You might as well just pronounce us Mr. and Mrs. Puerto-Retersik, because we recently snuck off for a few days to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary (!!!) in Puerto Rico. Also because Puerto-Retersik rolls right off the tongue if you try hard enough. Promise.
As we mentioned in last week’s podcast we wanted to share a few more pictures and details about our anniversary trip to San Juan because we LOVED it and we couldn’t recommend it more highly. So here’s the gist on where we stayed, what we did, and what we ate in case any of you are considering a trip to that area.
Why Puerto Rico?
After taking our actual honeymoon to Anchorage, Alaska in 2007, we wanted a destination that was decidedly beachier. Alaska was wonderful, but not necessarily relaxing (we always describe it as an “adventure honeymoon”), so for this trip we wanted to give ourselves plenty of excuses to just sit back, chill out, and enjoy not having to fetch snacks or clean-up toys for a few days. Puerto Rico was also a nice option because the flights weren’t too long from the east coast (less time traveling = maximizing our time away) and, since it’s a U.S. Territory, we didn’t have to bother with passports, currency exchanges, or going through customs at the airport. And while Spanish is the primary language on the island, nearly everyone spoke English and was extremely kind. So apart from having trouble reading a few street signs, we had zero language trouble on the trip.
Where We Stayed:
We took some advice to “get a modest room in a nice hotel” (which means you can enjoy the same elevated hotel amenities without paying the extra high room rates for those special suites) and stayed at the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel. It’s in San Juan – just about 5 minutes from the historic area known as Old San Juan – and we found a deal on Expedia that included flights & hotel that was especially budget friendly because we went during their low season. It wasn’t an all-inclusive resort deal (we find we like to venture off and find local food, activities, etc), but we did like that the hotel had several pools and restaurants in the facility, so we could theoretically stay put for the whole trip if we wanted to really take it easy.
We were there for about 3.5 half days, and we did manage to spend one of those days totally relaxing. We literally spent nearly an entire day on those lounge chairs, reading books, and getting food from the restaurant directly behind it (yup, the waiters walked right into the little pool of water where our lounge chairs were with our tacos and it was as magnificent as it sounds).
Mango tacos = my wife’s happy place.
In addition to tons of deck space and a number of different pools, there was also a small beach area with hammocks and a little lagoon ( a larger beach without rocks around 50 yards next door to this). Sidenote: the two women who were randomly in our shot below spent about 45 minutes trying to get the perfect Boomerang of their buns jiggling in the sunset, which seemed weird at the time, but later when we were looking for a good place to eat dinner and clicked into Instagram to look up local hashtags we saw that they were famous “Instagram models” with a ton of followers who apparently enjoy their videos very much. Oh 2017, you are so weird sometimes.
The hotel had its own spa, so I surprised Sherry with a couples massage one morning (we had enjoyed one on our honeymoon, so I liked the idea of a little throwback massage ten years later). We didn’t take our cameras into the room with us (because that would’ve been weird) but Sherry found a picture of the room in a book in the hotel lobby, so she took a picture of that page instead. Because that’s not weird, right?
The spa had its own private lounge area to chill in after your rub down. And like the true nerds that we are, we spent most of it admiring the outdoor furniture and giant white planters.
What We Did – Adventure Day:
As relaxing as our trip was, we spent two full days out-and-about. We ended up dubbing our first day out as our “adventure day” because it involved renting a car, driving an hour away, and doing some hiking and kayaking along the way. The plan was born from a recommendation that we got from our son’s preschool teacher to kayak one of Puerto Rico’s “bio bays.” These are areas with lots of microscopic biolumenscent organisms, so at night they glow in the water when you reach your hand in and stir up the water. Our reservation was in a town about an hour east of San Juan called Fajardo, so we rented a car for 24 hours so we could explore on our way there and back.
Our first stop was in an area called Luquillo that had a great beach along with a long strip of food “kiosks” as they were called. Picture a bunch of charming hole-in-the-wall open-air restaurants where you can grab a bunch of authentic Puerto Rican food. It was there that we experienced mofongo, which is a popular local dish primarily made up of mashed plantains. This particular one (topped with chicken and peppers) was DELICIOUS.
