There’s a map for that! And it is not attached to your cell service. It hangs in my house and in February, I add four new pinpoints on my map… new places visited during my travels... St Croix, St Kitts, Dominica and Barbados. Not only did I get to add four new destinations to my map, I also changed my opinion on one very important port of call, San Juan.
I had been to San Juan with my sister over ten years ago on a weekend getaway and was not impressed. At the time, much of Old San Juan was in a state of decay… crumbling churches, empty building and a smattering of tourist traps for shopping. The view out the window of my hotel was a giant bucket of the colonel’s fried chicken. To top it off, the beaches were not safe after 5PM. Even the locals warned us about staying out at night and walking around alone.
Fast forward to the present and I have visited San Juan three times in the past three years. On each short stay, I had the pleasure of discovering a new treasure.
On a visit, with my husband and children, we decided to explore the fortress El Morro, located in the Old Section of Town. Declared a World Heritage site in 1933, it is Puerto Rico’s best know fortress. Climbing up towers and exploring the caverns of this fort satisfied the three boy’s appetite for adventure. To my surprise, we happened to visit on the birthday of Luis Munoz Marin, the first democratically elected governor of Puerto Rico. His birthday is celebrated in conjunction with the US President’s Day and they do so by showcasing the customs and lore of Puerto Rico. We were treated to native dance, music and song in the main courtyard. This is a perfect day trip if you arrive via cruise ship as it is just a short walk from the downtown pier.
Another visit was a trip we took with several couples. We stayed in the Condado District, just a seventy-five cent bus ride from Old San Juan. Again, we lucked out by arriving on a festival weekend and were treated to a local craft fair in the park one block from our hotel. This time, we walked the beach and explored the area on our own. With a casino in one direction and the tranquility of the Caribe Hilton Resort to the west, we walked in a giant circle to see it all. Dinner that night was at a local cantina that served delicious quesadilla’s and icy cold beer on an upper balcony with a view of the ocean. We ended our evening in the calm oasis of the Caribe Hilton with after dinner drinks, the sound of the ocean and a local band.
This year, I had the chance to explore the wilder side of Puerto Rico, the natural beauty of El Yunque, a 28,000 acre national forest on the eastern side of the island. It is a mountainous rain forest that rises to 3,533 feet above sea level. It is home to over 150 species of ferns and 240 kinds of trees (23 of which are exclusive to this forest). My guide was Manuelo, a Borinqueno, or native son of Puerto Rico. He grew up outside El Yunque and shared many of his adventures with us as we explored his childhood “playground”. I know I will be back again in 2011 and I am anxious to explore another new corner of this fascinating island.