Cueva Ventana Arecibo: Breathtaking Cave with a View in Puerto Rico (PHOTOS)

What place am I urging you to visit this Travel Tuesday? A gem of a cave in the northwest coast of Puerto Rico that you must visit before it gets too crowded: Cueva Ventana Arecibo!

Cueva Ventana, Arecibo, Puerto Rico

The two caves will wow you with their stalactites, stalagmites, bats and other critters that are part of this ecosystem—while the final, dramatic “window” provides panoramic views of Rio Grande de Arecibo in the adjacent valley.

See for yourself!

Cueva Ventana, unique Arecibo attraction

Cueva Ventana, Arecibo, Puerto Rico entrance

Ready to take the plunge into Cueva Ventana Puerto Rico, then…?!

How to Get to Cueva Ventana, Arecibo, Puerto Rico

Cueva Ventana is located on St # 10 in the northwestern town of Arecibo. To get there, simply take Expreso 22 from San Juan. Once in Arecibo, take Exit 75B toward Utuado.

When you see a Texaco gas station, you’ll be charged admission fee. Adults over 15 years of age pay $5; kids are free.

how to get to Cueva Ventana

secret road we took after gas station — so our local guide saved us the admission fee 😉

Past the gas station, you begin walking down the path on the left for about 10-15 minutes. Then, you’ll encounter the first cave—underneath a dramatic tree!— which is surprisingly small and quite easy to enter and exit.

entrance to Cueva Ventana

Afterward, you’ll see a clearing, at which you take a sharp right. There, you will quickly see the opening of the second cave. This is where it can get tricky!

inside first cave, how to get to Cueva Ventana Puerto Rico

Inside the first cave

There are some arrows drawn into the rock inside the second cave, pointing toward the “final window” or actual Cueva Ventana.

how to get to Cueva Ventana Arecibo

Aaaand we’re here *scary silence in the background*

Cueva Ventana Travel Tips

  • If you’ve never been inside a cave though, you might get disoriented. For this reason, I highly recommend you contact the Sierra Club Puerto Rico to book a tour or simply go with a local Couchsurfer!
  • You MUST bring some flashlights and sturdy rubber sole shoes, as the caves are dark (and sometimes slippery)!
  • Make sure you get here no later than 9 AM to beat the crowds! This way, you’ll be able to enjoy the sounds and solitude of this hidden gem.
  • Please, DO NOT use flash inside the caves. It will bother the bats and disturb their natural habitat. If you want to get a good shot of the stalactites, simply take photos of the ones close to the cave’s opening (no flash needed!).
unique Puerto Rico cave in Arecibo, Puerto Rico

Be wowed by Mother Nature!

Have you been to Cueva Ventana Arecibo? If not, would you visit?

CLICK HERE for more Cueva Ventana & Arecibo photos!

Noche de San Juan history: Beach Thursday special!

What does Noche de San Juan history has to do with Beach Thursday, some of you may ask? Well, all of it! Through a fun photo essay, I’ll describe this exciting beach festival. And while it is also celebrated in Portugal, I’ll focus on Spain and Puerto Rico today. Good way to warm up before I go to freeze my butt in Canada this Saturday! 😉

Noche de San Juan history, Portugal beach

Bonfires as seen from a beach in Medeira, Portugal by zyberchema, Flickr

Noche de San Juan history

The original Christian holiday honors John the Baptist on June 24th. However, its eve (Noche de Fuego) is an adaptation of an earlier pagan festival, which paid tribute to the sun. FIRE and water take center stage, symbolizing the cleansing of sins.

In short, Noche de San Juan is a celebration of the shortest night of the year, used as an opportunity to “start anew” (+ party). And while the summer solstice is actually closer to June 21st, the church wanted to celebrate it by St. John’s holiday (night of June 23rd). So it stuck!

Noche de San Juan history, Night of Fire

Giant Noche de San Juan bonfire in Spain by Lumiago, Flickr

Whether we’re talking about it in Spain or Puerto Rico, the origins are the same. Conquistadors got here, traditions were passed on, you know the deal. When it comes to practice, though? Somewhat different!

