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  • Mia Alexis Lama

Puerto Rico: It’s Almost like Praying

If you’ve landed on an exotic island where the rain drizzles down like sporadic sprinklers, the food tastes like heaven, and the trees seem to sing, welcome. You have arrived in Puerto Rico. This little island may have just become my favorite tropical destination in the Caribbean. We had no expectations upon arrival and were blown out of the turquoise blue waters. Nick at one point asked me, “if you closed your eyes then opened them and were here, where would you say we are?” We agreed it’s something between Hawaii and Costa Rica - no kidding!

I am an avid vacation planner. When I’m not on vacation, you can bet your socks I’m planning one. But with Puerto Rico, I didn’t plan a thing besides the flight, car rental, and hotel. I saved cool destinations and restaurants on TripAdvisor and decided we’d go with the flow(which is not something I do often or well by the way, being the planner that I am). For some reason, though, I wanted this trip to feel natural - and it did!

Day 1: Mofongo, El Yunque, and... Tacos?

We actually arrived Thursday night but by the time we landed, picked up our rental car, and got to the Airbnb, it was very late. We stayed at Santurcia Hostel which met our needs nicely. The owner was kind and accommodating(and sincerely apologetic for the very noisy guests in the other rooms). It was very centrally located with good vibes and a lovely rooftop.


After wrapping up work on Friday, we stopped at Edith Cafe on our way to El Yunque and had the most delicious chicken mofongo I've ever tasted. I was laughing at myself the whole time I was eating it because I couldn't help but constantly say, "this is so good. This is soo good!" With stuffed bellies and a yearning for adventure, we headed east to El Yunque National Rainforest.


As soon as we arrived at the outskirts of the rainforest, we could feel the difference in the air. It was cool and moist and you could hear the chirping of the coqui frog, the iconic national symbol of the island of Puerto Rico. We drove the whole way with the windows down reveling in the feeling of the breeze. When we were nearing the top, we spotted a perfect vista that overlooked the lush hills and the ocean. Clouds gathered above and I wasn't the least bit surprised - this was a rainforest after all.


As we arrived at the entrance of the park, we were sadly informed that they were at capacity and you could only enter with a reservation(I tried to convince the ranger that I did in fact have a reservation but my phone was dead and he didn't buy it). I tried several times throughout the weekend to snag a reservation but to no avail. Damn covid! Nonetheless, we enjoyed driving through what we could.


On our way back into San Juan, we stopped for a snack at the town of Palmer at the base of the road that leads to El Yunque. I opted for an iced coffee from Lluvia Deli Bar & Artefacto and Nick went for a smoothie from Degree 18 Juice Bar. Both were very tasty and we loved exploring the small main street area here.


For dinner that night, we headed right into Old San Juan. We wandered for a while trying to find a place that was open as it had gotten quite late and finally settled upon Don Tako. At first, I was honestly bummed that we ended up eating here because I had so many cool places saved and they were all closed or booked but it turned out to be fantastic. Our waiter was sweet and the food was delicious! We had so much leftover that we ended up taking it with us and providing an old homeless man we had walked by earlier with a big hearty meal.



Day 2: Rainforest Cafe & High Altitude Pizza

We really wanted to make the most out of Saturday and Sunday since we were working on the weekdays during our trip so on Saturday we went on a long (and at some points, treacherous) drive. We drove about 2 and a half hours to the midwest of the island to a coffee plantation I found on TripAdvisor(p.s. you can find my detailed trip itinerary on TripAdvisor here) called Sandra Farms.


The first half of the drive was luscious, green, and beautiful. The second half was rather dry and barren. But when we were about 30 minutes out from the destination, the road got scary. We were driving a Kia Soul and at one point were on what felt like at least a 45 degree incline- and it kept getting worse. I was a nervous wreck but couldn't help but giggle with a wide smile on my face because I was loving the adrenaline. I kid you not when I tell you that at one point we were driving along the crest of a hill with one lane and drop-offs into green valleys on either side of us. It was wild. Nick kept asking me, "are you sure we're going the right way? Why would there be a coffee plantation on the top of a mountain?" I couldn't be entirely sure but I had seen photos of the incredible view from the plantation. He certainly had a point though, I hadn't thought of it that way.


