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Wordless Wednesday: Plazuela de La Rogativa

Plazuela de La Rogativa

Touring Old San Juan

Old San Juan city wallsThe night before we left Vieques, we checked what time our rental car on the mainland had to be returned and realized that with the ferry ride and the drive back to the airport, we were cutting it very close. We tried to push our return time back, but the car was due to be rented out again shortly after we returned it. The ferry from Vieques ended up being delayed and we were worried the whole drive back to the airport. We ended up returning the car an hour and a half late. Luckily, they were very understanding and didn’t even charge us any extra. If you are visiting Puerto Rico and are looking for a reasonably priced car rental, check out AquiCoqui car sharing. It worked well for us!

We dropped off the car, but our time in Puerto Rico wasn’t over. We still had two days left to explore Old San Juan and that is not a city where you need a car to get around. We dropped off the rental car at the airport and took an Uber into the city.

To kill time until our Airbnb was ready, we hung out at Chocobar Cortés, a unique restaurant where every dish contains chocolate. We enjoyed it so much, we went back the next morning to try their breakfast! Chocolate Cortés has been making bean-to-bar chocolate since 1929. They opened their first restaurant in 2014 in Old San Juan and have since opened up additional restaurants in the Bronx and Condado. If you are looking for a unique restaurant in Old San Juan, I recommend you check it out, but beware that the wait can be long at times.

Even though this was our third time in Old San Juan, we wanted to get to know the city a little better so we took a Free Walking Tour. We discovered free walking tours in Europe and they are a great way to get to know the city without having to spend a lot of money on a tour. Just to be clear, free walking tours are not totally free. Participants are expected to tip what they think the tour was worth. Our guide took us around the city to places we had been before but we also got to see some new parts and we learned a lot about the history.

Interior of San Juan CathedralOne place we got to explore on the tour was the Cathedral of Old San Juan, the oldest cathedral in the United States. The original cathedral was built in 1521. That building was destroyed by a hurricane and was rebuilt beginning in 1535 but was not completed until 1802. The beautiful cathedral contains the tomb of the explorer and founder of San Juan, Juan Ponce de León.

After our tour, we took some time walking Paseo del Morro, which goes around Castillo del Morro. One interesting thing about this area is that it is home to a cat rescue called Save a Gato. We spent our time walking the path and photographing the cats for the rescue so they could find homes for the cats. The National Park Service recently announced a plan to try to remove the cats from fort grounds so Save a Gato can use all the help it can get. To learn more about the organization, visit Saveagato.org.

One of the cats of El Morro

Thanks for stopping by! Check out our NEW Go See Do Explore Podcast, available wherever you listen to podcasts. To read more about our time in Puerto Rico, check out my Circle Tour of the Island. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page.

Mosquito Bioluminescent Bay – Vieques

Photo by Kevin Wolf on Unsplash

Some of the links below are affiliate links and as such, I earn a small commission from purchases that allow me to continue telling you my stories without costing you anything extra. 

Mosquito Bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico is known as the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world. When we ironed out our plans for our recent trip to Puerto Rico, I made reservations for our kayaking tour to experience the bay right away. While we were getting ready to board the ferry to Vieques, Chris asked me when our tour was,  and I discovered that I booked our tour for the day after we arrived back on the Puerto Rican mainland. I quickly logged on to Viator to see if I could find another tour with availability. Luckily, I was able to find a tour with availability, but it wasn’t with the highly-rated tour company I had originally booked with.

We did a bioluminescent bay tour in Fajardo, in mainland Puerto Rico on our previous trip to the island. We enjoyed the evening paddle through the mangroves, but the bioluminescence experience was underwhelming. On that trip, we met our guide at a beach in Fajardo, we hopped in our kayaks and paddled into the bio-bay. In Vieques, the experience was a little different. Our guide picked us up in the town of Esperanza, crammed us into a rickety van, and drove without speaking to a pitch-dark parking lot where we stood in the mud waiting for someone to tell us what to do (remember, this was not one of the highly rated bio-bay tour companies).’

