We had missed our flight out of JFK due to an unbelievably painful traffic jam which is why we ended up on the red-eye into San Juan. I was disappointed about the flight but as long as we got there, I was happy. We had booked this trip only 1 week ago, after tossing around the idea to get out of town for my 25th birthday and Googling which destinations were even a remote possibility for a 3-day weekend. The trick was, in addition to only having 3 days, I also had to maintain my regular work hours before we left town. Jamaica was discussed and then quickly eliminated after we saw the unfriendly flight times. Then we saw JetBlue Getaway package to San Juan Puerto Rico and it offered sun, amenable flight times, and the perfect amount of things to do for a long weekend.
Our ocean-view room at the Marriott was perfect. I fell asleep to the sound of the ocean at night and woke up to the sound of the ocean each morning. We could people-watch and sun-bath from our private balcony. After being deprived of vitamin D throughout the cold East-coast winter, and then putting up with NYC’s overcast humidity for all of June, the strong rays of the Puerto Rican sun gave me some much needed color. Between sitting on the beach and lounging by the pool, Alex and I could have passed the entire weekend without ever leaving the resort.
When we finally did pry ourselves away from the sandy beaches of Condado and Isle Verde, we drove into Old San Juan to soak up the color and culture. For first timers in San Juan, rent yourself a car, the island is easy to navigate on your own (we did it with only a rough map from the hotel) and there is cheap parking ($1.50/hour) in Old San Juan. I love the Caribbean for its air, dampened with the smell of the ocean, and for its colorful facades. I have often seen photographs of the vibrant doors and windows of Old San Juan, but to see it in person for myself, I wondered if my images could ever do the island justice.
When we found out about the rainforest not more than 1.5 hr from our hotel in San Juan, Alex and I were determined to grab ourselves away from the beach for a swim in the waterfalls. The drive to El Yunque National Forest was fairly short and clear, even with only a very rough map that we found at the car rental desk. We spent the better half of the day in the rain forest, doing a few hikes and taking dips in the waterfall. When the crowds at La Mina resembled something like dumpling soup, we ditched the popular falls for the much quieter swimming holes upstream.
Back in Old San Juan. When you try to get to know a city, the best way is by foot. We walked around Old San Juan all day, duck into alleyways and find yourself coming out onto a new street, just as colorful as the last one. For $60, Alex picked up a hat for himself from Olé (105 Fortaleza Street; 787-724-2445), which sells hand-fitted customized Panama hats. Alex picked out one in cream, which the proprietor helped fit to his head exactly and top it off with a simple black ribbon. Right next door to Ole is Cafe El Punto. Having spent the better half of the day walking under the beating sun - even with the shade provided by Alex’s newly acquired accessory - we ducked in for shade and refreshments. Their best dishes are the stuffed avocado, and for something traditional, try the stuffed mofongo. The food will leave your tummies filled and your palate satisfied. Hey - I've just had my first taste of Puerto Rican cuisine.