After lunch, our next stop was El Yunque National Forest, which is the only tropical rain forest in the United States National Park System. We didn’t have a lot of time there, so the NICEST man at the visitor center recommended the La Mina Waterfall hike as the best way to experience the park. He wasn’t wrong.
The waterfall itself was pretty crowded when we got there, and we opted not to swim since the sun was setting and we had to head off to the bio bay shortly, so I’d say in some ways we enjoyed the journey of the hike more than the destination. And there I go sounding like a motivational poster.
We had a few minutes on our drive down from the waterfall to hit up one other spot in the rainforest recommended by the guide. This observation tower was closed for the day by the time we got there, but the views from the ground were still really beautiful.
We actually used the opportunity to recreate a “wedding ring hands” picture that we took on our honeymoon which still hangs in our bedroom today.
Here’s the original Alaskan one below. We joked that we can take one of these every 10 years and watch our hands age.
As the sun set, we made our way to Fajardo to meet up with our kayaking guides. There are several tour groups that do this, but we used Kayaking Puerto Rico and were really impressed with how professional, fun, and reassuring they were (we heard from a few folks on this tour with us that they had done others but they liked this tour group the best). This is the bay we’d head out into later on when it got dark, which would lead to a tree-canopied canal and into the bio bay. These are some groups going out in the earlier shift – but we picked our time slot because it started later for maximum darkness.
So as the sun set and we got excited for our pitch-dark kayak tour, we walked to a restaurant called El Pescador to grab a quick dinner. It was really cool inside: exposed beams, live edge tables, driftwood light fixtures. And we should use the term “inside” loosely here, since it was actually just a glorified covered porch (open on three sides). The is actually the most “indoor” meal we ate the entire trip! All the others were completely outside. That shows you how nice the weather and the al-fresca dining situations are there (also: pool tacos are life).
We didn’t have any way to waterproof our phones for the actual kayaking part, so the only photographic evidence we have of our bio bay trip are a few pictures taken by the kayak guides (they’re all out of focus but they adequately capture our excitement). As we described in the podcast, we had a full moon for our trip, which made the whole 2-hour excursion really, really pretty. But it did make seeing the bioluminescence a little harder, so at one point they broke out a large tarp for all of us to go under to see things better. Basically, if you swirled your hand around in the water it looks like someone dumped glitter in there.
It was definitely cool, and a few times a cloud went in front of the moon and we could see the water glitter without the tarp, but I think it was another one of those journey-not-the-destination things. The actual act of kayaking in the dark through these small tree-canopied channels with tiny lights on the end of each kayak on a moonlit night – that was the actual magic. And yes, sparkly water is cool too.
Despite not getting back to our hotel until nearly 1 am (after driving back, returning the car, etc) we still found the energy to take advantage of the 24-hour hot tub. Which, at this hour, we had allllll to ourselves. So naturally, Sherry turned up the sexy.
What We Did – Culture Day:
Our other day out of the hotel is what we ended up calling our “culture day,” which was basically full of history and sightseeing. We took a $4 Uber ride to Old San Juan to walk around the historic forts or “castillos” that flank two corners of the island. The pic below is taken from one and you can see the other one off in the distance.
We started at the Castillo San Cristóbal where, coincidentally, they were actively filming a movie called “Imprisoned,” hence the actor dressed in a prison uniform talking with those people dressed up as guards… or were they real police guarding the set? Not sure. It meant some of the fort was blocked off, but there was still no shortage of cool sights (and I got mistaken for a member of the crew at one point – which mostly thrilled me because someone looked at me and didn’t immediately think “tourist”).
The most iconic part of these forts are the sentry boxes or “garitas” that mark many of the corners (they’re what’s on Puerto Rico’s license plates, for instance). And for some reason I felt like this was my best posing option.
Speaking of “interesting” posing choices. We spotted a few iguanas just walking around the forts, so naturally we had to snap photos for the kids. This is the shot where Sherry suddenly said “wait, let me put something in for scale.”
There’s a trolley that shuttles people between the two castillos, but we chose to walk – and we ended up being SO GLAD we did. The streets of Old San Juan are AMAZING.
