Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico, proclaimed by the first navigators to step foot on it as “the island of enchantment”, absolutely stole our hearts over the course of three weeks. Our aggressive itinerary included the gorgeous city of Old San Juan (a small seven square block neighborhood of cobblestone streets, picturesque colonial buildings, museums, and fortresses), Rio Grande and El Yunque Rain Forest (a 28,000 acre forest with gorgeous hikes, waterfalls, and over 200 species of trees growing over 100 feet high), Guayama and Ponce (the Pearl of the South), Yauco, San German, Rincon (surfer’s paradise), Culebra & Culebrita, and last but not least the gorgeous Vieques. We had high expectations for PR especially since our numerous PR friends have raved about their motherland for years. Happy to report that the islands did not disappoint…we are ardent Puerto Rico fans and will definitely be back!

Originally a Carmelite convent built over 300 years ago, Hotel El Convento is now a boutique-style hotel located in the heart of Old San Juan Old San Juan is a gorgeous walking city filled with colonial architecture and brightly preserved buildings San Juan Cemetary is located between El Morro & the rocky cliffs above the Atlantic. It is particularly noteworthy for its elaborate tombstones and the circular neoclassical chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalen Another view of the "Cementerio de San Juan" There were hundred of children flying their kites in the morning sea breezes at El Morro El Morro Fort is a must-see while in Old San Juan Circular sentry boxes called "garitas" that have become a national symbol of Puerto Rico View of El Morro's lighthouse View from El Morro out to La Fortaleza Fortress; Old San Juan Interior courtyard of El Morro Fortress, one of Old San Juan's must see destinations Built as a 6 level fortress, El Morro rises 140 feet above the sea, and has thick 18 foot thick walls. It has to be one of the most formidable defense structures in the Caribbean Old rusty canon; El Morro Fortress Barracks in La Fortaleza Fortress Another vista of Old San Juan as seen from La Fortaleza (also known as the Palacio de Santa Catalina) The six-level fortress of El Morro definitely warrants a few hours to visit; Old San Juan Striking a pose at the top level of La Fortaleza beside a pyramid of cannon balls Becky atop a pyramid of cannon balls; El Morro Fortress Iguana sunning itself; La Fortaleza Fortress An old church stands at the edge of one of Old San Juan's cobblestoned streets El Capitolio (capitol building of Puerto Rico) Puerto Rico license plate "Isle of Enchantment" Strolling along Old San Juan is a delight with gorgeous hues on every corner Close up of a street lamp; Old San Juan Robby chlling inside Ben & Jerry's; Old San Juan. The food here is *really* good! The walls of Old San Juan are up to 20 feet thick and up to 40 feet tall The Puerta de San Juan dates from the 1700s. It is one of 6 heavy wooden doors in the wall which for centuries were closed at sundown to cut off access to the city and protect the city from invaders Robby takes a breather just outside the city walls of Old San Juan Impromptu dancing at the “Atresania Puertorriquena”, an open air arts/crafts fair; Old San Juan Cafes spill into the streets of Old San Juan El Convento is one of Old San Juan's nicest hotels. We loved staying here although it is a bit pricey San Juan Cathedral (as seen from El Convento Hotel as the sun was setting) Free tours & samples at the Bacardi Factory make this a popular destination in Old San Juan Free drinks at the Bacardi Factory! Trees lining the road on scenic Rt 187; Puerto Rico Robby gazing out from the balcony of our Wyndham Rio Mar hotel The iguanas at the Wyndham Rio Mar hotel are quite tame! One of Rio Grande's prettiest spots Local boys having a blast swinging into the river; Rio Grande Footsteps leading to nowhere; Rio Grande A cautionary tale of building too close to the sea; Rio Grande Robby cracks open a coconut and enjoys the fruits of his labors; Rio Grande A river runs through it; Rio Grande Chilling in the adult only pool; Wyndham Rio Mar Resort Close up of an iguana checking us out; Rio Grande La Cola waterfall is the easiest one to spot (it is visible from the road); El Yunque national park El Yunque is a popular destination and its easy to see why Robby on one of El Yunque's well maintained hiking trails We had La Mina Falls all to ourselves; El Yunque National Park Becky strikes her best Vanna White pose; La Mina Falls Close up of a lizard; El Yunque Parking at the base of Mt Britton lookout tower; El Yunque Most of El Yunque's hiking trails were very well laid out and easy to navigate Robby inside Mt Britton lookout tower; El Yunque Becky takes a breather atop Mt Britton View of a portion of El Yunque's 28,000 acres of verdant foliage; Mt Britton Torre Yokahu (Yokahu Observation Tower); El Yunque park Souvenirs for sale; El Yunque National Park Our afternoon visit to Balneario de Luquillo; one of Puerto Rico's most popular beaches One of the kiosks near Luquillo beach Luquillo beach has over 50 kiosks/shacks to choose from A gorgeous old hacienda (estate) caught our eye as we were on the road towards Ponce Faded glory; Hacienda