Recently, I traveled to the beautiful island of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico with my husband and immediate family for a week-long vacation. Before we left, we were asked by several of our friends, extended family members, and co-workers whether or not it was safe to travel to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. There is no doubt that we had our own concerns as well, but there was also no other place our family wanted to go and I'm happy to report that Puerto Rico is ready to welcome back tourists to the island.
If you've never been to Puerto Rico there's no better time than the present to book your trip. The aftermath of Hurricane Maria was devastating, resulting in thousands of lives lost as well as unimaginable living conditions. Although the island was left without power and running water for months, the residents of Puerto Rico persevered and are recovering much of what was lost, whether its dealing with the emotional loss of a loved one or their homes. There are still a few areas that are recovering, but most of the popular tourist attractions (if not all) are back in business.
El Morro and Sentry Boxes
If you're planning a trip to Puerto Rico, you must visit El Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro), a 16th century fort, that overlooks the San Juan Bay. Built by military Spanish engineers more than 475 years ago, El Morro is one of the largest fortifications located in the Caribbean.
My husband and I spent entire day exploring this fortress, and we would highly recommend bringing a fully charged phone or camera. The sights are spectacular and you'll definitely want to look back on the experience. General admission costs $7.00/per person (ages 16+), and those 15 years old and younger are FREE. This daytime activity is perfect for families and couples. From climbing up hidden staircases to gazing over 60 foot walls to see the ocean, the entire experience is breathtaking.
Fun Tip: Get a picture in front of a sentry box! They're located on the inside and outside of the castles/fortresses. Sentry boxes also called "garitas," kept an eye on landward and seaward approaches. There are 28 garitas that remain on the fortresses and city walls of Old San Juan and serve as a symbol of the island's heritage.
Castillo San Cristobal
Exploring Castillo San Cristobal was by far one of my favorite parts of our trip. My husband and I explored this historical landmark for hours, where we literally got lost in its beauty. You truly have to experience this place for yourself to really understand how magical it is – from the ocean winds that brushed across the open plains to the hidden tunnels that led out to the sea, the entire experience felt so surreal. It was almost as if you could imagine yourself in a different time and actually picture the soldiers who fought to protect this land hundreds of years ago.
If you're looking to do more exploring than laying out on the beach, I would highly recommend booking your stay in the Old San Juan area. There are several options to choose from whether it's through a rental property or hotel stay. Since we traveled within a group, we ended up booking a rental property and spent $500/per couple for seven days. We loved this option because we had our own room, and we were able to spend quality time with one another. Our place was also conveniently located next to a ton of restaurants, bars, and retail stores. So if you're looking for a unique experience, this would be your best option!
Exploring Old San Juan
On our very first night in San Juan (on Saturday) we went out to a weekly event called, "La Placita," (also known as "The Place") where hundreds of people from all over the city meet to dance, listen to music, and casually hang out and bar hop. Most of the bars in the area offer live music, hookah, entertainment, and fun drinks, so if you're looking for a good time this is the event to go too.
There's no specific address, so just ask your driver to take you there and they'll know exactly what you mean. We would highly recommend doing this at least once if you plan on being in San Juan on a Friday or Saturday evening. Although, my husband and I enjoyed going out the few nights we did, more so than anything else we really enjoyed walking around the city, admiring the street art, and talking to the locals.
The World's Largest Premium Rum Distillery: Casa de Bacardi
During our visit, it goes without question that we had to take a tour of Casa de Bacardi, the largest premium rum distillery in the world. Although, this was my second time visiting this attraction, it was the first time for my husband, and I was excited to share this experience with him. We started our tour with a complimentary mojito (which was included in our $15 ticket) and ended our tour with a fun game of corn hole, more mojitos, and the best $3.00 empanadas you'll ever eat.
Casa de Bacardi offers multiple experiences, from rum tasting and historical tours to mixology classes, providing enough variety to keep the history buffs and cocktail connoisseurs of your family entertained.
Punto de Vista Rooftop Restaurant
For our very last night, my family and I enjoyed a nice dinner at Punto de Vista Rooftop Restaurant, located within Hotel Milano in Old San Juan. This lively restaurant serves up authentic Puerto Rican food not only at an affordable price, but also with a spectacular view. If you're going in a large group, our recommendation would be to order a ton of appetizers and try everything. You may surprise yourself and like a dish you wouldn't have ordered on your own.
Our table ordered everything which was great because we were all sharing tacos, meat samplers, and drinks. And if you want a killer appetizer recommendation, we would all agree and say, order the nachos! Overall, Punto de Vista Rooftop Restaurant provides exceptional customer service, great food/drinks, and a rooftop dining experience you don't want to miss. The restaurant is located at 307 Calle de La Fortaleza.
Snorkeling at Flamenco Beach (The Third Most Beautiful Beach in the World)
If you love white sand beaches and crystal clear waters, then Puerto Rico is the place to be. Home to the third most beautiful beach in the world, "Flamenco Beach," travelers have the chance to experience one of the most untouched, secluded beaches on the planet. If this doesn't have you thinking Puerto Rico for your next visit, I'm not sure what will.
Typically, my husband and I book at least one excursion per vacation, and for this trip we booked a snorkeling, catamaran cruise with East Island Excursions; which also included a visit to Flamenco Beach. And to be honest, it was the "BEST" snorkeling experience we've ever had. The beach was absolutely beautiful, the service (and drinks) were excellent, and the snorkeling was unforgettable. I wish I could do it all over again. The marina was about an hour away from Old San Juan, but the company provides round-trip transportation from Old San Juan, Condado, and Isla Verde which was extremely convenient for our group. They also provided a buffet lunch. If you're looking for a water activity, I highly recommend East Island Excursions.
Honestly, this trip is one to be remembered. It was relaxing, beautiful, and full of adventure; and I’m so blessed to have experienced this beautiful territory with my husband and family. Old San Juan, Puerto Rico has become a home away home for me. The perseverance of the people, the vibrancy of culture, the beautiful Spanish architecture, and the stories shared with us about what people experienced after Hurricane Maria were raw, heartfelt, and inspiring.
The way “our people” (because Puerto Rico is the U.S.) lost, survived, and recovered has touched me in so many ways. From Wanda (our Uber driver) walking 15 flights of stairs every day to get her Mom clean water for two weeks to our young 22-year old waitress who went without power for an entire month. The people of Puerto Rico have all described the event as unimaginable, inhumane, and the worst experience they’ve ever had to go through — some developed rare skin diseases while others thought they were literally losing their minds because they couldn’t contact their their loved ones. To hear these stories is one thing, but to live and tell the story is another.
For more information about San Juan, Puerto Rico, please visit: www.sanjuanpuertorico.com.
My name is Morgan Pelt, founder and lifestyle blogger behind Columbus Living – a blog dedicated to sharing stories about local businesses, events and entrepreneurs. I grew up in Columbus and as a creative outlet; I like to share my adventures and experiences through writing, photography and social media. It's time to discover new places, try new food, and meet new people. Let's go!