My Gilligan’s Island and Guanica, Puerto Rico Mini Guide

As crisp autumn breezes slowly start to caress Florida, my heart is inevitably transported back to my favorite hidden gems at home. Inspired by last week’s San Juan day trips, today I write a mini guide for Gilligan’s Island and Guanica, Puerto Rico!

Gilligan’s Island and Guanica, Puerto Rico Mini Guide

Gilligan's Island, Guanica Puerto Rico

I’ve previously described some of Guanica’s stunning attractions, such as the 4000-hectare UNESCO Guanica Biosphere Reserve and Playa Santa. Yet, I have not introduced you to Guilligan’s Island, one of its beautiful mangrove islands.

Cayo Aurora (as it is also known) is part of the famous Guanica Dry Forest. By taking the public ferry dock, you will find several mini gazebos outfitted with picnic tables. The surrounding shallow waters are perfect for kids and kayaking.

If you walk around the island or have a private boat drop you off elsewhere though, you will find narrow channels and fun currents. While they are not safe for kids, they are a blast to go tubing or swim against if you are fit enough!

how to get to Gilligan's Island, Guanica, Puerto Rico

How to Get There

The Caribbean beach town of Guanica, the gateway to Gilligan’s Island, is located on the southwest coast of Puerto Rico. It is an easy 2 to 2.5-hour drive from San Juan–particularly scenic if you take the southern route through Salinas, my personal favorite.

There are several ways to get to Gilligan’s Island proper. You can either hop on the public ferry, go on a long kayak ride or hire a small boat from wandering fisherman.

The easiest wait to get there is by the public ferry though. Boats leave every hour between 9 AM and 5 PM, Tuesday to Sunday (weather permitting). Better yet? The dock is located by the colorful Restaurante San Jacinto, where you can sample authentic Puerto Rican food as you wait for departure.

For the kayak option, stop by the Copamarina Beach Resort, Playa Caña Gorda or Mary Lee’s by the Sea. You will be able to rent kayaks there and ask about safe routes to get to Gilligan. Prices vary, but rule of thumb is to veer away from the resorts and head to the local Caña Gorda beach for more budget-friendly rentals.

Feeling adventurous? Practice your Spanish and haggling skills by talking to local fishermen! My advice if you go down this route though is to get a fisherman boat ride on the way to Gilligan’s Island, but hop on the public ferry back. If you don’t have a local cell phone or contact information of the fisherman, you run the risk of being cast away.

Cayo Aurora, Guanica, Puerto Rico

Best Time to Visit Gilligan’s Island and Guanica

Guanica is a popular southern beach town among Puerto Ricans, particularly between the summer months. Subsidized government summer rentals attract many middle-income families.

This explains the many holidays I spent along its coasts during my childhood–and why you should avoid it then as a visitor!

We are lucky to enjoy year-round summers in Puerto Rico, so I recommend avoiding American holidays and local festivities. This way, you’ll be able to soak in the solitude and natural peacefulness these southern pearls have to offer.

Remember: you have to take a boat to Cayo Aurora (Gilligan’s Island). Check the forecast prior to departure and don’t head there if stormy weather is in the horizon. This why I also advise against traveling there during the hurricane season in general, which runs from June to November.

That’s not to say you cannot be graced with sunny days then, though! If you can only visit Puerto Rico during those dates, I say take the risk and go for it.

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Where to Stay and Eat

Puerto Rico is small: about 110 x 32 square miles. It is quite easy to make Gilligan’s Island and Guanica a day trip from anywhere in the island. I personally recommend staying at night or two on the West Coast of Puerto Rico; it is magical!

Unfortunately, it is forbidden to camp at Gilligan’s Island, so you will have to stay on a nearby town. Don’t be disheartened though: there are so many wonderful options!

My favorite overnight spots include Cabo Rojo, Rincon, and Isabela. You could also stay in Guanica proper, booking a night at a local, family-owned parador. Speaking of which, I highly recommend Parador Guanica 1929 by Tropical Inns. My friends and I love its colonial design, fantastic Puerto Rican food, and location in relation to all of Guanica’s attractions (and beyond!).

A short walk or drive from Parador 1929 is Bodega Andreu Sole. A wonderful farm and restaurant, with decent Spanish food and wines. I love the alfresco dining with water views though, totally my favorite! They offer free tours of the grounds and tastings Sundays between 2 and 5 PM as well.

I also recommend the short drive to Rincon for more food options and nightlife. My favorite spot there? Casa Cofresi! It is another good place to stay on the West Coast, in addition to having a good restaurant and lively vibe on weekends. Great place to mingle with locals, too.

