Puerto Rico: May 2010

 DAY 1

We arrived in San Juan around 2:30pm where we met Ruben, our driver from the Fajardo Inn, who took us the 45 minute drive from San Juan to Fajardo. Once we checked in and got settled, we headed down to the Blue Iguana for some pre-dinner relaxation.

For dinner, we chose the renowned La Estacion - which was converted from an old gas station . The restaurant specializes in BBQ, and is regarded as one of the best in Fajarado. Susan and I both went with the Mofongo – mine stuffed with Mahi Mahi and Shrimp, Susan's with Chicken. Unbelievable! We both loved the Mofongo – it is a dish with fried plantains and garlic seasoning, among other stuff. After dinner it was back to the room for a good night's sleep before embarking on our sailing adventure.


Captian Domingo picked us up at 8:00 sharp, island time (which means 8:30). Before boarding, Domingo took us to a local bakery for a breakfast – Suz and I both went with the Media Noche on Domingo's recommendation , a sandwich with pork, ham, and cheese. YUM!!

We then headed to the Puerto Del Ray Marina, which is the largest in the Caribbean and 3rd largest in the world. 1300 boats dock there, all were impressive. We then set sail for Culebra.

We made the trip to Culebra in about 2.5 hours, which was good time. The winds and the sea were friendly to us. So friendly we saw both a group of dolphins swimming alongside our sailboat and a sea turtle. One island we passed was habitated by deer, who were nice enough to come down to shore to cheer us on our way.

Our first stop would be Carlos Rosario Beach for some snorkeling. Susan and I put on our gear and hit the water, while Domingo stayed aboard to prepare lunch. The water was crystal clear and the coral in great shape. We swam and saw much of the ordinary fish we'd seen every snorkeling adventure. Then we saw a stingray. Then another. Of course, we spent the rest of our time snorkeling following these guys around, and were lucky enough to get some great pictures and even some video, thanks to our new (Christmas 2007 but finally a chance to use it) Pentac underwater camera that we finally got to try out. Incredible!

Back on board, Domingo had cooked up a fantastic lunch, a shrimp dish with garlic seasoning and pasta salad. It was fantastic – Suz and I both raved about it.

After lunch, we sailed over to the town of Dewey. Domingo pulled up and dropped us off at the pier, where a crowd of locals watched – probably hoping we would fall into the water while trying to deboard (it was a little bit of a jump). There wasn't much to Dewey – just a few streets with only a shop or 2 we were interested in seeing. We bought a magnet and moved on.

After Dewey, it was time to find a nice cove to settle in for the night. It was a nice quiet spot which proved to be popular among the power-boaters. Quite a few of us settled in for the night. Once anchored, Domingo charmed us again with another boat cooked meal – Mahi Mahi served with some local sides. Once again, delicious! After dinner, we traded stories for a bit before settling in for the night.


It's hard to sleep late on a sailboat. We were up and at 'em by 7am, and were greeted with a delicious breakfast Domingo cooked up: Sausage, French toast and fresh fruits. A great way to start the day. We sailed over to Culebrita for our final stop. Culebrita is home to what many regard as the world's most beautiful beach (our favorite is still the Baths), but this was a great one. The beach, only accessible by boat, was a beautiful white sand beach – and way more crowded than you'd expect for an island beach. It was Memorial Day though.

We spent some time on the beach and did some light snorkeling before heading back to the ship, and then home to Fajardo.

On our trip home, the winds weren't as kind. The trip we made in 2 hours the previous day took 4. Since the sight-seeing was over, it felt like a 4 hour trip, at least. But we made the most of it and got some sunbathing in before we finally got back to Fajardo.



Back on Fajardo, we had Captain Domingo drop of us off at the dock to catch the ferry over to Vieques (pronounced Vee-A-case). We arrived about an hour and a half early at 4:15p for the 6:00p ferry, which was no problem, it's better to be early for the ferry than late for it! We'd just settle in and watch the local wildlife until the ferry arrived, then should be at the hotel by 7:30p, just in time for dinner.

So we waited for the ferry. And waited. And waited. Finally, about 7:15 the ferry pulls in. The Memorial Day crowds coming back from apparently slowed them down.

