March 27- April 3, 2021 - Family of 4 (two active teenage boys)
Covid stuff - we did 2 tests, the Vault online one and a local one at our clinic. The Vault one was a lot of work and we got something messed up so only 3 out of 4 of us could do it. It took a whole lot more time and effort than going to the drive through clinic. Got our results there in 4 hours. Our Walgreen's didn't have the right kind of test. Airport was pretty easy they guide you where you need to go, you show your QR code and you are out. Took less than 5 minutes. Everyone masks up when walking around, on tours and especially if you are near any police, except on the beaches, we saw very few wearing masks. You get your temperature checked and a squirt of hand sanitizer in every building you go into. One restaurant even had us stand on an alcohol laced mat.
Car rental - we went with Enterprise, it was very smooth, quick and easy, Right outside the airport door. They even let us pay them for the $200 parking ticket for parking in the wrong at the beach...ugh!
Accommodation - Airbnb for the win again! I did a ton of research and we decided we wanted to be in Luquillo. We were 2 blocks from Playa Azul perfect for my teens who love decent sized waves to jump in, boogie board etc.; 15 minute walk to Luquillo beach, busy but super calm and then from there another 3 minutes to the 50+ Kiosks (kioskos) with a huge variety of restaurants and a few shops. It wasn't too crazy of a party town, but lots of amenities nearby. Plus close to Fajardo, the El Yunque Rainforest entrance and the ATV adventure we went on.
Food: Our top 2 kioskos were La Parilla and Terrano. We also had a fantastic meal at Brass Cactus in Luquillo. Our favorite food activity was our Food Tour with Flavors of San Juan. It was a way for our teenage boys to see and hear a little bit about Old San Juan instead of being dragged around by parents and eat at the same time!!! It was well worth the price plus we got to make our own Mojitos! Antique Bakery in Luquillo to die for!!! We went to a local grocery store and got lots of fun grocery/gifts to bring home - Guava butter, passion fruit juice and plantain chips to name a few.
Activities and Adventures: We tried to do one thing a day.
Day 1 - beach day at Luquillo beach - wear sunscreen! It may only say 82F but it feels warmer! We got a couple bites so some bug repellent on the ankles and sitting in a chair is advised. This is the calm beach, great for families and kids.
Day 2 - Old San Juan - 45 min drive from Luquillo, parked in Dona Fela lot which was perfect. If you wanted to do a good tour of Old San Juan and hit all the historical spots I think you'd need 2 days. We covered quite a bit with the Food Tour and then on our own after we went to the San Juan Basilica and the Castillo San Felipe del Morro - it a National Historic Site so if you have a National Parks pass bring it for free and pass the line entry. On the way up or down to the Fort there are 2 stops you shouldn't miss - if you like cats, stop by the Save a Gato cat sanctuary area; if someone is there you can by buttons, stickers and shirts. Then a lady sells bird seed to feed the pigeons near the Capilla del Santo Cristo de la Salud, it's a crazy photo opp. Bring wet wipes! Also near there is Calle Del Cristo an umbrella/kite street. Best sweet eats in Old San Juan - passion fruit popsicles at Senor Paleta; any gelato at Anita La Mamma; and just to say you did try the hot chocolate and cheese at Chocobar stirred with a churro. Best food at Vaca Brava - our first taste of Mofongo was great here!
Day 3 - I got up at 730 am the day before, logged into the National parks site and had my finger on the refresh button for 10 minutes before 8 am PR time to get tickets to El Yunque. It worked! I tested it our before we got to PR and saw that tickets sell out in 1 minute so if you didn't get them a month in advance when they get releases at 8 am (for the 8 - 11 am entry) and 12 pm (for the 1 - 3 pm entry) then this is your only hope! And you do not want to miss it!!! PS closing times vary on websites, the park rangers told us 5 pm closing. The flora and bit of fauna and hikes the history and the rain! It's wet, slick and well worth it! We hiked up to Mt. Britton tower, El Yunque rock and El Yunque peak. I'm 52 and fairly fit. It's a moderate hike, it took us 3 hours up and down from the Mt. Britton trailhead parking lot. Do a bit of research about what you are looking at as there are few to no signs. It rained a ton, and not always little rain, like rainforest downpour rain. A raincoat would have been nice but it's warmish rain. Cloudy so we couldn't see into the distance but still well worth it. Legs killed for a few days afterwards!!!