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Gilligan's Island, Guanica Puerto Rico guide

One last tip! If you have previously visited Puerto Rico, I advise you fly into into Aguadilla airport (BQN) instead of San Juan (SJU). This way, you’ll be right on the West Coast and enjoy the region without a crazy drive through the capital’s metro area 😉

San Juan Day Trips: My Favorite Excursions from Puerto Rico’s Capital

Having lived in Puerto Rico for over 18 years, my heart breaks looking at most tourists’ San Juan day trips. Cheesy Old San Juan rum tours; an afternoon at a resort in Dorado; a crowded “hike” (which could be done in a vehicle) at El Yunque Rainforest.

Puerto Rico does it better. I promise you.

So please take my advice: hunt down a flight deal, rent a car (it’s going to cost you less than USD $100-200 for the day, sitting a minimum of four people, which is less than any chore), and venture out to these gorgeous spots throughout the archipelago:

unique San Juan day trips, Arecibo

Arecibo

Cueva Ventana and Cueva del Indio, Arecibo

one-hour West (88 km), mostly down Expreso José de Diego PR-22

Silence only broken by a group of bats and feeding birds in the surrounding valley… Or foamy ocean waves, crashing against piles of rocks. Rocks which hide grottoes decorated with pre-Columbian petroglyphs!

Arecibo may be known for the second-largest radio telescope in the world, but barely mentioned as a top day trip from San Juan due to its natural beauty. Take the mere one-hour drive to explore peaceful Cueva Ventana and historical Cueva del Indio beach.

San Juan excursions, Camuy

Camuy Cave

Camuy Caverns

one hour, 24 minutes. West (102 km), through Arecibo

About 30 minutes southwest of Arecibo lie the third-largest subterranean river system in the world. Jaw-dropping hike through stalagmites, stalactites, and the purest water you’ve ever drunk await.

While you could wake up at the crack of dawn and do both Arecibo and Camuy, I recommend you spend the whole day taking in the grandiosity of this underground world.

excursions from San Juan, Fajardo

Fajardo

Governor’s House Beach and Bioluminescent Bay, Fajardo

one hour East (63 km), through Rio Grande and Luquillo

The Bioluminescent Bay is plastered over all Fajardo brochures and I know, it’s hard to turn down! While I highly advise you take the ferry ride or flight over to Vieques and explore Mosquito Bay instead, time strapped travelers might still find value in it.

My tip then? Take your rental car, spend the whole day in Fajardo, and book the sunset Biobay tour with an outfitter directly. Start with sunrise at Seven Seas Beach; take a morning hike to Governor’s House Beach; then drive to the outfitter in time for your tour.

day trips from San Juan, Vieques Island

Vieques Island

Scooter Road Trip, Vieques Island

one-hour drive to Fajardo port; then, a 10-minute flight or 1.5-hour ferry

If you have at least five days in San Juan, you have to spend a minimum of two days in Vieques. While renting a scooter (~USD $60/day) and beach hopping can be done in a day, the last thing you want to do is rush it.

Another tip: look up JetBlue coupons for VQS airport and see if you find a discount!

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San Juan, Puerto Rico day trips mini guide

Whether you cross the Caribbean Sea for an adventurous scooter road trip or take the easy drives East or West, these San Juan day trips will sprinkle some authentic spice to your Puerto Rican getaway.

Cuban Culture Highlights: Music, History, Influences

Cuba is perhaps the most elusive and exciting of all Latin American countries. An interesting history combined with an intriguing mix of cultural influences make Cuba a fantastic travel destination. Beautiful beach areas like Varadero and Cayo Maria sit within easy reach of mainland Cuba and make the perfect base for all of your holiday needs. Boasting dramatic landscapes, unspoiled natural beauty and fun-loving locals that characterize so much of Latin America, Cuba is a country that everyone should visit at least once. Particularly, there are three elements of Cuban culture that stand out: their music, their history, their influences.

Cuban culture, beach ruins

Eclectic influences

The music, arts, architecture, religion and cuisine found in Cuba are a dynamic mix of styles that draw heavily from African and Spanish cultures which are evident all over Latin America. Many people feel that Cuba is at the heart of what it means to be Latino and it’s undeniable that Cubans radiate those typical and revered Latino charms; they’re warm, generous and, of course, party-loving.

