Updated: Apr 3
Springtime has officially arrived and what better way to celebrate the beginning of a new season than to jet-set to a new destination? San Juan, Puerto Rico was up next on my list of must-see island destinations. Since Puerto Rico is U.S. territory, there are no re-entry requirements when returning home. However, be sure to check the CDC.gov website for all the latest travel updates.
While both San Juan and Old San Juan are popular choices for tourists' stays in Puerto Rico, my boyfriend and I booked an Airbnb in Carolina, Puerto Rico. Carolina (pronounced "Caro-lee-na") is a municipality located to the northeast of San Juan. It is known for its beautiful beaches, especially Parque Isla Verde. Carolina is about a 5-10 minute drive from Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport.
There are plenty of great restaurants and bars along 'the strip' along the beach. I'll highlight some of the places we ate at here, but be sure to check out the Eat page for all the best food I've had while traveling. Our Airbnb host recommended some of the best restaurants to try in San Juan, like La Placita, known for great food and nightlife. We were encouraged to try the mofongo, tostones, and maduros from pretty much any restaurant, as these foods are staple dishes in Puerto Rican cuisine.
Our Airbnb was located within walking distance of the beach; we liked that there was a pedestrian bridge that allowed for quick and easy beach access. The weather was absolutely beautiful for the majority of our stay, although it rained on one of our last days there.
We really liked that our Airbnb was located close enough to get to Old San Juan in about 15-20 minutes. Although Uber is available in Puerto Rico, however Lyft is not. To celebrate my birthday, we made reservations at Eter Rooftop Lounge, located in the Ciqala Luxury Suites. Located in the heart of the city, Eter's rooftop views were amazing! We enjoyed the 360-degree views of the city and cozy atmosphere. While Eter's menu includes a variety of dishes, I highly recommend making a reservation and arriving early as this is a popular restaurant choice for tourists and wait times may vary. The overall experience at Eter Rooftop Lounge was enjoyable and the views make for really great photos.
We spent a lot of our time on the beach during our stay and I enjoyed every minute of it. For me, the beach is the perfect place to relax, reflect, and leave feeling refreshed. The beaches of Puerto Rico are so attractive for their cleanliness and clear, crystal blue water. Sitting underneath the palm trees sipping a piña colada put the icing on the cake for my midday break. I'll just leave some photos here to let you take it all in...
Isla Verde is a perfectly safe beach to swim in, as are most of the beaches in PR.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was exploring the city of Old San Juan, or Viejo San Juan. It is the most visited tourist attraction in San Juan, known for its cobblestone streets and colorful homes. Plenty of rich history lies along the streets of Viejo San Juan; massive forts like Castillo de San Cristóbal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro can be seen upon entering the old town. They were built between the 16th and 18th centuries by the Spanish to protect Puerto Rico from land attacks by the British. Since both forts are National Parks, cost of entry ranges between $5-7 for adults, entry for children is free.
Fun Fact: At the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Puerto Rico officially became a U.S. territory as a result of the Treaty of Paris.
Well-known basketball player and philanthropist, Carmelo Anthony, built a basketball court right in the middle of Old San Juan. The court is brightly colored and plenty of chickens have made themselves right at home along the sidelines. We shot some hoops for a while before making our way to 'La Perla,' or The Pearl (often known as a shanty neighborhood of Old San Juan). The basketball court sits below the fortresses and streets of Viejo San Juan, right along with 'La Perla.'
Having overcome the tragedies of earthquakes and Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has remained a beautiful island that attracts many tourists year-round. Many of the homes have been restored and can be seen standing tall throughout the entire city.
La Perla was originally established as an area for slaves to reside, outside of the confines of the city. Over the years, community restoration projects (like the Carmelo Anthony Court) have helped to restore the neighborhood and provide opportunities for the residents there.
African roots run deep in Puerto Rico. Dating all the way back to when the libertos, or free African men, joined with the Spanish Conquistadors to invade Puerto Rico. Then would come the need for slave labor to produce sugar, coal, and build the forts mentioned above. However, slavery was abolished in 1873 in Puerto Rico. Today, it is evident that the art, culture, and music is heavily influenced by Puerto Rico's connection to the Motherland.
I was fascinated by all of the amazing artwork seen on our walk through La Perla. It's always interesting how some of the most unlikely, or what some would consider "unsightly," of places can have the most beautiful displays of art.
Appreciation for the art and culture in any place I visit is a must. San Juan is accessible enough to get to most of the sites on foot or by Uber/taxi, but we were encouraged to rent a car for at least a day to explore different parts of Puerto Rico.
Top 5 attractions to visit while you're in Puerto Rico (outside of San Juan):
El Yunque National Rainforest
Cascada Gozalandia (a beautiful waterfall about a 2-hour drive from Carolina)
Playa la Boca (a black sand beach in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico)
Enjoy a scenic Drive through Dorado and see all the fancy homes
Book a street art tour in Santurce and explore the eclectic vibes of Calle Cerra and Calle Loiza
Barceloneta is known as La Ciudad de las Piña (pineapple city), because of the many pineapple plantations that cover a lot of the city's land area. We enjoyed driving through the different parts of Puerto Rico on our way to Cascada Gozalandia, the waterfalls located in San Sebastián. The waterfall was worth the scenic (and slightly treacherous) drive up the windy, mountainsides. Puerto Rico definitely has the perfect blend of beach, mountains, and...a rain forest. The rain got us on our hike to the waterfalls; even though the downpour cut our visit short, the views of the falls were so worth capturing.
My first time in Puerto Rico was a beautiful experience and I am so glad we decided to book a trip there to celebrate my birthday. I am so full of gratitude for the experience to jump and journey to new places, celebrating more life. If you're thinking about booking your next island getaway, be sure to keep San Juan, Puerto Rico at the top of your list.