I went to PR on a volunteer program and had some really awesome adventures with locals so I felt like I got to see a whole lot from a not-so-touristy perspective!! Truly one of the most humbling cultures I’ve ever experienced! To be transparent, PR is still very devastated from 2017’s hurricane Maria + Irma. It’s not in great shape and while I was there, the power was out on the island for a full 4 days lol, but the sense of community with the PR people is incredible (just make sure to store some extra cash just incase lol). I felt safe and welcomed from the moment I got there!!
Here are a couple of my top recommendations and travel tips for when you visit Puerto Rico:
- Right along the edge of old San Juan, there is a community called La Perla. When you google it, it sounds like the ghetto lol, but it’s the coolest, most colourful little neighbourhood. It is where Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee filmed the ‘Despacito’ music video. It is full of super authentic food, locals singing & dancing to live music, lots of street art, and a board walk that walks along the ocean with beautiful views. Go on a weekend later afternoon/evening and it’s a super cool locals experience. I stayed as a solo traveller and never once felt unsafe, don’t let google fool you lol. My only recommendation that I received from others, is just to be mindful of what you pull your phone out to record. Not many tourists find themselves down there so just don’t be an ignorant tourist. I was welcomed with open arms and was pulled into a crowd to learn dance moves. Hand’s down one of my fave experiences. I did a photo shoot with my sweet airbnb hosts in La Perla – check it out here.
- About and hour and 15 mins from San Juan is this sweet little town called Vega Baja where you can find some beautiful natural fresh water springs. On google its called “Manantial Ojo de Agua”. They built up a lot of art and mosaic around it as well as very cute swing above the natural springs. Super cute place to see and a wonerful place for a quick swim & refresh. Definitely recommend stopping through here.
- Mar Chiquita Beach – About 20 mins past Vega Baja, there is the most beautiful beach with big limestone rocks and clear, turqoise circular beach! There are chairs + umbrellas for sale as well as food trucks selling local food. There is also some pretty big bat caves if you’re into that type of stuff. Worth the road trip if you are looking for a less touristy beach experience.
- Mountain town – Toro Negro, Ciales – I only recommend this for people who are looking for an epic adventure and are comfortable with driving on small, windy roads. The little mountain town of Ciales is an absolute dream. There are big green mountains with rivers rolling through. People are parked along the edges with bbq’s and chairs, hanging out & splashing around in the water. There were areas deep enough to swim with water falls flowing from different parts of the mountain. It was really a stunning experience. Make sure you do this on a sunny day! I know the rivers flow heavier when it’s raining.
- For those interested in the volunteer program I did, I went with the company called International Volunteer Head Quarters . They run volunteer programs of all kinds in countries all over the world. They pick you up from the airport, get you settled into your hostel/in home accommodations and show up to answer all & any questions. I personally did the Environmental Sustainability Project in San Juan and stayed at the Nomada Urban Beach Hostel. I worked in a community garden with the coolest humans of all time. Juan & Yvette run a community garden where they are growing basic foods, gathering rain water for more use, growing native plants, searching for parts of the island where more native plant are needed, creating compost and so much more. I learned so much from them and felt so truly grounded while spending my afternoons in the community garden. While I went on a program, you can follow their insta here and reach out if you are ever going and are wanting to lend an extra hand.
- Skateboard Park and Bosque – This seems random… obviously anyone who skateboards will be hella down for this experience. But this skatepark is full of art work, good vibes and sits right on the ocean. My volunteer program was planting trees here and I just loved the whole vibe of this park.
- La Placita – This square has a lot of history. If you’re a history buff, do a quick google and you’ll read all about the raids and chaos that went on in this square. But to this day, La Placita is a farmers market in the day with fruits/veggies/local produce and at night is the ultimate street party with restaurants, live music, clubs, bars, DJ’s. It is an absolute blast.
While I did do alot of in home cooking, I also had a handful of wonderful eating experiences:
- Superfoods – okay hands down the best açaí bowl I have ever had!! This lil place is off on a quiet little street. You won’t ever find it if you don’t know it is there. It has fresh sandwiches + smoothies of all kind. I personally craved this cold, juicy treat amidst the PR heat. 12/10 recommend.
- Stuffed Avocado – This place is in Old San Juan. They offer healthy bowls with toppings of all kind & of course, lots of avo.
- Tostado Calle Loiza – Delicious brunch spot!! Parking lot + lots of seating. Fresh food & coffee
- La Coffeetera – Another great breakfast spot!!
- Veyvé Restaurante / The Mangú Place – This place is a hole in the wall. Walking by it likely will not intrigue you to go in, but its a definite locals spot and hella cheap for portion size. Classic Puerto Rican food. Very authentic.
- Playa Piñones – Put ‘Playa Piñones’ in your GPS, but on your way to this beautiful beach, you will come across a whole bunch of kiosks on the side of the road where locals are cooking fresh fish, plantains, beans and all thing Puerto Rican. Epic food & great views
- Acapulco Taquería Mexicana – a delicious lil Mexican spot. Great tacos, well branded, good vibes.