We swam for a bit at 7 Seas beach in Fajardo because I wanted to snorkel. Use fins because you have to swim out a bit past the beach. Life Jacket too if you are not a strong swimmer. There's a little floaty white buoy that marks a reef out there. It was alright for a snorkeling fix. Some conch, fish, urchins etc.
That night we did a Bioluminescent night Bay tour in Fajardo. We loved it. It looks like nothing you see in the blue glowing internet pictures it's more like Tinkerbell pixie dust. Still so wild! We went with Island Kayaking Adventure and they were fantastic. 2 per kayak, we did the late one 830 pm start which was great but all dark all the time. Recommend the earlier one so you can catch a bit of sunset. You just follow along behind everyone's little glow sticks on the kayaks through a neat mangrove river. If you have any issues there are 3 guides to help you out or tug you along. Wearing some bug repellent might be a good idea, we didn't get swarmed but the potential is there.
Day 4 - I had originally bought, a couple weeks in advance, 4 ferry tickets to Vieques as I saw them come up and heard how hard they were to get. I only bought them for a day trip $10 each return. After more research it seemed like a huge pain - you might not get on, you have to be there an hour early, no easy transportation on Vieques, we decided to give it a pass. Live and learn...and if someone wants to open a Tourist Ferry service to Vieques and Culebra that is on time with transport to some beaches you'll make a killing! We tried to pay someone, anyone to water taxi us over to some closer smaller islands but we found none interested in making a few bucks. I called and texted the guy people recommended on here with no response. We had a great breakfast at Dulce Aroma in Fajardo; shopped a bit looking to rent or buy a surf board (no luck and another business to open); some beach time; and ate a fabulous lobster feast at La Parilla in the kioskos.
Day 5 - way fun ATV adventure at Carabali Rainforest Adventure Park. Real nice, well organized place. We did the hour tour, I'm sure my boys would have liked more but this mama was good after an hour for her first try. Our guide Ray recommended Terruna in the Kioskos - 2 tips: always go with locals suggestions and call first, for anything, to see if they are open. Live music made the night extra special (and it wasn't karaoke!)
Day 6 - It doesn't seem well advertised but for a quickie snorkeling adventure the Escambron Marine Park fit the bill. Find a map of the park online so you know which spots to hit. Side walls, sunken statues and rock areas. It's in an enclosed bay so great for beginners, they had lots of lessons going on. In the afternoon, we visited friends that live on the island in the Ritz Carleton resort out in Dorado. This looks like the closest thing to an all inclusive on the island. Not sure if they offer day passes but lots of things to keep you busy out here. I really wanted to try the kite surfing and it looks like a golfers paradise. One of the best meals we had on the island was at the Brass Cactus in Luquillo that night.
You have heard mostly Pros about our trip because we were very happy with most things and we highly recommend a visit to this fabulous US territory! US dollars, Verizon worked just fine there, most speak at least a bit of English and my rudimentary Spanish was appreciated. The other things were mostly inconveniences. The cleanliness all over needs to be worked on, beaches for the most part were clean; be aware of broken glass and garbage. If businesses, especially bars, would send out a cleaner to do a 1 block radius around their businesses before they open each day that would help a ton. Work ethic we have heard and seen is a problem and we did notice a really wide range of service. Especially at restaurants and tourist facilities/industries in some places they need to up their game. You are on vacation so chilling out is a good mantra to have sometimes. It rains, not much you can do about it but be flexible and prepared. We went from one beach in the rain to another in the sun one day. Whatever works!
I hope this helped. If you have questions let 'em rip! Happy Easter!