San Isidro The Puerto Rican flag is proudly displayed EVERYWHERE in PR...notice the flag painted on the ground at this intersection? A rocky beach that we made a brief stop at along PR's southern coast Guayama was hosting an antique car show on the town plaza Exterior view of Casa Cautino, constructed in a Creole and neoclassical style Interior of Casa Cautino (a lovingly restored colonial era residence); Guayama The beautiful Iglesia San Antonio de Padua on Guayama plaza. It is reputedly the only neo-Roman style church in PR, identifiable by its two flattop towers Another view of the pretty Iglesia San Antonio de Padua; Guayama Close up of the water fountain in the middle of Guayama Plaza Antique car lovers would have had a field day in pretty Guayama Guayama's antique car show There were some nicely preserved antique cars on display at the Guayama car show A circa 1928 Ford on display at the Guayama Antique car show Hotel Belgica, our central Ponce lodging choice Becky sits in a massive Ponce sign Built in 1900, the Casa Armstrong-Poventud house has a gorgeous, neoclassical facade, and is considered one of the most elegant houses in Ponce Ponce's main plaza is dominated by the Casa Alcaldia (the city hall), which is the oldest colonial building in Ponce, dating back to the 1840's Ponce's "Parque de Bombas" is the most photographed fire station in Puerto Rico Interior view of Ponce's historic 1883 fire house and its fire engine This yellow flowering tree was a common sight in pretty Ponce Ponce is known as the "Pearl of the South" because of its outstanding architecture Storm clouds are moving in towards Ponce Cathedral, which lies in the middle of Ponce's town square Ponce's Plaza Las Delicias is dominated by this picturesque water fountain aptly named "Lion's Fountain" Gorgeous buildings such as this "Banco Popular" surround Ponce's main plaza, known as Plaza Las Delicias The Museum of Puerto Rican Architecture is housed in this 100-year old residence on Reina Street; Ponce Another fine example of the gorgeous architecture on display in pretty Ponce Religious tilework is seen outside several Ponce houses Pink and yellow flowering trees abound; Ponce Ponce's beautiful old buildings have so much character...we enjoyed walking around this lovely city The Ponce Creole style is famous for its wood and stucco buildings with broad columned porches & balconies, painted in hues of pinks, peaches, and limes Enjoying a night out in pretty Ponce Yauco is a town we happened upon...its brightly colored buildings caught our attention More colorful abodes; Yauco No mention of this town (Yauco) was listed in our guidebook...it was worth a stroll around to take in the brightly hued houses Yauco's basketball court The Porta Coeli Church, a convent from 1606; San German Plaza Santo Domingo, located in the San Germán Historic District San German definitely warrants a visit...the square next to the Church San Germán de Auxerre has plenty of shops to browse and sights to see An antique store located near the main plaza; San German A pretty garden in the middle of San German Becky goes boogie boarding in Rincon Pretty purple orchids; Coconut Palms Inn; Rincon Fresh fruit for sale; Rincon Dive shop; Rincon Faro de Rincon (Rincon Lighthouse) Rincon's surf and beaches lure in visitors from all over the world A surfer tries to stay upright; Rincon Pretty countryside; Rincon Rincon after sunset Becky wearing multiple layers of clothing because Air Flamenco only allows a measly 25 pounds of check in luggage! Flying over Puerto Rico in the tiny Air Flamenco plane Mainland Puerto Rico is a bit overdeveloped in some areas close to the beach but you can still find places to get away from it all The gorgeous 2 mile stretch of Flamenco Beach is visible from our Air Flamenco flight Tiny airport; Culebra Incoming plane; Culebra airport Cheerful Mamacitas was all we needed for our Culebra based lodging Mamacitas was the perfect place to stay; Culebra Mamacitas is explicit about NOT feeding the iguanas who appear by the dock as if begging for food Iguana sunning itself; Mamacitas Close up of the friendly iguana at Mamacitas Playa Melones is the best spot to watch the sun set on Culebra Renting a scooter on Culebra was a great way to explore the island Mamacita's bar is an inviting place; Culebra Robby about to chow down on his yummy dinner; Mamacitas in Culebra Early morning at Flamenco Beach Luckily, PR is a popular destination for sea turtles to nest...their nesting grounds are strictly off limits A "free Puerto Rico" shack; Culebra Colorful waterside shack; Culebra Our water taxi driver after dropping us off at the best snorkeling spot on Culebrita Becky enjoying having pristine Culebrita all to herself! View from Culebrita looking back towards Culebra Be careful of these thorny bastards on the hike up to Culebrita's lighthouse Culebrita's circa 1886 lighthouse has long ago been abandoned Although the lighthouse has been abandoned for years and is in a state of disrepair, we were able to climb up it to get some nice views of Culebrita Playa Tortuga's “The Baths"; Culebrita View of Culebrita's abandoned lighthouse The views overlooking Culebrita from the lighthouse are phenomenal Culebrita makes for a fine day trip from Culebra Damn, no