Exploring Puerto Rico

 

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When my husband and I recently visited Puerto Rico, we made San Juan our home base but took several day trips to explore more of the island. Find my travel tips about Old San Juan here: https://suitcaseenvy.com/2017/01/25/old-san-juan-puerto-rico/ For those looking for a few adventures outside of San Juan, here were some of our favorites:

Cueva del Indio

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Cueva del Indio is a bit off the beaten path. Locals seemed impressed that we had been there and tourists looked at us confused when we mentioned it. Though it came up as a recommendation on a number of travel sites, I can see why tourists might pass it up: we took windy roads much of the way there (I kept promising my husband we were only 10 minutes away) and Google Maps didn’t seem to have any idea where we were going. However, you’ll eventually see signs for Cueva del Indio, and you’ll even pass a few beaches on the way (such as the black sands of Playa La Boca).

Once you arrive, pay $5 cash per person and they’ll tell you where to go. It’s quite possible that there’s another entrance in which you don’t have to pay, though that would have required us to actually know where we were going. The guides will tell you not to take the ladder down into the cave unless you’re confident you can do so. The ladder looks a more than a bit rickety- if you’re afraid of heights, you may decide not to do this part of the trip. I was admittedly a little scared getting on and off the ladder, but insisted on getting down there to see the Indian carvings and the pools of water inside the cave. Wear shoes suitable for getting wet, as there are a couple places where you may need to step onto rocks covered with water to get through. Also, if you choose to get inside the small pool of water inside, leave any valuables elsewhere. My husband had his wedding ring taken away by the strong current (we didn’t spend much on it, though it obviously had sentimental value). The inside of Cueva del Indio is incredible, but even for folks who don’t want to go in, it’s still worth visiting for the phenomenal views you get on top of and nearby the cave.

Also close by is Arecibo, with highlights such as Cueva Ventana, La Poza beach, the Arecibo lighthouse, and the Arecibo Observatory. If hitting more than one of these locations in a day trip, make sure to check the hours of each.

Pictures from La Poza beach, next to the Arecibo lighthouse:

Cueva Ventana

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Cueva Ventana, or the “window cave,” can be found after a 30 minute hike on paths and through caves. In order to get there, you have to take the tour, which is $19 for non-PR residents (or $10 for locals). They’ll make you wear hard hats to protect against bat droppings, which I thought was a funny highlight in and of itself. And yes, you’ll see bats, and potentially some other creepy-crawlies. At the end of the hike, you get to look out Cueva Ventana for a bit. Check out this view:

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El Yunque

El Yunque is a national forest about 30-45 minutes east of San Juan. There’s a visitor’s center shortly after the main entry point that costs $4/person to enter. There are placards with information about the rainforest, a short film, and maps available. I felt like the visitor’s center wasn’t necessary with the exception of getting a map; I recommend just printing a map ahead of time and skipping the visitor center, making this excursion free. El Yunque is busy on a typical late morning or afternoon. If you’re interested in a more secluded rainforest experience, get there early morning (8:00 or so). This is particularly true for the towers, as views are much better before the crowds arrive. Here’s a photo of the map, along with a few notes about the portions we visited:

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Coco Frios (Coconut water in its coconut) are available toward entrance
Las Cabezas Observation Point: just park and look quick
La Coca Falls: directly off the main road
La Coca Trail: short trail that’s more rustic than many of the others
Yokahu Tower: free, offers great views, gets busy in the afternoon
La Mina Falls: take both of the trails because they’re very different. You can get in the falls- it’s cold but worth the experience!
Mt. Britton Tower: these views are even better than the ones from Yokahu Tower and it may be less crowded

BioBay Tour

There are three bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico, one of which is situated in Fajardo. My very non-scientific explanation of a biobay is that there are plankton in the water that light up when it’s dark and when they feel pressure on their cell walls. In other words, if you run your hand (or an ore) through the water, the plankton light up kind of like a sparkler. To increase your chances of witnessing this phenomenon, book a tour when it’s overcast and not during a full moon. Also, bring bug spray to ward against mosquitos and be cautious about taking a camera with you in the boat (the biobay light is very difficult to capture anyway).

The majority of tours are via kayak, though there are also a couple electric boat tours and I even met someone who said they were going on a walking tour of the biobay. I had read before our trip that the two electric boat tours of the Fajardo bioluminescent bay (Bio Island or Baby Bay Cruising) have a few advantages over the kayak tours. This seemed to be true of our experience as well. The kayak tours had much larger numbers of participants, limiting the amount you could hear from the tour guide and slowing the group down to the speed of its most lollygagging members. Also, the electric boats are equipped with a tarp on each side that can help make the plankton more visible.

We were going to go with Baby Bay Cruising but when we arrived they told us that they had overbooked the boat and had to bump us even though we had a reservation. Fortunately, Bio Island had cancellations and let us join their tour last-minute. We were very happy with the tour. The tour guide was knowledgeable, answered our group’s million questions, and pointed out various birds, critters, and sea sponges. The captain was friendly, the tour group was small, and the ride through the canal of mangrove trees was an unexpected highlight. To book a tour with Bio Island, click here.

Before your biobay tour, you may want to check out either Flamenco Beach (via ferry; plan on taking the earliest ferry from Fajardo and scheduling a relatively late biobay tour time), or opt for more low-key Loquillo Beach on the way to Fajardo. We went to Loquillo Beach, which I loved for the hombre effect of the water (clear to light blue to dark blue) and light sand.

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Know of a place I need to explore my next time on the island? Let me know in a comment below!

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