When we finally arrived, it turned out to be our favorite part of the trip. Sandra Farms was worth the drive. Carmelo was a wonderful tour guide as he showed us around the grounds walking us through the step by step process of the making of their scrumptious coffee. The views were astonishing! Turns out they also have an Airbnb on the property which I'm sure must be incredible.


My favorite part of the tour was the coffee and chocolate tasting at the end. Nick and I drink coffee but I usually spruce mine up with sugar and milk as does he. Carmelo encouraged us to try it black first so we could appreciate the flavor of the bean before deciding what to add and WOW they make some genuinely high quality coffee. Don't even get me started on the chocolate either. We bought a big bag of 50 pieces that each contain a coffee bean inside. YUM.


We did not want to leave- which may have been what manifested the rain storm that kept us stuck there for another hour forcing us to drive down in the dark. Yikes. But Carmelo informed us that we had actually taken that road, in other words the really dangerous one that even the locals avoid, and that there was an alternate route we could take. We made a pitstop for some pizza at Pizzalta and called it a night after that. It was an eventful day.



Day 3: Brunch & Beach

Easter Sunday! After a morning prayer in celebration of Jesus' rising from the grave, we enjoyed a delicious brunch at Musa. The food was beyond tasty but the aesthetic of the restaurant as well as the neighborhood definitely fell flat. The windows were shuttered for some reason, not allowing for any natural light and the neighboring buildings were run down.


We couldn't go to Puerto Rico without visiting a beach and we wanted to avoid the weekend crowd. We headed to what we thought would be a secluded beach for locals(considering its name is Playa Vacia...) and boy were we wrong! This beach was POPPING. There was no parking whatsoever and even if we had found parking, we weren't in the mood for a party scene. So we drove over to the neighboring beach of Playa Linda where the tide was choppy but there were few other groups in sight. Nick took a nap in the sand while I read a chapter from my new obsession- the Bridgerton book series.


That night, we had the nicest dinner experience of the trip. Without so much as a reservation, we showed up to Casita Miramar(definitely suggest making a reservation- this place is well known). We had a bit of a wait but the restaurant was lovely so I convinced Nick to suck it up. They brought out complimentary soup and at the end of the meal a complimentary digestif(after dinner shot) which I loved because places in Miami don't do this for some reason. One thing I felt was common across every restaurant we visited is that they're all cold! I just made this realization too. Every memory I have of a meal, I was cold. So take a cardigan!



Day 4: A Castle with a View

On our last day, we laid low for the most part since we had work. We had a scrumptious brunch at Tostado then headed back into Old San Juan to visit el Castillo San Felipe del Morro. You MUST visit the castle at sunset. I recommend bringing a picnic too and maybe a bottle of wine(if that's allowed) because it is gorgeously picturesque and romantic. We pit-stopped at La Factoria for a cocktail and small bites before driving through the Condado area. We had heard great things about La Concha but since it was spring break, the area was incredibly rowdy. We didn't stick around and still somehow ended up getting a bogus traffic ticket.

Not the best way to end our trip but the officer was not friendly and was obviously just looking for someone to write up- even if it was based on an absolute lie. :( So if you go to San Juan and rent a car, stay away from the cops. They will write you up a $300 ticket for the smallest thing even if you weren't actually doing said thing.


Every trip has one of those moments though. On one of our previous trips that some of you may have read about in my blog post here(Our RV Adventure), we had a much more catastrophic experience that delayed our trip a good 12 hours! Oof, good times. It's always important to maintain a positive outlook and make the best of the experience though.


We had a wonderful time in Puerto Rico. We really only booked the trip there because I think I was just looking for cheap flights to anywhere and Puerto Rico was close-by. The lush green that covers the island was a gorgeous change of pace and we can't wait to return in October for our Bachelor/Bachelorette trip!



 

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