A Travellerspoint blog

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico: Old San Juan: Sentry Boxes and Sangria

March 31, 2012

sunny 88 °F

Today would be our last day on vacation and we were dreading the return back to reality. We ate breakfast in the garden, packed our bags and took some time to explore the Gallery Inn in the daylight. Wow! There are some gorgeous views from the deck upstairs. . and yes it is very eclectic. We were enjoying looking at all the tropical birds when Tony thought it would be a good idea to hold one of them. Like most episodes of “when animals attack” it all started with a little peck. Next thing you know Tony’s getting attacked by the bird named Campeche. This bird is known as “The Social Director” of the Gallery Inn, but now it’s known as the White Devil!

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It’s hard to feel like you’re not in some part of a history lesson walking around this 465 year old neighborhood complete with stone walls 40 feet high and 45 feet thick at the base! We walked all around and couldn’t help but notice that the streets were paved with pretty blue cobblestones, these are actually made of adoquine, and brought over on Spanish ships years ago.

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Old San Juan was a Spanish military stronghold, and we really enjoyed exploring the Castillo San Felipe del Morro and San Cristobal. Ruby was obsessed with the iconic sentry boxes (you’ll see there are many pictures of them). We walked all around town, stopped for some cinnamon-spiced sangria and exploring the narrow streets with colorful buildings.

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Squeezing every little bit out of our vacation we had just enough time for some delicious Italian food at Cucina Del Ivo again. We waited until sunset before heading to the airport. We thought we had timed this drive just perfect but signs in Puerto Rico are not the easiest to follow! One will say airport to the left then as you drive past you see the airport on the right! We must have driven all over San Juan looking for the exit to the airport. I think this is how they trap tourists for another day! Well, needless to say we caught our flight back to New York and even thought the flight is only a few hours we feel the onset of some serious international style jetlag coming on!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 08:14 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

Puerto Rico: From Scuba to Old San Juan---FOODIE ALERT

March 30, 2012

all seasons in one day

Pedro Padilla, our dive master, boat captain, photographer and tour guide had a camera setup that was no joke and he has some amazing photos to prove it! Nyda and Pedro took us out that morning for a couple of dives along “The Wall” which is actually part of the intercontinental shelf that goes down thousands of feet. It was a little bit intimidating since our last dive was about a year ago in the Red Sea but we were up for the challenge. I don’t know if Pedro was just trying to freak us out but after we stopped he yelled “Look, Look a Shark”, followed by ok “Get In”. I don’t know if Ruby knew about this until after the dive but Tony let her jump in first just in case! :)

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Our first dive was at “Efra’s Wall” and involved us diving to a depth of 100ft. We were just amazed at the coral formations. Pedro had a spear and was busy whittling down the Lion Fish population in Puerto Rico (they are pests and out of place in the Caribbean). About 85 feet down, he gutted one of the Lion Fish and tried to feed it to a Giant Moray and when we say giant, we mean GIANT. This had to be the largest eel we’d ever seen, with a head the size of a basketball! We guess the Moray wasn’t hungry because we just caught glimpses of him coming out of his hidey hole out of curiosity :(

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After a short break with snacks and drinks we started our second dive at “Hatches”. This dive was also part of “The Wall” and just as beautiful. Just like the first dive there were huge multicolored coral reef formations including gorgonians, fans and tube corals. We also had the opportunity to swim with a sea turtle which is always a highlight. Afterwards we enjoyed the view of Guainica from the water as we rode back in.

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We arrived back to the guesthouse, and hung out with the owner's funny umbrella cockatoo, took showers and started our long drive up to Old San Juan. Looking at the map you would notice a direct route over the mountains but of course Ruby loves detours so we decided to go visit a lighthouse in Cabo Rojo (taking the long way around the island)! By the way, the views from the lighthouse overlooking white cliffs and beautiful blue water is totally worth the detour! If you do decide to do the Ruby’s EVERYTHING Puerto Rico Tour and end up at the far Southwest corner with only a few hours to get back to San Juan take the inland road through Ponce! There’s not a lot to see on the highway drive going around the coast because it stays pretty far inland. Our long drive did give us time to book a room at The Gallery Inn located in Old San Juan.

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This hotel and its owners are what we would call “eclectic” (or maybe just a little crazy). Everyone was really nice and the location is amazing, at the highest point of this 465 year old neighborhood! Before going out we decided on a quick shower in what looked like something out of The Starship Enterprise. Just for the record, it looked a lot cooler than it was!

