Our first journey on the trip was to see the Castillo San Cristóbal and the Castillo San Felipe del Morro in Old San Juan. Located on a small peninsula, both of the castillos are within a short walk of each other & for $5 you get to walk through both of them. Walking through the castillos & the adjoining cemetery, you get a glimpse back into the 16th century, all while enjoying the beautiful ocean view. Careful where you park, we (& a bunch of other cars) ended up accidentally parking in a permit parking area & getting a $250 ticket 😖.
Next stop was El Yunque -- the only tropical rain forest in the United States territory. We had all been in forests before but this was on a whole different level. The foliage was tall, lush, & greener than I thought possible. You can take a short trail to Mina Falls (Cascada La Mina) where you can swim in a pool at the bottom of the falls.
There are a few towers you can find throughout the park that you can ascend their spiral staircases to get a good view from the top. For an even better view, you can hike the El Yunque Trail which brings you to the second highest point in Puerto Rico.
When I travel to a place that has cave tours I always take them because, well, caves are cool 🦇. Needless to say when I saw that you could take a tour of the Camuy Caverns I added it to the activity list. The cavern is a little over an hour and half drive from San Juan (where we were staying), but well worth it. $18 & a windy trolley ride down a steep mountainside later, we found ourselves walking into a giant cave. It is hard to get good photos inside the cave but it is an amazing site to see the giant underground expanse.
After exploring the cave in Camuy, we headed to the nearby Arecibo Observatory. You have probably seen the famous Arecibo satellite dish in the James Bond movie Goldeneye. Regardless, seeing the 1,000ft wide dish in person is awe inspiring. Entry into the observatory is $10 & comes with a small but interesting science museum section & a very informative tour. I think it is worth pointing out that I despise tours but the young employees of the observatory were all very knowledgable & good spirited & actually make the tour very enjoyable.
Heading another hour northwest from the observatory, we arrived at Jobos beach in Isabela. With its lack of resorts and fancy restaurants, Jobos beach has a local feel & is not full of tourists. Jobos is known for its beach walls, rocky barriers that you can walk on & watch the waves crash against.
Climb with care though because from what the locals told us, people get hurt on the rocks pretty frequently. We spent the better part of the afternoon climbing the rocks & exploring the length of the beach.
When we asked some locals about which is the best beach in Puerto Rico, the answer was unanimous; Flamenco beach on the island of Culebra. The tricky thing about Culebra is getting there. You can either take a $2 government run ferry or charter an expensive boat or plane. We chose the ferry which required getting up early in the morning to get to Fajardo at around 6AM to get tickets for the 9AM ferry before they sold out.
Although the ferry is by far the cheapest way to get to Culebra it is not for the weak of heart & if I did it again I would probably charter a flight. The ferry is really meant for locals so it already looks a little dodgy & is known to sometimes breakdown. Thankfully the trip went smooth for us, well not smooth, but no breakdowns. First off I should inform you that I get seasick super easy so I took some dramamine but had already come to terms with the fact that I was probably going to be miserable. The seating area is a bunch of benches in the bottom bow of the ship (a.k.a the worst motion part of the ship). After about ten minutes of watching the wall sway up & down 10ft, I got up, yada yada yada, & then stood on the deck talking to some Direct TV guy for the rest of the 45 minute journey. One by one the rest of the group (who don't get seasick easy) got sick & joined me on the deck. Moral of the story, you will probably get sea sick on the ferry.
The views from the ferry as you approached the island were pretty beautiful. Finally arriving at the small island of Culebra, we hopped in a van that for a small fee would drop us off & pick us up from the beach. One of the locals had told us that the beach on Culebra was on the list of top ten most beautiful beaches in the world & although I am not sure if that is true or not, I can believe it. The fact that not many people lived on the island and it is kind of a pain to get to, the beautiful beach was emptier than any beach I have ever been to!
The island was used in the mid 1900's by the U.S. Navy as a bombing practice site & still has tanks & apparently active land mines to show for it. Unfortunately, another downside to taking the ferry was that we had to catch the last one back at 5pm so we didn't have much time on the island. If I were to do it again I would plan to camp for the night at the campsite next to the beach.
Another must do when visiting Puerto Rico is night kayaking at the bioluminescent bay in Fajardo. One of only five bioluminescent bays in the whole world, the Fajardo bay has dinoflagellates which cause the bay to glow. We booked our tour through Pure Adventure for $48 a person & it is seriously one of the best things I've done in my whole life.
Honestly, the bioluminescent part of tour was way over hyped. Google bioluminescent bay & you will see fantastic photos of water with glowing blue auras. BS!!! I didn't even know we had made it to the bay until the tour guide told us to scoop the water & see the blue specks in our hand. I still thought it was cool that when I scooped the water or flicked some up with my oar, specs of blue would glow for a moment but wish they didn't oversell it so much. You might be asking yourself, "Why did this kid say this was one of his favorite things ever if the glow didn't live up to the hype?". First off, don't call me kid & second, it was the trip to the bay & the night sky that made the whole tour for me.
In order to get to and from the bay you have to kayak through these skinny channels lined with trees & other branchy things. Now keep in mind it is pitch black in the channel, with the trees blocking the moonlight, & the only light you have to guide you is a tiny led on the back of the kayak in front of you. Honestly, this was a little creepy at first, especially when we got to the part where there were fish jumping into people's kayaks 😮🐠, but the darkness mixed with two of my friends inability to coordinate their rowing made the whole thing hilarious. Then when we finally got to the bay, it was the most amazing view of the stars that I have ever seen. It was a night full of laughs, kayak debauchery, beautiful stars, & some "glowing" water. Also, trust me, the tour guides aren't lying when they tell you that your cameras & GoPro will not capture anything. I have a whole bunch of pitch black footage to prove it.
Last minute we planned one more adventure to do before we said adiós to Puerto Rico. Looking at the top packages on Trip Advisor, we ended up booking a half day tour (Option #3 at Tanama River Adventures ) which included hiking, a 250ft rappel, river trekking, cave tubing, free jumping, & lunch. I highly recommend going on this tour or at least one of the tours with this company. They were all extremely friendly & you cannot beat the prices.
I had done a little rappelling before but this was by far the longest one & definitely the most scenic. You drop down in front of a huge cave entrance to the river below. Before they detach you they have you do a Tarzan swing (upside down if you are brave enough!). You then trek along the beautiful river, eventually tubing through a cave where bats are literally within touching distance. The free jump was a little scary since I don't really like heights but in the spirit of embracing everything Puerto Rico has to offer we all did both the jumps; one at ~15ft & another at ~25ft. The water made it hard to take pictures but the end of the trip video gives you a good look into the tour.
We all had a blast in Puerto Rico & managed to squeeze a lifetime's worth of adventures into one week!