Puerto Rico: A View To Live For

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It was $53 for a ticket one way from St.Thomas to San Juan, and there was no way I could pass that up. Everyone knows how I love a good deal. Going to Puerto Rico was an impulse decision on our part, and what an adventure it turned out to be. The running joke of this trip became that I shop at Dollar General for my traveling. I’ve done some extremely questionable travel adventures from traveling alone in Europe, but this one topped the cake.

Old San Juan 8
On the streets of San Juan walking around

Much like St. Thomas, the foliage in Puerto Rico is BEAUTIFUL and shockingly a little different. We traveled across almost the entire island during our stay on two different sides of the island. It is amazing that on such a small island there can be different terrain. We stayed in Arecibo and Luillque; both times up in the mountains. During each stay the mountains were very different. In Arecibo, it looked like someone had just pinched the mountains up because they were sharp and rugged. In the rainforest, it was more gradual and had an Appalachian view with continuous mountains in the background. There were fruit trees everywhere on the island, and it was interesting to see. We started to play a guessing game about which fruit might be growing there. We even saw a pineapple growing on the side of a driveway. This place is beautiful, but much like St. Thomas, there is an amount of poverty that can’t be explained unless it is experienced.

Cafe House 6
Our first Airbnb. This house was located on a coffee farm.

How did you afford this? You’re both in school!

One word: Planning.

I made a budget for the trip, and we only spent 8% more than we had budgeted. I say that is pretty damn good. We started to purchase rooms and tickets for the trip 8 months in advance. Every paycheck we’d buy another leg of the trip. Overall, you can pay for 60% of the cost of the trip over 6 months in advance, so the trip isn’t one major expense.

Below is a mixture of procrastination and engineering mind at work


Pie Spending Chart

Transportation is the rental cars fees. The gas money is under misc. The one delimitation in this graph is that cash was spent and wasn’t recorded, so all cash and credit card payments are lumped into misc.

That’s how you plan a trip… kind of

Our trip didn’t start off on the best of notes either. If you learn anything from this review, please never and I mean NEVER rent a car from EZ. It honestly set the mood for the entire trip almost to the point of ruining it. If you want details on how awful this company is, look at these google reviews, and they are pretty much on point. I won’t go into too much detail, but let’s just say I asked for a formal complaint card and began filling it out in front of the worker.

Old San Juan 1
The street was curved just perfectly that it looked like if you drove over it you would be in the water.

When we first arrived, we met my dad in Old San Juan after waiting 2.5 hours for our rental car (seriously NEVER rent with EZ rentals). We visited the old Spanish Fort Morro, and the entire place was open for people to walk around. There were spectacular views of the city from this fort, and you can see the rainforest peeking out in the background. It was breathtaking to think about this fort being used for protection and for a whopping $5 you can get into both forts in the old district. A steal if you ask me. As we were leaving the fort and waiting to hear from my dad, we saw a trolley going through that he was sitting on. We ran to the free trolley and began our ride around town.  Honestly, if you are in the area the trolley is the best way to see the city. It is blistering hot, and the sun was so bright that walking around wasn’t really an option. We did get off the trolley to visit the cathedral and take a quick walk downtown to see the colorful streets. We met Jellen for dinner and then headed off to our first Airbnb in Arecibo. This is where the fun really began.

Fort Morro 7
At the Morro Fort hiding in the shade
It is amazing to think of this fort being used as a layer of defense for the people.

Where the story gets good…

There is no good way for me to explain the absolute fear and terror we experienced besides the fact that the next morning when we woke up, the first thing we said to each other was, “What the fuck happened last night?” Our Airbnb was up in the mountains, and I mean UP THERE. The curves were so sharp that it took about 30 minutes to go a couple miles. A GPS wasn’t the best navigation system, so you had to go off directions that were emailed to you. Naturally we got lost, and of course it was dark and a nice little fog had just set in.

Does it sound like I’m setting the scene for a scary story yet?

It gets worse. We finally find the driveway that we had to park the car in to walk to the house. After parking I look over, and Billy is looking at his hands. He is shaking from driving on such a steep and curvy road. We grab our luggage and begin using our phone flashlights to try and find this place. Carrying 60 lbs of luggage, we walk down the drive and keep walking. We can barely see in front of us, and 20 minutes later of walking, we still haven’t found the house. In a panic I call the host. He leads me back down the trail. But because of the fog, we can’t find our way back. We are lost in the coffee farm forest at night with only cellphones for light.

Finally, we find our way back. (After a minor panic attack.) There was a location to hang a right, but there was a Spanish sign that had a “Do Not Enter” symbol on it. Turns out this sign said something about do not enter because of bees, but slightly past the bees was our house. After climbing up steep hills for now roughly 40 minutes and getting lost when trying to retrace our steps, we make it  back to the sign and keep following it. There we find the house with no external light on sitting in the fog. After kind of collecting myself from my near panic attack, we walk to the house only to find that there is no AC in +80°F and 80% humidity. Imagine being on a secluded coffee farm in the dark where people don’t speak your language fluently, and you’re lost.