crabbing allowed on Culebrita Becky soaking in the warm and placid sea off Playa Tortuga (Turtle Beach); Culebrita A hyper dog befriends Robby; Culebrita Robby wades in his private pool; Culebrita Becky jumps into one of Playa Tortuga's "baths"; Culebrita If only he had the power to prevent getting soaked! Sailboat with Culebrita's abandoned lighthouse in the distance Hermit crabs are seen all over Culebrita A bougainvilleas "fence" lines the road to Zoni Beach; Culebra How lucky for us...a giant leatherback had recently nested on Zoni Beach; Culebra Becky zooming on the scooter; road leading away from Zoni Beach on Culebra Colorful shack in the middle of nowhere; Culebra Tree hive...we kept our distance! Culebra's Rt 66 Culebra's history museum; built in 1905 by the US Navy to be used as a munitions warehouse Puffer fish; Punta Soldado Sea snail on coral; Punta Soldado A school of yellow striped fish; Punta Soldado Remnants of an old dock; Culebra Entrance to Dinghy Dock; Culebra Flamenco Beach's campground area...it was packed during spring break/easter! Looks like we found the party spot; Flamenco Beach What a miserable job to have during Spring Break! The beach police attempt to keep the party-goers under control at Flamenco Beach The pelicans were having a feast just offshore at Playa Flamenco; Culebra The sign says it all...Flamenco Beach is the place to be; Culebra Wall mural; Culebra Colorful tilework; Culebra Colorful Caribbean colors; Culebra Advertisements in Dewey, tiny Culebra's biggest "town" A slightly inebriated Robby checks out the main town of Dewey; Culebra Dewey only has one gas station...makes it tough when the island runs out of gas! Robby sitting beside the "Welcome to Culebra" sign; Dewey The Golden China restaurant is a popular option for Culebra's residents Local hanging off an old tank; Flamenco Beach Becky finds a "girlie" tank to pose beside; Flamenco Beach The Air Flamenco flights are tiny and sometimes crowded. On this Culebra-Vieques flight, there were only 4 of us View from our Air Flamenco flight from Culebra to Vieques Becky enjoying some drinks at Bananas; Vieques Just one of the girls; Bananas, Vieques Lazy Jack's is a popular restaurant/bar; Esperanza Becky stands beside a massive rock lining Esperanza's beach; Vieques Esperanza's "beach front"...the locals raved that snorkeling here is excellent; Vieques This tiny crab wasn't quite sure what to make of Robby's ginormous hand Our lodging option on Vieques...Bananas is the place to party! Fresh seafood is readily available on Vieques The locals loved to ride their horses up and down the malecon strip; Esperanza Another view of Esperanza's beach; Vieques Horse back riders returning from an afternoon ride; Esperanza Boy with ball checks out lady on horse; Esperanza Sunset on Vieques The malecon just after sunset; Vieques The Passion Play on the Malecon; Vieques The Passion Play overtook the town of Esperanza; Vieques Another view of the Passion Play; Esperanza Robby tries to befriend a wild horse; Fort Count Mirasol Museum at Isabell II Becky beside an old canon at the Fort Count Mirasol Museum; Isabel Segunda The town of Isabel Segunda (Vieques' other "big" town) The Punta Mulas Lighthouse (also known as Morropó) was built in 1893. Sadly, it remains off limits these days Welcome sign to Isabel II, the capital city of Vieques Catholic church of Isabel Segunda Town square of Isabel Segunda Old bar on Isabel Segunda square Inner courtyard; Isabel Segunda Becky is all smiles after she snags a pre-built shady shack on Bahia de la Chiva Pretty Bahia de la Chiva (Blue Beach) is one gorgeous beach to chill at; Vieques Next beach stop: Playa Caracas (also known as "Red Beach"); Vieques Robby shaking the sand from our beach towels; Playa Caracas Hope you don't have to use the bano...these remained locked! Iguana and Coqui frog; Bananas Guest house Great dinner at Duffy's restaurant; Esperanza Wish we had brought some food to fatten up this skinny fellow; Sun Bay Becky allows a wild horse to smell her; Sun Bay on Vieques Wild horses at Sun Bay The road from Sun Bay towards Playa Media Luna Scenic tree; Sun Bay These cheeky black birds had no problems swooping down to steal food; Playa Media Luna Close up of the elusive Puerto Rican Woodpecker Lucky us! We got to see the Puerto Rican Woodpecker which is common in the main island of PR but rare on the island of Vieques. Here is a nesting pair at Playa Media Luna A school of blue fish; Playa Media Luna Robby enjoyed the sights at Playa Media Luna Colorful rock graffiti; outskirts of Esperanza Becky stands next to a portion of "La Central Playa Grande", an old sugarcane plantation mill that closed down in 1942 Wild horses run free on the western side of Vieques This 300 year old Ceiba tree is a wonder to behold Robby climbs up a portion of the Ceiba tree A beach on the northern side of Vieques The island adventures bus that took us on the Bio Bay tour...believe it or not but it was packed! Scenes from Vieques painted on the inside of Island Adventure's office This is definitely the attitude on laid back Vieques...chill and take it easy View of the Esperanza dock A monument to Angel Rodriguez Cristobal near the waterfront; Esperanza foto gallery lightboxby VisualLightBox.com v6.1

