Humbling and beautiful, Puerto Rico poetically highlights the importance of "living the simple life."
17.02.2011 - 21.02.2011 85 °F
I saw no Bentley's in Puerto Rico. As an LA girl, I am used to seeing Bentley's glistening in gridlock. During the 4 days and 4 nights that I spent exploring the colorful island of Puerto Rico, I saw zero silicon breasts, spray tanning salons, or mini dogs stuffed in over-sized Louie Vuitton bags. I'm not even sure that I saw one blonde person. What a culture shock!
My first day in Puerto Rico, as most first days of vacations go, was spent mostly gaining my footing and learning my barrings. Where do the hot locals go? What should I spend my time and money doing? What areas should I avoid? How soon can I get a tan? And I mean this politely, but I do not usually trust the hotel concierge to be completely honest or widely knowledgeable beyond the travel brochure. I need a local and I need one now! Further proving the importance of my good friend's new start-up company, TripTrotting, where you can get "matched" with locals throughout the world!
Thus, I began my quest to explore, observe, and see Puerto Rico as the locals see (in between tanning time and cocktails at the pool, of course).
As you can tell by the picture, I stayed at the Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza. Despite multiple recommendations from friends to stay at the El San Juan Hotel in Isla Verde, my wallet would just not let me. However, upon arrival, I immediately noticed that my unwillingness to pay a couple hundred dollars more meant that my fellow guests would include mostly families with CHILDREN and the elderly. Not to mention, less than WOW service (except for one amazingly charming bell boy). If you are young (and especially, if you are single) I would not stay here. Oh TripAdvisory, I should have heeded your advice. Next time I will definitely stay at La Concha Renaissance Hotel San Juan, which is right next door, or give in and pay the extra to stay at the El San Juan Hotel & Casino in Isla Verde. However, I can not complain about the view from the room... there is nothing like waking up to the sound of crashing waves.
I loved the lobby bar at La Concha. It is beautifully decorated, has beautiful male bartenders, and beautiful female cocktail servers. Drinks are relatively expensive (about $13+) but the atmosphere makes it worth it. I regret not trying the restaurant... or lodging here for that matter!
The El San Juan Hotel is located in Isla Verde, which is about a 15 minute drive from Condado. This hotel is older but it is huge, trendy, and packed with young people! There is pretty much one club in all of Puerto Rico and it is located at this hotel, called Brava. We learned this the hard way, but men must wear dress shoes and button up shirts! Men and women not on "the list" must pay a $20 cover (unless you bat your eyelashes at the head security guard, hehe). This club may as well be in Hollywood. It is two stories and plays Hip Hop music upstairs and House/Trance music downstairs. I had a blast (and too many shots), but not exactly an authentic Puerto Rican experience. If I went back to this hotel I would also try hanging out at the lobby bar which was also packed with people... and these people are on the PROWL. Until next time...
Brava is definitely the best straight dance club in Puerto Rico. However, a great gay dance club in Puerto Rico is Circo. Circo has a DJ 7 nights a week, three rooms including a lounge, bar, and dance floor, and of course, the most important aspect, sexy, straight bar tenders.... yay! Drinks are affordable (around $6) and most nights have some sort of entertainment or contest.
According to the locals, Thursdays and Fridays are the best nights to venture to a strip of bars called La Placita (not Placenta). Located at Plaza del Mercado in Santurce, locals fill the market square and the area takes on a casual, relaxed vibe with many places to eat and socialize.
Old San Juan is also a great place to go bar hopping. This city is full of history and culture so these bars have been around for decades. One popular bar to try is call Nono's that is especially popular on Friday nights.
Mojitos are the drinks of choice on the island, as the Bacardi factory is located here, and the local brand of rum, DonQ is very popular and accessible.
Per my conversations with numerous locals, Puerto Rico is not the biggest party spot. Maybe during college spring break you could find some wild fiestas, but overall the locals enjoy casual, comfortable hang out spots with close friends while on a budget.
Of the restaurants I tried, my favorite by far was Di Zucchero in Condado. Cutest hostess, greatest service, fantastic food, trendy decor, warm ambiance... and the list goes on. There is also a sexy lounge upstairs that is open from 11pm to 5am and I wish I had tried out!
Another place I would love to try next time is Bar Lovent. Right on the beach, this romantic eatery has only outdoor seating and charming mood lighting. It would be a great place to take your lover... very romantic and quaint.
The other restaurants I sampled were nothing spectacular. Lupi's in Isla Verde, for example, was cute and affordable, but the most basic food you could imagine... nothing memorable.
This was typical of most restaurants. Even the signature dish called Mofongo was only worth trying once. Like a pot pie, it appears as a volcano of plantain mush stuffed with your choice of meat and rice on the inside. Interesting, filling, but not spectacular.
One life saving restaurant was Eight Noodle Bar in the Conrad Hotel. Sushi and Potstickers until 4am... perfect! But you definitely pay the price for convenience.
Overall, food in Puerto Rico expensive considering the value you get. Expect to pay between $15-$25 for just an average meal.
However, by far the BEST meal I had in Puerto Rico was on a Rainforest Excursion (see Things To Do section). Prepared by a Puerto Rican family living in what most Californians would refer to as a shack, this meal was possibly the most delicious thing I have eaten all year! Fresh chicken with rice and beans, fried plantains, salad, homemade dressing with ingredients from the garden, and Oreo cheesecake... all made from scratch! Most of the herbs and even the chickens are raised on property. Cooking is an obvious passion as this particular family had one 20 inch TV but 3 kitchens.
