March 31, 2016

Shore Excursions & Exploring (Part 3)

The conclusion of the Caribbean travel series goes back to where it started (and ended); that being Puerto Rico. While this Spanish colony – dating back to the days of Christopher Columbus – was invaded by the Americans in the late 19th century, Spanish remains the island’s official language. They also use a confusing mix of metric and imperial measurements, in which distances are in kilometres and speed limits are in miles per hour. Technical information aside, this Isla del Encanto (Isle of Enchantment) offers something for everyone.

San Juan

Old San Juan with its forts and beaches
After a very turbulent flight, a brief nap, and some breakfast, it was time to explore the island’s capital of San Juan! Dad used a pedometer during the day, which indicated we walked about 30 kilometres from our hotel in Condado District (east of Old San Juan) to Old San Juan and back! During that long walk, a lot was seen and caught on camera.
Fortification grounds by San Cristobal
For the history buffs out there, San Juan has two main forts (San Felipe Del Morro and San Cristobal), as well as remnants of a third near Condado District (San Geronimo). The grounds near the fortifications draw in wildlife ranging from iguanas to parrot-like birds to pelicans. Along the shoreline trail below the walls of Del Morro – and elsewhere in San Juan – stray cats could be seen everywhere! Locals feed them every so often and the smell by the cat litter areas can be overwhelming. Also on the fort grounds, locals could be seen flying kites with a few caught over the cliffs. However, there is a ghetto just off the main road between San Cristobal and Del Morro (a.k.a. La Perla) which is known for criminal activity and another tourist we ran into claimed he was robbed.
Cats found on shoreline trail below the Del Morro fort walls
For photographers, murals, tiles, and other artwork can be found everywhere, as well as abandoned buildings. Those looking for physical activity can catch some large waves at several beaches in Condado District or join the dozens of joggers out at six or seven in the morning. (shades of Vancouver?) Exercise machines can be found at the beach just before the bridge to Old San Juan, but I was disappointed with the lack of bicycle availability. (more about that here)
Murals like these can be found on highway on/off ramps
If you want parks, there is a large one called Parque Luis Munoz Rivera west of the bridge and a square between the Condado Vanderbilt and La Concha called “Parque La Ventana al Mar” which hosts public markets and concerts. For entertainment options, La Concha has a casino for those feeling lucky and Ashford Street – the main street in Condado District – has bars with “Happy Hour” lasting until five in the morning! Heck, even a few bars were open 24 hours!

El Yunque National Forest
View of El Yunque National Forest from Yokahu Tower
After the cruise, we still had an extra day before returning to Toronto. For that day, we headed east towards El Yunque National Forest, which marked the first time I got to visit a tropical rain forest! It was a cool experience; getting to see mango and banana trees up close. The variety of plant life, mountains, waterfalls, and hiking trails can be mind-blowing, though it was difficult trying to see the birds one can hear regularly. For a good view of the rain forest, I recommend climbing up Yokahu Tower.
Yokahu Tower
In order to truly appreciate what El Yunque has to offer, one would need the entire day to explore. If I end up visiting Puerto Rico again, I would definitely want to take advantage of some of the hiking trails in order to get an even closer feel for the rain forest experience.

Final Remarks
With all that can be done in San Juan and the El Yunque National Forest, it only scratches the surface for Puerto Rico. It would even be possible to spend an entire week just visiting that island, whereas one to two days may be more appropriate at some of the ports of call visited during the cruise. If the cruise life isn’t your thing, there are websites such as SellOffVacations.com which can get you a one week all-inclusive vacation (flight, resort, food, etc.) at certain Caribbean islands for as little as $600-700 per person. More pictures from my Caribbean trip can be found in this Flickr album.

In case you missed the previous posts in the Caribbean travel series, here are the links to them.

- Just Cruisin' For Travel
- Shore Excursions & Exploring Part 1
- Shore Excursions & Exploring Part 2

Now back to the regular cycling writing until the next trip …

Catch some sun!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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