13 Mar: Called Howard Johnson Inn Plaza de Armas hotel while in Atlanta to advise them of our late arrival/check-in and found to our dismay that they had cancelled our reservation because our old credit card was invalid. We were a bit upset but what could we do? (we later found out that they had called and left a message on the answering machine at the house several times but since we were on the road we never got the voicemail). Instead, we had to pay to get online in Atlanta and none of the browsers were working. Finally we were able to get internet access just before boarding our flight to San Juan, and had mere minutes to book a last minute through Hotwire. To our pleasant surprise, we ended up scoring with two nights at the boutique hotel “El Convento” in Old San Juan. It ended up being perfect as this was the original hotel we wanted but they hardly ever have deals on hotwire…lucky for us in retrospect that we were able to get our first choice hotel!

Our Delta flight to PR was delayed by about twenty minutes, and luggage was slow to offload. We were amongst some of the first people to get our luggage, and hopped in a taxi to old San Juan for $20 (plus $1 each per bag). El Convento was an old nunnery, and it has been tastefully restored to its current day charm, resulting in its status as one of the world’s top heritage/boutique hotels. We got room 211 which was exactly what we needed…screaming (free) internet, a super comfy bed, and hot water. We ended up staying up late talking on magicjack to John Burns.

14 Mar: Since Puerto Rico is part of the US, we assumed that it honored daylight saving time and had changed our clocks one hour ahead. When the alarm sounded at 0700, it was way too early, so we kept resetting the alarm and finally ended up getting up at 1000 (we blame it on the bed being soooooo comfy!). After getting dressed for the day, we stopped by reception and got a city map to orient ourselves. To our surprise, we found that it was only 0930, (instead of 1030) as PR did not honor DST. Lucky for us, as it was a hard morning to rise early to explore. The hotel bellboy, Ivan, suggested that we hit the two fortresses (Fuerte San Felipe and Fuerte San Cristobal) first, as it would make for an easier walking experience to explore the rest of OSJ afterwards.

We ended up wandering towards Plaza de Armas first (where the Howard Johnson Inn is located), and had breakfast at a local favorite. Since we were both parched and the day was already blisteringly warm, we both ordered super sized juices and bocadillos for breakfast…yummy. Afterwards, we headed straight towards San Felipe del Morro and checked out the morning crowd who had already gathered to fly their kites. There is a sizable cemetery skirting the perimeter of San Felipe, and we checked that out first before debating whether to pay the $5 entrance to visit both forts (it is worth it!). The free maps provided simple guided explanations of the highlights of the fort, and we both found our visit to be more enjoyable that we had originally expected. San Felipe del Morro is massive and must be quite an impressive view from the oceanfront!

Lucky for us, one of the free city trolleys was dropping off passengers right outside San Felipe, so we squeezed in and hopped on. It was packed for a Sunday (perhaps that is the norm?) and there were several folks who couldn’t get on and had to wait for the next trolley. Our original plan was to hop off at San Cristobal, but we figured we’d just stay on the trolley to see what other old city highlights there were. After zooming around the city, we finally looped back towards San Cristobal where we hopped off and enjoyed another fort self-guided tour. Thankfully there were several water fountains to quench our thirst (it was really hot out) and we spotted several iguanas sunning themselves in the heat. Both forts were quite fascinating…San Felipe is a promontory built by the Spanish in the 1500s, rising 140 feet above the sea. It is an enormous 6 level fortress consisting of a labyrinth of ramps, dungeons, barracks, observation points, turrets, towers, tunnels and perimetered walls.

After the forts, we headed over to Plaza de Colon, where a monument to Christopher Columbus has been erected. The nearby grocery stores charged outrageous prices ($3.75 for a water!) but we were both thirsty so we overpaid to quench our thirst. Wandering the old streets of San Juan were a delight, and we found numerous buildings painted in brightly hued pastels….very cool! A corner Ben & Jerry’s caught our eye, and we decided on a quick bite to eat…good call as the hummus platter was delicious and the 4 cheese grilled sandwich was amazing. We really liked the quirky vibe here and would go back in a heartbeat. The “Puerta de San Juan” was our next destination, and we found out that it dates back to the 1520s, and is one of 5 original entrances to the city. Its a massive red hued gate, that looks like a tunnel since it goes through “La Muralla”, the 20 foot thick city walls. After wandering by the waterfront, we came across the “Atresania Puertorriquena”, an open air arts/crafts fair where vendors were selling their wares. An impromptu band was playing music and several older couples were dancing the afternoon away.

Since we were both tired, we headed back to El Convento to swim on the 4th floor pool (its tiny but refreshing) and partake in the 1800 free wine tasting…lovely. Bats swooped in and the nearby church was lit up at night. After talking briefly to Robby’s mom on magicjack, we headed out for some coldstone icecream (highly overrated…our friends have raved about coldstone for years and since neither of us had ever tried it, we figured we’d give it a try). Afterwards, we debated whether to stop at Senior Frogs, a lively bar in OSJ. In the end, we agreed to stock up on some rum at the Bacardi Distillery.

15 Mar: Since the room was so dark and the bed was so comfortable, we slept till 9 am to our surprise. We had to pack and call several of our reservations since our old credit card was no longer valid. After checking out at noon and placing our bags in storage, we headed to our breakfast destination for a repeat of yesterday’s meal, followed by a visit to the nearby Walgreens to get some tape. A corner Marshalls beckoned us to look for Becky’s formal wear for the cruise, and than we headed down to Old San Juan’s pier 2, where we caught the ferry to Catano for 50 cents. Once in Catano, we were herded towards some nearby publicos, where a $3 ride per person brought us to the massive Bacardi complex. We were each given 2 drink coupons, and had the pleasure of tasting the refreshing and delicious Bacardi flavors while we waited for our tour to start. The tour was OK, giving all of us the history of the Bacardi business concept, and its founding family’s migration from Spain to Cuba to Puerto Rico/Mexico/New York until the prohibition put the New York office out of business. It is currently headquartered in the Bahamas (due to tax purposes) and the US office is now based out of Miami. Overall, the tour was OK and nice for a free sample, but we wouldn’t be repeat visitors (unlike some of the other guests today).

It was close to 1700 when we returned to the El Convento with two bottles of Bacardi rum in tow. Robby figured out a way we could smuggle the alcohol onto the Millennium, so we ingeniously managed to get our drinks onto the cruise undetected. The taxi for our short ride to Pan American pier was $15, and check in was a breeze. Wow, is all we can say about the Millennium! It does not fail to impress and we were amazing that our cheap inside stateroom was so spacious. Dinner was served straight away, and Becky enjoyed escargot, french onion soup, and lamb shank, while Robby had jumbo shrimp, caprese salad, and sirloin steak. After dinner, we headed back downstairs to unpack, and than set out to explore the entire ship.

