Quick Getaway: Puerto Rico

24th September, 2015

Consider this your fuss-free guide to maximizing a long weekend away… Happy travels!
PuertoRico2Where to Stay

Walking distance from Old San Juan’s most famous forts and restaurants, Gallery Inn is ideally located for days spent sightseeing and wandering the city’s cobblestone roads. Chatty parrots and a charming assemblage of art and antiques greet you upon arrival. The proprietor is a collector and has spent a lifetime curating a cabinet of treasures from across the globe, transforming this 400-year-old building into a totally transportive retreat. Escape the heat of the day watching the waves from the rooftop veranda, then be serenaded by a local strummer on the back porch come evening.

When you’re ready to explore the newer portion of San Juan, check in at O:live Boutique Hotel. Quaint and romantic, the hotel is the essence of quiet luxury ~ highlighted by its marvelous rooftop, complete with cozy seating areas, a bar and an elevated pool fitted with Jacuzzi jets and raised sunbathing platforms. We spent every minute of our visit tucked away on this deck, sipping cocktails and basking in the sun. Each suite has a private terrace where the staff deliver your breakfast and coffee in the morning, leaving you free to slip languidly into your day.

If you venture east, take the ferry to Vieques for a stay at El Blok, a newly opened eco-friendly retreat. Constructed from curved, sculptural concrete designed with perforated patterns, each day’s sunlight beams shifting shadow art across the floors and walls. The entire second floor is a single open-air space, with a restaurant and bar that comingle with the front desk and entrance, and the top floor is one large roof deck with small infinity pool and sweeping views of the ocean and neighboring mountain ranges. The entire hotel layout is welcoming and open, encouraging relaxed socializing and a barefoot, nonchalant attitude.
PuertoRico4 PuertoRico5Where to Eat

If you can handle a little spice, make a reservation at Marmalade, an upscale restaurant in the heart of Old San Juan specializing in creative twists on classic Puerto Rican fare. Their menu is refreshingly playful, with temptations like ‘Popcorn Shrimp’ (grilled shrimp topped with ancho-chili spiced popcorn), and the signature ‘Global Warming’ cocktail (a fiery three chili spherical ice cube that slowly melts into a hibiscus and basil infused margarita (the longer you wait, the hotter it gets!)). The food is seriously good. One of the best restaurants I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting, period.

Dine beachfront at Oceano in the newer part of San Juan, where you can listen to the waves crash as you enjoy updated takes on local favorites like shrimp Mofongo, seared tuna tacos, or ceviche scooped up by plantain chips. It’s stylish but casual and the ocean breeze just can’t be beat.

El Blok is not just a fabulous place to stay, but also THE place to eat on the island of Vieques. San Juan’s beloved chef, Jose Enrique, designed the menu with a focus on grilled dishes inspired by the minimalism of beach dining and his own distinctly Puerto Rican style. Every evening, foodies converge from all over the island to indulge in Enrique’s dishes, then stay to party till the wee hours of the morning. We ordered the swordfish, ceviche and the Scotch Egg (all delicious) ~ but the most momentous, mouthwatering memory was their Churros, served with three extraordinary dipping sauces (chocolate, dulce de leche, and condensed milk). Delightful decadence!

Make a reservation in advance for breakfast at the always-fully-booked The English Rose in Rincón. Be warned, the drive is not for the faint of heart. The only road to the restaurant is a daredevil, 40-degree-angle drive along a steep cliffside, but the spectacular view from this mountaintop B&B is worth the white-knuckle ascent. Their freshly squeezed juices are heavenly and their bread is baked fresh daily. A plate of biscuits and marmalade is a must! The portions are generous but order a few things anyway ~ trust me, you’ll want to try it all. We went with the Dead Elvis (for French toast lovers like me!), House Eggs Rancheros (award-worthy), and the Turkey and Sweet Potato Hash.
PuertoRico6 PuertoRico7What to See & Do

Explore Old San Juan, a town where colonial architecture, historical forts, and cobblestone streets clash comically with the insurgent souvenir shops, cruise ship docks and tourist traps. The buildings are painted an endless array of bright, Popsicle hues and the hilly, uneven streets have a quiet charm. Stop by the Castillo San Felipe de Morro at dusk for the best sunset view. Locals gather in the park there with blankets and kites, waving goodbye to the hot Caribbean sun.

