EL YUNQUE TO SAN JUAN
Feeling refreshed from our relaxing beach time in Vieques, we were ready to explore more of amazing Puerto Rico. But first, we had to get back to the main island.
For how spotty we heard the ferry service would be, we had no problems at all. We arrived at the terminal an hour before the 11am ferry and waited in line with only about 20 other people. I decided to head into Isabel Segundo to grab us some breakfast from Buen Provecho for the trip and almost missed the ferry! It was worth it though if not for the cold brew alone.
The ferry only cost $2 per person and even though we had two extra suitcases with us they didn’t charge us for the extra luggage, which seemed like was probably the case more often than not. We stowed our bags on the bottom floor and grabbed seats down there. For $2 I really can’t complain as it was a smooth ride to Fajardo but two notes of caution:
- They lock the luggage room so keep everything you need with you. We forgot our books in our bags and had no cell service so were left to stare at the wall for an hour.
- Sit upstairs if you can! We felt a bit like stowage sitting in the bottom of the ship.
All things said, we were excited to head to El Yunque as soon as we landed.
EL YUNQUE AND ARRIVING IN OLD SAN JUAN
We rented a car in Fajardo and drove just 30 minutes to El Yunque and entered close to El Portal Visitor Center which allowed us to drive through the forest passing La Coca Falls. We decided to park at the trailhead of the Big Trees Trail which ends at La Mina Falls where you can swim! Mainly we chose the path because it was less difficult than most others. I’ve made the mistake of taking Tom on a strenuous hike when he wasn’t expecting it and he nearly threw me off the mountain. Not doing that again!
The path was crowded but beautiful. There isn’t much wildlife aside from lizards, snails and coqui frogs which we could hear but could not spot at all the entire week!
Aside from a few rain shelters along the trails, there are no amenities on the paths. I mistakenly thought there were water fountains at each shelter to fill up our water bottle but I was wrong! Needless to say, we were parched by the time we finished the hike but luckily there was a cart selling fresh made lemonade (fresh squeezed lemon juice + sugar + water) at the trail head. I don’t know if I was just insanely thirsty or if this really was as delicious as I thought. Either way, highly recommend a (filled) water bottle and the lemonade.
Old San Juan is only about a 45 minute drive from El Yunque so we arrived at our AirBnb with just enough time to shower and head to dinner. On our way in, we noticed that Pirilo, a highly recommended pizza place, was at the corner of our block so we decided to head there.
Coming from New York, our pizza standards are pretty high and Pirilo did not disappoint! The menu had tons or artisanal pizza options and they let us do half and half personal pizzas so we didn’t have to choose just one. We started with the chorizo appetizer along with a Peroni for Tom and Tempranillo for me. Tom ordered the carbonara pizza and I opted for half pesto with tomato and prosciutto and half traditional pepperoni (no cheese!). Everything was very well prepared and delicious.
After a long and exciting day, we decided to have a few beers on our balcony overlooking the city before turning in. It quickly became a tradition of ours to end each evening out there.
EXPLORING OLD SAN JUAN & CONDADO
Before gallivanting around the city as tourists, we decided to head to La Bombonera for breakfast. If there was one thing I wasn’t going to leave Puerto Rico without trying it was a mallorca, a pastry similar to a croissant (but different) topped with powdered sugar. Luckily for us, La Bombonera was extremely close to our apartment and they have a not-to-be-missed mallorca. Tom ordered the ham, egg and cheese with fresh squeezed OJ and I had one with butter and an iced latte. They forgot the egg on Tom’s sandwich but that aside these lived up to the hype.
After breakfast, we set out to explore starting with Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, a fort at the end of San Juan that guarded the islet for centuries. This was our favorite stop of the day! We loved learning about the rationale for how the fort was designed and the weaponry used to defend it. Also, check out the views…
It was a really hot day, so we decided to grab some waters and take shelter in the shade near Save a Gato, a cat sanctuary for the stray cats in OSJ, before continuing on to Paseo de la Princesa and ultimately Castillo de San Cristobal at the other end of the city.
By the time we reached Castillo de San Cristobal we were exhausted since I made Tom walk the entire length of the city in 95 degree heat. Luckily, there wasn’t as much to be seen at this fort as Castillo del Morro so we were able to quickly walk around before heading back to the AirBnb for some rest before dinner.
Having been to San Juan before, I would have been content just staying in OSJ but since Tom had never been to Puerto Rico I thought it worth it to show him some of the other parts of the city. We headed into Condado for dinner at Bar Gitano and enjoyed some really delicious tapas. We ordered the chorizo flatbread, fried calamari, grilled chicken skewers and fish tacos to split and each dish was better than the next though our favorite was the flatbread!
We had planned to stay for a flamenco show at the restaurant but it didn’t start on time so instead we headed to Ben & Jerry’s on the water and grabbed a pint to bring back to our balcony.
ISLA VERDE AND OUR LAST NIGHT IN OLD SAN JUAN
Our last day in Puerto Rico was decidedly our laziest but it was wonderful nonetheless. Our decision to sleep in was vindicated by the fact that it was pouring rain that morning.
We eventually decided on Caficultura for brunch and though it definitely caters to tourists, it was my favorite breakfast of the trip. Tom, of course, ordered the eggs benedict with fresh squeezed OJ and I, forever indecisive, ordered scrambled egg whites with multigrain toast and fruit salad topped with a delicious yogurt cream and granola with an iced latte. We also shared the bacon that came with my egg dish.
With full bellies, we went back to the AirBnb to hopefully wait out the rain before heading to Isla Verde for a beach day. We finally decided to go for it and hopped a cab to Alambique in Isla Verde. The beach was nice but was more comparable to a beach in the Northeast US than a Caribbean paradise like those of Vieques. We were able to rent an umbrella for $10 and chairs for $4 each which was nice since we didn’t have any to bring along with us from OSJ. The rain held off but with clouds in the sky and my stomach grumbling, we didn’t end up staying very long at Alambique. We decided on sandwiches from Panaderia Espana with bread baked on site and fresh carved turkey and ham. Unfortunately, my photos failed but I definitely recommend checking this place out if you’re in the Isla Verde area.
Back in Old San Juan for the night, we waited out the storm some more then decided we should get some authentic Puerto Rican food for our final dinner before exploring the bars a little. We went to El Jibarito which, as the most highly rated restaurant in Old San Juan, had a very unassuming exterior. Tom and I both noted that we wouldn’t have even know the restaurant was there if not for our research.
Ordering at El Jibarito was the first and only time someone spoke to me in Spanish on our trip and though I did my best to keep up with our waitress, she quickly switched to English. I might be somewhat rusty…
In any case, we started with the pastelillos de pollo (chicken empanadas) and two ice cold Medalla lights, actually the best Medalla I had on the trip. Unfortunately, since we went to dinner a little later they were out of a few of the specials so Tom and I both ordered the chicken in garlic sauce. He got rice and beans as a side and I opted for mofongo. In Tom’s words, “I enjoyed it.” For anyone who knows Tom, this was high praise.
We had ordered a second round of drinks at El Jibarito but they didn’t come so we decided on a night cap at La Taberna Lupulo a really cool craft beer place nearby. We loved the décor, a little funky a lot beer themed.
We called it an early night since we had a very early morning flight but not without finishing our pint of B&J on the balcony!