What makes Cuba stand out from other Latin American countries is its lack of Western influence. While being as far removed from US culture as possible, Cuba has retained all of its Latin passion and poured it into their culture. Explore a little and you’ll see local Cubanrestaurants and bars rather than chains, unmissable coffee spots and brightly painted buildings with colonial architecture which all act to make Cuba so incomparable.

Rich in history

Cuba is perhaps best known for its place in recent history as a communist country and adversary to the United States. Far removed from Western and, specifically, US influence, Cuba has flourished into a truly unique destination. A country free from McDonald’s, and boasting old style cars, visiting Cuba is like visiting a different world altogether.

Experience a place that’s stuck in time — and is all the better for it — you’ll feel very far from home as you walk the streets of Cuba, watching beaten-up American cars from before the 60s roll by and spotting billboards that sport Che Guevara’s classic image rather than photos of fashion models advertising perfume. Wi-Fi in Cuba is also charged at higher rates, so holidaying in Cuba is the closest you can get to being fully unplugged from the rest of the world.

Cuban culture mural

Music as a way of life

Music is a key part of the culture in Cuba. You’ll hear it everywhere you go and you’ll soon become accustomed to Cuba’s eclectic style of music which has been instrumental in the development of jazz and salsa. The roots of most Cuban musical forms lie in the ‘Cabildos,’ a form of social club among African slaves who were brought to the island. The importance of music in Cuba is especially clear during their many festivals which music plays a vital part in such as Carnaval and the yearly Havana Jazz Festival.

Building on this, Cuba’s educational system is committed to supporting students in their musical development and once they’ve finished school, Cuban students will have had around 8 hours of music lessons a week! This means that most Cubans you come across will be able to play or hold a tune or two, so don’t invite them out for karaoke unless you want to be thoroughly embarrassed.

Go ahead and discover something entirely different in one of Cuba’s many side streets and surprise yourself when you see how alien a country with no ties to capitalism feels. Enjoy Cuba’s beauty and embrace a wholly unique culture.

Know of other Cuban culture highlights? Share them below!

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Images by Rog01t and marko8904, used under Creative Commons license

Special thanks to Joanne Rivers for contributing this article!

10 Amber Cove Port Shots That Will Make You Want to Book a Cruise

It was as if the sky’s jaw dropped, along with ours, as we approached Amber Cove port in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Puffy, gray clouds parted right when the mounting peaks started to pierce the horizon in front of us.

Bright green flora grew in front of our eyes as we sailed closer. Palm trees looked alive even, as the salty ocean breeze shook their fronds like a devout Christian on Palm Sunday. The bright blue Caribbean Sea crashed against a jagged coastline, wrapping the mountainside like a frame around a picture.

An observatory, akin a small Roman temple, served as centerpiece.

Amber Cove view, cruise port review

The cove, as it lushly enveloped us, reminded me of home.

It was not Puerto Rico, however. Rather, its bigger neighbor: the Dominican Republic.

Welcome to Puerto Plata: a destination in northern DR that remained out of cruise ship itineraries for decades. It has now reopened cruise passengers in the form of a multi-million-dollar development by Carnival Inc.

But…what does it look like?

When you think of a Caribbean cruise port, you probably imagine scores of souvenir shops, swarming touts, and haggling voices bouncing between buildings.

Amber Cove cruise, Dominican Republic

Not here. Not at Amber Cove.

Yes, there are souvenir shops–but take out the hassle. Sprinkle some chill. Add more flavor.

Better yet: Amber Cove employs LOCALS. It was refreshing to see beaming Dominican faces, thrilled to be working in this resort-style cruise port.

My Amber Cove cruise shots will make you want to book a Fathom cruise.

Puerto Plata cruise arrival

Picture the grounds of an all-inclusive resort: those that, as a cruise ship passenger, require you to buy an expensive day pass to enjoy.

Now picture this:

Views at the top of a flight of seemingly-melting asphalt stairs toward fun water slides:

Amber Cove port, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

Ahhh, water slides! One is predictable:

Amber Cove photos, waterslides

While the other is…weeeell

They will shake the kid inside out of you. Like a bear out of hibernation.

Amber-Cove-cruise-port-review

Then, head the opposite direction + dip into the largest hot tub you’ve ever seen:

Amber Cove resort pool, Puerto Plata cruise port

Yes: the Caribbean sun heats Amber Cove’s waist-deep resort pool in no time

Thank goodness there’s a swim up bar:

swim up bar, Puerto Plata cruise port

and friendly bartenders who pour heavy–Latin style!

