For as long as I can remember, it had been my dream to go on a real beach vacation: hear the ocean crashing into the shore, hug a palm tree, and see what style my hair would adopt once the salt water evaporated. This dream was realized when our family trekked to Puerto Rico for some much needed rest and relaxation. I quickly learned that the ocean in this part of the world is a shade of blue I thought only existed in the 152-color box of Crayola crayons. As a lover of the color blue, it was true love at first sight.
We spent two weeks on the island and it was magical. We landed in San Juan and then drove to Fajardo on the northeastern edge of the island. As a courtesy please note: if you're driving any distance in PR be forewarned that the emergency lane is used as an ad hoc passing lane and the speed "limits" are really more like "guidelines." Channel your inner Mario Andretti and you'll be fine.
While in Fajardo we visited Luquillo Beach and purchased a blended beverage. The staff at the stand asked, "in a pineapple or in a glass?" (Why is that even a question... PINEAPPLE!!) They then proceeded to core the pineapple, package up the interior fruit, make the drink and put it inside the pineapple. The little was very happy with the "bonus pineapple snack" that came along with this purchase and happily munched while sand-covered from beach adventures.
How do you take midwestern redheads to a beach in the Caribbean in March? In SPF 50 and rash guards... that's how. Since this was a leap year, we happily concluded that when the year gives you an extra day you should spend it at the beach! The photos from this day will forever bring me to a place of incredible contentment and joy.
During our time on the northeastern edge of the island we also visited El Yunque National Forest. This forest consists of approximately 28,000 acres and is distinguished by its tropical climate and its great biodiversity. The amount of rainfall this area experiences is mind-boggling and it is the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Forest System. Certainly a worthwhile day trip.
There were so many species of flora and fauna to observe. We went midday and it rained briefly while we were in the forest--a common occurrence here. Bring a camera, a pair of binoculars, your favorite reusable water bottle, and a comfortable pair of shoes; there are excellent hiking opportunities.
We taught Kate about ecosystems and the concepts of stewardship. We also emphasized "take only memories, leave only footprints." We left everything the way we found it, except for this stick; we took this one stick. Also, note my lovely sunburnt hands. This became one of the running jokes of this trip since I forgot to put sunscreen on my hands when we went to the beach while wearing a long-sleeved rash guard... also known as "lobster hands." Fun times.
Kate loved exploring the "jungle" and was especially proud of this leaf the size of her torso!
During our time in Fajardo, we rented an apartment with sweeping ocean views off the balcony. When we weren't swimming in the pool or out taking in the sights, one of Kate's favorite past times became waving at the boats through the railing.
After our first week, it was time to leave our balcony view behind and travel to Cabo Rojo on the opposite side of the island. This meant a fair amount of driving again and it was just as nail-biting as our first experience; however, this time our expectations were more in line with reality so we had fun yelling "ZOOOOOOOM" while keeping pace with local traffic.
The southwestern side of the island was surprisingly different; gone were the oceanic breezes we'd become accustomed to in Fajardo. But the sun was warm, the water was blue and there were new sights to see!
Just down the road from our apartment was Las Salinas (the salt flats). We walked down one day and took in the views from the observation tower. The salt flats were made part of the Cabo Rojo Wildlife Refuge to support conservation and protection efforts. As well as being a scenic vista, Las Salinas features access to a range of diverse ecosystems from mangrove to hypersaline pools. The radiant pink hue found in the Las Salinas salt flats is the result of tiny brine shrimp within the ocean waters drying out among the pools.
Also just down the road, Faro de Los Morrillos lighthouse ("El Faro") demarcates the extreme southwestern tip of the island of Puerto Rico. Constructed in 1882, this lighthouse is still used to guide vessels through the often ruinous Mona passage from the Caribbean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. It is unique for its simple, unadorned architecture and having a lenticular lens from Sautter, Lemonnier and Co. rather than the Fresnel lenses commonly equipped in continental lighthouses.
At one time the station was staffed by two keepers, an engineer and their families all living on the grounds. However, in 1967, Los Morrillos was automated and while still functioning as a working aid to navigation it no longer requires personnel to execute this function. Be prepared for dirt roads, unmarked parking, and terrific views.
The cove the lighthouse overlooks contains La Playuela (commonly known as Playa Sucia), which is a lovely beach with natural alcoves created by the bordering trees. We packed a picnic lunch later that week and spent the day swimming in the cove's turquoise waters. Kate had been begging for a picnic on the beach ever since we booked the trip and we were pleased as punch to make her three-year-old dream a reality! Interestingly while we were there, about 30 hermit crabs traversed across our section of the beach giving us an opportunity to get up close and personal.
A day later, a local tipped us off about Yaucono's coffee festival and we decided that would definitely be something we'd be into, so we jumped in the car and drove to Yauco. Kate gravitated towards Yauco's bus stops (the green balloon looking structure), but the mister and I were there for the coffee.
The mister was immediately smitten with Yaucono coffee and after a quick price check on Amazon to determine how much it would cost us to acquire it once back on the mainland, took the initiative to donate a number of the shirts he brought on the trip to make room to bring home twelve bags of coffee in his luggage.
At the end of our two weeks we drove back to San Juan to catch our flight home. Our last meal on the island was my favorite (read: Churrasco with chimichurri) and we had a friendly tablemate with whom to share our calamari (we named him "Terrence" and promised to be his pen pal). Since our restaurant was on the beachfront we played in the sand and took a windswept selfie before returning to our hotel. We spent our first and last nights at the San Juan Airport Hotel, which gave the little the opportunity to sit on the windowsill and wave at all the planes taking off (this was great fun until she started crying because "we're never going to see it again!").
We will always look back on our family vacation to Puerto Rico fondly and although we were sad to leave, we returned home refreshed and recharged!