Noche de San Juan customs, traditions, and superstitions

Naturally, Noche de San Juan customs and traditions aren’t the same in Spain and Puerto Rico anymore. While Spaniards focus more on fire rituals, Puerto Ricans simply like to have a great beach concert and splash into the ocean. Here are some examples:

– It’s believed that as soon as the sun comes up the morning of June 24, the waters of fountains and rivers are full of special powers to cure and protect people. Additionally, whoever bathes in the dew of that night will be protected for the rest of the year (only in Spain).

Noche de San Juan history, Puerto Rico beach

The party starts early! Ocean Park beach, Puerto Rico by Amber Porter

– Going backwards (naked!) into the ocean, while looking at the moon, will give the bather special powers on Noche de San Juan (in Spain). OR you can simply jump backwards into the ocean, even if wearing a bathing suit, 7 times after midnight of June 24th for good luck (in Puerto Rico).

– Singles who look through the window of their home after midnight of June 24 will see the love of their life walk by (either Spain or Puerto Rico).

– A scary-looking ragdoll is burned by the ocean, while making a variety of petitions and promises (only in some coastal towns, Andalucia, and the Canary Islands).

Noche de San Juan customs and traditions, Canary Islands

Playa Jardín, Canary Islands by Carmen Fuentes

Noche de San Juan: modern celebrations

While the previous Noche de San Juan customs and traditions are kept by some, most youngsters simply go to the beach to party the night of June 23rd. To give you a taste of what this holiday is like nowadays in both Spain and Puerto Rico, here are some videos of the respective celebrations:

Noche de San Juan in Spain, also known as The Night of Fire:

Noche de San Juan in Puerto Rico’s capital:

I’m excited to be celebrating Noche de San Juan in Puerto Rico this year. PLUS my birthday is that same week (June 25) 😉 Mr. B and I have rented a studio by the beach, so will sure be taking great photos of the party by Ocean Park beach! Can’t wait for next month 😀

Yay for the good times and bye-bye to the gloomy days (I hope…!).

Noche de San Juan history, beach fireworks

Playa de Las Canteras, Las Palmas by JUAN RAMON RODRIGUEZ SOSA

Did you know about Noche de San Juan history? Have you celebrated it?

Puerto Rico Beach Thursday: Cueva del Indio Arecibo photos

Welcome to another edition of Beach Thursday! As I’m back to my beautiful island, this week I’m featuring one of Puerto Rico’s hidden gems: Cueva del Indio Arecibo. I had the pleasure to go to this cave, grottoes, and lovely beach yesterday, as part of a day trip to the northern coast. It was a mix of hiking, climbing, swimming, and even some Taino Indian petroglyphs! Definitely a great day under the sun 🙂

Cueva del Indio Arecibo photos, beach panorama

Gorgeous panorama from Cueva del Indio, Arecibo

How to get to Cueva del Indio Arecibo

The municipality of Arecibo is located about 80 km west of San Juan, so you must either rent a vehicle or book a day trip with a local operator in order to reach it. I was lucky enough to be going with a friend of mine and her date, who used to be an adventure tour guide. Which means?! Going off-the-beaten-path!

How to get to Cueva del Indio Arecibo map

Arecibo, Puerto Rico map by Wiki Commons

Once you reach Arecibo, Cueva del Indio is located at St 681 Km 8.0 (Carretera 681 in Spanish). GPS should be able to get you there—and you’ll know you’re at the right place as soon as you see the sign and a business called El Coayuco. There, you pay USD $2 for parking and simply follow the signs to walk toward the cave.

Cueva del Indio Arecibo photos: petroglyphs, grottoes & a beach!

