Ok so this was my third time en la Isla del Encanto and I fell in love with it again. I was coming from an amazing wedding in Chicago to another amazing wedding in Puerto Rico and was traveling with my husband and mother in law so there was lots of Love in the air. Living in southern CA now has made me kind of a weather snob because we get the most amazing weather in CA but I can say that weather wise La Isla exceeded all my expectations. The six days we were there it did not rain, maybe a few drops overnight but really no rain and we had perfect beach weather. Of course the day we left a tropical storm hit the island.
The question I got when I came back is how is PR after the big hurricane that left the island in the dark and hundreds of people dead. I, like many of us here in the US donated and was stuck to the TV and social media when the storm hit, lighting a candle that people in the island would be safe. The first sign of the remnants of the hurricane were seen as we were landing and a sea of houses were covered with blue plastic tarps but to my surprise, the airport, our Airbnb, the hotels, stores and restaurants were all running like normal. Of course we were staying in the tourist areas of San Juan, Condado to be exact so I cannot say that the island has fully recovered based on what I saw. We did ask our uber drivers who said they had family that lived in the countryside and they told us there is still work to be done but they felt things were getting back to normal. In my previous trips, I rented a car and went with people from the island that took me to the green and lush hills of the island or to small beaches on the other side of the island. I wonder how they had recovered from the hurricane because those were not the touristy areas that I was staying at in this trip.
So here goes, my high and my low, places to stay, what to see and do …..
High was the food. I asked my husband why we can’t have platanos with every meal here in CA? As you can see I’m a platano lover. I loved the mofongo the amarillos (ripe plantains) and the tostones. I was pretty upset when for breakfast I ordered a wrap that claimed to have platano and they gave me a banana – no a banana is no a plátano in my book. I don’t even have a list of restaurants to recommend because it all was so delicious. The place that does stick out in my mind was recommended by a friend and located in the middle of Old San Juan with all these restaurants that looked like a tourist trap but to my surprise I had my best meal ever at Mojitos restaurant. The mojitos were actually not that good but the dish I order was like a buffet of the best Puerto Rico has to offer, I had pastelitos de yuca y de plátano, arroz con gandules, pork, ropa vieja, tostones…. I literally woke up the next morning dreaming about the food I ate that evening, especially the pastelitos that for my non boricua folks is there version of tamales. I know traveling is about eating good food but again coming from LA now I can get really good food from all over the world close to me but I can’t get those pastelitos and platanos with every meal. Oh also in one of those nice restaurants we dined at (Cafe del Angel) my husband almost fainted, more like he froze when Tego Calderon was standing next to him.
The low is kind of hard because really there was nothing that I did not like about this trip. Really the only thing that I can think of was falling on the Catamaran trip we took with the wedding party where I scraped my leg pretty bad but even that did not stop me from enjoying the trip. The only thing that I can see as a low is the fact I was not there long enough to really go to other parts of the island and see the real impact the hurricane had on people not in San Juan.
This was my first time staying in Condado, before I had stayed in Old San Juan or with friend’s family in other towns. I really liked staying in Condado over Old San Juan because I liked having access to the beach and just living the beach life while we were there. This is probably the only time I was happy to be amongst tourist, I was trying to spend and splurge money to help the local economy and I wanted to see other tourist do the same. The Airbnb we stayed at was called the Happy Place and it truly was our happy place. It was small, cute and comfortable in the ideal location. Not beach front but a short less than 5 minute walk to the beach. My favorite part is that it had beach equipment. We used the chairs, umbrella, towels and boogie board. The location was the best, tons of restaurants and so close to the beach.
In terms of what to see and what to do in this trip we took a catamaran to Icacos – it was a beautiful beach but kind of small and pretty full. In the past I have been to Culebra and at that time it was the most beautiful beach I had ever seen. I have never been to Vieques but that is another option. Of course there is the mandatory visit to El Yunque and El Morro. Walking the streets of Old San Juan never got old, we saw a group of bomba dancers after having some of the best drinks at La Casita de Rones.
The first time I went to PR was probably in 1996 and I could see myself living there at an old age, now that old age is closer and I can still see myself spending a lot of time in the Island when I need to slow down my pace. Even with threats of hurricanes there is something so enchanting and it is no wonder it is called la Isla del Encanto. I left with this song stuck in my head.