Puerto Rico is an easy first "international destination" for American travelers without many of the challenges associated for passport and administration planning. Yet its nature, old town, and nightlife make this easily accessible destination one that is well worth a trip to visit. Perfect for a quick family trip or a rowdy weekend with friends, this Caribbean island has something for everyone!
Bioluminescent Bay Kayaking
Bioluminescence is one of planet Earth’s best-kept secrets as these micro-organisms make the water sparkle and glow at night. Tiny plankton that have a chemical reaction to motion causing them to glow bright blue which is one of the most magical natural phenomenon that I have witnessed. While scientists are still uncertain as to the reason behind these organisms’ reaction to movement in the water, the reaction of a bright sparkling effect rippling through the water is quite breathtaking. Going to see this was one of my main reasons for visiting Puerto Rico and I signed up for a day tour to hike through a rainforest followed by a small group kayak trip into one of the three protected bioluminescent bays.
At sunset I hopped in a glass bottomed kayak with the tour guide and off we paddled down a river into an open bay. As the sun finished setting over the horizon and the night sky grew darker, several of the guides covered groups of kayakers with large tarps to make it pitch black for us to see the water better. We were instructed to put our hands into the water and rapidly swish the water causing the plankton to glow. It looked like the something out of the movie Avatar as the water immediately reacted to the motion and came to life. This was truly a magical moment and I was in complete awe as the water moving between my fingers lit up and glittered brightly. This has by far my been my favorite kayaking experience!
Enjoy the Nightlife
The famous Despacito music video was filmed at La Factoria, a bar in La Perla district which is directly in the heart of San Juan. There is also La Placita where seemingly every night of the week, this walking street of bars turns it up and the visitors dance the night way. After settling into my hostel and meeting several of the other travelers we had some drinks and headed out to explore the nightlife. Every bar had some special they were offering and bumped loud catchy tunes. The next night even after a torrential downpour started, people were unfazed and kept right on twirling and shaking their hips in the rain. From salsa to low-key jazz clubs, Puerto Rico offers a wide variety of nightlife options.
Tour the Bacardi Factory
What is an island trip without some delicious rum drinks to make it a vacation? Well in Puerto Rico this is definitely the case as it is home to one of the world's most famous rum brands, Bacardi. The factory is only a few minutes drive from downtown San Juan and they offer tours of their spacious grounds, explaining the history of the company, demonstrating the process, and of course letting you sample some delicious concoctions.
Explore Old Town San Juan
The old town of San Juan has plenty to offer in local sights with the fortress, museums, and lively streets. The old cannons and citadel make this coastline’s purpose distinct from the more relaxed beaches a few miles away. While there are numerous museums and guides available, it is easy to take a self-guided tour through the area and visit most of the famous landmarks. One of my favorites was the old cemetery which was located just beyond the city walls and filled with the last glimmers of sunlight during the golden hour.
Relax on the Beach
No island experience is truly complete without an afternoon of relaxing on the beach. Thankfully the beaches in Puerto Rico are far less populate than those across the pond in Miami, but remain quite relaxing and lovely to visit. In the direct vicinity of San Juan there are several that are walking distance from the downtown area. I would definitely recommend visiting the Bacardi factory first and then bringing a bottle and some mixers down to the water for a sunny afternoon of fun.
Bio Rainforest Hike
While the main attraction that I was interested in was kayaking in the Bioluminescent bay, many tours included a hike through the rainforest as part of the package deal. The hike was the first stop after an early morning pick-up following a long night of dancing, but the guide was extremely knowledgeable and had fascinating information about the nature surrounding us as we trekked out into the dense jungle. We learned all about the flora and fauna surrounding the trail and were able to hike out to several waterfalls tucked away between the trees. Not surprisingly this portion of the tour ended in a complete downpour (after all it was in the rainforest), but we completed the hike back with a stop at a pool of water with a rope swing since we were already all soaking wet. Overall this was a great way to explore a bit of the nature and see some of Puerto Rico's natural beauty.