It turned out our group was just around the corner. Our punishment for getting lost? Hermes introduced us to piragua, a shaved ice treat covered in fruit-flavored syrup. In between bites of my refreshing, pineapple-flavored snack, I told Hermes that if this was the punishment for getting lost, maybe I should get lost all the time. He laughed at my joke and flashed me a smile. I decided I liked Puerto Rico.

It was easy to get lost on the narrow streets of Old San Juan.

We waited for Hermes to find us by a fountain across from El Morro.

Even though I failed at taking the second piece of advice I’d been given, I made good on the first. I tried everything (including paddle boarding, which I was terrible at), and as far as having fun went, Puerto Rico definitely ranks up there in the list of the best vacations I’ve ever taken.

The top three things I did on my trip, in no particular order:

1. Got surfing lessons:

Me surfing basically went like this: I was standing, and then I wasn’t. I have wanted to get surfing lessons ever since at I watched Rip Girls, a Disney Channel Original Movie that follows a teen girl who travels to Hawaii, learns how to surf and falls in love. At age 12, I decided Rip Girls embodied my dream romance and dream summer, and it was all because of surfing.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much success surfing as the Disney girl did, but it was still worth it. The good news: I didn’t drown. The bad news: I didn’t learn how to surf. I must’ve attempted waves at least four times before I even managed to stand up at all. The last two times, I finally managed to stand, but not to surf. The act of me standing usually caused me to fly off the board and crash into the sea. And just as I’d get all the sand and salt water out of my nose and regain the ability to breathe, I’d get back on the board, paddle out to try another wave and end up with water in my nostrils again. I am a procrastinator by nature, constantly pulling off spectacular feats at the last second, so a part of me really believed I would finally get surfing down during the last five minutes of my lesson. I didn’t. But I would definitely do it again… maybe next time in Hawaii, and I can finally live out my teenage dream.

Our surfing instructors lugged paddle boards and surf boards toward us.

2. Went kayaking on a bioluminescent bay:

Just after sunset, our group powered its way through a narrow waterway surrounded by mangroves at the Bio Bay in Fajardo. It was pitch dark, and the only way we could see the kayaks in front of us was by the glowing lights from small, circular yellow glowsticks placed on the back of each kayak in our group. Behind my kayaking partner Diane and me, we could hear people from our group screaming as they crashed into mangrove trees in the dark. But we all quickly learned the meaning of the saying, “The journey is the reward,” when we finally reached our destination. The mangrove passageway opened into a giant bay, and no longer surrounded by trees, we could see every star in the velvety black sky.

But even better than looking up was looking down. As we moved our paddles through the water, a trail of neon blue light followed us. Our tour guide explained that the light was coming from tiny plankton that light up when disturbed. A combination of factors – the color from the mangrove leaves that the plankton eat and the cool temperature and depth of the water – cause the organisms to glow when touched. The only sounds in the bay came from the conspiratorial chatter of those on kayak tours and the gentle rippling of water. The bay was like nothing I’ve ever seen or experienced before in my life. It gave me a rare peaceful feeling that put everything in perspective, and it was probably the first time on my trip that things slowed down enough for it to really sink in that I was actually in Puerto Rico.

When I got back, I told my dad that if one of my boyfriends ever comes to him and asks for my hand in marriage, to tell him to take me to another of the three bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico, specifically the one in Vieques where you can actually swim, and propose to me there. “Jennifer,” he said. “Aren’t you being a little extravagant?” he asked, rolling his eyes and making a face. Pfft. Not at all. I couldn’t think of a more perfect atmosphere to be proposed to. Although we should probably wait until we get back to the car to handle the ring. Wouldn’t want to drop it in the water. …

3. Ate and slept:

Mofongo, a Puerto Rican staple, featuring crushed plantains and a meat of your choice.

Two of my favorite things got even better in Puerto Rico, if possible. I ate delicious food at some of the most amazing restaurants I’ve been to: one, called Perla, was shaped like a giant seashell and sat atop a reflecting pool.

Perla, a seashell-shaped restaurant.

At El Convento, a romantic boutique hotel I stayed at, we ate out in the courtyard at night. Over our heads we could hear the rustling sound of the wings of dozens of bats. If that sounds creepy, trust me, it was not. It somehow only added to the romance of the night to look up and see what looked like giant black butterflies flitting through the trees in the night sky.

The fruit trees that bats like to feed at.

And one night, we drove up a dark, bumpy dirt road to a ranch called Coco Rio in the middle of the rainforest and ate surrounded by the sounds of tree frogs and crickets. It was like having one of those nature soundtracks on surround stereo sound, only it was real.

And sleeping couldn’t have been better than it was in my two hotels. At El Convento, a historic, boutique hotel in Old San Juan that was once a convent, I fell asleep to the sounds of classical music. And at La Concha, a San Juan resort on the beach, I drifted off to the crashing of waves outside my window.

The view from La Concha.

Really, I could probably write about the top 10 things I did on my trip and still not be finished, but this post is getting long. Suffice it to say, I definitely want to go back to Puerto Rico. First for my proposal, and then some. I don’t even think I’d mind getting lost again, so long as I get some piragua when I find my way back.

I can’t wait to go back to Puerto Rico.

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