My Puerto Rico travel guide (Vieques and San Juan)

Recently we went on a 5-day family trip to Puerto Rico, and I wanted to write a quick guide, hopefully useful to anyone who’s considering visiting this beautiful place.

Why Puerto Rico

We initially had a few Caribbean destinations in mind, but chose Puerto Rico because it’s close, affordable, and flying there is less hassle since the flight is a domestic flight with no international passport/customs clearance requirement. A couple of my friends went before, and said they would visit again, which is a good sign it’s worth going and checking out.

It’s a popular destination so getting a non-stop flight for a reasonable price (about 2 weeks in advance), was easy. Plus, there were enough places and things we wanted to see, so it would be a mix of relaxing time on the beach and activities (bioluminiscent bay, snorkeling, rainforest…).

We knew we wanted to definitely visit Vieques island to the east of the main Puerto Rico island, and also spend some time in San Juan area.

Getting there

We flew JetBlue (our preferred airline to travel with), from JFK to San Juan, non stop. Then we had to get to Vieques, where we were spending first 2 nights.

There are 2 options of getting to Vieques from San Juan:

1) Flying there with one of the regional small airlines. We chose to fly because we were already at the airport and a 25-minute flight definitely seemed better than 3+ hours of alternative. One-way ticket with Cape Air was about $125 per person, but totally, totally worth it!

2) Taking a cab to the town of Fajardo, then taking a ferry to Vieques. Cab ride would be between $75 – $100, and take about 1 hour with no traffic. Then ferry costs $2 per person, and takes 1.5 hours, but note that they run on a schedule, so you might have to wait additional time for the next ferry.

I loved flying a litte Cessna plane to Vieques, the views were amazing, the experience was one-of-a-kind, and I’m not afraid of heights or small spaces, so for me it was a thrill :) Sean was a little concerned, but since it was only 20 minutes he fared well, and also agreed it was a great choice to fly.


Gorgeous birds-eye view of San Juan


We just flew this little plane!

On the way back we took the ferry, and the line was long, it was packed and slow, and the trip was not pleasant at all – because of the slowness of the boat, you could really feel it rocking side to side. So people prone to motion sickness would not enjoy it one bit. One cool thing thou – on the boat we saw a guy traveling with a pet albino hedgehog:

Vieques

Vieques is famous for its beaches, quiet charm and the unique bioluminiscent bay (also known as Mosquito bay), where water glows neon-blue in the dark.

I would suggest to spend majority of your time in Vieques, it’s beautiful and the beaches are much better than in San Juan.

A rental car is a must-have, because you’ll want to drive to the beaches, and most rentals are jeeps that are great for getting there. We rented from Island car rental, which is located at the W hotel, they have nice new vehicles and they will pick you up from airport/ferry. We went at a busy time (Easter weekend/spring break), and only managed to get a car for 1 day, but it was so worth it! Our rental was $85/day.

We stayed at Hacienda Tamarindo, a small boutique hotel just outside of the main town of Esperanza. It was really lovely, quiet, with beautiful grounds and views. We really enjoyed our room (2 suite room with hammocks and pool right outside), the library, honor bar, beach umbrella and chair rentals, and of course their great breakfast. Room rates are about $200 and up, and include breakfast.


My cousin Max at Hacienda Tamarindo

We checked out 2 beaches: La Chiva (Blue beach) and La Plata, where we met our snorkeling guide. Both were really nice, bring your umbrellas, chairs, food, etc.

For activities we went snorkeling with the hotel-recommended Little Boat Sailing company. The tour is a ride on a tiny little catamaran with sails, where a maximum of 6 people and the guide, Jorge, go into the ocean, secluded beach, mangroves nearby and to the coral reef off-shore. We had less-than-ideal weather on our tour day, with lots of clouds, then wind and rain at the end, but we still managed to have a great time. Jorge was an excellent guide, the boat ride was a lot of thrill and fun, and snorkeling was awesome, especially because we saw a real big nurse shark sitting at the ocean bottom under a rock! Once we got to the beach, under the pouring rain and wind, we had to run back to the car and warm and dry ourselves up… but looking back it was an amazing experience, highly recommended.


This was the last time anyone saw my Aruba hat, because next minute a gust of wind blew it away. I told Sean now we have to go back to Aruba, so I can get a new one :)

We also planned to go kayaking at night at the bio bay, but due to weather and some of us feeling tired, we didn’t go. Well, it’s a reason to go back someday. I booked with Vieques Island Adventures, who offers clear kayaks and seem very professional, so I’d suggest booking with them.

