Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Weekends are better with palm trees!

The past two weekends have me convinced that weekends are better with palm trees. First, over MLK Jr. weekend we enjoyed a long weekend in Puerto Rico. We'd been discussing taking a trip as soon as I found out that I had a three-day weekend in January. We'd tossed around a few ideas, all with the idea that we'd cash in some Hilton points from A's travels last year...there's got to be some upside to him spending so many nights in hotels in 2014. Maybe some other time I'll tell you about how we bought a new comforter from the Hilton Home website...We settled on Puerto Rico when we found out my brother and his girlfriend had the same plan...why hello, I'm the creepy older sister!

Without further adieu, some pictures and do's/don't from our trip!

We flew into San Juan directly from Charlotte - quick 3 hour flight and we'd escaped winter! 

We stayed at the Condado Plaza, just outside Old San Juan, and right on the beach! The hotel also had three pools and a swim up bar. Plus, Happy Hour lasted pretty much all day!

DO - use up a bunch of Hilton Honors points to book your hotel and make your husband's crazy travel schedule from 2014 seem worth it!

DON'T - expect a crazy hotel room upgrade. There were 4 cruises leaving from San Juan, so while we were upgraded to a city view room in the updated tower at our hotel, we didn't get an upgrade to an oceanview...no matter, by the time we made it back to the room we were worn out from our adventures!

DO - rent a car and explore Puerto Rico outside of San Juan! The roads are well maintained for the most part and the drivers were much less scary than on some other Caribbean islands we've visited!

DON'T - forget that Puerto Rico's road signs are mostly in Spanish and mix miles and metric distances/speeds, and that they sell gas in liters...we were shocked at their cheapo gas until we realized that they were listing the price per liter!

DO - Keep in mind that lots of things are closed on Sundays and Mondays. Unfortunately we missed out on a couple things we'd hoped to do because they were closed. Most of the bio-bay kayak tours don't operate on Sundays, so the few who do fill up in advance. Some restaurants are closed Monday, and a coffee roastery I'd wanted to visit was closed when we arrived because they were cleaning up from a festival in Old San Juan.

DO - Get up early and get going! We seemed to have a knack for beating most other tourists to a location by 30-60 minutes, meaning that we got to enjoy the sites without fighting our way through.

We rented a car right at our hotel, there was a rental car company on-site. We drove about 30 minutes east and reached El Yunque, the only rainforest in the U.S. National Park system. We  drove along the windy road and stopped to take pictures, climbed one observation tower, and then took a 20 minute hike to La Mina Falls, where we braved the chilly waters to swim under the waterfall. The hike up was a pain because tons of people were just arriving and the path is narrow, so we kept having to take turns with large groups of tourists coming down the path to get to the falls as we were heading back to the car. But, we were happy that we'd been at the falls with a much smaller group!

From the entrance of El Yunque, the town of Luquillo is only about a 10 minute drive. We stopped off at the Luquillo beach kiosks, a strip of about 50 restaurants/bar kiosks between the highway and the beach. We wandered up and down, looking at all of the menus before finally settling on the Ceviche Hut. I got a whole steamed snapper with "salad"

 After our lunch we made a U-Turn and headed to Balneario La Monserrate, a "private" beach just down the road. You pay a little over $4 for parking and then have access to the beach. There's a gorgeous view of the mountains of the rainforest with clouds rolling over, but my pictures didn't do it justice, so you'll just have to go see for yourself!
DON'T - Feel like you have to make hard choices! If you want both a fresh coconut and a Pina Colada in a pineapple with the fruit carved out, have both! You're on vacation! There's a restaurant/grill which serves decently priced drinks. They also have beach equipment rentals at another spot on the beach. We were content to just sit on the sand for a few hours. 
After a long day of hiking and beaching we headed back to our hotel and then to a Puerto Rican restaurant just down the street from our hotel. Our waiter forgot about us! We have a thing for getting epically bad service, so this just made us feel like we were back at home!

On Monday, after grabbing breakfast, we spent most of the day going back and forth from the pool to the beach and back...then to another pool when the sun hid behind the palm trees at the first pool. Mid-afternoon we got cleaned up and headed into Old San Juan where we walked around until our dinner reservations with my brother and his girlfriend (see, I'm not SUPER creepy, at this point we'd all been in Puerto Rico for two days and hadn't seen each other yet!) I love this statue, La Rogativa, in Old San Juan, near the San Juan gate. The story is that a local bishop and group of women staved off a British invasion by parading through the city with torches. The British mistook the religious group as military reinforcements and when the sun came up the next morning, the British ships had retreated.

I woke up to this view on our last morning...

The undertow on the beaches along Condado is crazy! The beach at our hotel was somewhat protected by some large rocks, so lots of people from the area and other hotels flock there to have a more low-key beach experience! Crazy undertow = pretty wave pictures.

DO - try Pina Coladas everywhere you go! We tried them at both restaurants that claim to be the "home" of the Pina Colada...plus several more...scientific research!

DON'T - think that the calls of the coqui frogs coming from the hotels along Ashford Avenue (I'm looking at you La Concha!) are real! They are recorded and piped in! We first encountered the piped in frog song when we walked to dinner at Oceano on the first night.To hear the real coqui frogs, I suggest a day in El Yunque!

It's probably good that we didn't get to do EVERYTHING that we wanted to, because it means we'll have to go back! We enjoyed really great food, fantastic weather, and beautiful scenery. We came back feeling refreshed!

This past weekend we went to Charleston for a charity event that A's company sponsors. It was our second time attending, and it was a great time for an equally great cause. Bill Murray was there! I'll leave you with one last picture in case you're not yet convinced that weekends are betters with palm trees!

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