The beginning of the dirt path is full of branches and even palm trees. However, it soon turns into sharp rocks, so be sure you wear sturdy walking shoes!

how to get to Cueva del Indio, Arecibo

On the left: the panorama from above and Cueva del Indio beach. To the right? Path down the petroglyphs cave, cove, and grotto

Once you reach those big rock steps, you may turn left to enjoy the beautiful lookout and even walk down to Playa Cueva del Indio (the beach). Alternatively, you may go right to take the stairs down to the petroglyphs cave and/or walk a little further to look into the beautiful grottoes, cove, and crashing Atlantic Ocean.

Cueva del Indio path, how to get there

Rock steps leading toward the cove and Atlantic Ocean

Cueva del Indio cave entrance

Stairs leading to the petroglyphs cave. Stunning! And higher than it looks…

Of course, I recommend you go both ways 😉 We went to the grottoes and petroglyphs cave first, just so we could wrap up the day by enjoying the panorama and relaxing at Playa Cueva del Indio.

photos Cueva del Indio Arecibo petroglyphs

Taino Indian petroglyphs all over the cave! It is still uncertain how old they are

Cueva del Indio ocean cove, Arecibo

Gorgeous ocean cove by Cueva del Indio cave

Extra travel tips for Cueva del Indio

– The waters can be rough! For this reason, make sure you look for the 2 mini pools (protected by the reef) once you hike down to the beach. There, you can refresh out of harm’s way.

Arecibo Beach Cueva del Indio

The waves weren’t that big yesterday, but still a gorgeous view!

How to get to Playa Cueva del Indio

One of the safe pools to bathe at Playa Cueva del Indio

For some interesting photographs, lookout for the cute zebra fish at one of the pools and the blue iguanas wandering around Playa Cueva del Indio!

Playa Cueva del Indio Arecibo photos, blue iguana

blue iguana!

For more Playa Cueva del Indio photos, check out LatinAbroad’s Facebook page.

What’s your favorite beach cove? Mine is Cueva del Indio for sure! 🙂

Puerto Rico travel video and photos: my first hosting bid!

Last month, I had the opportunity to shoot my first travel hosting bid! Yes, I had my very own cameraman and even a director. The following Puerto Rico travel video was made for a competition that will hopefully send me around the world for 6 months btw, taking you to the most exciting places on my biggest, baddest travel bucket list! 😀

Puerto Rico: The Land of a Thousand Blessings

Liked it? Then VOTE FOR ME here! All you have to do is go to that page, then click on the social media icons beside my Puerto Rico travel video there. Share that entry page on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Google+ and even Pinterest!

Puerto Rico travel video, Puerto Rican girl

The Making of: more work than you think!

Remember that old MTV series “Making the Video”? I loved going behind the scenes of my favorite music videos, learning about special effects, how storylines are written, and how hard the artists actually work for what comes to be a mere 3-5 min. video clip.

That being said: how long you think it took us to shoot the previous 3-minute Puerto Rico travel video? C’mon, take a wild guess!

Puerto Rico travel video, Luquillo Beach

Luquillo Beach, Puerto Rico by Ard Hesselink

More than 20 hours!

We worked for 14 continuous hours the first day of shooting, visiting over a dozen locations (scattered throughout the island!), taking video clips, stills, and different commentary. Then, on the second day, we worked a couple more hours to capture a glimpse of the nightlife.

But of course, with only 3 mins. to work with, a lot of good material had to be sacrificed…which makes me sad! All in all though, a great learning experience.

Puerto Rico travel video, La Guancha Ponce

Pelican at La Guancha, Ponce, Puerto Rico by José Zayas

While filming was hard work, I had a blast. I honestly wouldn’t mind working more than 14 continuous hours on a single day, all while travel hosting! It didn’t feel like work. It felt like a great adventure, road tripping all over Puerto Rico 😀

What did you think of my Puerto Rico travel video? VOTE FOR ME here!

FriFotos: places I’ve called HOME around the world! (photo essay)

To travelers and nomads, home is typically a state of mind. However, for FriFotos this week, I wanted to take you on a photographic journey to some of the places I’ve called HOME around the world. From sailboats to hammocks; concrete blocks to tiki huts: ¡Bienvenidos a mi hogar!