Still: it feels like an all-inclusive resort. BUT IT’S FREE

(minus drinkies, of course. And USD $6-per-ride or $12-unlimited zip line)

Or splurge anyway: take a ride to Damajagua River and slide down 27 waterfalls:

27 waterfalls, Amber Cove excursion

Your legs will shake after chugging down so much adrenaline!

Deep down, I always knew there was a better alternative to rum & souvenir shops

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My 27 Waterfalls VIDEO: Charcos Damajagua Adventure!

When it comes to adventure travel, I’m super weird. I’m always scared out of my mind, shaking,.until I DO IT! Thus, “I don’t know how I get myself into these things” is something you will constantly hear through the action-packed 27 Waterfalls video below.

27 Waterfalls Video, Charcos Damajagua

So please, bear with me as I hike, hesitate, and then finally slip through natural water slides; shoot through carved canyons; and jump off many cliffs throughout a Dominican rainforest and the Charcos Damajagua in Puerto Plata! 😀

This half-day Amber Cove port adventure with Iguana Mama was, hands-down, one of my top 5 most incredible excursions I have ever taken–anywhere in the world.

27 Waterfalls, Puerto Plata: My Charcos Damajagua Adventure

If you’re feeling impatient, skip to 2:00 – that’s when the REAL fun begins! 😉

Support Local Tour Operators!

Amber Cove is a relatively-new cruise port–and the first to open up in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic in decades. While the area is filled with all-inclusive resorts, this port of call could be a game changer for the local economy and true boost to authentic tourism.

My hope? That passengers book excursions through local operators vs. the cruise lines that dropped them off here (unless it’s through a responsible, social impact cruise line such as Fathom Travel!).

Also: enter either sharing a taxi and hiring a local guide or booking excursions with local agencies such as Iguana Mama.

27 Waterfalls: Logistics

Since I booked with a local operator, I had to walk for about 10 minutes, out of the Amber Cove complex, to meet my guides. Grounds and main gate are well guarded, so no problems there– felt very safe as a solo female traveler.

Iguana Mama keeps groups quite small, so there were two buses as I believe there were over 20 of us going. Comfortable, decent A/C, funny and informational guides for the 20-35 min. ride (it’s harder to time things in the Dominican Republic, I don’t know why it haha).

There are 2 main excursions you can take from Amber Cove to the 27 waterfalls, also known as the Charcos Damajagua. One option is to take a short 2 km hike round-trip to waterfall 12. Second option, for the most intrepid, is a longer 4 km hike to waterfall 19, 27 (about USD $20 more booked via Iguana Mama).

Which one you pick, of course, highly depends on your physical condition. I took the 2 km hike to be safe and didn’t find it strenuous: only gentle slopes, minimal change in inclination (watch the Damajagua waterfalls video again for sample terrain!).

However, if you have any knee problems, I highly advise you think twice before going. We climbed several long stairs, up and down, throughout the excursion. Furthermore, it’s a rain forest. Expect the ground to always be either damp or very wet–you need both a good grip and good reflects. Buy waterproof sandals like I did! Best investment for my travels, right up there with my goPro Hero3+ 😉

Charcos Damajagua, Amber Cove excursion

Charcos Damajagua, Amber Cove excursion

Special thanks to Iguana Mama for inviting me on this tour! All opinions and incredible adrenaline rushes, however, were a product of my honest experience. In fact, I reached out to them because they are a top-rated local tour operator on the Lonely Planet Dominican Republic and couldn’t wait to put them to the test 😉

Dominican Republic Volunteering: My Life-Changing Day

Her big chocolate eyes widened even further. This time, they were filled with hopeful tears. The gasp and loving shove of her daughter was further confirmation that we had achieved something special. I never thought a few hours of Dominican Republic volunteering could break such a thick wall of fear.

Eje!” – a popular Caribbean interjection, typically expressing endearment and surprise, quickly followed.

Dominican Republic volunteering cruise, Fathom

Dominican Republic Volunteering Cruise Excursion: My Life-Changing Day

For about 15 minutes,  Anastasia had been struggling with pronouncing shapes and colors in English — the week’s lesson for Fathom’s Community English. Then, I decided to share my own journey learning the language–while growing up in a Spanish-speaking home in Puerto Rico.

Fear and disappointment softened on her face, but she was still uptight and with a “there’s-no-way-I’m-going-to-ever-get-this” look.

Until I shook my massive afro, lifted my left shoulder and spurted out “say it like you don’t care.”

Anastasia and her daughter looked at me like I was crazy, but they emulated my stance.

Laughing, they faked a serious face, lifted their left shoulder, and said “circle.”

