Stage 1 - San Juan (1 night)
We landed in San Juan in Puerto Rico at 18:30 local time after a one and a half day flight. With a taxi, we reached the center of the old town. We had booked one of the few hotels still available two months before. The hotel was stuck in the 70's for services and furniture but was clean and was in a great location.
We reached a small square full of local and international restaurants. It was all pretty touristy but with more time and more energy, we find some more unique places. The next morning, we wake up early and explore the old city. We had breakfast in a cafeteria. We ate the typical sweet and savory Mallorca, a kind of pancake.
Stage 2 - Fajardo and Isla de Vieques (4 nights)
After a strenuous 20-minute bargaining with a local taxi driver, we were able to check one to get to Fajardo. Fajardo is the place from where all ferries start to the Puerto Rican islands. The ticket price for the Isla de Vieques was cheap, which was $ 2 per person. It was a contradiction as the cost of tourism services were quite expensive in Puerto Rico.
Again, the best rental houses were already occupied well in advance. So we had to book a house about a km from the sea, in the hilly area of the town of Isabel Segunda. The house was very colorful both inside and outside. It is a feature of Puerto Rican homes which leaves warmth and joy in the streets of the island.
To optimize travel we decided to rent a scooter. The choice was apt. Apart from a few brief moments of rain showers, it was always nice and the distances were not excessive. To get to the other side of the island, to the south, it used to take about 25 minutes. To reach the beaches we take the dirt roads that are still viable.
We celebrated the New Year in the square of the citadel. Here had been set up a small stage with live Latin American music. There was an atmosphere of a country fair and some American tourists here and there. We then moved to the town of Esperanza, which we found to be part of the cool island. Here we stopped at a hotel lounge and bar whose design was very special.
The next day we went to one of the coves in the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge and Beaches. The blue beach was a lovely stretch of white sand and the Caribbean Sea. There are small areas for parking cars/bikes before the beach. The shaded areas were sparse with a few palm trees, so if you can, bring an umbrella.
In general, Vieques is very wild but then there were no tourist facilities on the beaches. The services for tourists were few and sometimes not organized. So it is best to book any air transport, trips and tours well in advance. The beaches were not crowded at all even though it was high season. The explanation was that the island offers a few lodging options for tourists.
In the following days, we explored the island passing through the streets. We could appreciate its wild and still unspoiled nature. You will see wild horses and roosters wander along roadsides almost anywhere. This was the peculiarity of the island. Especially characteristic were the roosters singing at dawn. Then the part of the song in surround sound will wake you up. Bring some earplugs if you want uninterrupted sleep!
The northwest side of the island was full of marshes and beaches plagued with tiny gnats. The beaches definitely worth visiting were Pata Prieta, Caracas, and Sun Bay. You can go to the fishmonger at the harbor of Isabel Segunda. They sell lobsters and fresh oily fish in the morning.
For an aperitif or dinner, we recommend you go to Esperanza. Here you'll find many restaurants and bars along the seafront. After four days, it was time to move to Culebra, where we expected the best days of the holiday.
Stage 3 - Isla de Culebra (5 nights)
To reach Culebra, there is a ferry and we had to pass from Fajardo. If you book well in advance flight is much more comfortable from Vieques to Culebra. We stayed at a guesthouse, where we had a room with a sink and refrigerator. The room was basic but the view of Culebra Bay off the balcony was spectacular.
To move around Culebra we rented a golf cart. By paying about $ 35 per day we could enjoy the fresh air and the views from the agile and fast course machine. It has no speed but a powerful engine that allowed us to also take the steep climbs. Culebra is a small island with beaches, that was even more wild and pristine than Vieques. We've often been to white-sand beaches and crystal clear sea completely alone.
In the ones we have visited, Zoni beach was a beautiful long beach in the northeast of the island. Carlos Rosario beach was a short walk in the forest. Tamarindo beach was full of pebbles everywhere. It was very interesting to snorkel for the presence of corals and for the chance to swim with the turtles!
On the day of departure, we showed up at 8:30 at the beach. After a search for 30-40 minutes of swimming between corals and grassy seabed, there it was, found. A sea turtle of about 60 cm long swimming below us. It was enchanting and unforgettable! The advice then is to go early, when there are very few people and turtles are close to the coast.
Special mention needs to made about Flamenco beach. The beach was beautiful with a km of white sand. A bay makes the sea calm and warm. It was full of palm trees providing sun protection. Pelicans fish on the sides of the bay. In short was something unique.
With regard to nightlife, Culebra offers some very nice restaurants beside the sea. Here you can eat for $30-40 each and the atmosphere was cheerful and relaxed.
Stage 4 - Fajardo and surroundings (1 night)
Returning to the main island of Puerto Rico, we stopped near Fajardo. The inn surrounded by tropical forest, with large and very clean and quiet rooms. In the evening we decided to try the group tour by canoe at the Bioluminescent Bay of Fajardo. Here you can admire a unique natural phenomenon of its kind.
In fact, the waters of Laguna Grande is reachable by canoe. The channel winds from the mangrove forest river. It is possible to see small blue fluorescent microorganisms at night. The luminescence is still a wonderful experience. There is a bay that has the same phenomenon of bioluminescence in Vieques (Mosquito Bay).
Stage 5 - Arecibo and around
The next day we headed by car to the observatory with the largest telescope ever built in the world. About 15 km southwest of Arecibo we wanted to take an intermediate step. We visit Parque Nacional de las Cavernas del Río Camuy with natural caves. Unfortunately for us, we found the observatory closed for renovation. We were very upset to be honest because the road was much longer than it would appear from the maps. It is the real Puerto Rico, where small supermarkets, local shops, and modest houses abound.
But the journey had been long. From Fajardo observatory, it took about three hours. We arrived in time for the final round before closing. This tour was very nice with a walk among stalactites and dank caves with light and colors.
From here we reached a mountain retreat in about an hour and a half. There were streets up and down the mountains and forests. In fact here the resort was a place of peace in the countryside. There was a cluster of about twenty wooden bungalows around a brick house. It served as a restaurant and a comfortable pool. With this last note of relaxation in nature then we resumed the next day. from San Juan we take the flight that brought us to true life.
These 12 days divided into 5 stages was unforgettable.