Home around the world: FriFotos photo essay

Home around the world, Puerto Rico

My humble home in Puerto Rico. Solid concrete = hurricane-proof!

The beginning and the end: my parents house and neighborhood in Gurabo, Puerto Rico. Closer to the city of Caguas, though!

Home around the world, Puerto Rico concrete houses

The neighborhood I grew up in! A dead-end street with beautiful palm trees and mountains in the vicinity.

Due to hurricanes, most houses in Puerto Rico are made of solid concrete throughout:  including walls inside the home. Only the wealthy can afford intricate homes, as it is more expensive and difficult to build and mold concrete houses. However, if you just want one big concrete box, that won’t be too expensive!

The million-dollar home in Tampa, Florida

Home around the world, million-dollar home Tampa

The pool area, part of a yacht, the lake, and other million-dollar homes in the area.

In the summer of 2010, I was lucky enough to score a housesitting and pet sitting gig in an affluent neighborhood in Tampa, Florida.  For 2 full months, I lived like a rock star!  A yacht, a boat, fun neighbors, great food! I also got to hang out with the amazing family when they were around every couple of weeks. I bonded with my hosts so much that I now call them my American family. I even call the married couple mom and dad!

Whenever I can’t go back home for Christmas, I spend the holidays with them 🙂

Home around the world, American family

My new American family!

Don’t worry though, my first familia will always be in Puerto Rico. I simply call them mami and papi to differentiate my 2 sets of parents 😉 lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful people—much love indeed.

A hammock, overwater hostel, and a sailboat in Panama

Home around the world, Aqualounge Hostel Bocas del Toro

Aqualounge Hostel in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Only reachable by boat!

Home around the world, Bocas del Toro hammock

My bed for a couple of nights in Bocas del Toro, Panama

While this hammock and overwater hostel in Bocas del Toro were my home for less than a week, I had an amazing time! Great drinking specials, quirky characters, and fun parties.

Home around the world, sailboat Kuna Yala

View of Kuna Yala village from my sailboat cabin

More about this trip: Panama, my last college spring break! (photo essay)

This trip got even better with 4 days sailing down the San Blas Islands—in great company as well. Just imagine this bubbly Puerto Rican, a loopy captain, 2 diplomats from the US foreign service, 2 retired lawyers, and a Kuna Indian fisherman…!

College campus in Morocco

Home around the world, Al Akhawayn University Morocco

The gorgeous campus of Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco (Amina Lahbabi)

In the fall of 2009, I studied abroad in Ifrane, a small town by the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, for 4 months. The American-style college is called Al-Akhawayn University and I had a blast! Gorgeous grounds, architecture, and people. The dorms were even better than in most colleges I’ve seen in the USA, which was crazy!

Home around the world, Moroccan college dorms

One of the dorms! Photo courtesy of Munir Sayegh

I felt most at home in the classroom of my World Religions class with Portuguese professor Jacques, though. Handsome, wise. He taught me so much about unknown cultures, religious traditions, rites, etc. I haven’t been that happy in many other places! Unfortunately, no photo of handsome Jacques available.

 Cluttered roofs and sleeping on an ancient felucca in Egypt

Home around the world, Cairo apartment

Cluttered roofs and dirty apartments — commonplace in otherwise-fascinating Cairo, Egypt

I must have moved about 4 times during my year of Arabic studies in Egypt.  Issues ranged from roommate conflicts to sketchy bowaabs (building doorman)—you name it! And even though my digital camera died within the first week in Cairo, my first flatmate—Natalia—took a good picture of one of the apartments (photo above).

Umm yeah…with my student budget (relying exclusively on a scholarship), I couldn’t afford a maid to keep the apartment dust-free nor a better view than that one. All in all, a very humbling experience. Seriously, cleanliness…one of the many things we take for granted everyday.

Home around the world, sleeping on a felucca

Relaxing morning, sleeping on a felucca!