But there was WiFi!

The dirt trail I drug my bag on in the dark and the aftermath of what it did to my bag. We carried for all we could and then I gave up.

Day 2: Sightseeing

After being completely shaken up, we wake up and head out for our first full day in Puerto Rico. We went to the Cueva Ventana, which translates into the “Window Cave” in English. It was about an hour and half tour through two different caves. It was very cool but very touristy. We enjoyed the tour and watching the city slickers freak out about the cockroaches in the cave.

Cave Tour 7
The view out of the cave. Apparently the dust in the air is actually sand from the Sahara Desert. We thought it was just because of the humidity.

After this adventure, we ate and then headed to the Arecibo Observatory; the reason that we decided to stay on this side of the island. This tour was interesting and very informative. The Observatory was basically built in a race against the Russians for space research. PR was chosen because of how close it is to the equator, thus making it so the magnetic poles for the North and South are the weakest. The tour guides were well informed, and the tour was well set up. It was a tour that was interesting for all ages, but there is a small hike from the parking lot to the entrance of the museum. Because this is still used for research, there are plenty of security officers that will help you understand where to park.

Observatory 2
Perfectly made inside of a sink hole. It helped on cost and made it even better of a location. Currently they are working on research to make a sweeper robot to clean the panels.

Due to our previous evening’s event, we didn’t want to be outside the house at dark, so we headed to the grocery store to get food for the night. One of my favorite things to do in a new location is to go to the grocery store. We found extremely cheap coffee, some unique sausages and cheap wine and headed home just in time before the sunset.

Day Three: Coffee Tour

Coffee Tour 5
Coffee beans plants in the mountains. The place was called Pomarrosa, and I’d highly recommend checking it out.
This cute little coffee we got as we listened to the intro about coffee

The next morning we finally had calmed our nerves just in time for the next adventure. We packed up the car to head to our next Airbnb. First though, we made a stop at a coffee farm for a tour of the operation. We made a stop at a farm called Hacienda Pomarrosa. After this tour I will honestly never look at coffee the same way. The amount of time and precision that a person can put into a cup of coffee is amazing. The quality control to verify that each bean is ripe and the shape is correct is outstanding. There are so many steps that go into making sure that everything is correct. There is a heavy involvement with politics and the coffee trade that is not always discussed about in the American setting, and that was inspiring to hear about it. There is also an environmental effect that goes into coffee. A recent pest was exposed to PR, which made it so production was cut in half and small farmers were being shut down left and right. I would highly recommend this tour to anyone in the area. The guide is the owner of the farm, and he is a wealth of knowledge. He has traveled all across the globe to taste coffee and to learn about different processes. Not to mention that this coffee farm was beautifully located in the mountains with outstanding views. I would recommend staying here if you want to stay on a coffee farm in Puerto Rico.

Luquillo Beach 4
The beach next to the second Airbnb. It was a hangout for locals, and the water was very rough. It did make for a nice sunset walk after dinner.

When we arrived at the second Airbnb, the trip was better than the first. One thing to note about PR is when you get off the beaten path, is it very rough. It is like St. Thomas but only worse; there is no regulation about vacant cars sitting on the side of the road. All along the side of the road are broken down cars. There are very few people with all working lights in their cars, so driving is dangerous. It isn’t uncommon to get behind someone with broken taillights. If you’ve ever been to Mexico, it has that same sort of store front and everything looks a bit broken down. The houses don’t have shingles or anything; it is simple painted concrete and looks very rustic when you stay in an authentic home. If you aren’t staying in a resort keep this in mind. The location is beautiful, but like most Caribbean locations, it has a rough look and feel to the area. If you are new to traveling I wouldn’t recommend traveling too far off the beaten path. My father did have a great experience staying on the beach the whole time. Coming from someone who craves the danger in traveling, this was even outside my comfort zone.

Both of these photos are taken from the same spot. Guess which one was posted online to advertise?

The title of this blog comes from the name of this Airbnb. A view to live for in Puerto Rico; if you keep your eye on the horizon.

Day 4: Hiking.. FINALLY & Bio Bay

The moment Billy and I had been waiting for the entire trip; hiking in the only rainforest in the US, El Yunque. This rainforest only has a handful of trails and one road. It is mostly famous for a waterfall that you can hike down to and swim under. Unfortunately, due to some navigational issues, we didn’t make it to the correct waterfall on time. This place becomes my personal hell after about noon. People with no respect for the environment who bring fountain pop containers and single use plastic bags to a national park and leave them there litter this area. It was honestly very disappointing to go down there. This is the only source of fresh water this island has, and it pained me to see the swarms of people and trash this location. Puerto Rico translates as ‘Rich Port’, and it got its name because it didn’t have to use ample amount of energy to get fresh water due to the rainforest. Most islands because they are surrounded by salt water, require the importing of goods to the island to sustain itself. This island was considered rich because it was self-sustaining. To see people polluting this very waterway was saddening. People who tour with no respect are the reasons the Caribbean islands have become such wastelands.