So we finally make it to Vieques just after 9. Luckily, Katrina, our host at the Bravo Beach Hotel, had called ahead to make sure we weren't having any problems. When I told her about the ferry delays, she made sure the hotel restaurant stayed open late to accommodate us. She told us the island restaurants pretty much shut down by 9p, and we'd have a hard time finding a bite to eat that late. So glad she called!

We enjoyed a private pool side dinner at the hotel's restaurant. Since we were so late, we tried to order simple and fast. We started with some Gorgonzola cheese bread which was fantastic and both had a Pear and Gorgonzola salad for the main course. Light but filling, satisfying, and delicious!

Day 4: Blue Beach, Red Beach, and The Bio Bay

First order of the day on our first morning in Vieques was FOOD. But first, we had to track down our rental car. Since we were so late getting in the night before, we were too late to pick up our rental car. Actually, we could have picked it up, but it came down to car vs. food. Food won. Again, Katrina from the Bravo Beach Hotel went above and beyond, closing down the hotel office to drive us over to the rental car office, where we picked up our Jeep Wranger Suzuki Gran Vatara. After that it was time for breakfast, so we drove over to the town of Esperanza.

Esperanza is the most "happening" area on the island and is home to a variety of bars, shops, and restaurants. We'd try them all before leaving, but for breakfast we decided to kick it off with a stop at Belly Buttons, where we split a couple of oversized breakfast sandwiches. Good food, definitely recommended.

After breakfast, it was off to the beaches. We'd been warned, multiple times by multiple people, not to leave in valuables unattended or locked in the car. In fact, we'd been advised NOT to lock the car at all so that the windows wouldn't be broken out. Unemployment on the island is around 80% and things, well, tend to disappear when left unattended.

Since we couldn't leave our valuables (i.e. camera) unattended, we decided to do a quick run of the beaches with our Nikon, grab some good pictures, then head back to the room, store the expensive stuff, and come back to the beach with our swimsuits and not much else. Plus it was cloudy and overcast, so we were hoping we could waste some time waiting for the sun to come out. It didn't.

We saw the beaches of Playa Caracas (Red Beach) and Playa La Chivas (Blue Beach). We didn't do much snorkeling, swimming, or sunbathing since it was so overcast. We just sat on the beach and relaxed and enjoyed doing nothing.

Since we doing the Bio Bay that night, we opted for a late lunch to hold us over. It was back to Esperanza to eat at Bananas. Located on the waterfront, Bananas is a good place to stop for a bite. We liked the atmosphere and the food was good enough. The restaurant featured mostly burgers and sandwiches. Suz had a chicken wrap and I went with the Shrimp Po'Boy. Both good. We tried their "Hot Bananas" for an appetizer: fried bananas with a hot 'n honey sauce. A Must!

After eating, it was time for the highlight of Vieques: The Bio Bay.

The Bioluminescent Bay (or "Bio Bay"), is the world''s largest and brightest. The luminescence is caused by micro-organisms which glow whenever the water is disturbed, leaving a trail of neon blue. A combination of factors create the necessary conditions for bioluminescence: red mangrove trees surround the water (the organisms feed off the dead leaves); a complete lack of modern development around the bay; the water is cool enough and deep enough; and a small channel to the ocean keeps the dinoflagellates in the bay. This small channel is the result of Spanish ships'' attempts to choke off the bay from the ocean''s waters. The Spanish believed that the bioluminescence they first encountered was the work of the Devil (''El Diablo'') and tried to block the ocean''s waters from entering the bay by dropping huge boulders in the channel. The Spanish only succeeded in preserving and increasing the luminescence. Kayaking is permitted in the bay and can be arranged through local vendors. Swimming is allowed on limited basis through guided tours.

We signed up for a kayaking trip with one of the local companies. It runs $30, which is mandated by the government. Susan and I both loved the experience – it's definitely a unique experience like nothing we've ever done before. It was without a doubt the highlight of the trip! (no pun intended)

Day 5: The Bunkers & Old San Juan

On our last day in Vieques, our hopes that the weather would improve didn't pan out, so we spent the first part of the day driving around the island checking out the sights….which there weren't really many to speak of, except The Bunkers.