PERFECT. English. Even better than mine!

I couldn’t help myself, yelling almost immediately “BELLO! BELLO!”

BEAUTIFUL! BEAUTIFUL!

At that very moment, I could feel my hands punching the heck out of that wall of fear, crumbling it to the ground.

Her face changed immediately – and so did her attitude for the rest of the lesson.

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Unforgettable PM #teachingEnglish to a local family! VISIT→bit.ly/dominicanday for details These Dominican families welcomed us to their homes and challenged themselves, faced their fears, and practiced their English as we taught them new lessons. Twice a month, groups of travellers flood in from @fathomtravel #cruise to continue the work we have done. Over the course of several weeks, they complete a basic English course and build up on it, putting their skills to practice as other travelers come to Puerto Plata. Without the means to attend English Institutes, these at-risk communities have a fantastic opportunity to offer a better future to their children (and their mothers, brothers, sisters!) in the booming tourism industry that surrounds them–all thanks to the collaborative projects of local orgs & Fathom. Couldn't be more proud to be part of the Fathom changemaker family! #Traveldeep <3

A post shared by Alexandra – LatinAbroad.com (@latinabroad) on

 

We went through all the colors and shapes, in addition to reviewing 2-3 lessons from previous weeks. Whenever Anastasia struggled, all I had to do was lift my left shoulder and chin for her to relax, do the same and say the word in perfect English immediately after.

Her daughter kept shoving her shoulder, chuckling with watery eyes, in amazement.

Time was up too quickly, but I had their undivided attention for some last words:

Never fear English, never fear mispronouncing. Whenever you’re having trouble, remember this shoulder lift and say it like you don’t care! It’ll come out, you can do it, you’ve seen it here today. Keep practicing your English with all the tourists that come to your communities; the Fathom volunteers that come your neighborhoods. Only with persistence and practice you’ll be able to become fluent in English just like I did.”

I can only have faith in their hopeful, teary eyes that they will. They will.

Community English Program Helps Build Brighter Futures from Fathom Travel on Vimeo.

One afternoon – that’s all it took for my Dominican Republic volunteering experience to make a lasting social impact. Better yet? Future Adonia cruise passengers, who will come to the same communities 2 weeks a month, will continue teaching the English curriculum where we left off.

You can make an impact too! By taking just one day out of a 7-day Dominican Republic cruise with Fathom, you can touch the lives of locals like I did. Or go on 6 half-day volunteering excursions during your 3 days in Puerto Plata!

Volunteer as much (or as little) as you can – now you don’t have an excuse to give back during your vacation.

Dominican Republic excursion, Fathom cruise

CLICK HERE for video + details of my Puerto Plata waterfalls excursion!

Many thanks to Fathom Impact Travel for inviting me to join this 7-day Dominican Republic volunteering cruise. The story of impact I just shared, however, is a true recollection of my experience during one of the Community English Program excursions. It was much better than I expected and I can’t wait to join them on another social impact voyage! 

My Fathom Volunteering Cruise to the Dominican Republic: DETAILS!

One of my New Year resolutions for 2016 was to get more involved with charities and social impact activities–both while traveling and once back home. My yearnings were answered when Andrew Hickey reached out to bloggers to take part of a Fathom volunteering cruise to the Dominican Republic.

Wait a second: volunteering while at sea?! Or during my vacation?

READ MORE: Dominican Republic Volunteering: My Life-Changing Day

Fathom volunteering cruise to Puerto Plata

Sounds crazy, but Fathom Impact Travel came up with a sweet formula:

  • 2 days chillaxing at sea: right at the start and the end of your trip
  • A few activities on board in order to build a community at sea and make the greatest impact once on the ground (a.k.a. organizing the troops)
  • 3 days in the Dominican Republic: with both social impact activities and excursions
  • Meals on board, and on the ground, included in the cruise fare

Simple, perhaps. However, as with many other volunteering programs, a few of us were skeptical. What kind of change could we possibly make in 3 short days?

So I did some research. Below, a brief summary of what a Fathom volunteering cruise to the Dominican Republic is like.

Fathom Volunteering Cruise Experience: Pre-trip Research

First question I wanted answered, even before I applied for the trip: how will a few hours of my time make a difference on those impoverished communities in the Dominican Republic?

By working with local communities and organizations, Fathom identifies their specific needs and address them with special projects–which are supported by a constant flow of volunteers and investments.

I also found out that Fathom sticks to the same social impact activities, helping the same communities, cruise after cruise.