Eventually, a guide showed up and started directing us where to go. We ended up being the first in our group to get into a kayak. We sat down, paddled away from the shore, and immediately we saw the water light up. Our guide took us to the middle of the bay where we got time to explore this light-up water phenomenon on our own. We could see the fish, stingrays, and maybe even sharks swimming beneath us because the water glowed when they moved. It was an incredible experience, unlike anything I had ever seen before. Words and photos do not do it justice.

This bioluminescent bay is heavily protected because chemicals on our skins and in boat motors will kill the dinoflagellates that cause the water to glow. Swimming and gas-powered motors are not allowed in the bay. The only way to see it is by kaya with a licensed guide. The area is also protected from light pollution. There are not many streetlights near the bay and the ones that are nearby have red lights instead of white.

Overall, the transportation to the bay on our tour left something to be desired, but once we got out of the water, it was an unforgettable experience. It is a must-do if you are visiting Vieques, and if you are planning a longer stay on the Puerto Rican mainland, I recommend you plan a night in Vieques, just to see the bio bay. I recommend this highly-rated tour that we had originally booked on Viator, not the one we ended up on.

Thanks for stopping by! Check out our NEW Go See Do Explore Podcast, available wherever you listen to podcasts. To read more about our time in Puerto Rico, check out my Circle Tour of the Island. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Playa Negra

Visiting Vieques

Sunset from Playa Punta Arenas

After our time in Rincon was complete, we headed back across the island to catch the ferry to Vieques. Vieques is an island off the east coast of Puerto Rico and is popular with beachgoers and those looking to see the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world. Vieques is accessible by ferry from Cieba, just south of Fajardo. We bought our $2 ferry tickets online about a month in advance so when we got to Cieba, we parked our car and waited for our time to board.

Wild Horses of ViequsThe ferry ride to Vieques was a little rough but it wasn’t long before we were docked on the island of Vieques. We booked a Jeep from Coqui Car Rental, which was a short walk from the ferry terminal. We picked up our vehicle that was ready for the rough roads the island is known for, dropped off our bags at our Airbnb, and went out to explore the island. We quickly discovered that maneuvering our big Jeep through the narrow roads of Isabel Segunda was a challenge, but we ended up needing the off-road capacity the Jeep provided later on in our exploration of the island. I was surprised by how many wild horses roam the island (left).

Playa Negra

We downloaded a Vieques History Audio Tour that helped get us acquainted with the island and its history. The tour took us from near the ferry terminal in Isabel Segunda to the sugar mill ruins, the breakwater, the lighthouse, and the black sand beach. The black sand beach on Vieques is unique because the island is not volcanic. If you have seen the black sand beaches in Hawaii (or in our case, the Azores), this is different because the beach is mostly normal beige sand with black streaks. Those streaks are tiny magnetic rocks (mostly magnetite). The brown sand gets pulled out to sea with the waves, but the black sand stays behind. It’s a very unique sight to behold. The black sand beach is accessible from the road by a trail that runs along a creek bed, so waterproof shoes are a good idea if you plan to make the trek. The beach is very rocky and not recommended for swimming.

One of the things we learned on the audio tour is that three-quarters of the island is inaccessible because for 60 years the U.S. Navy used it as a live-fire range and it is full of unexploded ordinances. In 1999 a local man was killed in an off-target bombing and the people of Vieques lobbied global human rights forums to end the bombing on the island. In the early 2000s, the weapons training area was shut down and the land was transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which is working on cleaning up the residual bombs.

After exploring the island, I wanted to experience the sunset on the westernmost beach on the island, Playa Punta Arenas which is located in Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. We climbed in the Jeep and were jostled over the rough dirt roads in the park. Prepared for a lot of people jostling for the best sunset spot on the island on New Year’s Day, we parked and were shocked to find that there was no one else around except for hermit crabs on the beach. I still can’t believe how serene that experience was (top)!

