Puerto Rico Photo Diary

Is it a little silly that I had to wait for our second vacation of the year to come around before blogging about the first? It certainly feels very silly to me. But the thing about keeping up with a lifestyle blog is that it can be really hard to find time to sit down and document life when you’re too caught up in living it. Which is why I had to leave New York, where I can’t seem to relax for more than five minutes, and come all the way to a super chill outdoor coffee shop in California to write about our trip to Puerto Rico last March.

We spent four glorious days in and around San Juan, having been inspired to travel there by several dance crew friends who’d had lovely vacations there in the past. It seemed to have everything we wanted in a spontaneous spring vacation spot—a beach, proximity to nature, delicious food, a good bit of history and Latin American flair—all a short four-hour flight from home. We brought absolutely no work with us and just soaked up our surroundings, starting with the charming little Acacia Boutique Hotel.

The Acacia was in the middle of a quiet, peaceful, and pleasantly un-touristy pocket of the Condado district outside of old San Juan. It was less swanky hotel and more homey beach cottage with a very zen, East meets West sort of aesthetic, which turned out to be precisely the vibe we were looking for. We were the only twenty-somethings in the hotel—everyone else either had grey hair, was retired, or both—so I’m not sure what that says about the age appropriateness of our taste preferences, but I have no regrets. The Acacia was about two minutes from the beach and two minutes from our favorite breakfast spot on the island, and it had a huge heated outdoor pool, which made for wonderful daydreaming, stargazing, splashing about, etc. I would happily have lived there for a month…

Full disclosure though, the beach was not quite what we expected. I’d been looking forward to immaculate white sand, clear tranquil waters, and hours spent reading and tanning, but really, the beach was a slightly warmer version of something you might find off the coast of New Jersey. The waves were large and choppy and the wind was a force to be reckoned with, sweeping up our towels and slapping sand across our faces and such. It was really more of a beach for swimming and watersports than for lounging around, but once we adjusted our expectations, we had a lot of fun. Just a little something to keep in mind for anyone else who travels to the beaches of San Juan expecting it to feel like Bali.

Our favorite breakfast spot was called Kamoli Cafe, and it was a true gem. It was an open-air cafe, so you could sit at a cozy table inside but still feel the sunshine and the breeze coming in. It also had a traveler’s cafe sort of atmosphere, in that it was decorated with paintings and artifacts from around the world and housed a vintage consignment shop upstairs. The fresh squeezed juice cocktails, and more importantly, the Nutella-drizzled strawberry and walnut pancakes were to die for. To the extent that we ordered them on three of our four mornings in Puerto Rico! Oops. As we digested, Simon would take pictures of his coffee and we would plan out all the other places we still want to travel, and dream about some day opening our own traveler’s cafe meets bookstore meets community center in some faraway pocket of the world.

We spent two full days exploring old San Juan, the historical downtown area, and as we walked the cobble stoned streets we tried really hard to think of the right words to describe the feel of the place. Truthfully, it was a bit of a conglomeration of a couple of other cities we’d been to in the past…very sunny and European in its narrow streets, town squares, and facades, much like Barcelona or Vienna or Aix-en-Provence (no doubt because of its Spanish colonial history)…and also equal parts colorful and gritty, much like, say, McLeod Ganj. Then, between the hours of about noon and two pm, the Caribbean cruise ships docked and we were suddenly overwhelmed by throngs of very American tourists (you know--loud, friendly and jovial if slightly lost, donning sunhats and baseball caps and slathered in sunscreen), and it was like we’d never even left the continental U.S.

We sought refuge at Cafe El Punto, an adorable Puerto Rican restaurant at which the host at the door promised we would not be disappointed. And indeed we weren’t!! The place had absolutely fantastic mofongos (mashed fried plantains filled with chicken or shrimp or avocados, among other things) and the bartender was a very hip lady who spontaneously served us free samples of the tropical smoothies and cocktails she was whipping up for other guests. We were stuffed for the rest of the afternoon. We capped off our time downtown visiting the Castillo San Felipe del Morro. I tried to imagine how the castle’s various ancient brick and stone structures were actually used to defend the city back in the day, and had Simon take several perhaps somewhat cliché photos of me at various picturesque places, by which he was (I think) only a little bit annoyed.

I was fairly worried about the forecast throughout much of our stay in Puerto Rico, since rain was predicted for just about every day, but luckily it only actually rained during our already wet excursions—kayaking and hiking the El Yunque rainforest. We hiked the rainforest on Easter Sunday with a very friendly and knowledgeable tour guide from Fine Line Excursions. Our fellow tour group members were, admittedly, very difficult to put up with, but that’s a story for another day. Being in the rainforest itself was wonderful, what with the tropical foliage, the waterfalls, and the misty yet breathtaking view from the Yokahu tower, of the canopy below. Apparently El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System, and I think I expected it to feel like a thick and impenetrable jungle. In reality though, the hiking paths were all paved and the uphills are very doable with a baseline level of physical fitness. Think state park, rather than scene from Tarzan. Fun times all around. :)

Our kayaking trip took us to Laguna Grande, a bioluminescent bay in which, when it’s completely dark out, microscopic little creatures light up the water like glitter with every movement of your paddle or flutter of your hand. It was a pretty magical sight to see, but our favorite part of the experience was actually getting to kayak through mangroves under a pitch black sky, with rain pouring down all around us. I may have had a mild panic attack when two typical little preadolescent boys pranked us all and screamed “Alligator on the right!!” Other than that, though, the trip was thrilling in all the right sorts of ways. It was too dark and wet to take pictures as we kayaked, so I’ll leave you with this shot we took just before taking off, before the sun set. 

We said goodbye to Puerto Rico months ago, and we leave California tomorrow, but already I can’t help but dream about where to travel next...