Puerto Rico: An Outside Itinerary

top of el toro

I’ve been home from Puerto Rico for 2 days. In Philadelphia, the air is starting to get crisp, with just a few crunchy leaves sprinkling the ground. It’s one of my favorite times of year, but still I wish I was in Puerto Rico!

It was too easy to get used to these views from our morning coffee spot in El Yunque National Forrest.

Traveling to Puerto Rico from the US Mainland

Especially for US citizens, Puerto Rico makes a easy & affordable trip. Here are some reasons why:

  • Puerto Rico is a US territory, so you don’t need to bring a passport or deal with customs.
  • Everyone in the tourism industry speaks English.
  • The currency is the US dollar.
  • There are plenty of direct flights–especially on the East Coast.
  • The flight isn’t long. It took us 4.5 hours from Philadelphia.
  • Rent a car with your US car insurance.
  • It takes 4 hours to drive across the entire island. During our trip, everything we wanted to see was within an hour from our Airbnb in El Yunque Forrest.

We arrived in Puerto Rico on Saturday in the late afternoon and flew home early Wednesday morning. Despite this being a shorter trip, we were really able to pack a lot in!

Where to Stay in Puerto Rico

panoramic photo of elemental eco retreat in el yunque forrest

Many people prefer to stay in Old San Juan, which is a fun city in a good location for accessing other destinations on the island.

We opted to stay in El Yunque National Forrest, which was more our scene. The forrest is another great, centralized location. Plus, you get to experience the beauty of the only rain forrest located within the United Sates National Forrest System.

We found the place we stayed by searching for lodging in El Yunque National Forrest using the app, Airbnb. Our Airbnb was called Elemental Ecoretreat, and was a house with awesome views run by a lovely couple and from Minnesota and their son. On our first night, we stop for dinner in Old San Juan on the way home from the airport.

Next, we attempted a run through the rain forrest behind our airbnb, but discovered it was far too thick. Sharon and Doug, the owners of our Elemental Ecoretreat, say they have machetes we can borrow, and they aren’t kidding. Their son, Parrish, is away during the time we’re in PR. Sharon and Doug tell us that at one point, he had the trail bush wacked, but it has grown over.

We decide to stick to the trails for our hikes during the trip. During the trip, Bart expresses interest in re-clearing the trail for them, but we don’t end up getting the chance to do it.

A Hike in El Toro Wilderness

After waking up and having our coffee in our magical coffee spot, we set out for the El Toro trail head, which is located very close to where we’re staying. When we drive up, we are heartily greeted by no fewer than 5 dogs, 3 of whom will accompany us on our journey.

At the trail head, there is a collection of walking sticks. I grab one, and thank myself for it later. This trail is muddy, and requires a great deal of hopping on rocks and steep banks. On the way, we pick a fresh lime from a lime tree and visit with a tadpole.

When we reach the top of El Toro Mountain, the 5 of us take a rest near the Puerto Rican flag and take in the beautiful view.

The hike is fun and invigorating, but makes me wish I would have brought a pair of hiking pants. The plants along the side of the trail brush against my legs and leave lots of tiny cuts, which look and feel like paper cuts.

Waterfalls of Juan Diego Creek

When we first booked our trip to Puerto Rico, one of the things I most looked forward to was swimming in a waterfall. Juan Diego Creek did not disappoint! The trail to the falls was located along a paved road. Later in our trip, we will travel further to access the trail head to Mt Britton & El Yunque Peak, but today, we stop at the creek.

The falls are crowded, but we notice a cliff toward the edge with a rope tied to it. Climbing this way, we are able to access several more levels of falls. On our way up, we are fortunate enough to bump into a young Puerto Rican woman who lets us know that the trail to the best waterfalls has been blocked by fallen trees during hurricane Maria.

She advises us that if we’re willing to endure a 45 minute climb, we have the chance to get off the beaten path.

The trail is challenging and a little confusing, but so worth it, for we discover a pool under a waterfall that we get all to ourselves.

wide angel shot of the pool

We end up climbing above this pool to discover yet another waterfall!

After a lunch of 1/2 a barbecued chicken, rice and peas, french fries, and a beer each (all for $15!) we head to the beach.

Seven Seas Beach in Fajardo

After our action-packed morning of hiking in the forrest, we head to the beach to check out 7 Seas. Though Bart has seen the Caribbean Sea before, it’s my first time, and my mind is blown away by the soft sand and crystal clear water.

The mountains and rain forrest in the background delight us both, as do the shady trees on the back edge of the sand.