If you are looking to have a pristine Caribbean beach all to yourself, consider a trip to Vieques. What it lacks in amenities, it makes up for natural beauty. Be sure to check back next week when I detail our experience in Vieques’ bioluminescent bay! Thanks for stopping by! To read more about our time in Puerto Rico, check out my Circle Tour of the Island. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. To read campground reviews check out my Michigan Campground Reviews page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Cafe Lareño

View from Cafe Lareño

Puerto Rican Coffee Experience

Latte at Cafe Lareño

After our experience trying to visit a coffee hacienda on our last trip to Puerto Rico, we still wanted to have the experience but were nervous about what road conditions we might find along the way. I did a lot of research before this trip into coffee haciendas around the island and compared them to our schedule. We ended up deciding to visit Cafe Lareño in Lares because it seemed like it was close to the main roads and was only an hour and 15-minute drive from Rincon.

Of course, Google took us off the main roads and through some twisty mountain roads, but the views were breathtaking and none of them seemed to disappear out from in front of us. We made it to Lares and the coffee shop and it seemed to be nestled in the rainforest. I don’t think I have ever enjoyed coffee with a better view before in my life (left). And it was some of the best coffee I had ever had in my life. Of course, we brought some home, but it wasn’t as good when you weren’t watching them sorting the beans below you (below).

Sorting beans at Cafe Lareño

While we didn’t get a tour of the coffee plantation, honestly, I was entirely happy with our decision to visit Cafe Lareño. If you are visiting Puerto Rico and are loooking for good coffee in a beautiful setting, look no further than Cafe Lareño.

Ice cream choices at Heladaria Lares

After our afternoon pick-me-up, we discovered that there is a famous ice cream shop (heladeria) in Lares that is known for its unique flavor options. It was tricky driving into town because all of the roads seemed to be closed, but eventually, we made it. The line was out of the door on a weekday so we knew that was a good sign. Once we got in the shop and saw all the flavors, it was hard to choose. I ended up with Maiz (corn) and Piña (pineapple). Chris was a little braver and got Batata (sweet potato) and Arroz con salchichas (rice with sausage). The ice cream was very good and unlike anything I had ever had before. Chris said his was good but sausages in ice cream are strange and he wouldn’t order it again.

Ice cream at Heladeria LaresOverall, we had a fun culinary adventure in Lares, Puerto Rico. One thing to note is that Spanish was spoken almost exclusively in both the coffee shop and the ice cream shop. Most places in tourist areas of Puerto Rico have menus in Spanish and English and servers typically speak English. That was not the case in Lares or in many of the little towns we visited.  If you do not have basic Spanish, Google Translate will help you a lot, especially when deciding on your ice cream flavor (Maiz y Piña, por favor)! You can prepare for your trip by practicing Spanish with apps like Duolingo as well.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about our time in Puerto Rico, check out my Circle Tour of the Island. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. To read campground reviews check out my Michigan Campground Reviews page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Tres Palmas

Tres Palmas Marine Reserve

Snorkeling Puerto Rico

Tres Palmas Marine Reserve
Some of the links below are affiliate links and as such, I earn a small commission from purchases that allow me to continue telling you my stories without costing you anything extra.

Tres Palmas Marine Reserve in Rincon on the west side of Puerto Rico is a popular snorkeling destination on the island. We booked our snorkeling tour through Rincon Diving and Snorkeling. We met at their shop where they gave us a safety talk and explained all of the marine life that we may see. As someone who wears glasses, probably one of the best things about this tour is that they had magnifying goggles that were included in our rental. I have never been able to see so well while snorkeling. It was amazing!

After our instruction, we headed to Steps Beach and geared up for our snorkeling adventure. It was tricky getting the fins on while the waves moved us around, but eventually, we were ready to explore. Tres Palmas is a great location for beach snorkeling because of its proximity to the reef. It is an easy swim from the beach to the reef. The water was pretty calm and we saw a lot of fish and unique coral formations. Our guide was very knowledgeable about the reef and the creatures that call it home.

Elkhorn Coral at Tres Palmas Marine Reserve

The Tres Palmas Marine Reserve was founded mainly to protect the Elkhorn Coral (above). Elkhorn Coral is a fast growing reef-building coral, but its population has decreased by 97% since the 1980s due to disease and is now considered critically endangered.