We took a verrrrry meandering path and stopped hundreds of times to take pictures of all of the colorful buildings, ornate balconies, and cool old doorways.
We even did our best Instagram model impressions too. Sherry calls this one “I’m reading that sign.”
This is me imitating a well known fashion blogger move that I like to call “pretending to be laughing at something.” #nailedit
I mean, c’mon. This house is like charm overload.
And how about this one that seemed to be taking some new paint colors for a spin. Bonus points for such tidy test swatches too (is it bad that I kinda like the existing color best?).
And of course, the pink ones were Sherry’s favorite.
We eventually made it to the second fort, Castillo San Felipe del Morro, which was almost more impressive than the first. And had just as many good photo ops in those cool sentry boxes. This is Sherry doing what I like to call “staring off into the distance and contemplating life’s purpose.”
The interior rooms of the fort were impressive too. As people who don’t live around a lot of Spanish-style architecture, we loved soaking up all of the white stucco walls and arched doorways (even if some were a little on the small side).
I was so tempted to photoshop more Sherrys in every doorway down the line.
This pose is for all the ladies out there.
And for context, in the photo above I’m standing in the same spot that woman is standing in the photo below. It was amazing how big this place was – even just the sheer size of the fort walls was enough to make us all feel like ants.
Despite being nice and breezy at the fort, it gets pretty hot when you’re climbing lots of stairs and walking up and down all the long winding ramps, so it’s definitely one of those “wear comfortable shoes” activities. And make sure there’s room on your phone to take tons and tons of photos.
We did ask some of our fellow tourists at various points to snap photos of us, just because one awkward thing about a couples vacation is the plethora of single-person-doing-this-or-that shots you come home with. This is the lighthouse at the top of the fort (look at those cool smaller sentry boxes on the corners up top).
Man I love this lady.
We left the forts around lunch time and continued our jaunt through Old San Juan just to see what sort of dining options we’d stumble upon. We ended up at this tapas place located next to a hotel courtyard. It was actually cooler sitting outside under the porch thanks to the fans/breeze than it was inside the restaurant itself, so we got to keep our streak of eating outside alive.
After a light lunch, we added ten dozen more photos of colorful buildings to our collection, found our way to this cute popsicle place with the best logo I’ve ever seen, and then stumbled upon this little plaza that was overrun with pigeons (in kind of a charming way, not your typical gross pigeon-y way).
While I was standing there, a guy thrust some birdseed into my hand, and within a split second I had a new bird friend.
He finished off my pile before any of his friends could join him/swarm me, which I was grateful for. But he didn’t seem to have any interest in finding a new perch, even after my food was gone. #sideeye
Squeezing In One More Adventure:
We spent our last night just taking it easy and soaking up the awesome weather and scenery. We ate a nice low-key dinner at our hotel’s outdoor restaurant and spent more time just lounging on one of the pool decks.
Well, and we did go on a hunt for this giant horse lamp Sherry had spotted in the hotel magazine. Thinking we need to add this to our lighting line… whaddya say?
And, because we’re constantly thwarting our own efforts to relax (as Sherry likes to say, “we have zero chill”), we spent our last morning grabbing a bite at the same place where we had our first meal: a food truck near our hotel (it was literally the best taco I’ve ever had – they fried the tortilla shell just a bit to make it crispy and it was heaven). And then we headed off to stand-up paddleboard for an hour before our flight left that afternoon. There was a huge lagoon behind our hotel (the picture below is the view of it from our room) and we had seen kayakers and paddleboarders in it every day. So Sherry indulged me for one last adventure before we returned to reality (and there were manatees in there – WE PADDLE BOARDED WITH MANATEES).
So long story long, we loved celebrating our tenth anniversary in Puerto Rico. It was the most relaxing trip I think we’ve ever taken and it made us even more excited to travel to new places with our children too. I think we get so hung up on the complications of planning and scheduling trips, but this one was remarkably easy since we booked the hotel and flights as a package deal. We literally didn’t plan or research a thing in advance besides booking our kayak tour a few weeks before we got there, so it makes the idea of slipping away with the whole family much less intimidating. Happy travels, amigos!