Relaxation and Adventure in Puerto Rico

It’s been a while since my last post because we came back from Italy in November with no idea what 2022 would look like for us. We wanted to get back to international travel but with so much up in the air about Chad’s work (the film) and COVID, it was hard to figure out the best destination. And we had much more packing and moving to do, with a move out of Chad’s parents house (they sold it moved to Florida) and into my parents’ lake house. So we ended up having another extended period of time back in Missouri of nearly four months. This period was marked primarily by lots and lots of work on the film. 

In mid-January, I had a law-of-attraction-type moment when during my morning yoga time I was suddenly struck by the idea that Puerto Rico would be a great winter destination for us right now. It was mentioned in a random travel article I’d read a day or two before, but I happened to check my email and there was a cheap flight’s promo about it too. Seemed meant to be. When I told Chad about my idea later that day, he was into it right away. So we chose Puerto Rico to be the main stay for our abbreviated Leg 9 that would commence toward the end of February.

One reason why Puerto Rico was a good choice for us is it is a U.S. territory, so no COVID test is required to go back to the mainland (or even to come here now, if you’re vaccinated like us). Also, it would allow us to make departure on this leg as flexible as possible, since we could fly Southwest, which I think has the easiest flight changes. And, I found that there was a nonstop flight from the airport nearest Chad’s parents in Florida so that would give us even more flexibility, since we could drive down to their place whenever and leave our car with them. To give added flexibility to our plans, I booked our first five nights here at short-term cancellable Airbnbs, so that if the film required us to stay in Missouri even longer, we could do that. 

Luckily it didn’t come to that and we were able to come and enjoy the five-day adventure I planned for the start of our trip. We didn’t get quite as much time with Chad’s folks as we’d hoped since our departure out of Missouri was slightly delayed, but we’ll be able to spend more time with them in April when we return.

Fajardo

Our first destination was Fajardo, which is only an hour or so away from San Juan, pretty much due east. I knew we’d want beach right away and I was able to book two nights in an Airbnb at the top of a hill that had a sea view, walking distance to nice beaches with opportunities to snorkel (rare in Puerto Rico, where the sea is quite wavy). We arrived in the late afternoon and had a long walk then enjoyed our view and a nice dinner in.

The next day, we left early to go to the beach, walking about three kilometers to the Playa Escondita (secret beach). We had it mostly to ourselves, and though the conditions weren’t good for snorkeling, it was lovely and relaxing. When families started showing up later in the morning, we followed the trail back to the Seven Seas Beach. We dropped our stuff at the far end but didn’t find much snorkeling there. However, others told us they were fish to see by the buoys that were more in line with the middle of the beach, so we swam all the way over and did manage to enjoy some nice snorkeling with coral and interesting fish to see.

After lunch we worked a bit then went to hike at a short trail on the outskirts of the El Yunque National Forest. El Yunque is a tropical rainforest and we enjoyed the short hike down to the river, saw the families enjoying their Saturday afternoon there, and came back with plenty of time to get cleaned up and go out to a nice Puerto Rican dinner.

The day after, it was time to leave, so after a morning of walking, working, and packing, we drove along the western and southern costs of Puerto Rico toward our next destination, Ponce. The highlight of the drive was a beach picnic at Balneario Punta Santiago.

Picnic lunch on the way to Ponce

Ponce

We arrived at Ponce in the later afternoon and immediately fell in love with the site of our Airbnb apartment, which was in a small complex called The Place at the Sea. The complex has six units: three apartments and three parked RVs. It is right on the water’s edge with a beautiful shared outdoor space and plenty of seating to watch pelicans divebomb for fish in the water. We again started our stay with a walk and dinner in. It all felt very tropical.

Our first full day in Ponce, we worked through the morning and then mid-afternoon went out to explore. We wanted to see if there were any good beaches nearby for swimming, but that is not Ponce’s draw. Instead, it’s claim to fame is its 330-year history (though for context, San Juan goes back 500 years) and picturesque old town. It is also a cultural center of Puerto Rico with several quality museums, but most were closed the days we were there. 

We really enjoyed our visit to the Ponce Old Town, walking the streets and admiring the architecture, which we found very similar to New Orleans and Cartagena. A big draw is their old firehouse, La Bombas, and the adjacent park. However, we were a little disappointed that there weren’t a lot of bars and restaurants with inviting-looking outdoor spaces. So we decided to clear out from Old Town and pick up take out to enjoy in the outdoor space of our Airbnb. After all, we wouldn’t find a better sea view anywhere else!

Our final day in Ponce we just worked and relaxed at our Airbnb, fully taking advantage of the fabulous seaside space. Chad even got in some pleasure reading, a rare luxury for him these days! 

We were lucky to be there during their Carnaval celebration (like Mardi Gras in New Orleans), which I didn’t realize until a few days before our arrival. The main activities of the Carnaval are parades that go out into the various neighborhoods each day and that night, Tuesday, the parade came to ours. I knew it would be heading south to the coast but thought we’d have to walk to find it. Instead, we walked right into it, and then Chad realized that if we hurried back to our place, we’d see it from there too. So that was really cool.

El Yunque

On Wednesday, we drove from Ponce to San Juan with a stop at the main part of El Yunque National Forest. The federal government is limiting the number of vehicles that can access it, so reservation is required to get in, but I made ours a couple weeks in advance. It took a little over two hours to drive from Ponce, but the forest is only about an hour from San Juan. We left early so we could arrive before 9:30.

Pretty PR and USA flags on the Teodoro Moscoso Bridge to San Juan

Many of the hiking trails are still closed due to hurricanes and storms (especially the damage from Hurricane Maria), but we hiked what we could before the bigger crowds came mid-day (they let another group of cars in starting at 11 a.m.). We also enjoyed a really nice picnic in the park there. Then we headed on to San Juan to drop off our luggage and then our rental car and then enjoy some walking along the beach while we waited for our Airbnb to be ready for us at 5 p.m.

Summary

It was great to start our time in Puerto Rico with five vacation-y days and the chance to see more of the island than just San Juan. All of the places we visited off the top required a rental car, so wouldn’t be a good longer term choice, but they were really fun to see. Our beginning time in Puerto Rico was a great reset to get us ready for our 30 days in San Juan. 

Fajardo Airbnb Review

It’s a very comfortable little apartment and the view is fantastic. Easy walk to restaurants and the beach. Hector made us feel very welcome and had great communication, including excellent recommendations for during our stay and beyond. It was great to have a parking space. Wifi worked ok in the kitchen-living room. Kitchen met our needs for our short stay. Expectations for check out were clear and easy to follow. We’d love to stay here again. 

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/33370865

Ponce Airbnb Review

The Place at the Sea is a very special place indeed. The shared outdoor space makes this place magical. We loved watching the pelicans. Lots of nice seating for bringing out coffee, meals, and drinks to enjoy with the view. The Almeja apartment is comfortable. Wifi worked well, the kitchen met our needs, good hot water, and it has a comfortable bed. Check-in instructions were very clear and we enjoyed our three days at this Airbnb very much.

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/35352683

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