Sunday, February 19, 2012

PUERTO RICO . . . PARADISE CLOSE TO HOME!

Before my trip last month to Puerto Rico, I hadn't been there in more than 25 years. Was is too close to home? Did I think of it as part of the United States, so not really a Caribbean Island?! Well, whatever I was thinking . . . what was I thinking???!!!

We arrived in San Juan, spent a couple of hours at a local beach, and drinks at the Caribe Hilton, before good friends from the island met us. We stopped at a local eatery, Panaderia Espa~a.  We were the only people who didn't speak Spanish, but that wasn't a problem. Everyone there spoke English as well.  We stood on line, placed our orders for food, brought it to a table and enjoyed every morsel. We ate a local soup called cal do gall ego. I had trouble pronouncing it, but no trouble at all finishing every last drop. It was amazing. 

From there, we met some other friends who were just flying in and got on the road towards Fajardo . . . into the rainforest area.  Since we hadn't eaten in a couple of hours, our local friends took us to one of their favorite restaurants in Luquillo, about 15 minutes west of Fajardo, La Parilla.  There we feasted on succulent lobsters, and island favorites such as plantains, mofongo, which is made from cooked and smashed plantains, seasoned and served with pork, shrimp, etc. and local drinks. We were not disappointed. Our stomachs were more than full.

We spent two nights at our friend's ranch in the rainforest. You must go to the rainforest. It is beautiful. You can hike on your own, or you can take a variety of tours, including zip lining through the forest.  We had a great time with friends there and heard the tales of "chupacabras," a vampire (like Dracula) who flies through the rainforest. The story is that he hasn't been seen in about 10 years, but locals tell stories of finding dead animals, blood sucked out of their bodies. The name means "goat sucker".  I stayed close to the hacienda and didn't venture out at night alone!!!!! Of course, most say that it's just a story, but . . . .

Our next six days were spent at the El Conquistador Resort, in Fajardo. This resort is a Waldorf Astoria Resort and lives up to it's name and then some. It is perched above the ocean on a 300 foot cliff!  We stayed in Las Casitas Village, which I highly recommend. Although at the far end of the resort and a little walk to get to the main dining areas, casino and harbor, it is peaceful and many of the units have beautiful views. There are 1,2 and 3 bedroom suites. Be sure to ask for ocean view or ocean front! Our unit had incredible ocean front views of Palomino Island (will talk about that soon) all the way around to the rainforest and overlooked the Casita's private Infinity Pool.  We couldn't have asked for a better location. However, no matter where you stay at the resort, you won't be disappointed. Just as a side note, if you stay in Las Casitas, please ask for a room with a view. We had a member of our group who was in a small room on a lower level. He said there was hardly any light coming in, and no view at all - except the parking lot. He had his room changed! They are very accommodating.

The resort has so much to offer. It has a magnificent golf course (I don't play golf, but I do know a   beautiful golf course when I see one).  It is on a rocky coast which is breath-taking. The beach is not on the mainland. You take a private hydroplane (ferry) to Palomino Island. It's a short ride to the resort's private island with crystal clear waters and white sand beaches. You can hike, horseback ride, take out sunfish, kayaks, snorkel, etc., or just sit back on a lounge chair and enjoy the beautiful vistas.  The island has a restaurant, bar and little gift shops as well, and you can charge everything to your room!

Back at the resort, there is a small water park with water slides and a lazy river pool. There is an extra charge, but if you are going with kids, it's a great way to spend a few hours.

If you want to be pampered, then you want to go to the Golden Door Spa. It is a world-reknown spa with so much to offer, you'll want to go back every day!

The resort restaurants are fantastic. No need to go into town for good food (locals told me this!).  Great dining experiences were had at the Stingray Cafe, where we had great Caribbean-infused seafood, and at Strip House, for phenomenal steaks. (of course the restaurants have large menus and items for those who don't eat certain foods).

We loved having breakfast outdoors at Casitas Cafe, overlooking Las Casitas Village Pool. It was quiet, the service staff was great and we sat and talked long after we finished our meals!

Ventana del Caribe, at the Infinity Pool in Las Casitas Village, is a great place for lunch. If you like wings, order them!!!! Our group ordered so many wings one afternoon that they ran out! Drinks are delicious and refreshing.  It was difficult to leave the pool because of the breathtaking views and the food and drink!  

You can leave the resort and go into the town of Fajardo. We chose not to since we were with a group. But we did do one thing that should not be missed. We did a Bioluminescence kayak tour at sunset into Las Croadbas Bay. Bioluminesence is a mysterious blue-green light that is created by micro-organisms in the water. There are only a couple places in the world where it is found year round, and Puerto Rico has 2 of those places, both with the highest amount of micro-organisms. Once of them is just past the marina which is at the lowest level of the resort.  If you aren't the kayaking type, no worries. They have electric boats that will safely take you on the same route. It is absolutely amazing and beautiful.

Now, there are so many more places to visit in Puerto Rico. If you've never been, definitely go to Old San Juan. It is beautiful and full of rich history.  You can go to Rincon in the winter months and surf - or watch the surfing competitions. Yes, that area (the most western part of the island) is a world class surf competition area.  There are islands like Viesques, of the northeastern coast, filled with beautiful beaches, abundant sea and land wildlife, great eateries, hotels and history. 

Was I happy that I returned to Puerto Rico? Not only was I happy, I am planning another trip there! The people are great, the food is great, the beaches are great, the weather is great . . . . and I want to see more!

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