(15 Mar – 25 Mar: On Celebrity Millennium)

26 Mar: We were back in San Juan, and decided that rather than waiting around the cruise ship all day for permission to disembark, we opted to get off with the earliest group cleared by customs. We saw Aerie in the morning at breakfast and let her know what a true joy it was to meet her and Jim as our table mates over the past 10 days…fantastic couple. Once we were cleared by customs (which was a breeze by the way), we were directed to a nearby shelter to wait for our car rental. Becky had prearranged our car rental through “Charlies”, which was great as they offered free pick up and drop off. 30 minutes after letting them know we were in town, we were picked up and on our way to get our car. While waiting, Robby talked to a PR guy who got visibly excited about us visiting the island and our itinerary. Got the car with no problems, and did a thorough check before we were on our way. We decided to take the scenic route on Rt 187 (rather than driving on ugly Rt 3) which hugged the coastline and eventually made it to Rio Grande. Didn’t have directions on how to get to the Wyndham Rio Mar hotel, but thankfully there was a huge sign directing us where to go so no directions needed. The reception manager was rude, informing Becky that our reservation was actually for 25 Mar, and since we hadn’t called to inform them of our plans, he had cancelled the reservation and the only way to reinstate it was through the manager. She told him to get the manager and it was resolved somehow. Thankfully we had booked this resort through hotwire, so we got a deal, but we didn’t care for how the resort charged for all the “extras” such as parking and internet. Never again! After checking in, we went down to the pool area where we met two friendly towel guys who signed us up for a Wyndham Resort seminar which entitled us to a complimentary massage or $75 voucher. We signed up for a Sunday 0830 session (and got a free 3/2 night stay in a hotel) and hit the beach…the water was nice but had really strong waves. We walked down to where a river intersected the ocean and saw local boys jumping off a swing into the water (some guests from Rio Mar joined them). We thought about crashing their party, but a crooked house down the beach caught our attention, so we wandered down to take a closer look. Indeed, all the houses built along the beach were way too close, and as a result, every single one of them had suffered from erosion. This one particular house had been built too close to the edge of the water and had tumbled in. After returning back to the resort, we enjoyed the adult only pool before deciding to hit Walmart for some much needed supplies (Margarita mix, tequila, snorkel gear). Afterwards, we stopped by the highly touted Antojitos where we had dinner. It was OK, but nothing to write home about.

27 Mar: We woke early today to hike El Yunque national park. According to our guide book, El Yunque consists of more than 28,000 acres of verdant foliage and rare wildlife. It is the only rain forest within the US National Forest System. Formally, El Yunque is known as Bosque Nacional del Caribe (Caribbean National Forest). It has 13 hiking trails that are extremely well maintained; many of them are easy to navigate and less than 1 mile long. We had been advised that the road opens at 0730 and closes at 5 pm. Despite getting a bit lost, we were there by 0820 and were amazed that no one else was in sight! Awesome…we ended up seeing La Cola falls, Torre Yokahu (Yokahu Observation Tower), the “Big Tree Trail” to La Mina falls (we had the entire waterfall to ourselves and thoroughly enjoyed its fresh and frigid waters), and hiked up to Mt Britton lookout tower (looks like a castle’s turret) for some amazing 360 degree vistas. After having a picnic lunch, we visited Balneario de Luquillo, a nice PR beach for families to enjoy (check out the nearby seafood shacks/kiosks near Luquillo beach…over 50 to choose from). By mid-afternoon, we called it quits and headed back to the resort where we spend the rest of the day chilling in the adult pool.

28 Mar: We attended the 0830 seminar and while it might be the way many folks choose to travel, was not for us so we declined to commit. Check out was at 11 am and we drove to the alluring town of Guayama to visit Casa Cautino (a lovingly restored colonial era residence). Luckily for us, an antique car show was on display around the town square, and the museum (Casa Cautino) was free and excellent!! We really liked the vibe of this city, and found its inhabitants to be super friendly. Got some ice cream at the corner Rex Cream and drove onward to Ponce. Driving into Ponce centro was a bit confusing and we got temporarily lost, but eventually found the Hotel Belgica, which was just off the main town square in pretty Ponce. We liked this town, and got free parking to boot (park at Parque Urbano Dora Colon Clavell, which is free and manned by a police squad…very safe). Ponce has a nickname of the “Pearl of the South” and we could easily see why. The town square is surrounded by historical buildings with an eclectic mix of architecture. Perhaps the most famous building in all of Ponce is the Parque de Bombas (a century old firehouse whose red/black exterior has inspired thousands of photographs). We were ready for some partying, so we found at a corner bar and enjoyed one too many “Cuba Libres”…Becky paid penance later, spending the night kneeling to the porcelain god and praying several times.

29 Mar: Woke up with the intention of visiting the fire station since it was supposed to open at 9 am. However, by 09:30 it still hadn’t opened, and we felt we could see everything from the outside so we decided to check out of the Hotel Belgica to make our way towards San German. On our way there, we saw some colorful houses in the city of Yauco that caught our attention, so we pulled over and discovered a Kmart where we stocked up on some more snacks and much needed drinks. The colorfully painted houses were alluring so we strolled through the neighborhood, taking photos along the way. Not mentioned in our guidebook, we wondered why the town decided to paint vivid colors on the sides of all their houses. Afterwards, we headed to San German which was mentioned as a nice colonial town to visit. We saw the highlights in just over an hour, and than drove onward to Rincon, where we checked in to the Coconut Palms Inn. It felt like “home” away from home. We hit the beach with free boogie boards and than decided to visit the lighthouse. We saw surfers and boogie boarders trying to ride the waves, before stopping by a nearby Chinese restaurant for some yummy szechuan chicken/pork and spring rolls. We used the free wireless signal at Coconuts to make some last minute reservations and went to sleep late.