It goes without saying that where I felt the most at home during my year in Egypt was while drifting down the Nile on a felucca for 3 days and 2 nights.  Absolutely magical.

Home around the world, felucca sunset

Sunset during my 22nd birthday (by Aswan, Egypt)

This photo essay is almost 800 words now, so enough of home for today! 😉

Hope you enjoyed it.

Felucca Sunset Egypt

Yup, that’s me on the felucca once more. Had to save the best shot for last!

Where’s home to you? How many countries have you lived in?

A year in travel (and life): My 2012 roller coaster ride

Welcome to the roller coaster ride of my year in travel — and life. 2012 was full of not only travel bucket list adventures, but also several struggles and personal growth. In fact, it was one of my toughest years to date. Let’s take a look back and breath in the positive, breathe out the negative, learn from the mistakes, and most importantly: move forward!

year in travel, my first snowfall

There’s no rainbow without some…SNOW! 😉 My very first snowfall in Frisco, Texas

Local tourism: Tampa Bay’s Mardi Gras and the Dalí Museum

As I currently live minutes away from downtown, I took part of the Gasparilla Parade (Tampa Bay’s Mardi Gras) on January 2012. “The Invasion” celebrates the legend of José Gaspar (better known as Gasparilla). Rumor has it that the Spanish pirate captain invaded Florida’s west coast between the late 18th – early 19th century. No evidence of such “attack” or even the capt. himself appears in writing until late 20th century though, which makes his existence dubious. But who cares? It is still a heck of a party!

year in travel, Tampa Bay Mardi Gras Gasparilla

“The Invasion”! (Christopher Hollis for Wdwic Pictures)

Also, I finally went to the new Dalí Museum in nearby St. Petersburg. It was an amazing experience see the works of my favorite painter, in addition to having some random fun by the Tree of Wishes in the courtyard!

Year in travel, Dali Museum Florida

By the courtyard and Tree of of Wishes of the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida (Matthew Paulson, Flickr)

My first travel conference: The NY Times Travel Show

In March 2012, I went to the New York Times Travel Show for the first time. For being my very first travel conference period, I feel it was a success! I later contacted some of the media agents I connected with throughout the weekend — and even got some comped trips later in the year. The networking that ensued forced me to think about my brand, how I market myself, and where I want LatinAbroad to be. Professional and personal lessons.

Also, I finally got to meet some fellow travel bloggers! Including some of my “idols” 😀

year in travel, NY travel Show Expedia party

NY travel Show Expedia party with travel bloggers @CaptainandClark @MidlifeRoadTrip @live_for_travel

year in travel, New York Times travel show

Top: Woman travel session (with legendary @JourneyWoman, Evelyn!). Bottom: Asia section with lovely dancers from Sri Lanka (left) and Thai display (right)

Life after studying abroad: My post-travel depression

Around April, my life after studying abroad was starting to get to me. More often than not, I was quite sad, unable (or unwilling?) to accept my new life. This post-travel depression hit me hard. I started to fight a lot with my new beau. In fact, it was one of those fights that helped me see that I really had to improve my day by day.

While I still struggle from time to time,  I keep reminding myself that my long-term goals will allow me to travel for the rest of my life! I just have a wee-bit left to get done stateside 😉

year in travel, Tampa FL local tourism

Local tourism in Tampa! Part of my life after traveling the world

American work culture and illness: More struggles ahead

In May, even more hurdles were put on my path. I struggled with the difficult American work culture and a new illness: RSI/carpal tunnel. Due to not having health insurance, I have still not been officially diagnosed, but the pain in my hands and dainty fingers doesn’t lie. I found a way to move forward by buying voice recognition software and learning to relax. A journey, not a destination…

Year in travel, American work culture

Stressed.Out (Deborah Leigh, Flickr)

June: More domestic tourism, TBEX and my 1st Blogiversary

I define domestic tourism as traveling to states or provinces of the country you are living in. This summer, I saw more of America by visiting the number 1 beach in the USA and going to the West for the 1st time. Where to? Keystone, Colorado for TBEX!