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One of the best things about Old San Juan is walking around and exploring. We stumbled onto a church celebration for “Semana de Santas”. A ceremony that was so lavish we thought the Pope was here for a visit! After looking at just about every menu in Old San Juan we decided on Italian food at Cucina del Ivo. YUM!!! The caprese salad with buffalo mozzarella, pesto gnocchi and fried ravioli appetizer were delicious. We highly recommend this place and may be going back tomorrow! :) When we arrived back at the hotel we did some exploring and ended the night with a glass of wine on the roof. This is a pretty long blog post but it was a crazy day!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 07:37 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (3)

Puerto Rico: Ponce: Diving for Skateparks--- FOODIE ALERT

March 29, 2012

all seasons in one day 83 °F

We grabbed some coffee and walked around Ponce checking out all the art and culture. There was an exhibition of lions painted by local artists and tons of little shopping streets going in all directions. Ruby picked out a new top and we had a great lunch at our hotel restaurant called Lola. We enjoyed the absolutely delicious coconut prawns and stuffed mushrooms before heading to Island Scuba in Guainica to get fitted for our dives the next day. We found a nice little guest house called Villa Bonita just a block away. They are owned by divers and let you check out late so you can take a shower or nap after your dive (and it was only $60)!

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Tony was itching to check out the skateparks on the island but unfortunately they are all on the North side of the island! A 2 hour drive led us to Aguadilla and Tony skated for a few hours while Ruby chatted with Alex and his wife Maria artist/teachers from Asheville, NC. We all had dinner at One Ten Thai. The locals kept telling us how great this place was but don’t set your hopes to high because it’s mediocre at best. After an exhausting 1 ½ hr long drive back down we called it in an early night in preparation for scuba diving the next day. .

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 11:09 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

Puerto Rico: Vieques: Snorkeling with Squid at Secret Beach

March 28, 2012

all seasons in one day

This was a total beach day. We stopped for some nature shots including wild horses and a bird that looked like a King Fisher on our way to the south side of the island.
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We never want to miss a thing so we started by going to Navio Beach and made our way to Blue Beach, and finally settled on snorkeling at Secret Beach. This was our favorite because of the wildlife in the water, we saw a pretty big barracuda swimming by us. Later on the far east side of the beach we spent almost a half hour swimming in the shallow water by the rocks watching a family of three reef squid change colors from purple to brown to white all while gliding effortlessly through the clear water. Tony also found a large conch shell which we decided not to take off the island and put it on the steps of the hotel for Maria and Joe, so if you go and see it let us know!

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We were sad to go but really wanted to go scuba diving and weren’t able to arrange it on Vieques so we were headed back to the mainland. At the ferry station Tony once again got charged the tourist price for a smoothie $5! Sucker! :)IMG_6389.jpg
We arrived back to our rental car parked on the street and were relieved to see that it was still in one piece luckily! Time for another road trip. . to the southern side of Puerto Rico. We got lost a few times on the 53, no the 3, no just go in a generally Southern direction! It all paid off because we found ourselves at Sabor Criollo a local bar along the side of a winding mountain road off the 53 (we think) where we stopped for sunset, dinner and a drink. The owner Berto made us some amazing fried chicken and plantains while Ruby finished off his bottle of homemade hot sauce. He also introduced us to the key ingredient in his specialty cocktail. . DonQ Limon Puerto Rican Rum. .. YUM! We ended up buying a bottle at the airport on our way home :)

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About another hour or so we ended up in Ponce, hopelessly lost, driving around the ghetto like a couple of tourists trying to get robbed! Well that’s what Tony thought, Ruby on the other hand was as cool as a cucumber, well she was . . . until her cell phone died and we had no map. By the way don’t trust Google Maps in Puerto Rico it may or may not work depending on the area. A quick stop for directions in the rain led us to the Ramada in Ponce. Ruby got us the best deal in town, staying in a super nice hotel—actually the Ramada in Ponce for $60/night on Priceline.com (Name Your Own Price) and they even upgraded us to a suite for free! This was by far the nicest Ramada we’d ever stayed in, perfect location in the center of the nicest part of Ponce. After that kind of a day we were pretty tired and enjoyed the skyline view from our huge hotel patio before passing out.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 12:32 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

Puerto Rico: Vieques:Black Sand and White Tony--FOODIE ALERT

March 27, 2012

sunny 85 °F

With limited public transportation on the island we decided to rent a car, it was $65/day which I think is the least expensive you can find on the island. We ate lunch at a local spot and shared some meats and rice and beans (habichuela) (which are staples in Puerto Rican cuisine). Ruby’s favorite was the home made hot sauce made of the restaurant owner’s special concoction of spices and oils-- YUM!