One thing I learned on this snorkeling adventure is that the iPhone doesn’t work well (in a waterproof case) underwater. The touch sensitivity is nonexistent underwater and the only way to take photos or video is by using the side buttons, which are hard to access in the waterproof case. Since the touchscreen doesn’t work underwater, it is nearly impossible to get the camera to focus so I have a lot of blurry shots on my camera roll. I need to remember to pick up a GoPro or similar for our next underwater adventure!

Tres Palmas Marine Reserve

If you are considering snorkeling while visiting Puerto Rico and you will be spending time on the west side of the island, I highly recommend a tour through Rincon Diving and Snorkeling.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about our time in Puerto Rico, check out my Circle Tour of the Island. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. To read campground reviews check out my Michigan Campground Reviews page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page.

Casa Bacardí

Casa Bacardi

Our flight to Puerto Rico was scheduled to get in late, so we booked a room at the San Juan Airport Hotel. It ended up being delayed so we didn’t get to our room until after 3 AM Puerto Rico time and I was very glad we didn’t have to navigate to an outside hotel. The Airport Hotel is located inside D Terminal and it was just a few minutes walk from the gate. The room was small, but we weren’t planning on spending a long time so it was perfect for our needs. It also included a hot breakfast which was much needed after getting in so late. After breakfast, we checked out and picked up our rental car from Aqui Coqui, which is Puerto Rico’s car-sharing platform, similar to Turo. It worked well, they met us outside the Airport Hotel and we were on our way to our first stop, Casa Bacardí.

Fort San Juan De La Cruz

Casa Bacardí is located across the bay from Old San Juan in Cataño. We were a little early for our reservation so we made a stop at Fort San Juan de la Cruz, a part of San Juan National Historic Site. There were only a few other people at the park and it was very quiet, but the views of Old San Juan were beautiful. It was a great first stop on the trip to soak in the sunshine. After enjoying the views, it was time for our tour at Casa Bacardí.

On our last trip, we did a tour of a smaller distillery, Ron del Barillito. This time, I was excited to check out the biggest rum producer in the world, Bacardí through their Legacy Tour. We arrived right before our tour and received a token for a free drink and we boarded our tram for a little tour of the grounds. When we arrived at the Visitor Center, we were led into a theater where they showed up a film about the company’s history.

Inside the Bacardí Visitor Center

Bacardí was founded in 1861 in Santiago de Cuba by Don Facundo Bacardí Massó. Shortly after opening his wife, Doña Amalia, found a colony of fruit bats in the rafters of the distillery. Bats are a symbol of good health and fortune to the Spanish and Taino people of Cuba so they decided to make the bat the symbol of the company. In 1920, when prohibition became law in the United States, Bacardí began advertising Cuba as a tropical destination to escape the “dry” U.S. In 1960, the Cuban assets of the company were confiscated by the Cuban government, and the family was forced to flee. Luckily, they had already moved the company’s trademarks and yeast strain out of Cuba.

After learning the history, we proceeded along on the tour to learn how the rum is distilled from sugarcane and made into two different distillations that are mixed together to become the final product. Our guide explained to us that the traditional white Puerto Rican rum is filtered to get a clear color because people at the time wouldn’t drink dark-colored liquors out of fear of cleanliness or because they didn’t like the way they looked, which makes me rethink drinking white rum. We got to sample the Casa Bacardí reserve, which is a mix of rums aged 8-12 years and is only available for purchase at the Casa Bacardí Visitor Center. The tour ended at the gift shop where you could pick up a bottle of Special Reserve or any of their other rums that you could get at your local liquor store.

Overall, I am glad we did the tour of Casa Bacardí, but the tour at Ron del Barillito was so much more authentically Puerto Rican and their rum is not as easy to find back home. When purchasing tickets to Casa Bacardí, you can add the ferry from Old San Juan to your ticket, allowing you to visit without a car. But, if you have a car and are interested in something you can’t find at home, I recommend visiting Ron del Barillito instead. For tickets to Casa Bacardí and information about their other tours, visit Bacardi.com.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, visit the Puerto Rico Circle Tour page. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. To read campground reviews check out my Michigan Campground Reviews page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page.

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