As far as restaurants, we ate at Trade Winds on the main street in Esperanza, which had good food (albeit very slow service, but I guess it’s part of the “island vibe”). My friend also recommended Next Course (requires driving there), but we didn’t try it. I’d also warn people to stay away from a place called Tin Box, because Sean got stomach flu afterwards (we suspect from there), food was not good at all (raw meat in bbq chicken!) and service was pretty bad.


While eating at Trade Winds we witnessed a reenactment of Jesus’ assassination (it was on a Good Friday)

San Juan

We spent the last 2 days in San Juan area, and it was more than enough time.

We stayed at Marriott Courtyard Isla Verde, they have the nicest beach, in my opinion, and the hotel is lively (compared to overpriced cold Ritz Carlton next door). Food was decent too, and the staff was very friendly. We had a bit of an emergency requiring a doctor, and the hotel called one up (came right up to our room), and even offered an option to charge it to the room. It was such a great relief, and bell guys were very nice too.


Sunset on the beach at Marriott hotel

Places to see: definitely visit Old San Juan one afternoon, and check out the old Spanish fort El Morro, with cool history, architecture and breathtaking views. I’d suggest going after 4pm, to avoid walking there in the hot sun during the day (it’s open until 6pm). Old San Juan is full of pretty streets, shops and restaurants. Our hotel recommended one called Vaca Brava (we didn’t end up trying it though), friends recommended Raices, both of which offer local cuisine. We had a quick bite at a sandwich shop called El Meson, which was fast, fresh and affordable.

Condado also seems to be a cool area for going out and restaurants. My friend lives there, and we had dinner at a place called Casa Lola one night, which was excellent.

So to sum it up, we had a great time, and would go back again. Hope the tips help fellow travelers, and please share yours – will be happy to add them here.

Then and now

Two seemingly unrelated conversations with friends this morning gave me this post idea.

First discussion was about big and the toilet was separate from the bath room), sit on the floor and watch them, because it was dark and had a perfect white door to project onto.

Those were such good times! And now, fast-forward to modern day, to the second conversation, which was about Tard, the Grumpy Cat, attending the SXSW. Don’t you love how she looks? And don’t you marvel, that if someone had a cat like this back in the days of diafilm, nobody would know about it, aside from neighbors perhaps. But today, the lucky owner of this cute cat, is an internet celebrity getting flown into the largest conference and sponsored by some big cat food brand. The cat is earning money for it’s parent!


*Image from austinist.com

I wonder if our future generations will know anything about either diafilms or Tard… because the speed with which we acquire knowledge these days is so so fast, and there’s exponentially more things to know for each new generation. So what will be lost, and what would be remembered?

How to get great ideas

By interacting with smart people

If youâ??re lucky, you have this amazing kind of friends and with them you talk freely about anything. Absolutely anything. And when you do, randomly and magically, great ideas just pop into your head, based on the conversations you have, and you canâ??t wait to write them down and act on them.

By doing things

Working and tinkering with things leads you to other great ideas, sometimes not even related to your project. When Iâ??m working on a project, thereâ??s suddenly a lot of stuff I want to write about. And conversely, whenever I feel like I have nothing to write about – it means itâ??s time to start working on something new.

By traveling to new places

Thereâ??s no better way to break free from routine and conventions, than going to the other side of the world. And even though in this day and age, there are comforts of civilization almost everywhere, it is still amazing how immersing in different cultures, sampling different cuisines, hearing (and maybe even speaking!) another language shifts something within your mind and gets your creativity going.

By reading

Books have this magical ability to transport you in space and time, without you physically moving anywhere. And as your mind travels, it opens up to new ideas, you learn how people did things in the past, or how they are potentially dealing with events of the future, or on a totally different continent… Just make sure you read great quality literature, donâ??t waste time on vampires, nothing really you can learn from the things that could never exist.

By being annoyed

While it is not pleasant being irritated by some process that is broken, it gives you ideas on how to improve it, so that you, and everyone after you, donâ??t have to go through this pain anymore. Example: submitting paperwork in the world of electronic communications, doing timesheets, redoing same thing over and over… the list can go on.

Just make sure that you capture your ideas when they come – write them down.

How do you get great ideas? I heard people come up with them in dreams sometimes… curious to hear real world stories.

