Puerto Rico, roughly the size of Rhode Island, is teeming with an array of activities, easily lending itself to a bucket list. From great hiking opportunities through lush, waterfall-filled jungle, to placid scenic beaches, to bat caves and numerous water adventures this US territory seems to have something for everyone. Having only a few days on the island, I had to prioritize my itinerary. Here is what made my list:
Explore Old San Juan
The old city in San Juan is known for its architecture, cobblestone streets and the fort. The architectural styles of the buildings reminded me of Intramuros, Philippines, the vibrant colors were reminiscent of San Francisco and the narrow cobblestone streets reminded me of Europe. The fort, located right on the Atlantic offered gorgeous views, lots of lizards and a gentle sea breeze.
Climb El Yunque
El Yunque Mountain, standing at over 1000 meters (3000 feet), is one of the highest mountains in Puerto Rico. The trail to the peak takes you through a rich rain forest for about two hours. The panorama at the top is nothing short of stunning with the vivid texture of dense forest lining the surrounding mountains in the foreground, with blue waters and the island of Vieques in the background. At that altitude I was able to watch a cloud mass roll over the mountains before it dissipated revealing the gorgeous scenery once more.
Kayak with Bio-Luminescent Plankton
According to our guide, three of the five places in the world where bio-luminescent plankton are prevalent are located in Puerto Rico. Although it is said that the brightest plankton are located on the Vieques Island just to the east of Puerto Rico’s main island, we chose to experience the plankton in Fajardo as it was much easier to access.
I joined a tour and with tandem kayaks 20 of us journeyed out into the night towards the Bio-luminescent Bay. I could hardly see and so the low-hanging branches that surprised me at times, as well as the sounds coming from the surrounding mangroves, made the whole experience a true adventure. After kayaking through a narrow passageway we arrived at the bay and that’s when I started to notice that each paddle stroke I made in the water yielded a gorgeous blue color. It was one of the most beautiful natural phenomena I have ever seen! I wanted to jump in and swim with the plankton but there are laws against that in order to protect them.
Dip my Feet in the Caribbean Sea
I love to feel different bodies of water on my skin. Most recently I have swum in the Dead Sea and the Red Sea and was eager to add the Caribbean Sea to my list. So I drove to Ponce Beach on the south of the main island and dipped my feet in the warm water. With sparkling clear water, very soft sand and gorgeous scenery, Ponce Beach turned out to be one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever visited.
Trace my Family History in Castañer
Growing up I heard stories, and saw slides, of my grandparents’ time in Puerto Rico during WWII. My Grandma and Grandpa had just graduated from medical school, where they met, and wanting to do something to give back, they became volunteers with the Brethren Volunteer Services. Consequently, they spent several years opening and maintaining clinics and educating the public on how to stay healthy in the village of Castañer, south of Lares and north of Ponce.
My grandparents always spoke highly of Puerto Rico and so I was eager to visit the island and especially Castaner. I found the place where they lived and and worked, and got a feeling of what it might have been like for them. Tracing my family history here was a very moving experience for me. I only wish my grandparents were still alive to share my joy with.
Puerto Rico has many caves to explore, especially on the Western section of the main island. One of the most famous caves in Puerto Rico is Cueva Ventana (Window Cave), named because of the beautiful view the cave opens up to. I bought a ticket and was given a hard hat, a flashlight and directions to the entrance. After learning about three different kinds of bats and some petroglyphs from well-stationed guides, the cave opened up, as promised, to a beautiful photographic viewpoint of the valley below.
On the way out, I noticed another cave without guides and decided to explore with my friend Erick. Together we climbed down boulders into the crevice and started in one direction and then the next. We saw bats and even a big spider along the journey before climbing our way out again. I felt so triumphant after such a successful adventure.