Set your souvenir shopping sights on Olé in Old San Juan, a hat shop famed for its custom straw toppers. They have a myriad of options at reasonable rates and leave you to design your finishing touches ~ the ribbon color, width and style are all at your discretion. I settled on my perfect travel companion – a cute, classic cap fitted with a simple black ribbon. As expected, it proved to be the MVP of the adventure.

If you’re fishing for an excuse to travel to Vieques, its Bioluminescent Bay should be reason enough. We booked our trip through a guide who drove us into the jungle at night, where we slogged through the marsh then hopped in kayaks to cruise deeper into the secluded bay. It was pitch black. The only light we had to follow was our leader’s puny flashlight. We paddled deeper and deeper into the black and then suddenly, the inky water turned iridescent. We could see the fish brightly darting and flashing under the water. When we dipped our hands in, they lit up like glow sticks. It’s an unreal, bucket-list sort of experience! (Insider’s tip: don’t forget to pack something warm. Even in the heat of summer, the cool dark water makes for chilly nights.)

If you’re a carnivore like me, then the road trip to Guavate, a small mountain village, is not to be missed. The town is known for serving the best roast pig (a Puerto Rican specialty) in the country and around the holidays it’s notorious for its boisterous parties and festive celebrations. It’s a winding, uphill journey. You’ll feel certain you’re lost, but just as you’ve nearly given up, you’ll hit the summit. We were greeted by raucous music and restaurant after restaurant with a pig proudly displayed in the window, turning on a spit. Stroll the streets feasting on pork, rice and beans. Pace yourself, leaving room to try a few spots; each one is better than the last.

Make a day trip to Arecibo to visit Cueva Ventana, or as a translation, Window Cave. A guide will lead you far into the cave, telling you stories of the indigenous islanders and the creatures that still take up residence here, from bats to snakes to humongous insects. Hiking through the dark caverns, you’ll eventually round a last pitch-black corner to stumble upon the most magnificent wonder of nature: a natural window view opening from a cliffside onto the rolling Puerto Rican hills. Early, aboriginal inhabitants used it as a place for spiritual ceremonies, and it’s easy to understand why. It feels like you’ve stumbled on a sacred ground, a piece of nature crafted by the Divine. It’s like standing at the window to the world.

If you’re down to dance, head to Tamboo Tavern in the quiet, unsuspecting surf town of Rincón. It’s the best spot to watch the sunset over the water and just after dark, people start arriving in hoards for a night of beachfront DJ sets. Sip cocktails and get sweaty on the dance floor, then wander to the beach to cool down in the sand. Rumor has it that in the winter months, you can spot whales migrating from Tamboo’s upper deck.
PuertoRico8Traveler Tips

Do rent a car. The island is easily drivable and worth exploring. You can commute clean across this island in a little over 3 hours and renting a car for a day or two is by far the easiest way to check out multiple cities & towns.

Don’t pack your heels. So much of the island is walkable and it would be a shame not to enjoy it. Even in the big city of Old San Juan, the vertiginous, cobblestone streets are NOT stiletto friendly. A few pairs of classic sandals are all you need!

Do try Mofongo. It’s a traditional Puerto Rican dish made from fried green plantains mashed together with broth, garlic, olive oil, and your choice of meat. It’s an island specialty worth indulging in.

  • Great information! Thank you for sharing<3

    Shall We Sasa

  • Susy

    Great article. Looking forward to traveling here some time.
    Can you please share who makes your black bathing suit. Thank you

    • Erin

      The suit is by Cynthia Rowley!

  • Vera Sawicki

    Great tips & wonderful photos.

    Blonde in Cashmere

  • Tess D’Urbervilles

    It’s almost two years that I don’t take neither a weekend off my study/work life! So imagine the tears running down my face when I saw these pictures! 😉

    Vittoria from 5 IN THE MORNING


  • Johnny Leaver

    Puerto Rico might not be the most popular place but it definitely has some underrated spots to travel to! What a beautiful place!


  • Lucia




    Nice photos 🙂

    BLOG M&M FASHION BITES : http://mmfashionbites.blogspot.gr/

    Maria V.

  • Go Erin! Love the guide.


  • Christina Calloway

    Thanks for the information! I am headed there for the upcoming long weekend and look forward to trying some of your suggestions!

  • Amelia Gwen

    Okay, your photography is incredible, and I love how vivid your writing style is!!

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