The good thing about traveling to this archipelago is that its just like going to any destination within the US –all you need is your US driver’s license and you’re all set. Some might get confused about the current political status of Puerto Rico. It is not a state but rather a Commonwealth of the United States. This status provides local autonomy to the island and allows Puerto Rico to publicly display their own flag. In fact, they have their own athletic team in the Olympics, as well as their own representative in the Miss Universe pageant (I know this is so gay!) Haha! Their elected governor occupies the highest public office position in the land but still falls under the US Congress. And yes, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens! The locals who live in Puerto Rico cannot vote for the U.S. President in the general elections but those who live in the United States are allowed to vote. Confusing, eh?!
Originally, only three of us planned this short vacation. But I’m thankful that I met four new awesome people during this trip. It was so much fun hanging out with them. From Odites’ birthday bash to Luther’s jokes and to Syrelle’s unexpected bloopers, it was one adventure we will always remember! We stayed at La Concha Resort in the heart of San Juan’s tourism district. The area reminded me of Cancun because of the beach and the little shops along the busy streets. The nicest thing about this hotel was we got to embrace the true spirit of being on holiday–by swimming in their two pools and waking up to stunning views of the ocean via their balcony.
Aside from exploring old San Juan and enjoying Puerto Rico’s nightlife, we went hiking through La Mina Falls in El Yunque National Forest, swimming in Playa Flamenco Beach in Culebra, exploring the hidden caves of La Cueva del Indio, and the most exciting part of them all–the nocturnal kayaking at Bioluminescent Bay near Fajardo.
La Mina Falls, El Yunque National Park. The road to the rainforest was narrow and curvy but manageable thanks to Symon’s driving skills. Hiking to the falls took us about 30 minutes each way. It was a bit of workout for us but the view of the rainforest was incredible. The trail is filled with lush tropical plants and trees. We did not see any animals but we could hear their sounds throughout the jungle. Almost like a mix between owls and frogs serenading back and forth. When we got there, there were swarms of people by the boulders at the foot of the waterfall. I did not plan to swim that day so I did not bring any swimwear with me. But when I saw the waterfalls, I went in the water like an excited kid with just my underwear. Haha! It was too cold for me but I didn’t mind it since, believe it or not, this was my first time to swim right at the edge of a waterfall.
Playa Flamenco Beach, Culebra. Getting to Culebra is an adventure by itself as it challenged us to find our way from the capital of San Juan to the small town of Fajardo, which is the only place where a daily ferry is offered to get to the island. We were fortunate enough to be at the dock just in time to get our tickets, since it was crowded when we got there. Traveling to this beach by ferry may be tiresome but this secluded shore in the Caribbean is absolutely beautiful. Sitting on the beach while watching the turquoise waves crash against a backdrop of sprawling mountains… aah, paradise! We were like kids jumping in the waves despite me getting pulled under them a bunch of times. Besides soaking up the sun, we got to taste the famously delicious Puerto Rican barbecue while sipping cold Pina Coladas. After our refreshments, we headed back to the city though I wished we could have stayed there overnight.
La Cueva del Indio is more than just the cave, it’s a scenic coastal destination. When we arrived at the place, it looked quite residential but turned out to be just the parking area to this out of the town destination. They call it Indian Cave because it is filled with Indian petroglyphs and the Taino Indians (native Indians of Puerto Rico) held tribal meetings there before the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in 1943. The rock formations were nothing but craters, yet we were surrounded by vibrant vegetation and deep turquoise crashing waves . The petroglyphs were found inside the cave, so we had to descend via a wooden ladder to see them. There was a mystic presence while I was exploring the caves and the carvings on the walls were fascinating. It’s not surprising to know that some movies like Pirates of the Caribbean, Treasure Island, A Perfect Getaway and Runner Runner were filmed here.
Bioluminescent Bay (referred to as the Bio Bay because that is a very long word to type and that’s what the locals call it anyway) in Fajardo was one of the highlights of this Puerto Rican trip. I know that my companions will disagree with me on this since I think I was only the one who enjoyed this. Haha! It was basically night kayaking in the mangrove lagoon to see the planktons create a beautiful glow in the water when you disturbed them. I had never gone kayaking before, much less at night, so my excitement level was so high. Seeing the surrounding waters light up with every movement was surreal. I thought I was on a different planet. A particular movie came into mind… Avatar! Haha! Anyway, the whole lagoon was pitch black. The only light source we had came from glow sticks placed at the tip end of the kayaks. I admit I was a bit scared every time we hit a mangrove tree’s giant roots, thinking I was going to be eaten by non-existent giant animals in the lagoon. Thankfully, I was with Syrelle on the same kayak, and her calmness despite the few bumps along the way was reassuring. (shout out: No offense to Luther. Haha!) I didn’t get to take any photos since it was too dark for the camera to catch anything but this experience was truly incredible. In fact, we kept on talking about it even after the trip!
Overall, I had a great time in Puerto Rico. From eating Mofongo to Church’s chicken (yeah!) and trying to get drunk every night. But the most important thing that made this trip remarkable was getting to be with a group of amazing people!