My husband, Mark, and I recently returned from our first trip to Puerto Rico. We had a fantastic time—couldn't have been better. The weather was beautiful (as an added bonus, we missed a snow storm back in Ohio), and the adventures were top notch. Mark and I are definitely not the “stay by the resort pool” types—we were looking for excitement. We planned three adventures ahead of time and played the rest of the week by ear.
Our first adventure was in the El Salto rainforest in Caguas. It was a waterfall climb, followed by a rappel and zipline. The trip ended with lunch at a local family's home. The trip was offered through Rocaliza. They picked us up right at our hotel in Old San Juan and drove us to the site of the adventure. The guides (Diego and Marcos) were friendly and knowledgeable--not only about the adventure at hand, but had plenty of advice on local culture and other adventures we could conquer while in Puerto Rico. The trip was fun from start to finish. It was my husband and I along with a family of four--a nice sized group. The adventure started with a safety lesson and the guides helping us with gear. The group then embarked on a short, but steep hike up to a waterfall we were to climb. The water on the climb was clear and refreshing. The guides told us about the rainforest, fauna and area. Only two outfitters have the privilege of utilizing this part of the rainforest so the land was clean and unspoiled by tourism (which was a big theme of the company). Once we reached the top of the climb, we rappelled down a beautiful waterfall. From the waterfall it was a short hike to the ziplining area.
Mark and I are big fans of ziplining--Puerto Rico was our fourth ziplining course--but it's fun no matter how many times you've done it. After ziplining it was another short hike down to the finish. Once we returned to the starting point, everyone changed into dry clothes and was ready for lunch.
The whole adventure was great, but lunch was what really quenched it for us. When I first read on their website that you had lunch with a local family I thought it sounded kind of odd, but it really added to the whole trip. Three of us in the group were not meat-eaters (and pork and beef are big in Puerto Rico). I had asked ahead of time if they accommodated vegetarians, and they said, "No problem." They were true to their word. We had a delicious, home-cooked, unique vegetarian lunch (stuffed water pears). It was one of the best meals of our trip. The local family was kind and accommodating (and had an adorable puppy that entertained us).
I highly recommend the adventure to anyone who wants to experience the rainforest--especially without the crowds you'll find in the El Yunque rainforest. Your fitness level need only be moderate (the first steep climb up the road is the hardest part of the trip). And you need to be comfortable with heights for the rappel and zipline (or on a mission to overcome your fears).
Our second planned adventure was a kayak trip in the Bio- luminescent Bay. The pictures of the glowing bay looked amazing--so we couldn't wait to see it. Plus, I use to kayak all the time, but hadn't been on one in a few years, so I was excited to get my paddling arms back.
The bay glows because it is inhabited by tiny single-celled bio luminescent organisms called dinoflagellates. When agitated the organisms emit a flash of light. The BioBay in Fajardo is suppose to be one of the largest and brightest in the world. Although we read that you can't really capture the glow on camera, we had high hopes.
We met up with our tour company at a park in Farjardo. The guides gave us a brief kayaking lesson, and we headed to the bay to put the kayaks in. As someone who has kayaked a lot--and actually guided some kayaking trips during my time in California, it's frustrating for me to kayak in a large, slow group. But when you're touring in a large group with all experience levels, there really isn't a choice.
The kayaks went single file across the bay, through a narrow mangrove forest and finally into the BioBay. We took the 6pm tour that our travel book recommended so we could see the scenery as we headed to the BioBay, but would be in darkness once we arrived. It worked out perfectly.
The bioluminescence was really neat to see--although not as dramatic as we expected from the pictures. As you would swoosh your paddle through the water you could see the glow. You could also scoop some water up in your hand and see little glowing “sparks” running around your palm.
We spent about twenty minutes paddling around the bay before the tour guides called everyone together for the paddle back. As we paddled back through the mangrove at least a dozen kayaks were headed towards the bay—add in the darkness and it was kind of a mess.
The kayak trip was worth it to see the BioBay; however, I wouldn't call it an adventure. While our guides seemed knowledgeable and kind, the trip seemed like a money-making venture rather than an adventure geared toward the customer. While I would recommend the trip just to experience the BioBay, don't expect a great excitement. The trip would be appropriate for anybody who's comfortable in the water and strong enough for mild paddling.
Our third planned adventure was a caving trip through the Rio Camuy caving system. While not for everyone, caving was an awesome experience. The day started early because afternoon showers can cause flooding in the caves. We met our guide at 6:45am at a gas station on the other side of the island. My first thought was, “Wow, that guy must drink a lot of caffeine!” But I think that's just his natural state.
