Where to Stay
I’m a big fan of Airbnb, but after days of searching, I couldn’t find any that I really liked. So, we decided to go the hotel route. To our surprise, the hotels were quite pricey for the time we visited (April 6 – April 11th), so that became a bit stressful. We knew we wanted to be in San Juan, but David and I aren’t into all-inclusive resort-type accommodations, so the process of finding a place to stay was pretty tricky. Fortunately, thanks to the recommendation of one of my good friends, we were able to find the perfect boutique hotel–The Dreamcatcher. Situated in the Ocean Park neighborhood in San Juan, The Dreamcatcher is off the beaten path. Perfect for our relaxing getaway.
In terms of areas to stay, if you’d like to stay in San Juan–which is the capital you have a few options: Condado, Old San Juan, or Ocean Park. If you’re looking to be steps away from the beach, you’re better off staying in Condado or Ocean Park. Condado is where all of the mega hotels and resorts are, so the vibe is quite touristy and at some points reminded me a bit of Miami. Ocean Park is less touristy and more residential. There are a number of great authentic restaurants and bars in Ocean Park, and the beach area isn’t as crowded. Old San Juan is the city area and has cobblestone lined streets with beautifully colored buildings. It reminded me of Cuba!
Money, Money, Money
In Puerto Rico, the currency is, of course, the U.S. dollar–it is, after all, part of the U.S. So we had no issues with currency. Regarding prices, outside of the somewhat pricey hotels I mentioned earlier, Puerto Rico is pretty affordable. Uber and taxi rides were almost all under $10. We opted to eat at more authentic and traditional restaurants so the bill for those meals were usually around $65 for the two of us. Drinks were between $6-$10.
In total, we spent about $1,200 for the two of us while there, not counting hotel and flights. Granted, we didn’t do any excursions or all-day tours so I assume those would definitely add up. If you’re going to relax, eat, and sight-see some, your pockets will definitely be safe.
The food in Puerto Rico was great–I was doing the Keto diet prior to the trip so I was really happy to consume all tostones they had to offer, ha! To describe Puerto Rican food, I’d say it’s a unique blend of Spanish and Caribbean flavors. One of their signature dishes is Mofongo, which is deep-fried plantains mashed together and stuff with different proteins such as pork or seafood. Also, given that Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. there are a lot of American options for those who are picky eaters. Here are a few places to add to your list:
- El Jibarito – Traditional Puerto Rican food good for lunch or dinner in Old San Juan. The service is quite slow so expect to be there for some time. Totally worth it though!
- Acapulco Taqueria – Mexican food and it was very close to our hotel in Ocean Park. Embarrassed to say this, but it was one of our favorite places for lunch, the food was great every time, the wait-staff was so kind, and they serve a great margarita.
- Lote 23 – A little more inland but a good option for lunch. It’s an outdoor area with various food trucks.
- Oceano – On the beach, we went here for dinner our last night. The food and view were pretty great. It’s located in Condado so of course, it gave us that Miami at night vibe.
- Tacos and Tequila – A great beachfront option for lunch. The tacos were ah-mazing and the Margaritas were even better. It’s on the pricier side, but worth stopping by at least once for drinks and small bites.
- Hecho en Casa – Good for lunch with traditional Puerto Rican food in Old San Juan.
Cafetería Quisqueya – A traditional diner/restaurant that we stumbled into our first night. The food was pretty good and it seemed to be a place a lot of locals frequented. They also have a happy hour.
Bodegas Compostela – Pricey fine dining option for traditional Puerto Rican food.
- Gallo Negro – A more laid back option for dinner, the menu has Oxtail Bolognese, uhm YES!
Things to Do
- Visit and take a walk around Old San Juan
- Tour the waterfalls at Gozalandia
- Explore the El Yunque National Rainforest
- Kayak in the Bahia Bioluminiscente
- Snorkel & Scuba Dive in Culebra
- Tour the Bacardi Rum Factory
- Volunteer in San Juan
Nightlife to Try
I’m sure its no surprise, but they like to have a good time in Puerto Rico. So, if you’re looking to have a fun night out with dancing, great drinks, and people–you’re in the right place. For our trip, we chose very random days to come because, as mentioned, it was an impromptu getaway. So, we got in on Saturday midday and left Thursday early afternoon. Most of the turn up was over the weekend, so we didn’t do a lot of partying (which was fine, ha!). However, here’s a list of some places to try if you are staying Thursday night to Sunday night.
- La Factoria Upon entry this bar looks small, but there it is actually 3 bars in one if you walk to the back. The first bar is more divey, with the second bar reminding us of a speakeasy (it was our favorite), and the third being where all the salsa dancing was.
- La Placita de Santurce – This may sound strange, but by day this area is a farmers market, and at night all the restaurants/bars come alive for lots of dancing. You can get here around 12 pm and the partying goes on till the wee hours of the morning!
- Tantalo – Similar vibe to La Placita, you will hear lots of hip hop, rap, and all the top hits. It gets pretty crowded, but if you manage to get a seat at the bar you’re good.
- La Taberna Lupulo – For a more chill nightlife vibe, this craft beer hall is a great alternative.
- Jungle Bird – Fun tiki bar tucked away at the edge of La Placita. Great cocktails and decor.
One thing I did notice that was strange, was while out in Old San Juan on a Saturday night there were tons of high schoolers just hanging out in the streets. This was a bit stressful and off-putting but has apparently been that way for a while. So, keep that in mind!
Overall, I feel Puerto Rico is a great easy vacation. It’s ideal for folks who are just starting out when it comes to traveling–it was actually my very first “big trip” several years ago. It’s also a nice getaway for couples or a sensible option for families.
Following the devastation from the hurricane, what we saw looked pretty okay. I’m sure they focused more on getting the areas where tourists frequented together first. However, visually we didn’t see much of the impact. Though I am absolutely sure there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. With that said, the best way to help if you don’t find a specific volunteer opportunity is simply going there. Dining at local establishments, taking regular taxis instead of Uber, learning about their history, culture and so forth.
I’d highly recommend Puerto Rico. We’ll definitely be back!