Think about your tourism footprint. Support local business. Pick up your trash and others’ and write good reviews on companies that support eco-friendly tourism.

La Mina Falls
It was so crowded! There were people all over the place, and trash was everywhere.

Fortunately, we did have a good experience before the waterfall. We hiked the El Yunque trail which is a little over 2 miles with a 2,000+ elevation climb. It is a very easy hike because gravel has been placed along the route. It began to rain right before we hiked, so we waited for it to lighten up before we got out of the car and hiked in a slight drizzle. By the time we reached the top it was done raining but extremely cloudy.

Sitting in clouds! It was so cool to sit there and wait for the cloud to rush over you.

At the peak of the mountain, we were sitting on a ledge in the clouds waiting for them to rush over us to catch a glimpse of what they were hiding. We ate the rest of the granola bars that we had packed and sat here for about half an hour, just sitting in clouds. It was exciting to feel the clouds rush over you and catch a short glimpse of the mountains they were hiding. We talked to some other hikers on the way down and they said on a clear day you can see all the way to San Juan and the Caribbean Sea. If you’re even a moderate hiker I would highly recommend this trail; El Yunque trail in El Yunque Rainforest. This hike was well worth getting away from all the tourists. It was just hard enough that not everyone would make the climb.

El Yunque 12
The view from the only rainforest in the US
El Yunque 3
Trail conditions up the El Yunque Trail.

My biggest complaint about the park is how commercialized it has become from having restaurants to souvenir stores in a national park. It takes away from the beauty of this park, and I wouldn’t recommend this park for avid hikers any time after 2pm. We got there bright and early, and that was the best time to be there to find parking and to avoid the crowds.

Bamboo Roadway 2
The road as you were driving up in the mountains. That is bamboo growing on the sides.

Our last adventure was one that I had been planning to see ever since we decided to go to PR. Kayaking through the pitch-black mangroves to see the Bioluminescent Bay. In this bay are little plankton that glow a blue color when they are disturbed. You could put your hand in the water and wiggle it around, and blue sparkles would appear in the water. I would highly recommend the tour company that we picked for the tours; Enchanted Eco Tours. This company is slightly more expensive than others but well worth the extra money. They truly care about your safety as well as keeping the bay safe. Many other companies will use white lights to get travelers back home which disturbs the ecosystem. This company made it a point to go above and beyond to keep the bay safe. The later tour is also one of the last tours out of the bay, so you almost have the entire bay to yourself at the end of the tour.

The location of this tour was in a park that thrived off tourists. We had a couple of beers and food for reasonable price and was well worth getting there early for the free for all parking. I’d highly suggest making time to sit down here and people watch.

Bio Bay was a cool experience that I’d suggest people do at least once. This company that we took did a good job of not making tourism invasive to the wildlife.

I almost forgot to talk about the food that we had while on the island. Due to our budget. we only ate out once a day and usually for dinner. We basically lived off granola bars and snacks we had gotten from airplane rides. I don’t have many pictures because we inhaled the food so fast usual the server commented about how fast we ate. Eating here is very cheap, but the outside of the restaurants don’t give off the right vibe. Below is an example of a restaurant that we almost passed up on because of the outside appearance and the shadiness of the area.

This ended up being honestly one of our best meals here.

I still think about this meal.

What do I wish we could have done?

Gone to Isebella and gone snorkeling. The beach was the only thing that we really missed in our short trip to the PR. Since we had spent so much time on the first half of our trip in USVI on the beach, we decided to make this trip about the mountains. I also wish we could have taken a ferry to one of the islands and stayed the night there.

Dad 4
The view from my dad’s condo

Would you go back?

Our honest opinion of Puerto Rico is that we want to return, but we have to go with a bigger group of people. There is plenty to do on an island, but it is more of a location like the USVI that is better with a group of people to hang out with late at night. In the Caribbean it gets dark about 7pm and when you’re a party of two, being out after dark doesn’t sound like a good idea. Puerto Rico is a place that we’d like to return if we know a local. There are TONS of local bars on the side of the road that have be a riot to go to, but they aren’t the kind place a newcomer who doesn’t speak the language can just walk into. The island is gorgeous ranging from mountains to beaches to even a historical downtown district. If you are planning to a trip to the Caribbean, I would highly recommend staying closer to the beaches. It seems that unlike America where living in the mountains like CO are very expensive, here they seem to be the cheaper housing. If you want a real PR experience head for the mountains. If you prefer a more relaxing vacation where you don’t have to drive as much, stay closer to the beach.

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