We met our fellow adventurers, headed to a bakery to pick up snacks and use the facilities (no bathrooms in the cave)! We then took the tour bus to the start of the adventure. They had a training area where they went over all the gear involved and explained what the adventure would entail. We would zipline across a canyon, then rappel 250 feet down to the mouth of the cave. At that point we could get rid of our harnesses and begin our caving experience. We would spend four hours doing a figure eight loop in the cave system. The trip would include blind jumps into underground rivers, mudslides, swimming, walking across a tightrope type wire, rope assisted climbs—about anything you could want in a caving adventure.
This adventure delivered everything it promised—and the guides were great. The stalactites and stalagmites were amazing. The pictures just don't do the trip justice. Jumping off a cave ledge and into the river below in complete darkness was scary but exhilarating. Swimming through underground rivers was the thing dreams are made of. I just can't say enough good things about this trip. You would never find a trip like it in the states because of the liability involved (there were definitely dangers along the way).
The adventure was offered by Aventuras Tierra Adentro and I highly recommend them. That being said, it was not a trip for everyone. You need to be physically fit—not necessarily an athlete, but able to hoist your body weight, climb, swim, hike uphill and be able to keep moving for four plus hours. The cave is full of bats. They are up high and don't bother you, but if you are bothered by bats—it's not for you. There are also cockroaches in the cave. Again, they don't bother you, but if you can't be around them don't go on this adventure. If you are claustrophobic and the thought of being in a cave for four hours is disturbing you don't want to do this. Finally, if you don't want to get dirty, don't go on this trip. But for the hardcore adventurer, it's unforgettable.
We found a few adventures on our own. We were told one of the most beautiful beaches in the area was in Fajardo. So the day we were to kayak in the BioBay, we left early to discover the beaches of Fajardo. There's a public beach that is great for families. People pitch tents, have cookouts, and the kiddies run around and play. But that's not really our scene. We read about a two-mile trail off the public beach that leads to two other beaches—Playa Colora and Playa Escondida--both mostly deserted. We sought those out. The first, Playa Colora, isn't safe for swimming, but it was beautiful with large rocks and waves crashing all around us. There were beautiful views of the islands out in the distance.
After following another trail we made it to Playa Escondida. It was serene, beautiful and practically deserted. (We also heard it was clothing optional, but we saw no evidence of that). We were able to swim and sun ourselves. We had packed a picnic lunch, so we chose that beach as our lunching spot.
We also spent a day exploring the El Yunque rainforest on our own. First we took a fairly short hike on the La Mina Falls trail where the waterfall was suppose to be not only beautiful, but refreshing to swim beneath. When we arrived at the falls is was very pretty, but crowded. Many people had decided it was a good day for swimming. So we went off trail a bit (you can do that in Puerto Rico) and followed the falls down stream. We found our own little swimming holes where it was deep enough to jump off the rocks and into the water. Very refreshing!
After the La Mina we had just enough time left before park closing to hike to the El Yunque peak. From there we were told you could see Puerto Rico in its entirety—from the Atlantic north side to the Caribbean on the south. Perhaps on a clear day! When we finally reached the peak it was so cloudy you could barely see ten feet in front of you. Oh well, it was still great exercise and a enjoyable rainforest experience.
Our final adventure of the trip wasn't exhilarating like caving, but it was fun and relaxing. We decided we needed to snorkel while in Puerto Rico. We found a last minute opening on a catamaran called the Salty Dog. For a reasonable price they take you to a small island (Icacos) off Fajardo, feed you lunch—a good lunch—give you snorkeling gear and tell you the best places to go. They also have a small bar offering some of Puerto Rico's favorite rum drinks. I had to be careful as I have a tendency to get sea sick without alcohol. Captain Saso and his crew were fun and friendly (he even brought out his special hot sauce for Mark and I at lunch). Mark and I did manage to partake in a few "Painkillers". I know it had rum and pineapple in it—I'm not sure what else.
Icacos was beautiful. The water was calm and blue. The captain of the boat offered us leftover lunch bread to feed the fish. So as we swam out over the reefs with bread in hand, fish would swim right up and take it from us. It was amazing.
Puerto Rico is definitely a great destination for adventurers. It's on our list of places we would definitely visit again. For those looking for a more laid back trip, Puerto Rico still had a lot to offer. We went into Old San Juan for dinner most nights. It was a short cab ride from our hotel (distance-wise it was walkable, but we were told it wasn't safe to walk at night). Also in San Juan are old forts for the history buff and ports for the cruise ships. We also took a tour of the Bacardi company—which came with free samples at the end (although we learned through locals that Bacardi isn't the preferred brand of rum in PR because it's actually the Cuban recipe. Puerto Ricans preferred the smaller PR rums). Both Old San Juan and Condado have casinos if you're up for a little gambling. Our resort (a Hilton) had plenty of activities for little ones. So there's a little bit for everyone in Puerto Rico. I'm definitely a fan.