Year in travel, Siesta Key Beach FL

Me at Siesta Key beach FL: Number 1 in the USA

While TBEX was my 2nd travel conference, it was my 1st (official) travel blogger trip. I got to meet even more of my travel blogging idols and long-time online friends face-to-face. Among them, the legendary Lola DiMarco, Jodi Ettenburg, Michael Tieso, and Stephanie Yoder. Furthermore, I got my first translation deals! They are still on the works (none have gone live), but I know 2013 will bless me in that department 😀 As a TBEX 1st timer, this meant a lot to me.

Year in travel, TBEX conference

Me (bottom) surrounded by some big names and travel bloggers! Guess who?

You know what else happened in June? It was LatinAbroad’s 1st anniversary! I can’t believe my baby travel blog is over a year old already. Thanks to YOU for all the support! This will keep going for years and years, I assure you 😉 I love it too much.

Year in travel, TBEX Colorado

Champagne and a view: Couldn’t ask for a better ride! (Photo: Jennifer Huber)

Puerto Rico gringo invasion — and partial media trip!

In July, I had the great opportunity to go on a partial media trip to my island, Puerto Rico. With my gringo in tow, we visited my family and other quirky attractions in the island. The highlights?

The sensual Hotel OK and Motel Villa Arco Iris:

Year in travel, sex Hotel OK Puerto Rico

Hotel OK suite: Complete with stripper pole, heart-shaped Jacuzzi, and the mandatory ceiling mirrors over the bed and hot tub!

Year in travel, Puerto Rico sex Motel Villa Arco Iris

Our romantic suite at Motel Villa Arco Iris. And yup, that’s a ceiling mirror over the bed — and over the Jacuzzi as well!

Going down the tallest zip line in the world:

Small plane ride over the ocean from mainland Puerto Rico to Vieques:

Year in travel, Vieques plane ride

Gorgeous views of mainland Puerto Rico! This flight was courtesy of Vieques Air Link

Laid-back Vieques Island beaches:

Year in travel, Vieques Beach Playuela

Entrance to hidden gem Garcia Beach in Vieques, Puerto Rico

 …and my gringo trying to drive!

A Russian restaurant, the Olympics, and a patriot’s dilemma

The end of the summer brought an unexpected local outing. I got to travel through food and visit an authentic Russian restaurant in Florida. I drank some Soviet-era vodka and ate some interesting Eastern European food.

year in travel, Russian food

I ate the Eastern European lobster pierogi. It was an interesting cream sauce with caramelized onions, plus the perioges seemed to have been stuffed with crab too

Additionally, I got into some arguments around the Olympics due to my strong Puerto Rican patriotism and ignorant Americans’ inability to understand it.

year in travel, Puerto Rico patriotism

Who would have thought this moment would cause so much commotion — in a negative way!?

A new travel cooking series — and financial anorexia

October brought with it some exciting new plans — and some old struggles. Hostel Cooking recipes debuted thanks to my good friend Josh Snore; while the Black Dog showed its ugly face again. I even accepted I suffer from financial anorexia. However, I pulled through — and they won’t beat me!

Year in travel, hostel cooking

Never thought you could cook Moroccan chicken with couscous in a hostel, did you? Get the recipe here!

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico: My 2nd trip to the Yucatán Peninsula

In November, I had another great opportunity to go on a partial media trip to check out 2 of the boutique Xperience Hotels. This time, I would be heading to Mexico for the 2nd time to check out the laid-back beach town of Playa Del Carmen! I was beyond excited, as I could not see many attractions my 1st time around.

I sampled Mayan cuisine, went rappelling and tubing in a cenote, visited the lesser-known Ek Balam Mayan ruins, and even got a 70-minute beach massage for only USD $18! Oh, and sure thing, la gente esta muy LOCAAA in Playa Del Carmen nightlife (and I absolutely loved it).

year in travel, cenote rappelling

Cenote rappelling! Don’t I look excited?!

year in travel, cenote tubing

Our group tubing in a cenote. Of course, I’m the one posing pretty haha

year in travel, Ek Balam Mayan ruins

Ek Balam “Jaguar” Temple: Mayan carvings

Christmas in Texas — and MY FIRST SNOWFALL!