This means that those hours I spend teaching English to children will make a difference because they will be able to practice what I taught them with the next wave of Fathom volunteering cruisers.

On and on and on. Two weeks a month.

Sounds good, sounds good.

Furthermore, Amber Cove is a brand-new, multi-million-dollar port of call that will be receiving many other cruise ships soon. The proximity of this development to Puerto Plata and nearby communities we will be volunteering at means that these Dominicans could compete for jobs created by that tourism boom.

That’s my own hypothesis, of course, but seems to be a pretty plausible one.

So I booked my trip!

Fathom Volunteering Cruise Experience: Impact Activities and Excursions

I made a mistake I don’t want you to repeat, though.

Once you book, you are sent a code, which is used to register for the Journey Planner of your Fathom volunteering cruise. As soon as you get it, access their site and book your favorite activities and excursions!

Availability of social impact activities and excursions are on a first-come first-served basis. I was having problems with my code, then I got busy and procrastinated contacting their team…

When I finally reached them, most of my favorite social impact activities were full. This means I could only take part of two English teaching workshops.

I was so, so sad 🙁

For each of the 3 days (except day of departure), you get to pick up to two social impact activities: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. You can book as many as two a day or as little as one during your entire stay. Up to you how much time you spend volunteering on this cruise!

While most social impact activities are free, a few of them do carry a small fee: typically used to cover materials needed to help the community.

I reserved mine late, so missed the boat on other cool activities such as a culture and arts camp. Lesson learned!

Luckily, I could pre-book fun excursions around Puerto Plata, Cabarete, and beyond. Because those are not included in the cruise fare, there were still spaces available when I logged in. I reserved a badass power snorkel adventure, where I will ride a cute little motor while enjoying the marine life. Sounds so fun, can’t wait!

WATCH: Video of me hiking, jumping, and slidin’ through the 27 Waterfalls!

I was unsure about other excursions, as perhaps I would like to stick around Amber Cove to relax between activities. No worries though, you can book others once on board.

FOLLOW ME on my first volunteering cruise to the Dominican Republic!

I forgot to mention: I’m taking a flight to Miami TOMORROW and board the Fathom Adonia cruise ship on SUNDAY–so the real fun hasn’t started yet! You’ll get a chance to follow me day-to-day as I catch some sun, relax, and help the good people of the Dominican Republic at the same time.

Follow me and #TravelDeep on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @LatinAbroad for real-time posts from our Fathom journey!

6/2016 UPDATE! Click here for NEW post of my Fathom cruise experience

Unique Puerto Rico Trips: My Favorite Routes

Caverns where the third-largest subterranean river system in the world flows. A private beach house in Rincon. Sampling crab empanadas in Naguabo. A natural cave with Taino-Indian petroglyphs in Arecibo. Have you heard of any of these unique Puerto Rico trips?

unique Puerto Rico trips, Rincon

While I’ve previously mentioned how easy it is to visit Puerto Rico as a U.S. citizen (USD accepted + no passport needed) and even described how vibrant the nightlife in San Juan is, today I’d like to lure you to other special parts of my island.

Spots so rich in natural beauty, yet tucked away from most tourists’ trails.

Below, some of my favorite places outside Old San Juan and El Yunque Rainforest.

Unique Puerto Rico Trips: My Favorite Routes

unique Puerto Rico attractions, bioluminescent Bay

Fajardo to Humacao through Naguabo

Imagine kayaking at new moon, with the ocean glowing blue and green under your paddles — as if you were drawing with florescent sharpies on a blackboard.

That’s the magic behind a visit to a bioluminescent bay!

Dinoflagellate, particularly, are among the rarest and most fragile bioluminescent microorganisms on the planet.

Puerto Rico boasts 3 of only a handful of dinoflagellate bioluminescent bays on Earth. They are Mosquito Bay, La Parguera, and Laguna Grande.

The latter is located in Fajardo–only an hour ride from San Juan.

This makes Laguna Grande the easiest bio bay to visit on a day trip from the capital, so ask your agent or concierge to book a sunset kayak tour there.

Got at least a week or this isn’t your first time in Puerto Rico? Head southeast!

Unless you plan to head to Puerto Del Rey and catch a ferry to Vieques or Culebra, I recommend an adventurous road trip through the rural, coastal towns of the East.

unique Puerto Rico resorts, Palmas Del Mar

Palmas Del Mar oceanview from La Pescaderia by Sergio Munoz, my cousin!

From Fajardo, take PR-53 South to Humacao. You can follow it straight or take an interesting detour when you see an exit for PR-3.

