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Blog: The Hopeful Traveler
Only 36 Days Until Departure!

It's now mid-November and since Thanksgiving serves as the official starter pistol for the lunatic race known as the Christmas season, let's take a moment to go over your wish list for this holiday:
1.  Don't want to cook anything.
2.  Don't want to go to a mall.
3.  Don't want to have to turn on the heat.
4.  Don't want to un-decorate a tree.
5.  Want to spend Christmas Day on a Caribbean Beach.
Oh, sorry, that's my Christmas wish list. No doubt your list is more selfless, more traditional, more… Christmas-y. But just in case it bears any similarity to mine, I have just 5 words for you: Five Days in Puerto Rico. Why, you say?
1.  No passport required.
2.  Weather is fabulous.
3.  They use dollars.
4.  Food is unbelievably delicious.
5.  Beaches are incredible.
6.  Got stuff for kids.
Okay, there are some drawbacks, too. Puerto Rico is not cheap. It's a world class tourist destination so that means hotel prices can be high, especially as Christmas is peak season. But that also means there are plenty of competitive alternatives available. Holiday airfares tend to be high, but the good news is that there are plenty of choices to San Juan and other parts of the island. If you want to stay solely in San Juan, you can get by with taxis or public transport but if you want to see more of the island, you'll need to rent a car. All the major rental companies are here. Get on that computer right now and start searching.
In San Juan, here's three fun areas for your stay:
1. Old San Juan is the colonial section of the city. It is made up of narrow, cobbled streets, beautiful old buildings, tons of restaurants and shops, as well as some great hotels.
2. The Candado is a glittering strip of land between the lagoon and the ocean. This is where many more hotels and clubs can be found, along Ashford Avenue. Candado Beaches are accessible to all the hotels (Marriott, Radisson, Hilton) along this strip.
3. Isla Verde is more residential, nearer the airport, but it is home to many hotels, including the Intercontinental, the Ritz Carlton and the wonderful El San Juan Hotel-- all along the beach, not to mention many more affordable alternatives like Hampton Inn and Embassy Suites.
Here we go. Day 1:  If you're not already there, take a taxi or drive to Old San Juan. Once there, you can spend the rest of the day on foot. Start by touring El Morro, a spectacular fort begun by the Spanish in the 16th century. It is a maze of secret tunnels, lookout towers and vaults. The whole family will love it. Then wander south through the narrow streets for some souvenir shopping, or people-watching at the Plaza de Armas.
After a lunch of traditional food at the colorful El Jibarito (280 Calle Sol), walk west down Calle de San Francisco to view San Juan Cathedral, then head south to see the  tiny Cristo Chapel and the Parque de las Palomas. You can have a coffee at one of the cafes along Calle de Cristo then continue exploring among the many streets and plazas. It's also fun to walk down to the cruise ship terminal to watch the constant activity at the seafront.
Later in the afternoon, have a cocktail or soda at the 2nd floor lounge in the Hotel El Convento. It was established as a convent for Carmelite Nuns in 1651 and in 1996 was refurbished into this luxury hotel. If you are craving a light dinner (or even a heavy one) walk directly across the little square in front of the hotel to Rosa de Triana for some delicious Spanish tapas (small dishes) in what was once was a colonial maritime jail. The nightlife continues along Calle San Sebastian or you can go back to the hotel. You have a big day tomorrow.
Day 2.  Get up early, go for a dip in the ocean or the pool, have breakfast, then hop in your car and head east out of San Juan on Highway #3. Pass the little towns of Canovanas and Dolores and watch for the signs for El Junque National Park.  After you turn off on Route #191, you'll go through the tiny town of Palmer and start heading up the hill to the main entrance. Stop at the Visitors Center to stock up on bottled water or a picnic lunch or just to get information about all the wildlife you're going to see. Ask the guide to direct you to the trail that passes La Coca Falls and heads up the mountain toward the upper Visitors Center.
Walk as far as you feel comfortable along the paved trail, then head back down to the parking area. If you feel like a good hike, take the trail all the way to the top and back. Make sure you have plenty of water and mosquito repellant because it's hot and steamy but you'll see some lovely waterfalls as you head up. You can stop along the way at the picnic areas along the trail or go for a dip in the icy stream. This is a rain forest so the growth is lush and you'll see plenty of wildlife.
After you return to San Juan, take a drive over to Isla Verde to the El San Juan Hotel. This historic hotel has a gorgeous lobby area with lots of original carved wood details. Pop into the beautiful old casino or just enjoy the open lobby lounge. For dinner, right down the street on Avenida Isla Verde is Metropol, serving traditional Cuban/ Puerto Rican fare.  
Day 3.  This time you're going to head west out of San Juan, along the toll road #22 toward Arecibo. Turn off at the signs for the Arecibo Radio Telescope. This is the largest radio telescope in the world. Situated in a natural depression in the forest, it's the place where NASA, in 1992, first discovered planets outside our solar system and where the SETI Program has searched for signs of life in outer space. It's just spectacular in scale. There's a Visitor Center and outdoor viewing platform.
Then continue west and, at Aguadilla, turn south toward the sleepy beach town of Rincon. There are numerous vacation spots along this side of the island. I've stayed twice at the Rincon Beach Hotel. It's comfortable, not quite luxurious-- but oh that beach! The hotel pool borders the sand and you can spend days (believe me) under the palm trees, floating in the gentle, warm surf, or strolling along the mostly deserted bay.  Ask at the front desk for local activities like snorkeling, boating, fishing.
Day 4. The beach. A good book. Don't bug me.
Day 5.  After a leisurely breakfast at your hotel and a farewell swim, get back on the road and continue south toward Mayaguez and stay on the #2 toward Ponce.  Along here the terrain begins to change from lush and tropical to more green and rolling. You can visit the colonial sights of Ponce, Puerto Rico's 2nd city and the most Spanish-influenced. Visit the Plaza las Delicias and Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral then stroll north to the beautiful area of El Vigia for a wonderful view of the city.
After you leave Ponce, you'll take Highway #52 through the center of the island and north back to San Juan. This part of the island is hilly and green with lots of little towns along the way for exploration.  You'll be back in San Juan by mid afternoon-- time to hit the surf, hit the casino or just stroll around, showing off your sunburn from Rincon. Don't forget to pack up your sea shells and all that tourist junk you bought in preparation for your flight home.
In Puerto Rico you won't avoid Christmas completely. It is, after all, a very Catholic country. But somehow, the endless repetition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer doesn't have the same stupefying effect when you're in a swim suit and flip-flops, mojito at hand.
Steven Berrier 2007

posted on: 11/16/2007 1:00:00 PM by Steven Berrier and Leslie Coles
category: Travel

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The Hopeful Traveler

by Steven Berrier and Leslie Coles

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About Steven And Leslie:

Steven Berrier and Leslie Coles are the owners of Natural Order, specializing in home organization in San Diego and Southern California. Both are avid travelers who can't resist giving advice.

Steven And Leslie's Website:


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