Holiday gift idea: DIY cupcakes made of fuzzy socks

Another quick and easy idea that’s great if you need to give gifts to a large group of people; give socks! Because who doesn’t love socks? And the love only increases with time, as shown on this highly scientific chart:


You will need:

  • Fuzzy socks (any socks will do, but I love super soft ones, also pastel or bright colors will look best). I got mine at Uniqlo – amazing quality and a steal at $10 for 2 pairs
  • Muffin paper cups/liners, fairly large in diameter, because you’ll need to fit socks into it. Holiday or other pretty patterns will work great, but plain white will be nice too. I got mine at the Container Store
  • Rubber bands, can be found at Staples
  • Pretty ribbon, I got mine at the Container Store
  • Mini pompoms or anything else of bright color that looks like cherry. I think lollipops in clear wrap will work well too. I got mini pompoms at the Paper Presentation store
  • Clear bags for treats, mine were from Target, I think any party supply store will have them


Steps to create the cupcakes:

  • Roll socks into a bundle starting from the toe
  • Put a rubber band around it, so it stays put
  • Adjust the middle layers into a cupcake shape
  • Carefully stuff the socks into the muffin liner
  • Tie a ribbon around your cupcake
  • Put the mini pompom or other decoration on top of your cupcake
  • Put it into the clear plastic back
  • Attach ribbons, tags or any other additional decoration if desired

Gift and impress the heck out of everyone! :)

Holiday hostess gift: Cookie Balls

Yes, you heard it right: cookie balls!

I have a funny story to tell first. It was my first year working at the agency, so during one of the client calls we were discussing an idea for a holiday app. It had to evolve around holiday sweets, and the client did not want to do cookies (because – duh, everyone does cookies!). One trend that just came out around that time was cake balls. But you know, cake making can be too time-consuming. So everyone started to throw around ideas, and lo and behold, someone blurted: “What about cookie balls?” And so the cookie balls were born!

It is now a real thing, where you crush cookies and glue them together into yummy goodness using cream cheese. The fun thing about them, you can make different flavors, colors and toppings, and it’s like a tenth of the effort compared to cake balls!

So here you go: cookie balls that make a great gift to bring along to holiday parties.

Step 1: Make cookie balls

  • Soften 1 package of low-fat cream cheese (or go full-fat if you so desire)
  • Crush Oreo cookies into crumbs, about 3 cups (actually you can use any cookies you like)
  • Mix crumbs with cream cheese and make 1 inch balls (don’t forget to wash your hands before you start rolling, haha)
  • Take 16oz of Baker’s semi-sweet chocolate and melt it in the microwave
  • Dip your cookie balls in chocolate carefully and put them to dry on parchment paper
  • Sprinkle some crushed walnuts, colored sprinkles, coconut flakes or anything else you like
  • Refrigerate until firm

Step 2: Just as important – presentation!

I’m a huge believer that presentation can make or break a gift. Funny enough, I just finished watching Weeds season 7, where Nancy makes the same discovery – that presentation is everything.

Anyways: get a nice round cookie tin and some mini-cupcake liners. Put your freshly made cookie balls into cupcake liners, and into the tin.

Now they are yummy AND beautiful. Gift proudly!

Holiday gift idea: DIY fridge magnets

It’s holiday time of the year… again!

And for some of us, it’s time to prepare gifts for big family parties. Gift giving is fun, but figuring out what to get can be stressful. Also, it’s always appreciated if you bring something made by hand, and I love crafts, so I try to find quick and easy DIY projects that can be put together in a few hours.

I want to share an idea from a couple of years ago, hope some find it useful!

Cute round fridge magnets

You will need:
– Clear plastic cabochons, 3/4-1 inch in diameter, see photo below (can be bought at Michaels)
– Round magnets, 1/2 inch in diameter (can be bought at Michaels)
– Strong clear glue
– Old magazines with colorful pages or fun patterned paper of your choice, see example below
– Hole puncher 3/4 inch (I’m not sure of the exact name) – see photo below
– Clear box for putting your magnets in, I used a small 2×2, below (can be bought at the Container store)


*The choice of magazine ad is here only to demonstrate the pretty pattern, nothing else

Steps:
– Select paper (can be from old magazines like I had) with pretty colorful patterns
– Using the hole puncher make a bunch of round little circles
– Take cabochons and glue the round circles to the flat part, so that your pattern faces the cabochon surface
– Glue the round magnet to the bottom side of your magnet
– Let the glue set
– Put your magnets into a pretty clear box and add ribbon/wrap as desired

Super easy and fun gift to make, and you can be sure it will be used – because who doesn’t have stuff hanging on their fridges?



*Aren’t these cute and awesome?

If you think it’s too tiny to be gifted by itself, add a nice box of chocolates and/or a bottle of wine. Tada! High five to you who just did all the gifting and had fun!