The beach directly in front of the Atlantic Beach Hotel is tan, gay, and densely populated.
The beaches at Rincon and Fajardo are the best for surfing.
Isla Verde's beaches on the Northeast side of Puerto Rico are beautiful but very crowded due to tourists. Here you can jet ski, parasail, water ski, etc.
The most beautiful beaches are on the Northwest side of the island in Durado.
Culebra is one of the Top 10 beaches in the world. (Picture below courtesy of my new Puerto Rican amigo loco).
Drinking alcohol is allowed on all beaches and the water is warm and clean! Quite a contrast from Santa Monica Beach's alcohol prohibited, ice-like, dirty tourist water.
Caguas is like the Santa Clarita, CA of Puerto Rico, in a general sense. It is the fastest growing city and has a great school system. Since it is a relatively new development, homes here are nice, safe, and affordable (around $150,000 for a 3 bedroom vs. $350,000 in San Juan).
Pinones is the heart of Puerto Rican culture and music. This city has not changed since it was established decades ago. The best word to describe the atmosphere is "humble" as people come here to enjoy great food, family, and friends without regard or longing for luxury. There are many small shops, beach shack restaurants, and families bbq-ing by the shore.
Old San Juan was my favorite city! It is an older, colonial city with so much history and life. The military forts are a site to see and individuals and families frequent El Morro park which is a large grass field by one of the major forts where people like to fly kites and spend quality time together. The streets are paved of cobblestone and there is so much to do and see. If I were to live in Puerto Rico, I would definitely stay here. Old San Juan is also home to the most romatic place to go at night, called Paseo Princessa where you can see one of the most beautiful views of the sunset.
Isla Verde is where you can find most of the tourists and large resorts. I have never seen so many fast food restaurants! Wendy's, Burger King, and Church's Chicken are everywhere!! I also saw a couple Condom World's but was too scared to go in, haha.
La Perla is considered the "ghetto." If you want some illegal drugs, this little shanty town is where you should go.
I loved San Juan as well. Located right along miles of beach, there are many restaurants, bars and shops. San Juan also employs many security guards that keep the gorgeous parks clean and friendly. Here is also where Marc Anthony's high-rise condo above the Gucci store is located... when can I move in??
THINGS TO DO
I partook in one tourist friendly excursion with Rocaliza and it was amazing! For $140 a van will pick you up with the most entertaining, knowledgeable and charming staff. You will venture up small paths to the rain forest that are essentially hidden. First, you go hiking... and this is no Runyon Canyon in Hollywood hike. You must use your hands, and ropes, and wade through knee deep water while wearing helmets and backpacks. The sights are spectacular.
Next, if you are brave enough to continue, the only way back down is to repel down an 85 foot waterfall. This was the most exhilarating thing I have ever done! Then, enjoy the best pinneapple upon completion.
Lastly, you zipline the rest of the way home.
I am NOT a camping in a tent, cook over a fire, outdoorsy type of girl, but this adventure was amazing!
I one thing I would like to try is to take a midnight kayak ride though the Bio Bay. Here the natural organisms in the water light up in florescent colors, or so I hear.
Taxis are recommended by locals to all tourists probably for one reason... they are so expensive! In Puerto Rico, they use a flat rate system which takes the fun out of negotiating like in Mexico.
The bus is only 75 cents (you must have exact change). Some buses come every 20 minutes, which is great, but some take hours. The 53 bus from Condado to Isla Verde, for example, is as reliable as the men I date and can shows up every 1 to 3 hours.
Thus, it is highly recommended to RENT A CAR. If so, here are some things about driving in Puerto Rico that I found interesting:
1. There is less road rage. People do use their horns often and shove there way through traffic and streets, but locals seldom lose their cool about it. It is an accepted way of life.
2. Men slow down to look, honk, and shout at you often.
3. Red lights from 12am to 6am are treated as stop signs. As a concern for your safety, stopping too long at a light in the middle of the night may be very dangerous.
4. To help alleviate freeway traffic, Puerto Rico uses a zipper lane which can be applied to either flow of traffic.
5. You are permitted to talk on your cell phone while driving.
6. La Policia are everywhere!
People love cars and car racing. There is an average of 3 cars per home.
Experiencing the local culture of Puerto Rico literally changed my life. I finally got to see what it means to enjoy the simple life. It is spending time with yourself, with your family, watching the sunset, enjoying the beach, and living in peace that makes these people smile. As the saying goes, some people live to work, while others work to live.
I found it almost mind boggling that there are families with hundreds of acres of land worth a fortune, yet they chose to live in the most modest of homes and naturally preserve the land. It is more important to pass down your ancestors land from generation to generation rather than sell it off in parcels and build a giant mansion with a 10 car garage for a Bentley.
Humble. A little politeness goes a long way. I found that most people are less likely to approach you and be aggressive yet, if you approach them, they are more than happy to open up their life to you.
- People like to work out and run on the streets.
- Everyone "people watches" openly (instead of LA where we are more concerned with who is looking at us).
- Piercings are a big trend.
- Many men have slicked back hair and Mohawks with rat-tails. I do not get why!!
- Many men also manicure their eyebrows.
- There are never toilet seat covers in women's restrooms!
- Most people do not pursue a post high school education.
- Pharmaceuticals is a large industry, about 30% of the economy.
- Ricky Martin billboards are everywhere.
- "The stressed out" people work in downtown. So I guess this is where LA people would feel most comfortable.
- "Mexico is too dangerous." -one hospitable local
Thank you for reading and I hope you find this information useful for your adventure. Keep tiptoeing and jumping!
Until Next Time,