Last month, my partner surprised me with tickets to go see his family in Texas for Christmas. It was a pretty laid-back trip, but with some great highlights!

Right out of the airport, I was taken to sample some good ol’ Texan barbecue. Omg.

year in travel, Texas barbecue

O.M.G.

year in travel, Texan BBQ

Texan brisket and sausage

The Downtown Frisco musical light show and surrounding homes brought out the kid in me. I squealed like a little girl, I was so happy! 😀

The next day it was all about the spanking-new Perot Museum of Science was so much fun — but extremely crowded. I recommend you be the first through the door and have fun at the bottom floors first, as they are the most interactive. My favorite sections were the oil drilling and minerals, in addition to the human anatomy floor. There, you could see the many wonders of the human body via some excellent experiments and quirky gadgets. It was so unreal —  perfect for kids, by the way.

Then, it was Max Donuts. And family banquets. Just SO. MUCH. FOOD.

Year in travel, Max Donuts TX

Max Donuts and other delicacies

Year in travel, veal sausage

Southern veal sausage: spicy, juicy, delicious

Year in travel, southern brisket

Southern brisket right out of the oven

Year in travel, Texan bacon cheeseburger

Just look at that sexy Texan bacon cheeseburger

Year in travel, Midwestern food

Midwestern food in Texas

Year in travel, Southern biscuits

Southern biscuits: garlic, cheese, herbs, and a lot of butter!

But nothing, I mean NOTHING this year could top this one off:

MY VERY FIRST SNOWFALL!

That’s right: up until Christmas 2012, I’d never seen snow fall from the sky. Ever. And yes, it snowed right on Christmas Day! It was so so perfect, I even teared up a little, especially as my partner stepped outside in order to kiss me under the snow 🙂

Year in travel, my first snowfall

It started to snow! It started to snow!

Year in travel, my first snow storm

This is what extreme happiness looks like. Very 1st snowfall in my life, I even teared up!

Indeed, happiness is an understatement here. So of course, I had to shoot not one, but 2 videos. It was freezing cold, but I was so overjoyed I couldn’t even feel it!

New Year’s in Tampa Bay

In comparison to other years, the last few hours of 2012 were very laid-back. However, I spent them among friends and, most importantly, the man I love. 2012 taught me that I could love again, even though travel and a broken heart had stripped hope.

year in travel, fireworks

A great start to 2013 <3

And so, with a kiss and embrace, we said goodbye to 2012 — all while watching a good ol’ firework show over Tampa Bay:

2012 resolutions: Moving back to Egypt, Arabic degree, Oceania — FAIL

Last, but definitely not least, are my failed 2012 resolutions. Last year, I wanted to not only improve my Arabic and even earn a Master of Professional Studies degree, but also move back to Egypt. Plan A didn’t happen, as the federal government stopped funding that program and the situation in Egypt deteriorated (so did my job prospects).

What about Plan B, to become a flight attendant and fly all over the world, or even Plan C,  which involved me moving to Australia and traveling all over Oceania? Well…

I started to take my finances so seriously that I set a plan to get rid of all my debt (about $50,000 of it) in 3 years or less. I just wanted to be free, be free of all Western world strengths and the flawed American work culture.

I decided I want to be a full-time nomadic translator, travel writer by 30.

And, most importantly: DEBT-FREE by then!

It might not be a perfect plan, but it didn’t matter in my head — it still ruled out Plan B. Then, I got a promotion in Florida and decided to stay put longer, as the new salary and benefits were in line with my new financial & other important long-term goals. There went Plan C

But was my toughest year yet ruined because of all these changes? As you could see throughout this post, definitely not. Yes, I struggled. Yes, I didn’t travel as much as I wanted to.