30 Mar: Since our rental had to be returned NLT 1030 am, we left at 0745. In our attempt to find Rt 2, we got a little lost and were glad we left as early as we did since we had 3 minutes to spare when we finally pulled into Charlies Car rental in Condando. We asked where the closest gas station was and filled up before returning the car and getting a free ride to the domestic (Isla Grande) terminal for our 1300 Air Flamenco flight to Culebra. Only allowed 25 lbs per bag, we had to pay for 12 lbs ($7) in excess baggage fees. Stingy baggage allowance! Our flight was late, and we had to go first to Vieques, so we got a free “scenic” tour. We got to tiny Culebra at around 3 pm and saw that the Culebra Scooter Rentals counter was empty. We also noticed that his phone was nearby so we used it to blow up his cell phone. Juan Carlos finally showed up and said that he had expected us in the morning but we apologized and told him we caught the later flight instead. He helped us load our bags and we drove to Mamacitas, (Culebra is pricey with the cheapest available room at $102 incl tax for 2 people). Thankfully there were no screw ups with our reservation, since 700-800 more tourists were about to influx this tiny island over the Easter/Spring Break holiday season. We went to a nearby grocery store to stock up on bread, sandwich material, cereal and milk, and were able to book a day tour (10 am – 5 pm) to Culebrita tomorrow via water taxi ($45 per person). Afterwards, we rode on the scooter to find a nearby beach to watch the sunset…stalled out the scooter and Robby was unable to start it…not good! Finally figured out we had to floor the gas in order to rev it to start. Good times. The thought of hiking all the way back to town was not appealing! We stocked up on some alcohol at a nearby store and than had some drinks at the very popular Mamacitas (the bartender made absolutely YUMMY passionfruit mojitos made with fresh ground up mint leaves). We decided to have dinner here and enjoyed our meals (Robby: surf & turf which was delicious, Becky: blackened tuna).

31 Mar: Woke up early to hit Flamenco beach. It was already busy so early in the morning (we saw crowded campgrounds further down the road just behind the beach). Some spring breakers had even resorted to passing out on the beach! We can just imagine the crazy parties here later in the week. We headed back to have some cereal while relaxing at Mamacitas bar area and got ready for our Culebrita day trip. We found a cooler (which we subsequently stocked with cold water, oranges, peanut butter and guava jelly sandwiches, along with some mojito mix), sunscreen, snorkel gear, and cameras. An iguana was sunning itself by the dock and we waited while listening to some tunes from the nearby bar. Nellie (Mamacita check in lady) gave us beach towels to borrow for the day. Our ride was slightly late but no big deal…he took us directly to Culebrita and dropped us off at the beach best for snorkeling. We snorkeled to our heart’s content, but were getting slightly annoyed with our new masks which kept fogging up. Lunch consisted of PB sandwiches before Robby snorkeled some more. Becky snoozed in between the shady bushes, but large fearless lizards kept visiting her and trying to climb up her legs…such curious little critters! We got restless so we hiked up to the lighthouse (El Faro) for phenomenal views of the entire island. Afterwards, we headed over to Tortuga Beach on the other side of Culebrita (Playa Tortuga’s “The Baths”) which had some nice natural jacuzzis to swim in. Our water taxi picked us up promptly at 5:30 as requested, and we were back to Culebra in time to hop on our scooters to find a nice sunset. Culebrita does indeed live up to its reputation as host to some of the world’s most pristine and beautiful beaches!

01 Apr: Woke up at 0730 and had breakfast on the dock. Today was a beach day so we headed straight for Zoni beach. The sand was nice…almost as good as Flamenco beach. A leather back turtle laid eggs on the beach last night and we were able to see its arduous tracks back to the sea. We spoke to a volunteer who was roping off the nesting area, and she said this was the 9th nest so far this year, to include one at flamenco beach. Zoni beach was deserted, so after catching a few rays, we snorkeled and saw a small turtle. The waves were a bit strong, so after getting pummeled in the surf for a while, we decided to head over to Punta Soldado as the snorkeling was supposed to be better there. The beach was rough with rocks and dead coral but the snorkeling was excellent as promised. Afterwards, we headed over to Flamenco beach and intended to walk over to Carlos Rosario beach, but ended up staying at Flamenco, which was nice, despite being packed. It was crowded with college students on spring break and Puerto Ricans celebrating Easter. We watched several pelicans dive bombing for fish, and laughed as we saw the beach police try to break up several rowdy partiers. Later that afternoon, we headed back to Mamacitas for happy hour drinks, but found out to our dismay that happy hour consisted of discounts on beer ($1 off) and mixed drinks ($2.50), but no discount on cocktails. We were really looking forward to passion fruit mojitos, but settled for a rum punch and cuba libre. Feeling slightly tipsy, we headed down to the Dewey dock/waterfront area. This is where the vast majority of visitors reach the island via the Fajardo-Culebra ferry. We saw the island’s solitary gas station, and noticed the very long lines for gas. No wonder we were advised to try to make our gasoline last the entire 3 days so we would be able to avoid the crazy long lines. We were about to head over to the dingy dock for dinner but saw a Chinese take-out popular with the locals, and just couldn’t resist. Brought dinner back to the room and walked over to the Milka supermarket to restock our drinking supplies.

