— San Juan: 9-Day Island Loop —

Puerto Rico

San Juan has old world charm

Accomodations are light and airy

AirBnB accomodations are usually light and airy

Umbrellas

Forteleza Street in Old San Juan is covered with umbrellas

Flamenco Beach

Culebra's Forteleza Beach has beautiful white sands and brilliant blue waters

Puerto Rico is all about relaxing

Puerto Rico is all about relaxing

Put your feet up in Puerto Rico

Put your feet up in Puerto Rico

Pouring Puerto Rican Coffee

Drinking Puerto Rican coffee at Sandra Coffee Farm is a delight

Plantains hanging on the porch

Locals hang their bananas on the porch

Traditional foods of Puerto Rico include mofongo, alcapurrias, and lechon

Traditional foods of Puerto Rico include mofongo, alcapurrias, and lechon

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Loop Overview:

xxx miles, x days, x hours of driving                                            Best Time to Go:  Dec - May

Day 1:  Arrive in San Juan, explore Old Town San Juan

Day 2: See ...

Day 3: See...

Day 4: See...

Day 5: See...

Day 6: See...

Day 7: See...

— Travel Details by Day —

Day 1:

Day 1: Arrive to San Juan and explore Old Town San Juan.  Tour the El Morro and La Forteleza fortresses.  A section of Forteleza Street is covered in a canopy of bright colored umbrellas—a really cool 3D art installation.

Lodging: Please support the local economy still reeling from Hurricane Maria by staying at locally owned and run hotels or AirBnBs on the island.  If you do want to hotel it, there are a bunch of hotels in the Isla Verde portion of San Juan which is known for beach bars & casinos.  Or if you want a quieter local vibe, stay in Old San Juan.  Our friend Elizabeth also stayed at the Mango Mansion Hostel and would recommend it if travelling on a tight budget.

Camping:  Please support the local economy still reeling from Hurricane Maria by staying at locally owned and run hotels or AirBnBs on the island instead of camping—it will have a larger economic impact. Thank you.

Food: Amazing!  Give some of the traditional Puerto Rican dishes a try—mofongo is one of our (and Elizabeth's) personal favorites!

Day 2:

Rented our car and drove to Ceiba where we had an airbnb that overlooked El Yunque rainforest. On the way we stopped at the Luquillo kiosks (almost 100 local restaurants and stores all packed into a strip along the beach). Here we tried our first Monfongo (traditional Puerto Rican cuisine that consists of yucca, green plaintain, or sweet plantain… or all 3! Which is then mashed with lots of garlic, fried and sometimes stuffed with vegetables or seafood of your choosing… so delicious!)

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Day 3:

From Ceiba, we drove to El Yunque National Park. We were glad to see that it was still open despite the government shutdown and there were even rangers there volunteering their time to help tourists know what trails were open. Many of the trails and the main road were significantly damaged by Maria, and some are still closed, but we were still able to do some great hikes! We concentrated our time on some of the more popular hikes including Mt. Britton (which gave us stunning views of the island) and Juan Diego Falls where you can swim underneath waterfalls!

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Day 4:

We left our wonderful home in Ceiba and took the ferry to the island of Culebra. (We chose to buy our $2 tickets for the ferry the day before because we had heard that it can get crowded). We found that the ferry was super easy and reliable and we were able to park our rental car at the terminal for free. Once on Culebra, we explored a small beach near where the ferry dropped us off and made our way to our next Airbnb. Along the way we stopped at small store fronts to indulge in “Paletas” (fresh fruit popsicles) and Medallin (Puerto Rico’s local beer).

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Day 5:

We rented a golf cart and set off to explore Flamenco Beach (in the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world!) and it definitely did not disappoint with its curving crescent of white sand and turquoise water. We ended the day at Zoni beach (more rugged, natural and less touristy), where Sea Turtles nest! Be sure to ask for local beta about where to see Sea Turtles, which changes depending on the season.

For dinner we decided to splurge at Susie’s, a local gourmet restaurant, only open for dinner (and be sure to get reservations!). We had locally caught fish and delicious Sangrias (with freshly squeezed passionfruit grown on site). Chillo Frito is a traditional whole fried red snapper if you’re down for an adventurous meal!

