Oh ho ho, so you thought you were done with my posts about Puerto Rico, did you?
So, look. Puerto Rico is amazing. It’s incredibly underrated as a tropical travel destination (particularly for people who live on the east half of the country!).
Why we went to Puerto Rico:
I’d dreamed of getting away for a tropical Christmas with just my little family for a year or so, mostly because of the warmth in winter, but also the chance to escape the Christmas madness of seeing everyone and buying lots of presents. We planned on going to Hawaii, since I spent a semester there in college and longed to show Mike the wonderful island of Oahu.
Ticket prices were high, and I remembered several bloggers (like Jennie!) sharing about their Puerto Rico trips. I asked Twitter if PR was tropical and comparable to Hawaii. Twitter said, “YES!” So, I booked the trip – shorter flight, less time change, and affordable housing. It seemed too good to be true.
Why should YOU go to Puerto Rico?
Aside from this?
There’s something for everyone – adventure, sightseeing, abundant history, it’s family-friendly, and there’s delicious food. It’s safe, it’s clean, it’s easy to get around, and if you’re in the Eastern Standard time zone, it’s only an hour difference! (And no difference during daylight saving time.)
Where to Stay:
I did much research about where to stay in Puerto Rico – it’s a smallish island with one big city (San Juan) and a lot of smaller cities and suburbs. Here’s where we stayed and a brief explanation of the areas, since I found it difficult to track that down in my research.
Northeast coast – We opted to stay for the first half of our trip on the northeast coast – about 35 minutes from San Juan and close to the El Yunque rainforest and Fajardo, a city that has one of the three bioluminescent bays on the island. After a million hours researching all the fantastic resorts in the area (any of them would be a great choice), I decided on Rio Mar in Rio Grande. Not only was it 5 minutes from the rainforest, it was a 4-star, insanely fancy resort for only $129, which included a buffet breakfast. We didn’t have to worry about where to eat our first meal (and, more importantly, procure our coffee for the day). We filled up at the buffet and didn’t need to eat again until early afternoon.
Rio Mar was really, really great – well-kept grounds, a huge beach, playground, giant pools (including an adult pool, an activity pool with a water slide, a hot tub, and a kiddie pool with splash pads. Every room either faces the ocean or the rainforest. There was also a giant gingerbread house in the lobby, which Gabe was obsessed with. Aside from the overpriced food (which only forced us to get off the resort), it was perfect. The whole time we were there, Mike kept saying, “This is so surreal. Is this a dream?” I KNOW.
San Juan - Old San Juan, Condado, and Isla Verde are the most common places for tourists to stay. We stayed a few minutes walk from Condado in Ocean Park, in a two-bedroom rental apartment we found on Airbnb. Old San Juan would’ve been fun to stay, but it wasn’t near a beach (we didn’t swim, just wanted to walk on the beach daily) and parking was difficult (we had a rental car). Condado is probably where I’d opt to stay next time, because it was closer to Old San Juan and had more restaurants and parks – it is gorgeous. Isla Verde is supposed to have the prettiest beaches in San Juan, but there was fewer things to do there than Condado.
Culebra or Vieques – Okay, we didn’t stay here, but lots of tourists do! These islands are reported to be absolutely gorgeous with plenty of secluded beaches. We looked into it, but the hotels and rentals on both islands required a week’s stay over Christmas (and were more expensive than in San Juan/Rio Grande), which we didn’t want to do. Plus, the logistics and cost of getting to one of the islands made it a no-brainer to stay on the main island. We’re not much of stay-at-the-beach-all-day travelers, anyway, so we knew we’d want to be closer to a city. However, I’d love to check out both of them eventually.
Where to Eat:
As two vegetarians with a toddler, I was pleasantly surprised with how many options we had – we generally stuck to affordable spots with a few nicer restaurants. Biggest recommendation for finding food: YELP. The Yelp app was a lifesaver in Puerto Rico!
In Rio Grande/El Yunque area:
Roots & Fruits: A vegetarian restaurant in this area was such a treat! There was a wild garden, complete with banana trees (so neat to be able to show Gabe bananas growing on a tree – not something you’d find in Ohio) and a few little kittens roaming the grounds. The owner was from Baltimore and hosted community yoga every night at 6. The restaurant is entirely open-air and just incredibly quirky and fantastic.
Lluvia: In heaven, I will eat these dark chocolate covered coconut macadamia balls every day. A couple from Brooklyn owns the restaurant, so they speak English perfectly, which was helpful. Great coffee, too. And a fun ambiance with gorgeous design.
In San Juan
The food in San Juan is fantastic. After a few days essentially in the more remote areas, it was great to be in a city with plenty of food options.
La B de Burro (Ocean Park): **GO HERE** The restaurant is designed like a Mexican wrestling ring, which makes for a really fun atmosphere. There’s a margarita machine and a happy hour two-for-one deal daily. But the vegetarian quesadillas and burritos we got are the real stars of the show. I dream about the quesadillas I got here. The only restaurant we visited more than once because it was amazing. The sweet plantains in the quesadilla were unexpected, but oh my gosh, so good. Even the condiments (guacamole, sour cream, and salsa) had surprisingly and delicious little twists. I want to go back to Puerto Rico just to go here.
Cafe Cuatro Sombras: The best latte I’ve ever, ever had. The coffee is shade grown and single origin, grown just a few hours from the coffee shop and roasted at the coffee shop. It was so fantastic I told Mike we were getting a bag of beans to take home no matter how expensive they were. A cozy vibe and delicious coffee. SO GOOD.
Restaurante Airenumo: Puerto Rican and Spanish fusion tapas restaurant. I was worried about bringing Gabe into such a nice dining room, but it was between lunch and dinner, so it was pretty empty (and their Yelp description said they loved kids!) We treated ourselves to drinks, plenty of tapas (the brie with guava jam was so good), and some flan for dessert. A great stop while walking the gorgeous streets of Old San Juan.
Cafe Berlin: A must-do for vegetarians who want to try authentic Puerto Rican food (which is generally very meat-heavy). Creativity abounds, as does tofu. We had tomato basil bread with guava butter (strangely tasty) and the most amazing entrée that makes my mouth water just thinking about it. Who knew rice and beans could be so fantastic? The tofu was simmered in criollo sauce, a Puerto Rican food. The waiter was really helpful, too. Another sorta-fancy spot that was totally fine for a toddler.
Pinky’s: Super casual breakfast-brunch-lunch spot in Condado. Great café con leche, like every restaurant we went to in Puerto Rico. Lots of sweet treats, fresh wraps, and vegetarian options. More creative than your usual brunch spot and insanely delicious. Gabe loved his smoothies in Puerto Rico – I figured taking advantage of local fresh tropical fruit was a good idea. :)
In my next post, I’ll share what we did and saw in Puerto Rico!