02 Apr: Woke up at 0730 and had breakfast. We opted for an early morning checkout and asked Mamacita’s reception if we could leave our bags in their office while we enjoyed the beaches before our afternoon flight to Vieques. Our intention was to visit Carlos Rosario beach but we ended up taking a very long, thorny and incorrect detour. Passed an old tank on the roadway and stopped for photos. Unbeknowgst to us, that path led to an UXO area. After battling thorny bushes for the better part of twenty minutes, we finally figured out that there was no way in hell this led to the popular Carlos Rosario beach so we back tracked back towards Flamenco beach. There, we met a friendly Russian-American named Max who works at the post office in Guayama. He told us he visits Culebra as often as he can (usually on the weekends), and said that the path to Carlos Rosario beach was up near the parking lot. We didn’t have a whole lot of time left so we just went over to Flamenco beach to catch a few rays. Towards the far end of the beach, we saw a crowd gathering around another old tank (this one painted with bright colors), and figured we’d join in for some photos. The hungry pelicans dive bombing for fish kept us entertained for hours, and we ended up running into Max again. He joined us for some company and we got a little more insight into his perspective on living and working in PR. While he admitted that he did like PR for the most part, he warned us that all was not paradise on the island. He advised us to steer clear of Puerto Rico’s larger cities as they are crime ridden and quite dangerous. Ignorance is bliss…we didn’t see this side of PR and told him that we had been loving the entire island up to this point. Perhaps if we explored the islands longer we’d have a change of heart, but our experiences thus far had been absolutely positive and pleasant. After bidding adieu to Max, we rode back to Mamacitas to grab our bags. Since both of us had to squeeze onto the scooter with our backpacks, we ended up making two trips to the airport as it was impossible to transport everything in one go. Scooter guy was not at airport. We weren’t worried as we had told him we’d be flying out today, and he had promised to meet us at the airport to settle our bill. We checked in for our Air Flamenco flight after off loading several pounds from our checked baggage onto our bodies. Robby had 3 layers of clothing and was sweating his ass off. We only checked in our big bags and had 2 small bags as “carry on”. As was the case at the domestic airport in San Juan, the carry on bags did not get weighed. The checked bags were 3 lbs overweight so we paid $3. Scooter guy finally showed up and we settled our bill. We went out the plane and the baggage guy asked if our “carry on” bags were weighed. Not wanting to lie but curious as to why the change in policy, we handed our bags to him and he took everything back to the check in counter to reweigh our luggage. When he finally brought our bags back, no mention was made of any extra charges. Our flight finally departed and there were only 4 of us in a 10 seater airplane. From Culebra to Vieques, the flight only took 10 minutes.

When we arrived to Vieques, we grabbed our carry on bags and let the airport baggage guy take the big ones to the terminal. One of the Flamenco staff approached Robby to ask if he had paid for the overweight charges. Confused about the entire situation, Robby told him that we had already been charged. It appeared that the folks from Culebra had called ahead to Vieques to advise them to reweigh our bags! Becky wanted no part of these games so she grabbed our two biggest carry ons and waited outside for a taxi. As it stood, the rest of our luggage was only 10 pounds over, and the Vieques Flamenco staff was pissed that the Culebra folks had made such a big deal about it. In fact, he even called over there to yell at them about the entire situation and apologized profusely for the entire situation. We really liked the convenience of flying via Air Flamenco but be advised, they only allow 25 pounds for one check in bag, and they may or may not decide to charge you for your carry on bag depending on how they are feeling that day!

We grabbed a shared taxi to Maritza car rental and picked up our jeep. The friendly staff told us about the good snorkeling and beach areas, and circled the main highlights on an island map. One of the ladies was from New Jersey and recently moved over to Vieques after visiting and falling in love with the island and weather. She also told us about the Passion play that was going to be happening in the streets this evening around 1830. We had no problems finding our way to Bananas where we checked in ($75 for a double room with fan). We ended up having a late lunch at Bananas, consisting of a grilled fish fillet sandwich and Presidente beer for Robby, while Becky opted for the classic cheese burger and margarita, followed by a mango-colada. Bananas is in the perfect location in the tiny town of Esperanza, situated just beyond the malecon. We walked up and down the malecon strip and noticed how the town had been transformed in preparations for the Passion Play. Since we had time to kill, we grabbed some drinks and headed over to the pier for sunset. Later, once the sun set, we joined the throngs of locals and tourists along the Malecon where the Passion play was starting. It was a neat reenactment that was played out during the entire stretch of road, terminating at a large open air seating area with a big stage for the final scenes. The play was pretty cool and we were happy that we happened to be in town to catch it. Afterwards, we headed back into Esperanza for some dinner. Our plan was to hit Lazy Jack’s but it was way too crowded, so we retreated back to Bananas for some wings. Robby has Presidente beer and Becky had a mangocolada and Presidente. It was really entertaining sitting at the bar watching the bartender (Eddy) mix up all the drinks and whiz his way around the bar like an expert. Everyone was looking for a good time tonight, and the bar became packed with locals and tourists alike. Eddy sure earned his money tonight!

