Travel: 5 Days in Puerto Rico & Mofongo
The sun is shining and it’s cold out…but in a few short hours, my plane will be landing in Puerto Rico. It’s my second time in Puerto Rico, I’d been a few years ago and absolutely loved it. So this time, I planned to come back and do twice the exploring on my second visit.
Great reasons to visit Puerto Rico during the U.S. Stateside Winter
-Flights during the winter are cheap
-Weather is perfect, between 80-88 degrees every day
-No real language barrier - people do speak Spanish but most of them converse in basic English
-Restaurants are relatively cheap and the food is amazing
-Easy to get around by rental car
Where to Stay
I rented places to stay using Homeaway.com and then would coordinate each new location I was going to stay at next by calling ahead. GPS will get you to the city/town, but after that – it’s important to call ahead for major landmarks. The directions you get may say, “look for the 3rd palm tree on the right and take a left". Believe ‘em! It’ll get you to your location with much less of a headache.
Condado/Old San Juan
Consider staying in Condado if you are going to spend much time in Old San Juan. Condado is a great area and is less than 2 miles from Old San Juan (it is walkable). Condado has many restaurants/casinos/etc and the beaches are gorgeous. Think South Beach but yet in Puerto Rico. Now just be aware, that if you do want to stay in Old San Juan, the beach isn’t very accessible. Make sure you do however take time out to visit Old San Juan because it is an awesome place - think old school Spain - that's the feel. Old San Juan has great restaurants and beautiful blue cobblestone streets. There’s a Spanish influence on area’s architecture which makes it quaint and picturesque. I happened to get lucky and be in town the weekend of the San Sebastian Festival - an event that draws over 100,000 people! Old San Juan was mobbed with street vendors, dancing, men on stilts, and music performances. Below are some pictures, the first is from this visit with the festival, the second is from the first time I was in Old San Juan. As you can see, the festival made a huge difference!
Next leaving Condado/San Juan, I took a 2 hour drive to reach Rincon, the westernmost point of PR. Rincon is best known for its surfing. My homestay was in an apartment in the hills. And even though it felt like I was in the woods, I was only about a mile away from some very beautiful secluded beaches. Driving up the coast, the more north you headed, the bigger the waves became, so I stuck close to my place where the ocean was calm and perfect for wading. There really isn't a downtown to speak of in Rincon, just some beach bars and a few restaurants for tourists. Nonetheless, it's very laid back, a completely different feel from the east.
Last leg, heading back East: Fajardo and Vieques
On the last part of the trip, I headed to Fajardo. Why Fajardo you ask? Because it is where the ferry is located that takes you to Vieques and Culebra – these are 2 small islands that were very much hyped. Culebra is home to the "world famous Flamingo Beach" and Vieques was voted "best Caribbean island of 2012". Fajardo itself is very nice too - a few quirky restaurants, a few beaches, basically the East side version of Rincon. The picture at the top of this article of just the beach is from Fajardo. Vieques was definitely very pretty also.
Be sure to have the mofongo while you’re in Puerto Rico. What's mofongo? Green plantains or yucca potato - fried then mashed with olive oil, garlic and bacon bits. Top it with a sauce of your choosing (usually creole or garlic) and then your choice of shrimp, chicken, fish, sausage, etc.
Restaurants I Enjoyed
El Yukas, Fajardo - The view overlooking the marina is nice, food and service were great as well.
La Estacion, Fajardo - Gas station turned gourmet restaurant?! Only in PR!
Don Faustino and Vegigante, Rt 3 leaving Fajardo by El Yunque - Located in what looks like a strip mall of sketchy restaurants on the side of the road. However, trust me, you cannot judge a book by its cover in PR - Some of the best restaurants look like shacks on the outside
Red Flamboyan, Rincon - The paella was killer and huge! Great prices, solid drink list, killer caipirinhas, and Bob Marley in the background set the mood
Shipwreck Bar and Grill, Rincon - Huge portions. Yes touristy, but in a good way!
-Krista Dumser is a contributing writer to Hispanic.com. She is a Brand Ambassador for LeBlon Cachaca.