Vieques was used by the US Navy from 1941 to 2003 to conduct bombing practice. In fact, much of the island is restricted, including the majority of the beaches on the island, due to the presence of contaminants and undetonated explosives still remaining on the island and in the waters just off the beaches. To use the words of one of Susan's coworkers who is ex-Navy, "we used to bomb the crapp out of that island".

A fairly large area of the island is known as "The Bunkers" where dozens of abandoned military bunkers sit largely unoccupied. These bunkers were constructed partially underground and have grass roofs to prevent satellite detection.

It was very interesting to drive through and look at all the old bunkers – we felt like we had wandered right into an episode of Lost. Don't miss the video in the gallery and you'll see what I mean!

For the finale of our trip, it was back to San Juan for a bit of site-seeing for the final 24 hours of our trip. We chose Old San Juan''s The Gallery Inn for our final night, and we were not disappointed.

The Gallery Inn sits on the city''s northern wall and has great views overlooking the Atlantic and also of San Juan. The building is 300 years old and is a maze of courtyards, interior gardens, patios, and terraces. We could have spent half the day just exploring the hotel - unfortunately due to our short stay we had to cram it into about 30 minutes - which was not enough time.

The Gallery Inn gets high marks from both Trip Advisor and Frommer''s. National Geographic called it one of the best places to stay in the Caribbean. We agree.

After settling into our room, it was time to fire up the Colt Cam to see what was going on back stateside before heading out for dinner. It was the status quo - Colt was still getting spoiled.

For dinner, we chose Cafe Puerto Rico. It was recommended by our concierge as a place nearby with good, authentic Puerto Rican food. The food was good, but forgettable. One thing we won''t forget is being told we could not sit outside on the patio because they were closing it down - then being sat at a crowded table inside watching them seat person after person on the patio. Not huge but certainly annoying. It was a beautiful night to dine outside.

Following dinner, we headed a few blocks over to Carli''s for dessert and live music. We heard good things about this place - and they were right on. Carli''s is a small place with an intimate, jazzy feel - but not crowded at all. We sat at the bar and enjoyed the music over creme brulee, while we chatted with one of the friendlier bartenders in all the Caribbean. If you''re in Old San Juan, this place is definitely worth a stop.

After our creme brulee, it was back to the Gallery Inn where we cashed in on the hotel''s honor bar and headed to the rooftop wine deck. The Gallery Inn rooftop has the city''s best view and was a great place to cap off our last night of vacation.


Day 6: Old San Juan

On our final day, we had half a day to burn before having to head to the airport. So what better to do than site-see?!

Castillo San Cristobal and Castillo San Felipe Morro are forts on the city''s nort side, and two of the city''s more visible landmarks. We spent the morning dodging crowds of cruisers (our term for all the tourists rolling in on the big cruise ships) and touring both these forts. Definitely a must-see if your on the island.

After our site-seeing, we grabbed a quick last-bite at St. Germain. This restaurant we had actually read good things about. It had rave reviews on most of the travel sites so we wanted to check it out, especially after our lackluster meal at Cafe Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, it didn''t live up to expectations. It was more of a gourmet (fru-fru) deli - and we felt it was overpriced. The food was OK, about what you''d find at any nicer deli/bistro. We say skip it.

That sums up Vacation 2010. This vacation was very different from year''s past across the board. We were closer to a major airport than normal (in case we needed to get back home quick) and stayed about 3-4 days less than normal. It was, after all, our first trip without the Colt-man. And we likely couldn''t have gone at all without such a great support system at home. Colt stayed with his Nana the first half of the trip, and we got lots of updates and pictures via text message about what Colt was up to during the days. For the second half, Colt''s Grandmommy and Aunt Susan came up from Montgomery to house-sit for us, and a daily video chat became the norm for the second half of the trip. A huge thanks to everyone who helped out with Colt while we were gone! You''ll all be happy to know after 6 weeks back home we have almost completely reversed the effects of his being spoiled rotten while we were gone!

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