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We drove around the island of Vieques following the local recommendations from Maria and Joe regarding the best beaches. Our favorite was the deserted black sand beach we had all to ourselves for the afternoon. . except for the wild horses that run wild on the island and may just come walking onto the beach! This beach required a bit of a trek along a creek bed but was well worth it. It’s also hidden and not on most maps or signs. . . so you’ll have to ask a local how to get there. Blue Beach further to the east was also pretty amazing with clear, warm water and soft white sand. Be sure to bring your sunscreen because the sun is REALLY powerful down in the Caribbean.

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Ruby absolutely had to go the W in Vieques after her obsession with the TV show the Bachelor. So that night we sat around a fire pit and watched the sunset at the W Hotel while sipping complimentary sangria sun-downers. Who says nothing in life is free? We had a lovely romantic dinner at Next Course which our friend Claudia had recommended. We splurged and had not only the lamb but also the lobster! Another day in paradise on Vieques. . .

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 08:11 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

Puerto Rico: Vieques: Bioluminescent Magic

March 26, 2012

sunny 82 °F

That morning we woke and chilled at our beach resort watching the iguanas run around scaring tourists. We left just in time to head to catch a ferry from Fajardo. The ferry to Vieques takes about 45 min-1.5 hrs and only costs $2 and you want to get there about 2 hours early to ensure that you can buy your same day ticket. You also have to go through a little bit of an “interview” process in order to buy your ticket which we thought was odd—but we passed through and got our tickets so I guess it was okay. We learned that tourists are not allowed to take their rental cars to the other islands so you may want to take that into consideration when booking a rental car in Puerto Rico. We left our rental car parked on the street a few blocks from the dock instead of paying the $5 a day to park in a lot. . . and crossed our fingers. BTW, there’s a separate ferry that takes you to Culebra. . which is what we’ll want to check out next time! Short flights are also available but, you know us . . . if it’s $2 vs. $50 there’s no contest =)

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The ferry drops off in a part of the island called Isabel II (Yes the 2nd) and we took a long walk (15min) with our roller bags to the Tropical Guest House. Maria, one of the owners said it was a short walk and it looked pretty close on the map, but Puerto Rico must be on the Argentina not to scale map system! We checked in, and at $70/night, it’s one of the more affordable places to stay on Vieques. The room was clean and nice but the highlight for us were the two owners, Maria and Joe, who are originally from New York. They were too sweet and welcomed us to their guesthouse with their specialty cocktail and offered all kind of useful information for our time on the island.

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Claudia, one of the other guests at the hotel also happened to be from Brooklyn was super sweet and gave us all kinds of tips on where to go in Vieques. We all shared an evening rooftop cocktail with Maria and Joe, complete with Claudia and Tara tending bar! We were on a time crunch and Maria and Joe shared their delicious homemade seafood paella with us. Before we knew it, we had hitched a ride to the town of Esperanza on the south side with Claudia and the gang. They had suggested we go to the Bioluminescent Bay ASAP while the moon was still small. Be sure to check out a moon chart. A bright full moon takes away from the bioluminescence. At 8pm for $25/pp Tony and I hopped into a van with a couple of hippies and went off-roading into the woods to a clearing leading to the Bioluminescent Bay.

