As some friends and I scoured the web for affordable spring break flights last month, we landed on Puerto Rico. There was something about the island’s diverse landscapes coupled with delectable food (and a 0 percent chance of snow) that drew us.
At this point, the trip was glued to the core of our minds. We planned a four-day journey and booked a beautiful Ocean Park Airbnb — it was set. Leading up, we were so eager to take a sip of the Caribbean island’s culture. We tossed around activities to fill each day with, through restaurants and standout authentic dishes to famous forts and streets lined with Spanish colonial architecture and the many beachfront possibilities.
To be completely honest, making plans to visit Puerto Rico felt insensitive at first, as the country is still recovering from Hurricane Maria’s wreckage in September. But spending money in the territory offers direct support in its recovery, as tourism makes up approximately of its GDP.
Immediately from the vibrant sights I saw upon landing in Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, I got a taste of how amazing the trip was going to be. San Juan appeared healthy and well despite sparse sights of damage on our way to the Airbnb. The airport is just 15 minutes south of where we were staying, so within an hour of landing we were thrown into the thick of Ocean Park’s warm, beachy beauty.
After a quick bite right outside of the little gated neighborhood, our first day was spent at the beach, a speedy 3-minute walk from our Airbnb. The walk itself was enchanting and felt like it took less time than it did. The colorful houses, some with the loveliest bright pink flowers pouring over edges of fences next to trees and a thin sidewalk sat along the path.
The beach in Ocean Park was one of the best I’ve ever experienced. Once you’re on it, you can see the buildings of the city to your left, palm trees positioned behind you, beautiful sand beneath you and sparkling ocean water ahead. We spent hours there each day.
Other than the beach, we got in as many culinary experiences as our stomachs could fit throughout the trip. One morning we visited a famous bakery, Kasalta, to munch on scrambled eggs before the beach. The eatery is roomy, loaded with delectable food and it’s unsurprisingly a favorite across San Juan.
We also dined on Mexican fare for a few dinners by the recommendation of friends who live in Puerto Rico, as well as traditional Puerto Rican fare other nights, like mofongo, a fried plantain dish. We also joined the locals at a karaoke-housing dive bar, El Local en Santurce, one night.
For breakfast, we ate at a casual breakfast place called Pinky’s one day, and chic Punto Medio the other. Both dining experiences were affordable and delicious, and the coffee was always rich and smooth.
We kayaked at night in La Parguera in Southwest Puerto Rico, the location of 1 of the territory’s 3 bioluminescent bays. The bays are so special, because they’re made glowy by tiny dinoflagellates, and, for reference, there are only five of them in the world.
Even with all these experiences, some of our favorite times in Puerto Rico were in Old San Juan, savoring the unreal, colorful scenery with our feet pounding the cobblestone streets, and at the forts, too. We visited both Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal, both of which evoked major Dragonstone feels, but were each thrilling in their own right.
The forts were full of adventures, from the steep steps, tall oceanfront views and places indoors and outdoors to explore. It’s inexpensive: for just $7, you can visit each of them as many times as you’d like in a 24-hour time frame. Right outside Castillo San Cristóbal after its 6 p.m. closing time, you can catch gorgeous views of the sunset. And save for troubles wind may cause (wear shorts underneath your dress!), the photo opportunities are pretty serious.
In the end, the experience of visiting Puerto Rico was special each day, the island is warming and unforgettable, full of great people, food and sights. And while New Jersey was being piled by snow, I thoroughly enjoyed my choice.