On our way back to the car, we spot a local man selling fresh fruit. We pick up a papaya and a bag of fruits we’ve never seen.

These fruits are called quenépas, the vender informs us. He also teaches us how to eat them. You bite a hole in the skin, then suck the fruit out, which has a simultaneously sweet and sour flavor and is stuck to a large pit.

We finish most of the bag of quenépas the car on our way home.

Back at our Airbnb , we cook a dinner of cut up papaya, rice and beans, and avocado. We sprinkle the avocado with salt, and squeeze on some of the juice from the lime we picked on the El Toro Trail. The flavor is more intense than any lime I’ve ever had–delicious.

Before bed, we spot this little guy hanging out on the wall. This is one of Puerto Rico’s iconic Coo-qui frogs, named for their distinct croaking.

Having both grown up in the woods, we sleep peacefully to a chorus of frogs ribbiting their hearts out.

A Snorkeling Trip to the Island of Culebra

Before our trip, I booked a snorkeling trip to Vieques Island with a company called Pure Adventure Corp. The trip was cancelled due to not enough people signing up, but Pure Adventure Corp was kind enough to rebook us for a different snorkeling trip to Culebra.

The cruise included a stop at Flamenco Beach, which is considered to be one of the world’s best beaches.

panorama of flamenco beach

At Flamenco beach, we get a chance to practice snorkeling with the equipment. I catch on quickly, even though it’s my first time. We see some cute, tropical fish swimming in and out of the edge of the coral reef.

Juan Morales, a marine biologist who works for Pure Adventure, lets Bart cast his fishing rode a few times over the side of the boat. He also gives Bart some local fishing tips, which we put to good use later in the trip.

Pure Adventure provides us with sandwiches, fruit, chips and salsa, and a cooler of water. There’s also a cooler with sodas and local beer–but we are under strict orders to not touch the beer until we’re on our way home. One of the other people on the boat with us gets scolded for cracking one open early.

coconuts in shopping cart at restaurant We all get back aboard the boat and travel to a more isolated location, where the water is deep enough for us to swim over the reef without damaging it. Here, we see two sea turtles, more tropical fish, and a sting ray.

After snorkeling for the day, we head to Luquillo Beach. This beach has a strip of bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops. After watching the sunset on the beach, we pick up some magnets for our fridge and split a plate of grilled shrimp and chicken. The restaurant where we eat has a shopping cart filled with coconuts in the corner, which I find charming.

Mt Britton and El Yunque Peak

On our last day, we head back to El Yunque National Park to Mt Britton Trail. We access the trail head through the same road where we found Juan Diego Creek, PR 191.

The path is paved nicely and winds through beautiful stretches of forrest. Along the way, we catch glimpses off of the side of the mountain, and can spot the observation tower that awaits us at the top.

We get the chance to say “hello” to some more of the local flora and fauna.

When we reach the top of Mt. Britton, we climb up the observation tower, which gives us a boost on an already impressive view.

Observation tower panorama

We travel .6 more miles past Mt. Britton to reach El Yunque Peak, and on the way back, we hike .2 miles off the trail to check out the overlook on Los Picachos Spur.

mt britton panorama view

Fishing for Sabalos

Bart wants to try out some of Juan’s tips for fishing for Sabalos (Tarpons). We head to the beach Juan suggested, located on the old military base near Fajardo. While Bart fishes, I explore the beach, where the water is more rough than the beaches we’ve visited so far.

I pick up some broken pieces of coral. These cause my bag to get pulled aside when going through security at the airport the next day, but the TSA agent lets me keep them.

After an hour or so, we head back to the beach at 7 Seas to say goodbye to the sea before our last event: a bioluminescent bay kayaking tour!

Kayaking at Bioluminescent Bay in Fajardo

Through Kayaking Puerto Rico, we book a kayaking tour. We opt for the 8:45 pm departure time, since we hear the darker, the better.

Bioluminescence refers to a process carried out by a type of plankton. When agitated, these plankton give off bright blue light (don’t worry, stirring up the water doesn’t harm them!).

We began our tour with a thorough application of bug spray, which was provided by the kayaking outfitter. After kayaking through the mangrove trees, we had a free 20 minutes to paddle around the bay, stirring up the water and seeing the ethereal blue sparkles.

Saying Goodbye to PR

After a farewell to a weekend of relaxed adventure, we are reluctant to go back to our urban, corporate lives, but feel we’ve experienced a full trip.

We hope to return some day!

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