My Secrets to San Juan, Puerto Rico!

It’s good to be back again, guys! As most of you know, April was a crazy month. Aaron and I were going a billion miles per hour between the final weeks of his accounting internship with KPMG in Salt Lake City and our babysitting jobs (best birth control ever!) which made posting here kind of tough. We were ready to slow down — to have him home by 6 o’clock to eat dinner together, to kneel side-by-side for nightly prayers, and to binge watch our favorite Netflix series. That totally didn’t  happen, though. We’ve still been busy but a different type of busy. Within the last three weeks, we have ventured to Washington State, Oregon, California and last the best of all the game: SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO! It was a vacation of a lifetime for us. I’m not a travel expert by any stretch, but if you were to go to Puerto Rico, these are the things I would hope you’d do. I’ve never been to Hawaii, either, but we loved the Puerto Rican island so much that I’m confident enough to say it’s probably just as good – if not better – than Hawaii. For one thing, flights were cheaper (still poor college students, here), so if you’re at all interested in traveling, read away and I bet you’ll be convinced Puerto Rico is the best of the best.

Airbnb, once again, knocked it out of the park for us! Aaron found a small condominium in San Juan that was located in a residential area. It was a 10 minute drive to Old San Juan (Thank you, Uber!) and an easy walk to the beach or local market. Our condo had everything we needed: a bed, a couch, a fridge, a bathroom, and a T.V. For $40 a night, we got a great deal!

Keep in mind, though: always have the air conditioning on full blast. The humidity will melt ya! Not far from where we stayed, there’s a little beach where tourists and locals can rent kayaks or paddle boards for $20. We were one in three groups on the water so it still felt as if we had the entire bay to ourselves. We had incredible views of the city, too. I wish you could have seen them!

Might I also mention the famous landmarks of historical importance to the Puerto Rican island and the Caribbean.  You can walk into castles, forts, mansions, churches, pass by elegant statues, and the most colorful buildings you’ll ever see.

 

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THE FOOD.  I could talk about their food for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t classify myself as an “adventurous eater”; I like to stick with my peanut butter and jelly sandwich with apple slices but when you’re somewhere as neat as this island, you can’t help but experience all of their traditions! Aaron found what is called the “Flavors Food Tour of Old San Juan.” We met our tour guide in the city with two other touring couples, one from India and the other from Cincinnati, and walked restaurant to restaurant indulging in their famous dishes.

We can’t remember what this appetizer is called but HOLY COW. They were mouth watering. Those round donut-hole looking things taste similar to a mashed potato but with Puerto Rican spices and sauce. Next to those is an eggplant with vegetables and meat.
I’m a Utah girl who has never tasted a Pina Colada (no rum). Gosh it was refreshing in the sticky humid heat!
Senor Paleta means “Senior Popsicle.” Our tour guide, Carmen, took us to this tasty treat where they serve over 20 different flavors. We were given the flavor of the day which was a strawberry mint. Yummy, but eat it quick or it melts all over you!
Puerto Ricans know how to eat pastries! La Mallorca is a sandwich they eat for either breakfast, lunch, or dinner but it’s not just a ham & cheese sandwich like we eat in America. They bake it using a sweet roll, ham, and cheese but panini style sprinkled with powdered sugar. Although I wasn’t sure how I’d like it, the salty, sweet, and savory combination was remarkable.
Mofongo is a dish we ate at least 4 times on our trip. Need I say more?
I have yet to travel to Italy, but this dish seemed to be totally authentic! There’s nothing like this kind of Alfredo in Utah!
We ate Alcapurria’s as a side to every meal. Even though I call it something different each time I mention it (Spanish is hard to remember!) it was my ultimate favorite. It’s a twice fried green banana filled with chopped meat like corn beef or sea food. They are one of the many dishes sold at food stands on the streets and basically every restaurant.
All the locals kept telling us, “Try hot chocolate… the Puerto Rican way!” We had no clue what that meant but we heard about it so many times we figured we should try it. Puerto Rico makes their own chocolate from the cocoa beans and they place squares of it in a mug of boiled water or milk. Once the chocolate melts, you wouldn’t believe what they do next: they melt in some CHEDDAR CHEESE along with it! It sounds bizarre, I know, but it is actually tasty! The stringy cheese was definitely a new sensation to experience in my mouth with warm, creamy, chocolate but I’d definitely order it again.

Everything in San Juan was amazing – the paddle boarding, snorkeling, the spa – but it’s safe to say that the rain forest was our highlight. We booked an eleven hour tour through the El Yunque rain forest where our tour van picked us up bright and early (bright and early means 9:30 a.m but that’s early on a vacation). It took about an hour, maybe more, to get to the visitors center where our guide explained exactly where we were going and what we were doing. First, we hiked. The trees, the smells, the plants, the insects — all of it was breathtaking.

What I found funny is our tour guide was totally talking up these hikes of how hard they were. She pointed out on the map how the hikes we were on were “red” — meaning they were the hardest in elevation, length, and inclination. However, to us native Utahan’s, it was more of a casual walk. Definitely take water since it’s so hot, but if you’re used to the outdoors, I wouldn’t worry much about these hikes at all. We loaded up in our tour van and were driven to the next best thing: ROPE SWINGING IN THE EL YUNQUE RAIN FOREST! I was afraid of all the schools of tiny little fish but I wasn’t afraid of this. Sometimes I surprise myself.

 

Later that same night, our group kayaked in the bioluminescent bay. Our kayaks were glass-bottomed so you could see everything that swam underneath you. We paddled 1.5 miles into a big, beautiful lagoon where we were able to explore the water. Once it became dark enough, our guides helped us come side-by-side. We held onto each other kayaks as they lifted a gigantic tarp over the group of us (it needs to be dark as night in order to see the glowing plankton). If you dip your hand in the water and flap it around a few times, you will see glows of yellow, blue, green, orange, and red. I’ve never seen anything like it! It was absolutely incredible. The ride back was pretty scary, since it’s completely dark and you have to trust your partner and your guide of where you’re going, but we had a blast and would certainly kayak through the bio-bay again and again and again. My only suggestion: take a head lamp. It’ll totally make your husband’s job on the way back to shore so much easier!

We are so grateful we had the chance to spend a week on such a wonderful island. I’m counting down the years until we can go back.

Happy traveling!

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