3 Apr: Beach day! First we had to get gas (we were told to get it “early” at the island’s two gas station options). We put in $16 worth of gas, and then stopped at a nearby (Morales Supermercado) supermarket where we stocked up on some essentials. Afterwards, we drove to Isabel Segunda where we headed directly to the Fort Count Mirasol Museum and ate our breakfast beneath the shaded tree. The Banana nut cheerios were surprisingly good, and after eating, we petted the relatively tame wild horses grazing in the parking lot. Entrance to the museum was $3 each, and we learned that it was the last military structure built by the Spanish in the new world, and it cost the Spanish government so much that Queen Isabel questioned if the walls were made of solid gold! Nice views of the city and there was a sizeable exhibit by local artists on the civil disobedience undertaken by the local populace to rid their island of the US military’s presence…very interesting! We drove onward to see the Punta Mulas Lighthouse (closed to visitors), and the town square of Isabel II. Just before noon, we pulled up into the very pretty Blue Beach (Bahia de la Chiva) and were instantly mesmerized. The crystalline blue waters were so alluring, and we found a pre-made beach shack for us to enjoy out of the direct sunlight…bliss! We snacked on our lunches and snorkeled in the gorgeous water (Robby saw a turtle and we both saw barracuda) as well as pelicans dive bombing for food. Some lady was doing hula hoop exercises while singing on the beach and she must have been a little bit off. Nevertheless, she was entertaining to watch, and we saw some folks paddle boarding on a surf board (looked a bit boring as the sea was so calm), and we just enjoyed our time here immensely. Afterwards, we went to Red Beach (Playa Caracas) which was another gorgeous beach. We had already verified the information given to us by Maritza car rental that Green Beach was closed at the Isabel Segunda tourist office, so we didn’t waste our time driving out there only to be disappointed. On our drive out of the very well maintained roads leading to the beaches, we saw that the police has set up a trap to catch those speedsters breaking the 15 mph rule…we felt bad for those who were busted and caught speeding as everyone was doing it and the stops appeared to be arbitrary. We stopped by the neighborhood liquor store where we bought a cooler ($5), some rum and coke (cuba libres coming up), and a Smirnoff Ice along with a bag of ice. After parking, we sat on the malecon steps watching the sun set. Dinner tonight was at Duffy’s restaurant where we enjoyed a huge plate of wings and Becky’s blackened tuna/caesar salad and Robby’s fisherman platter. Becky had the Viequenese for her drink and Robby got an overpriced El Presidente beer ($5 really?) and we watched as the final four basketball playoffs were shown on the wide screen to a lively crowd. Everyone was partying it up on a Saturday night, and we heard loud music and laughter until the wee hours of the morning.

4 Apr: After breakfast, we headed over to Sun Bay where we saw wild horses grazing. We had heard that Sun Bay was absolutely PACKED on the weekend, so in an effort to avoid the crowds, we headed over to Playa Media Luna (setting for “Lord of the Flies”). Snorkeling here was OK…we saw some aggressive barracuda, and Robby happened across an outcrop of lobsters! There were 8-10 lobsters and we both briefly contemplated that taking one with us wouldn’t be such a bad thing, ha. Don’t worry…we left all the lobsters alive and intact, although it took all of our will power to do so. Becky had a friendly fish decide to attach itself to her, and it swam from the outer portion of the rocky outcrop all the way to shore with her, dodging and weaving its way across her mask countless times. Very curious! Today was an “easy” day…we spend the majority of the day just lazing around Playa Media Luna before deciding that we should drive over to the other side of the island to see the “La Central Playa Grande”, an old sugarcane plantation mill that closed down in 1942. On our way there, we passed by an ancient 300 Year Old Ceiba Tree, which beckoned us to check it out in detail. Very cool…yeah its a tree but its absolutely gorgeous and magnificent in size. We had to rush to get to our Bioluminescent Bay Tour on time. We had heard that the Bio Bay does not disappoint, so we prebooked with Island Adventures for a night excursion to Bahia Mosquito (Mosquito Bay). It was quite an experience…although it was raining slightly, that did nothing to damper our spirits as we lept in the water and admired the millions of phosphorescent dynoflagellates glowing beneath our every movement. Absolutely magical. It felt like we were swimming with a million stars. The fish around us would also whip up the blue-green glowing sparkles as they glided effortlessly by us. Our guide advised us that light pollution is the biggest cause for concern for future generations. And we could see the damage first hand…resorts that were cropping up on Vieques up to three miles away from Puerto Mosquito had already taken their toll as we could notice a discernible difference in the amount of phosphorescent dynoflagellates visible on the side of the bay closest to the resort. It was a happy bus ride back to Island Adventures, where we retrieved our jeep and crashed for the night at Bananas.

5 Apr: Our Cape Air flight departed Vieques at 0925 directly to San Juan’s international airport, making it a convenient option for us since our outbound flight to Atlanta left from the same airport. We reluctantly bid farewell to beautiful Vieques, arriving in San Juan at 10 am on a tiny puddle hopper. (The tiny puddle hoppers do ask you how much you weigh…don’t even think about lying as they have a weight scale nearby to confirm if you are a porker or not). We had to claim our baggage and go through the US Department of Agriculture’s inspection before checking in to our Delta flight at 1300. Our past few weeks visiting Puerto Rico were everything we had dreamed of and more…what a fantastic destination. PR truly is our favorite Caribbean destination and next time we’ll go back with our PR friends so we can get off the well traveled tourist trail and enjoy more of Puerto Ricans’ joie de vivre.

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