Hola amigos! This is coming to you LIVE from San Juan, Puerto Rico!
We’ve been enjoying a taste of “la vida loca” since Wednesday. We always spend Thanksgiving away from home, and often it’s in Vegas. But since we were there in July and will return in January, I had to find another destination. It’s a tough job planning vacations, but someone’s gotta do it! 😉
The usual suspects of San Francisco and New Orleans were out. We were in San Francisco in 2007 and will likely be there next year for a reunion of my high school barkada. And we were in ‘Nawlins last March. Time for something new!
Since I still often think about our 2006 trip to Spain, it occurred to me that there’s a bit of Spain in Puerto Rico and so I started researching that. Planning months in advance provides me an edge in digging out the deals. And I found them…
I sniffed out roundtrip airfare for $150 each. (But I was a bit p.o.’ed to see the fare drop $15 each way recently, especially since ours was non-refundable.) And after seeing what typical hotel rates were, I went with renting a condo. Just $670 for eight nights, including about $100 for taxes and cleaning fee.
We’re right on the beach in the main tourist area of Condado, a sort of isthmus with the Atlantic on the north and a lagoon to the south, which widens to Old San Juan on the west. Check out our condo!
We arrived on Wednesday after a two hour flight from Orlando. Leaving from Orlando had a special benefit besides price. We’re returning Thanksgiving Day, which means we’ll be able to visit at least two, maybe three outlet malls on Black Friday before heading home. Plus the Ikea which opened within the last year. (Check out their restaurant deals!)
After checking into the condo, we explored the surrounding area. There’s a Walgreens a block from us and Susie picked up a few 2-liter Pepsi’s while the price was right (99 cents). The cyber cafe I’m at is three doors down from the Walgreens. All sorts of restaurants are on either side of the main drag, from U.S. fast food chains to local places.
Our guidebook said that Subway (which is all over this city) has an excellent cafe con leche and they were right. But I picked up some fine, strong local coffee to brew in the condo each morning before we leave.
Thursday, we explored historic Old San Juan. This is where the cruise ships come in, so you know there’s lots of tourista temptations. Of course there’s a Hard Rock here and I picked up a hat pin using some funds on my Hard Rock access card. There’s also an outpost of the Carribbean answer to Hard Rock – Senor Frog.
At the western edge of Old San Juan, at the end of the finger, is the El Morro fortress. With walls 140 feet high and six levels, it’s a U.N. World Heritage site which was never taken (nor was the fortress Castillo de san Marco in St. Augustine). We spent about an hour explorng that.
Another U.N. World Heritage site is San Cristobal fortress, larger than El Morro and considered the West Indies Gibraltar of its era. We’ll check that outwhen we return to Old Ssan Juan Monday. (If I’d thought to bring the annual parks pass we picked up when we were in southern Utah in July, I’d have saved the $10 admission fee.)
Friday,we walked a very long lop which took us through a commerical area (Ponce de Leon Street) in Santurce and then to the mercado (market). I bought a huge, very green mango which I ate half of that evening. I’m saving the other half for another day. If only I had some rice to accompany that green mango…. We ended the loop by walking to the eastern area of where our condo is. We passed the PR Museum of Art and learned it’s free on Wednesday after 2.
That evening, we checked out the casino at the La Concha resort a few blocks from us. There was free dinner and drinks to celebrate somehting. We porked down 😉 some roasted pork chunks with onions and rice. The drinks were a local favorite whose name I can’t recall. We each had three and were feeling very laid back.
Saturday, we rented a car to visit historic Ponce. Located on the south end, it’s the island’s second largest city. It’s about two hours from San Juan. We spent all our time there around the old plaza.
There’s a pedestrian mall where we found a few good deals. Susie found a very colorful embroidered top for $8 and I found a blue leather belt for $3.
Lunch was at a small cafe a block from the plaza. Susie had what is probably a very authentic “criollo” plate of meat pie: seasoned ground beef with fried bananas mixed in and over rice. I went with a more mundane plate of roasted chicken chunks over yellow rice and red beans with fried bananas. That was washed down with Coco Rico – a sort of Sprite with coconut juice. Dessert was about a half pint of very fine mango sorbet from King’s, probably Puerto Rico’s finest ice cream, which is made in front of you.
Sunday, we’re drivnig about 30 miles southeast to explore and hike in El Yunque, a 28,000 acre rainforest. On the return, we’ll check out Luquillo Beach, called the “Sun Capital” of the island. Located on the eastern end of Puerto Rico, it’s not the beach I’m interested. It’s the popular roadside food stands which offer lots of “local” food at low prices. Muy bien!
Monday is back to Old San Juan. Tuesday and Wednesday are open. I may rent a car again on Wednesday to drive west along the coast. We can drop the car at the airport Thursday and save about $20 cab fare, so the incremental cost would only be about $15.
That’s Old San Juan on the left, with El Morro fortress at the tip where the green is. Our condo is at the far right, on the brown beach area to the right of where it says “Laguna del Condado.”
As usual, I’ll post photos and a summary trip report when we return. Hopefully, I can do that by the end of February.
Forget that turkey bird for Thanksgiving. Anthony Bourdain has proclaimed Pinoy lechon as the #1 pig in Aisa! Don’t worry about not understanding Tagalaog. Once past the H1N1 portion in the first minute, you’ll get the gist of it.