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It’s really hard to describe other than to say that it was magical. We kayaked in the dark around Mosquito bay which is protected from the Caribbean Sea where dinoflagellate organisms have a chance to multiply. These organisms glow when you touch them so every move we made allowed the water to glow either a bright green and even blue at times! You could see schools of fish flash by in the dark water as they swam by underwater and when we pulled our hands and feet out of the water you could see water dripping off with tiny glow in the dark dots. Insane!! Tony couldn’t resist and “accidently” fell off the kayak and swam around for a few making Bio-Angels in the water. It’s sort of like floating through a glow in the dark picture. Definitely one of the highlights of this trip and a do-not miss destination. Apparently, the bioluminescent bay in Vieques is one of the best in the world. . there are 2 others in Puerto Rico but this one is supposed to have the densest concentration of glowing algae. By the way, the organisms are too tiny to see with the naked eye and unfortunately, we didn’t have the proper camera to catch the bioluminescence on film for you guys but I found a few pictures from other people who have done it. There was no way we were going to top that so we headed back to the hotel and fell right to sleep.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 10:44 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

Puerto Rico: El Yunque: Lookout Tower of Water

March 25, 2012

rain 70 °F

As most of you know we are not much for wasting all our vacation money staying at fancy hotels, but we couldn’t resist staying at the Gran Melia just one more night. The bed was really comfortable and the location was great for our day trip up into the El Yunque National Forest. We had only booked the hotel for one night and the front desk said the going rate was $275/night . . . so we walked over to the other side of the lobby, took out our laptop and booked the same room for 60% off using Priceline’s Name Your Own Price! You know how we operate ;-) That afternoon we drove down to the Luquillo Kiosks again for some lunch. We sat on the beach as we tried some of the local fried treats but actually didn’t find them to be that yummy so we had some chicken wings, fries and of course an authentic Pina Colada (which actually was invented in Puerto Rico) before heading to El Yunque.

It was a short drive to the visitor’s center and after paying our $4 pp admission fee we were ready to admire some gorgeous orchids hanging off the walls. The rest of the day was spent sloshing through flashflood conditions throughout the forest. We saw La Coca Falls and walked along paths full of so many types of vegetation that we lost count. We got a short respite from the rain at the top of the Yokahu Tower where you can see the tops of the trees and see the beach and city of Luquillo in the distance. We were a little disappointed in the wildlife---they were all hiding because of the rain. . so the only wildlife shots we have are of a damselfly and a snail!

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While we still had a little sunshine we decided to brave a trail at the very end of the road leading to the Mt. Britton Tower. This was our favorite trail because there was hardly anyone up there and the birds had started to sing in the trees. We could hear them but they were too difficult to spot. The Mt. Britton Tower looked like an old fashioned castle out of the Middle Ages and we had a lot of fun hanging out in the clouds waiting for them to move so that we could see the view from the tower.

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We left El Yunque around six just as the gates were being closed and headed back to the Luquillo Kiosks for dinner. We tried “La Parilla” for some local food but weren’t impressed with the appetizer we ordered. Of course, we ended up back at Tapas 13 watching the rain pour down outside as we enjoyed our sangria with “gambas al ajillo” and bacon wrapped dates topped with blue cheese and a balsamic sauce :) YUM. It was a perfect day.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 11:35 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

Puerto Rico: Isn't life Gran?

March 24, 2012

all seasons in one day 82 °F

Leaving JFK at midnight of Friday might not have been the smartest idea. . especially when we arrived into San Juan at the ungodly hour of 4am! We arranged a rental car with National and had a reservation for a nice resort on the northeast side of the island but check in would not be for 10 hours or so. We decided to start our way across the north side of the island and maybe find a good spot to nap in the car for a few hours? After a few trips around a roundabout we realize driving in Puerto Rico may be just a little more challenging then we planned but quickly realized it was just the sleep deprivation at work, (Puerto Rico is actually really easy to navigate).

We ended up driving straight to our resort, the Gran Melia. We were counting our lucky stars that they were amazing and let us check in at 5am instead of the usual 3 pm check in time. We went right to bed and woke up to a sunny beautiful day of hanging out at the resort drinking and relaxing at the beach. On our walk back to our room we saw one of the many blackbirds flying around stop and do a mating dance to attract a female blackbird. . very cool, he was flapping his wings and hopping around. Glad we were there to see it!

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That night we opted to head to the Luquillo Kiosks for dinner when it started to rain, rain and rain some more. Which as most of you know by now is not uncommon for u s. . . “we bring the rain”! It was only a 10 minute drive away and we sampled some local food and had a tower of chicken stuffed with shrimp and bacon and then went to another kiosk called Tapas 13. There we had some sangria and the spiciest shrimp ever called “camarones del Diablo”. We have never seen so much red chilli in our lives . . . needless to say Tony ate a whole lot of bread to cool his tongue down! Afterwards we were pretty exhausted so we headed to bed.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 11:07 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

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