Oh Puerto Rico….take me back! I had the opportunity last month to travel to Puerto Rico with my best friend, who just so happens to be a native of this commonwealth. After growing up there for several years she moved with some of her family to the good old USA (and thank god she did or we wouldn’t be friends today!). For her 30th birthday she invited a large group of friends to accompany her for a few days of fun in the sun, exploring, and visiting her home. What a way to experience Puerto Rico this was. Having the chance to see a new place from a local’s perspective is always so rewarding. Our five day trip was action packed with scheduled activities that highlighted the best of the tourist spots and local favorites.
It’s unfortunate that not everyone can get a true insider’s look at the culture like our group had when visiting. However; what I can do is bring all of you into our secret circle and share some info on the best of Puerto Rico. Once you are in the loop and you book your trip right after this post (I’m about one inch away from doing it myself) you’ll have your agenda…and menu’s set with this list! I had to include some foodie flavor as well so this countdown is not just reflective of activities. I’ve included some local cuisine musts that you should partake in upon your arrival.
feliz lectura! (Happy Reading)
- Take a plane to the Island of Culebra- This was truly an awesome experience. Culebra is home to one of the world’s most renowned beaches, Flamenco Beach (Discover Channel once dubbed it the 2nd most beautiful beach in the world). The small island is home to many other sunning spots but the white sandy stretch of beach on Flamenco is something to be seen. Culebra can only be reached by ferry or plane and I would highly recommend the plane route. You take a flight that carries eight people and lasts all of 12 minutes to get to the island. The views are breathtaking and it gives you the small plane experience…how often can you say you’ve done that? Once you land most people rent Jeeps or golf carts to navigate the 11 square mile expanse of land. So pack your cooler with a picnic lunch, add in some medalla (we’ll get to these) and bring some sunscreen for your beach day excursion.
- Drink Medalla – Medalla is the “hometown” light beer of choice in Puerto Rico. It’s widely advertised and can be found in every liquor, grocer, and convenience store you pass. While you will find other imported beers, particularly US options like Coors Light and Heineken; I personally enjoy taking in the local culture and drinking what they would.
- Eat Mofungo, Chicharron, Pastelillos and Arroz con Ganudules- While we’re on the topic of doing as the locals do, you should eat like one while you’re there. The diet in Puerto Rico is heavy on pork, rice and plantains. Don’t expect to go and enjoy light and green meals, because you’ll rarely find it. They are known for their deep fried food and while I would not support eating like this every day…it’s entirely worth a few day splurge. Mofungo is a signature dish in Puerto Rico that consists of mashed green plantains topped or stuffed with a protein, often beef, chicken or seafood. Chicharron is fried pork rinds and it’s a salty, succulent treat. Pastelillos are a savory meat turnover. They are virtually the Puerto Rican version of what we know as empanadas. You’ll find them with various fillings but our group favored the beef. Lastly, Arroz con Ganudules is a rice dish with Pidgeon peas that finds itself on many home cooked dinner tables (we had a few of those) and restaurant menus. It’s similar to a Pork Fried Rice but with a slightly different flavor twist.
- Hike El Yunque National Forest- We took one afternoon to drive up the steep mountainside to get to the El Yunque National Forest which is considered a sub-tropical rainforest. There are various trails to take to explore the area. Our host (aka my best friend) took us on her personal favorite. The trail was a little rugged so this is not exactly a casual stroll. But taking in our surroundings, listening to the coquis (tree frogs) and seeing the end result of this particular trail was worth the trek. We came out to a beautiful set of waterfalls where we were able to take photographs, go swimming, and I even saw some people even setting up picnics. After you’re done with the treacherous trail if you’re looking for food I would recommend driving down to The Rum House Bar and Grill. This served us one of my favorite meals of the trip with their Mofungo and Pastelillos (both dishes from this restaurant are pictured above under the local foods to eat).
- Take the Army Truck up to Cerro de Nandy- Cerro de Nandy is a restaurant built into the side of a mountain cliff in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico. This locals hang out is popular for its food and view. It was immediately apparent why once we arrived. Because the restaurant resides in the side of a mountain only certain trucks and 4 wheelers can make it up to the top. If your car doesn’t make the cut they offer a large Army Truck to drive you. Hold your hats and hold on to your seats though…it’s quite a bumpy ride. The view from the top looks out for miles and the casual restaurant serves up beer and food that’s to die for! If you’re looking to experience chicharron or costillas de cerdo (pork ribs), this is the spot! It is certainly swoon worthy.
- Be a Tourist at Castillo San Felipe del Morro in Old San Juan- While you won’t find too many locals roaming around this attraction, it’s definitely worth a day trip. El Morro is a 16th century fort that was built and operated by the Spanish military to defend their port city. The stunning views and historical background make El Morro a must visit destination. In one direction you’ll look out on to the open seas and turning towards the other direction you’ll have a high point view of historic Old San Juan. While I won’t dedicate a whole bullet point to it (my time there was limited) walking around Old San Juan to see the brightly colored houses, trying one of their many restaurants, or checking in to one of the many gift shops would make for a fun extended afternoon in addition to El Morro.
The one activity we did not get to because we were always SO exhausted by the end of the day (you must go at night to observe) was seeing one of the Bioluminescent Bays. There are only five in the world and three just so happen to be in Puerto Rico. Taking a kayak out to see this natural wonder is sure to be an extraordinary experience. I now have a great excuse to go back just for the fact of missing out on this!
I’m sure you’re all now wishing you could hop on a plane this very second. I know I do! I had the trip of a lifetime. Puerto Rico is such a fantastic location because it has such a great variety of culture and relaxation facets to it. Now that you have your to-do list you’ll get to enjoy the best of both the tourist and local worlds.
Adios Amigos…until my next adventure!
…all for the love of the dish