Summer time is here once again and with schools letting out and the heat turning up, many of us will be setting sail for our tropical island vacations.
In May, I took a trip to Puerto Rico for six days and less than 600 dollars (flight and hotel fees). A friend and I stayed in a hotel in Condado, a city near San Juan, and overall, our experience was mostly perfect (until the last two days when my phone got submerged in water, and then there was a mysterious black out on our street, and alarms were blaring, but everything was cool before then). I didn’t necessarily know what to expect when I got there, but since I had a pretty good time, I wanted to give some incite to those interested in taking the trip.
Safety is probably the best place to start. Before I left, everyone was warning me to stay safe. Everyone. My mom, the internet, even people I knew that were actually from the Island. I currently live in Brooklyn and my friend is from Jamaica, Queens, so we heard all of this and thought: “If we can handling traveling around East New York and Jamaica, Queens, Puerto Rico will be a breeze” after all, any clever New Yorker knows the golden rule of safety: “mind your business and you’ll be fine.”
And we were. We didn’t have to utilize any more street smarts than we would have back home and we survived without a scratch. We didn’t notice anything creepy or out of the ordinary, but for the most part, we stayed in tourist areas or with locals familiar with the area.
However, we spoke with a waitress who described a scary story where a friend of hers had a father who went missing in his taxi and later the taxi turned up destroyed and the father nowhere to be found. She told us that the island was still dangerous despite what we thought, but still, we kinda shrugged it off. I mean, one day, back in Brooklyn, I was walking down Utica Ave and heard four gun shots go off and watched people turn quickly and then go about their business once they noticed it wasn’t in our immediate area. Needless to say, it takes a lot to scare me.
Even still, I asked the same waitress about the area of town every friend I knew that’s visited the Island and every blog warned me about: La Perla. She said that the beach front town of Old San Juan near El Morro wasn’t as dangerous as people thought and that it’s a great place to party as long as you know people and don’t look lost. It’s a drug den, and she basically said, “Unless you’re looking to get a drug fix without getting beat up, you have nothing to worry about”. She didn’t really sell me on the idea of visiting, but it was an interesting perspective and shows how subjective the idea of “danger” is.
Our hotel was right off of the beach and the very first thing we did when we got there was jump in the water. Condado beach was beautiful and picture-esque. Seriously. My Instagram was on fire after I dropped a couple beach pictures near the rock lined coast. This was the beach we spent the most time at and then later on we visited the beach at Isla Verde with a couple of locals, and it was just as beautiful. I’d say I saw more locals than tourists at both beaches and very few obnoxious beachgoers. My only grievance was that I happened to have my phone destroyed by the corrosive salt waters of the ocean, but that’s my fault for buying a cheap “waterproof” phone case on Groupon- so I digress.
My friend and I had a bunch of ideas for what we wanted to do when we got to Puerto Rico, but aside from the beach and touring Old San Juan, most activities were a little bit out of our price range. We quickly learned that guided trips would range anywhere from 50 to 120 dollars. However, most of the costs seem to come from taxi rides because tourists that we spoke to, who visited other sites like El Yunque (the famous waterfall), said they paid no more than 10$ to visit the rainforest because they had a friend who drove them. Before speaking to them about their trip, my friend and I wanted to visit Playa Negra (a famous beach with black sand), and the taxi ride alone was 90$ both ways.
In the end, the only guided tour we were willing to spend the money on was a beautiful kayaking excursion in a bioluminescent bay at night.
Despite the more expensive trips, there were much cheaper activities that filled our time. We went partying in Santurce and La Placita, toured Old San Juan (it takes multiple days to see it all), visited El Castillo San Felipe del Morro, joined the fun at Senor Frogs, and hit the beach. Each activity was either a 15$ taxi ride and no more than a 5-10 dollar entrance fee and there was so much more to do on a budget that we ran out of time to do it all.
If you want to party in Puerto Rico and you have multiple nights to do so, then this is your itinerary:
Nights 1-2 – Go club hopping in Old San Juan. The colonial city is full of things to do both day and night. From bars, to flamenco shows, to salsa, reggaeton, and hip hop clubs and more, you can never have a dull night.
Night 3 – Visit Señor Frogs in Old San Juan. You might think Senor Frogs was just a place made to satisfy people not of Hispanic dissent who want to feel like they’re really experiencing Latin/hispanic culture through over-the-top caricatures and margaritas, but this place was full of locals when we went. The music was pumping, and the DJs interacted with the crowd through dance competitions and other games. We didn’t participate because we didn’t want to end up on Facebook in some embarrassing viral video/meme, but it was hilarious watching the male-vs-female dance-off unfold.
Night 4 – Go clubbing in Santurce. There are many clubs to choose from in this area. We went to La Respuesta on a Monday for their hip-hop night. The drinks were reasonably priced, the vibe was relaxed and they had a really cool bathroom with graffiti and other art that made for some more great ‘gram pictures (and my newest profile picture).
Night 5 – Spend the night in La Placita. This is what I would call the club district of San Juan. It‘s just block after block of bars, restaurants, and clubs for you to hop in and hop out at your leisure. We did a little bachata at one stop, karaoke at another, grabbed drinks at a bar, and ended the night in a reggaeton night club.
I would encourage anyone to visit Puerto Rico in a heartbeat. It was easily the most fun I’ve had on a vacation in a while. Maybe it was who I went with (most of my other vacations have been with family), or that I went with a positive attitude, but regardless of why it was so great, I loved it.
Follow Nicole on Twitter @NcolAlexandria