Part one about where to stay and eat is here.
What to Do & See:
Old San Juan: Most popular tourist destination in Puerto Rico. Historical, full of shops and restaurants, with gorgeous ocean views. We went to Old San Juan three days in a row. There are just so many restaurants to try, sights to see, and beautiful streets to walk:
We wandered in some hotel lobbies, ate at several restaurants, and walked the perimeter of the city that borders the ocean. There used to be a wall built to protect the city and there is a really picturesque path outside of the wall.
Castillo de San Cristobal + El Morro:
These are two forts in Old San Juan with tons of history, architecture, and breathtaking views. Part museum, part ruins, part historical site. So much fun to explore! They are National Historic Sites and it costs only $5 to do both. I’d allow at least an hour for each (we did them on separate days to make the heat and sun more bearable on Gabe.) El Morro was a little less safe for young kids, with lower walls and such. The huge yard out front was great for families – lots of picnics and kites. There was also a splash pad nearby that plenty of kids were playing in.
Pretty beaches: You can’t really come to a tropical island and not check out a few beaches. Whether you venture to the islands of Culebra or Vieques, or stay in San Juan at Condado, there are plenty of expansive, beautiful beaches. Even on the weekends, it wasn’t very crowded. And there’s nothing quite like being on a beach on Christmas Day. :)
Biolumenciant Bays: There are three bays in Puerto Rico that glow at night – something about some sort of plankton or other animal, the same stuff that’s in a lightning bug. I’ll stop talking now because I am not a biologist.
We knew we wanted to see one. The best one is on the island of Vieques, but luckily there is one on the main island in Fajardo, too. We couldn’t kayak with Gabe and the boat tour was full (I tried booking several weeks before we went), so I found a nighttime walking tour with the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico. It was a the perfect blend of educational and fun. We saw a lighthouse at night, learned about conservation stuff like light pollution, and got to visit an empty little alcove in the ocean. It was peaceful, it was beautiful, and it was SO COOL. (If you want to do this, be sure to check out the calendar of which dates are best – the phase of the moon affects whether there will be tours or not for some of the companies.)
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that you should only book tours with electric boats or kayaks – motor boats are pollute the bay and affect the bioluminescence. Apparently swimming is also bad for the bay. (These are not a problem in Fajardo because they’re not allowed, but there are less environmental regulations in the other two bays in Puerto Rico.)
El Yunque National Rainforest:
You will be rewarded with wonderful views at the El Yunque. There are waterfalls, towers, and hikes. We didn’t do much hiking, thanks to Gabe, but you could spend a whole day here or just a few hours. Warning: The roads are tiny and windy. You might panic as your husband drives.
el Jardin Botanico (The Bontancial Gardne)
We had the botanical gardens all to ourselves. It was peaceful and beautiful. We saw turtles and a crane (?) and a random little train. We got to walk in the jungle all alone. This was definitely off the beaten-tourist-path, but I’m glad we spent an hour visiting it. It’s about 20 minutes south of San Juan.
How to Get Around:
A rental car was crucial for us – not just because of Gabe’s car seat, but because we wanted to explore outside of San Juan. We got our car for 9 days for $200, which was very much worth it. If we were just staying in San Juan, we wouldn’t have needed a car. But it made it easier to explore other areas of the island, to get groceries, and to schlep our luggage to the airport.
Public buses - we used them three days in a row to get to Old San Juan (four miles from our apartment rental). It was only 75 cents each way and cleaner than buses in my own city. Getting to OSJ was easy, but we’d have to wait 20-40 minutes to get the bus back (which was fine since Gabe was often napping in his stroller). If we didn’t have Gabe (and therefore, didn’t need to worry about lack of car seat), we’d probably have just gotten a taxi to go back each day. But you can’t beat 75 cents! (If you take the bus, this map is crucial. The public transit website isn’t very helpful.)
Day 1: Fly from CAK to SJU. Get rental car, drive 30 minutes to Rio Mar.
Day 2: Explore the resort & beach for a few hours, then drive to Luquillo for the gorgeous beaches and food. Dinner at Lluvia.
Day 3: Rainforest in the morning, lunch at Rum House, pool in the afternoon, Roots & Fruits for dinner.
Day 4: Go for a long walk on the resort grounds, spend a few hours at the pool. Eat dinner, drive to Fajardo and do the lagoon night tour.
Day 5: Go for a quick swim before check out, drive to SJ. Get groceries, check out the beach, and grab dinner at La B de Burro.
Day 6: Eat breakfast at Kasala, walk to Condado and talk a bus to OSJ. Walk around, see the city wall, visit Cristobal.
Day 7: Walk to Condado (check out several swanky hotel lobbies), lunch at Pinky’s, take bus to OSJ, get coffee at Cuatro Sombras, visit El Morro.
Day 8: Drive to Univerisidad de Puerto Rico, Jardin Botanico, drive to OSJ, coffee at Cuatro Sombras, lunch at Cafe Berlin.
Day 9: Christmas! Beach time, presents, church, etc. Fly home early. *SOB*
And now I shall go continue to troll the internet for flights to Puerto Rico. I WANNA GO BACK.