Monday, June 12, 2017

Travel Story in Puerto Rico

The choice of Puerto Rico as a destination of our journey was rather random, driven by friends who were planning to go on a holiday of the Caribbean islands. After nearly two weeks on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico, we now have very many elements which we hope will be useful for a possible trip to this place. The purpose of the trip was a relaxing holiday in the sun, off the beaten tourist tracks.

Stage 1 - San Juan (1 night)

Departing from India, with a stopover in London for four hours, 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, where we had booked one of the few hotels still available two months before in a hotel stuck in the 70's for services and furniture but was clean and in a great location.

We have taken two steps for the quarter and reached a small square full of local and international restaurants, 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 where we ate the typical sweet and savory Mallorca, a kind of pancake, that is highly recommended!

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, the place from where all ferries start to the Puerto Rican islands. The ticket price for the Isla de Vieques was incredibly cheap, which was $ 2 per person and was a contradiction than the cost of tourism services that 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 1 km from the sea, in the hilly area of the town of Isabel Segunda. The house was very colorful both inside and outside, 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, however, was apt because, 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. The three main roads were paved, but to reach the beaches you need to take the dirt roads that are still viable with the motor.

We celebrated the New Year in the square of the citadel, where had been set up a small stage with live Latin American music, peppered with the 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, specifically the blue beach, a lovely stretch of white sand and the Caribbean Sea. There are small areas for parking cars/bikes just 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 and then typically there were no tourist facilities on the beaches. The services for tourists were few and sometimes poorly organized, so it is best to book any air transport, trips and tours well in advance. Another feature that impressed us was that the beaches were not crowded at all even though it was high season. The explanation is that the island truly offers a few lodging options for tourists and it then limits the number.

In the following days, we explored the island passing through the streets along which we could fully appreciate its wild and still largely unspoiled nature. You will see wild horses and roosters wander lazily along roadsides almost anywhere. This was the peculiarity of the island. Especially characteristic were the roosters singing at dawn, when the part of the song festival in surround sound will wake you up inexorably. Bring some earplugs if you want uninterrupted sleep!

The northwest side of the island was full of marshes and beaches and was plagued with tiny gnats. The beaches definitely worth visiting were Pata Prieta, Caracas and Sun Bay, all on the south side of the island. We suggest you go to the fishmonger at the harbor of Isabel Segunda, selling lobsters and fresh oily fish in the morning.

For an aperitif or dinner, we recommend you go to Esperanza where you'll find many restaurants and bars along the seafront. After four days of sunshine and beautiful beaches, 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 and in about 15 minutes you are already in the other island! Obviously, it has to be booked in advance, especially during high season. We stayed at a guesthouse, where we had a room with a sink and refrigerator. The room was fairly 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, that 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 just a short walk in the forest and Tamarindo beach was filled with pebbles everywhere. However, it was very interesting to snorkel for the presence of numerous corals and for the chance to swim with the turtles!

Just on the day of departure, we showed up at 8:30 at the beach and 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 which was defined in numerous guides as one of the best beaches in the world. The beach was really beautiful with a kilometre of white sand, a bay which makes the sea calm and warm, that was full of palm trees providing sun protection, and pelicans fishing on the sides of the bay and in short was something unique, but unfortunately we cannot say that it was unspoiled like the others.

With regard to nightlife, Culebra offers some very nice restaurants beside the sea where 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 at an inn surrounded by tropical forest, with moderately 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 where you can admire a unique natural phenomenon of its kind. In fact, in the waters of Laguna Grande that is reachable by canoe through a wound channel from the mangrove forest river, it is possible to see at night small blue fluorescent microorganisms.

At the hotel, they advised us to book to go to the meeting point of the agencies that organize this type of activity at the harbor town of Las Croabas, and the ride costs about $ 50 apiece. They are usually offered two hours for the tour, at 17:30 or at 19:30. Definitely, we recommend going in the first round to get a little light as it crosses the canal canoe and reached the lagoon in about 30 minutes when the sun is setting.

Fluorescence is seen only when it's very dark, but the agency was equipped with a cloth that I put on the canoe and darken even more around our boat and see these tiny organisms in fluorescent light. The luminescence is unfortunately much diminished in recent years but it 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 before visiting Parque Nacional de las Cavernas del Río Camuy with natural caves. Unfortunately for us we had not checked the site and 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. However, we feel 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, and from there to the park of the caves about another hour. We arrived just in time for the final round before closing around 16:00. Fortunately, 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, again with streets up and down the mountains and forests. In fact here the resort was undoubtedly a place of peace in the countryside with a cluster of about twenty wooden bungalows around a brick house, which served as a restaurant, and a comfortable pool. With this last note of relaxation in nature then we resumed the next day, on our return trip to San Juan to take the flight that brought us to true life.

These 12 days divided into 5 stages was unforgettable, being able to know enough about Puerto Rico and its natural wonders, without sacrificing the relaxation of a vacation in the Caribbean islands.