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Day 6:

We woke up very early to try and go see the sea turtles! We heard from a local source that they would be at Tamarindo Beach from 6-7:30am. We drove out there in the dawn light, our golf cart struggling up the steep hills. Only one of us ended up seeing a turtle, as she was swimming far from shore, but the sunrise was still worth it for the rest of us. Afterwards, we packed up and headed back to return the golf cart and catch the ferry back to the mainland.

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Day 7:

To complete our circle we then drove to Ponce and up to our next stay which was at an Airbnb on Sandra Coffee Farm near Adjuntas. The drive through the central cordillera, along a part of the ruta panoramica was beautiful, rugged and not all touristy. We made sure to stop for some fried street food, including empanadas and other items that I couldn’t even begin to name. All very delicious! We brought all our own food and planned to stay for two nights at this quiet and beautiful retreat in the mountains. Our host Isreal, met us at their house and drove us up to our home. We took the opportunity to rest and relax after a lot of moving around.

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Day 8:

As part of our stay on Sandra Farm, we went on a tour of the coffee plantation and did a tasting of their coffee and chocolates. All was wonderfully informational, interesting and delicious!

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Day 9:

We drove back to San Juan and stayed at the Fortaleza Guest House right in the heart of Old San Juan, had a last meal of seafood and mofongo and went out salsa dancing!

One great location is the Factoria, where the music video for Despacito was filmed (you have to keep going through the doors to the third “bar” for the music and dance floor).

We also got to try some local craft beer from Ocean Lab, and I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious and hoppy the IPA was! Next time, I will definitely try and go to the brewery itself.

Lodging: Fortaleza Guest House is a bit run down, but the sheets are clean and beds are comfortable and it is by the far, the cheapest place to stay so close to the center of Old San Juan. Personally, I loved the tall and narrow doors leading out to the balcony and all the old tilework. I’d imagine that sleeping on the street side gets very loud during the weekend, and most rooms don’t have AC, but I immensely enjoyed my time here.

If that doesn't sound like the right fit for you, there are far more hotels in the Old San Juan area from which to choose.

Camping: N/A

Food: Take your last chance to get some of the fresh seafood and mofongo that San Juan has to offer.

Heather's Trip Tips:

1) Airbnb in Puerto Rico: This a great way to support locals, many of whom are still financially recovering from repairing damages caused by Hurricane Maria. It is an easy and inexpensive way to spend time in authentic Puerto Rican homes. We used Airbnb for the majority of our lodging.
2) Rent golf carts on Culebra: Cost is around $50/day and well worth it! The roads are narrow, sometimes very steep and have occasional massive pot holes, so be sure to get insurance and drive with care. We rented ours from Carlos’ Jeep Rental, but another bigger company is Jerry’s jeep rental. In the height of the tourist season, reservations are recommended. If you’re just in Culebra for the day, there are also shuttles to the popular destinations.
3) Festival de San Sebastian or “Sanse” as the locals call it: We accidentally arrived into town during the most popular street festival in Puerto Rico, almost a million people stream into the city to party for 4 days straight. There is traditional music, la Bomba, Salsa, Reggaeton and good old top 40 at various stages all over the central area of Old San Juan. We went on Wednesday, which is the opening night and a quiet affair by weekend standards.
4) Avoid Hurricane season which is June 1 - November 30 each year.

 

P.S. Thanks to our friend Elizabeth "Benny" for contributing the trip photos and trip information!

Tim Says:

 

 

 

Go on the Bacardi Rum Distillery tour and get toasted.

 

— Recommended Trip Variations —

Add Distillery & Brewery Tours

If you're in Puerto Rico, we feel it's a necessity to stop in at Bacardi's Rum Distillery located across the bay from Old San Juan for a tour and a few samples.  (Note: No Bacardi tours on Mondays.) You'll be surprised to know that there are also craft breweries you need to check out like Ocean Lab Brewing Company in San Juan and FOK Brewing Company in Caguas.

Add Vieques Bioluminescent Bay

Bioluminescent bays are rare and a sight to behold—the waves glow blue at night!  But, it sadly occurs only under the exact right conditions.  Even if the conditions aren't right, head to the island of Vieques, nicknamed one of the "Spanish Virgin Islands" for its beauty, kayaking, tropical rainforest, beaches, and adventure.