Why? So you drive down the rural coast and make a pit stop at one of Naguabo’s beaches!

The draw here is not so much the ocean, but its seafood. Naguabo is popular among locals for its outstanding juey–a type of crab, abundant in this area.

I highly recommend stopping at one of the seaside hole-in-the-walls (locally known as “chinchorros”) and grabbing pastelillos de juey (crab empanadas)–a Naguabo specialty.

With full bellies and happy hearts, continue down PR-3 until you reach Palmas Del Mar: another hidden oasis in Puerto Rico’s east coast.

Naguabo road trip, Puerto Rico

Naguabo road by yasmapaz, Flickr

The five-star resort is a large compound little known to most Puerto Rico tourists. Yet, it is quite popular among affluent expats and local residents.

In Palmas Del Mar, you will find stunning golf courses, acclaimed restaurants, and well-appointed accommodation either walking distance or a short right away from off-the-beaten-path beaches.

Some popular things to do in Palmas Del Mar and the vicinity include:

  • Chez Daniel French Restaurant: a rarity for foodies in Puerto Rico
  • Rancho Buena Vista: horseback riding at the beach and other outdoor activities
  • Monkey Island day trip by kayak
  • Snorkeling boat trips from Maragata Yacht Center
  • Humacao Nature Reserve: truly off-the-beaten-path hiking and cycling trails
  • Casa Roig: a historic Frank-Lloyd-Wright-inspired home, now converted into a beautiful museum
  • La Pescaderia: another outstanding Palmas Del Mar spot, specializing in seafood

Rincon to Arecibo through Camuy

Porta Del Sol, as Puerto Rico’s West Coast is known locally, is one of my favorite regions of the island.

Its vibe is a total contrast from our pulsing capital.

If you remember, I surprised my American beau with a stay at Puntas Tree House for our second-year anniversary.

He was blown away. So much in fact that Rincon became his favorite base in the Caribbean after second trip the Puerto Rico.

Most visitors who flock here are either surfers, body boarders or laid-back spirits seeking sleepy beach towns or unspoiled natural attractions.

While the surf season (November through February) brings with it world-class competitions and an influx of tourists, Porta Del Sol only sees a fraction of Old San Juan’s numbers.

Better yet? The low season (July through September, excluding local holidays) leaves most West Coast surfing beaches swell-free and nearly deserted–except for a few local beach bums.

unique Puerto Rico day trips, Cueva Ventana

Cueva Ventana in Arecibo, Puerto Rico

Beyond Rincon, you’ll find many hidden gems, particularly in neighboring Porta Atlantico.

Located only a few miles north of Porta Del Sol, my favorite towns there include Isabela, Camuy, and Arecibo.

Top Puerto Rico day trips on this region include:

  • Cueva Ventana and Cueva del Indio, Arecibo: jaw-dropping natural caves
  • Camuy Caverns: home of the third-largest subterranean river system in the world
  • Shacks Beach + Blue Hole, Isabela: some of the finest waters and marine life in the region

Extra tip: if you’ve been to Puerto Rico before and wish to explore the West Coast exclusively, I highly recommend you fly into Aguadilla airport (BQN) instead of San Juan International (SJU). Currently, it is serviced by JetBlue, United, and Spirit Airlines.

unique Puerto Rico attractions, Isabela

Shacks Beach aerial by Villa Tropical Resort, Isabela

Finally convinced? Build your unique Puerto Rico itinerary by following one of my favorite routes. They are my favorites!

Do you suggest other Puerto Rico trips? Share them below!

Things to do in Aruba off cruise ships: Unique port of call day trips

I visited this ABC Island back in 2002 on a Carnival cruise ship and let me tell you: it was my favorite port of call. The mix of cultures was quite a feat. Moreover, its spectacular beaches and eerie desert landscapes took my breath away. And so this week’s Beach Thursday is all about travel tips and unique day trip ideas: things to do in Aruba off cruise ships!

things to do in Aruba off cruise ship, Baby Beach

Baby Beach, Aruba by Chris Ford, Flickr

Things to do in Aruba off cruise ships: Unique port of call day trips

Did you know that there are over 92 different nationalities represented on this island? This is quite evident in Aruba’s museums, architecture, and food. However, its natural beauty is just as stunning. Thus, I recommend you delve deeper into Aruban culture and go off-the-beaten-path during your visit by taking one of these unique day trips:

DIY Aruban cuisine foodie tour

No foodie tours available in Aruba? No problem! Rent a car, plot a route, and spend a few hours on this port of call sampling some of the dishes and restaurants below:

things to do in Aruba off cruise ship, eat Keshi Yena

A MUST? Trying Aruba’s national dish, Keshi Yena (stuffed cheese shell, typically including chicken, vegetable’s, and raisins as well). Photo by Sonja Stark, Flickr

Take part of one of Aruba’s weekly events

It’s quite surprising the amount of cultural events going on a weekly basis on this Dutch island! So if your cruise ship doesn’t leave until late that night or the next morning, I highly recommend you experience Aruba’s culture through its arts, music, and drinks by attending one of the following:

Tuesday evenings – Bon Bini Festival (USD $5, excluding food and drinks)

Rain or shine, this festival starts around 6:30 PM with some of the food vendors and artisans presenting their crafts at the outdoor courtyard of Fort Zoutman. Then, the big show of musicians, dancers, and other artists takes place between 7 – 8:30 PM. Aruban dancing, foods, drinks: what else do you need?

Bon Bini Festival, things to do in Aruba off cruise ship

Bon Bini Festival show by pizzatrain11, Flickr

Wednesday evenings – Aruba Food and Wine Festival (FREE admission)

What others do on an annual basis, Arubans do on a weekly basis! At least 8 different restaurants present an assortment of tapas or small bites of their best dishes to The Village Mall, located right across the street from the Radisson Resort, between between 6 and 10:30 PM. This is the Caribbean after all, so also expect colorful costumes, dancing, and lively music!

things do in Aruba off cruise ship, eating and drinking

succulent Aruban grouper by Diana Schnuth, Flickr

Thursday evenings – Carubbian Festival (FREE admission)

Yet another weekly event where Aruban food, music, art, and culture convene. Perfect for people watching, sampling cheap street food, listening to great steel drums. Also great for the whole family, as there’s an interesting parade/Carnaval of sorts and even a tent for the kids. From 6 to 10 PM, but most of the action happens around 7:30 – 9:30 PM, at San Nicolas Main Street. Recommended you either hail a cab or take the local bus — parking will be too horrible even for your rental!

things to do in Aruba off cruise ship, Carnaval

Aruban Carnaval by fotocastor, Flickr

TIP: Definitely say no to a pre-booked tour here! Why? They charge you an astounding amount (around $64) just to take you there and back, bring you one cheap meal that would have cost you no more than $5 anyway, plus you aren’t able to leave as you please. NOT worth it.

Additionally, make sure you check out the Cas di Cultura (Cultural Center) and see whether there any indigenous performances or special exhibitions during your visit.

DIY Aruban adventure tour

Adventurous at heart? Then rent a car and try to visit some forgotten ruins, national parks, and other hidden gems around the island! Hike the Hooiberg volcanic formation, visit Bushiribana, the stunning Dos Playa (for photography, surfing, bodyboarding!), Seroe Jamanota, National Park Arikok and its secluded Boca Prins beach, etc.

Need more ideas? Check Aruba Tourism’s natural gems list!

things to do in Aruba off cruise ship, hiking Hooiberg

Hooiberg volcanic formation and Aruba’s semi-arid landscape: STUNNING! (Photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, Wiki Commons)

DIY beach hopping tour

This one is for the beach bums and water lovers! Aruba has a myriad of gorgeous beaches, so rent a car and snorkeling gear to hit a couple of them. My favorites include Arashi Beach (swimming), Eagle Beach, Boca Catalina, Baby Beach, Spanish Lagoon (snorkeling and sailing), and Andicuri (surfing).

things to do in Aruba off cruise ship, divi tree beach

Aruba’s Divi Tree by Serge Melki, Wiki Commons

More traditional Aruba cruise ship day trips

Some of you prefer a more traditional, guided tour in order to take Aruba’s most popular attractions and sights. If this is you, please know that you do not have to book directly with your cruise ship! Those cruise ship day trips are usually more expensive — plus won’t give you the same experience — as, say, local Aruba tour operators. So check out this list of attractions and tour agencies (most will pick you up right at the port) or pick one that includes some of my favorite spots below!

Culture: Alto Vista Chapel, California Lighthouse, Plaza Daniel Leo, Fort Zoutman and King Willem III Tower.

Nature lovers: The Natural PoolDaimari Beach (horseback riding), Fishermen’s Huts (people watching, kite surfing, windsurfing), and Spanish Lagoon (snorkeling, sailing, fishing).

things to do in Aruba off cruise ship, Lagoon snorkeling

PHOTO by Sonja Stark, Flickr

Got more day trips or things to do in Aruba off cruise ships? Share!