But I grew. I learned a lot.

(AND I SAW SNOW. AND LOVE)

So: Cheers to 2013! I’m ready to learn, to be amazed, and to be blessed once more. Shall this post be a reminder of John Lennon’s words:

Year in travel, John Lennon quote

A motto to remember

How was your year in travel (and life) in 2012? Share your milestones!

Salsa music history and videos: Travel playlists

There are many misconceptions about salsa music history and its true origin. For this reason, I decided to write about my favorite Latin music genre for this week’s Cultural Tidbits Monday. Additionally, I have included some of my favorite salsa music videos for you to spice up your travel playlists. Enjoy! 😀

Salsa music history: From Cuba or Puerto Rico? Settle already!

As a Latina, I StumbleUpon this debate all the time: Did salsa music originated in Cuba or in Puerto Rico? I’ve seen Cubans and Puerto Ricans alike go head-to-head about who is right, who can take credit for this amazing contribution to Latin music and culture. The truth of the matter is, neither is 100% right.

Salsa music history, Fania All-Stars

“In 1971 the Fania All Stars sold out Yankee Stadium” [Steward, Sue (2000). “Salsa: Cubans, Nuyoricans and the Global Sound” pp. 488–489]. Photo: Tommy Muriel, Wiki

Salsa music history can be traced back to New Yoricans (Nuyoricans), or Puerto Ricans living in New York City, in the early 70s. While it was very common for any type of Latin music to be categorized as “salsa” (even mariachis!) since the 30s, it wasn’t until Johnny Pacheco, creative director and producer for Fania Records, fine-tuned a balanced mix of Latin sounds and created what we know as salsa music today. Back then though, the Fania sound was known as New York salsa.

Yes, Cubans will still scoff at the term and say that salsa was/is nothing more than a mix of old Cuban sounds. However, many fail to acknowledge that the salsa genre we know today was truly a mix of Cuban and other Caribbean sounds — thus the term (salsa = sauce, a concoction of ingredients). Even musicians that only played Cuban music changed the name of their genre to salsa “as a financial necessity” (Wikipedia, salsa music).

Salsa music videos: Travel playlist ideas

Heading to the Caribbean or Latin America soon? I recommend you add these explosive salsa mixes to your travel playlist! They come directly from my personal favorites collection 😉

Héctor Lavoe tribute by Mark Anthony, from the acclaimed film El Cantante. I recommend you download the entire album! But my favorite track is definitely “Aguanile”. No salsa music history article is ever complete without it. You may listen to it at the beginning of the video:

Another classic salsa music history group that has been around for decades is El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico. I had the privilege to have them play at one of my proms in high school while living in the island. Superb! This is what I would call top-shelf salsa music 😉

What did you know about salsa music history before reading this post?

Hotel OK Puerto Rico: A mischievous, sexy escapade in the tropics (photo essay)

Want to live out a secret affair fantasy? Want to feel like you’re a shady Puerto Rican government official? Want to order fried food naked? We have the hot spot for you: Puerto Rico MOTELS. Specifically, this Travel Bucket List Wednesday we share our Hotel OK Puerto Rico review, compliments of (mainly) Mr. B.

Hotel OK Puerto Rico entrance

Bright football-arena-like entrance sign of Hotel OK Puerto Rico

Hotel OK Puerto Rico rooms

Hotel OK Puerto Rico “suites” lined up. Openings are individual garages

To those who are uninitiated to the seedy underbelly of Puerto Rico motels: In essence, they are places to have sex and have no one know you were there. When it comes to the Hotel OK Puerto Rico, there’s a big bright sign for an entrance, like one of a football arena. But then, as soon as you turn in, the “roads” become dark alleys of Sin City.

As you pull in, you park in one of the many open garages inside each “suite.” When you get out of your vehicle, you feel a hush tone over the entire area. Besides the odd buzz of whizzing golf carts and packs of wild dogs, all you hear is silence. A man drives up, I hand him my credit card (he looked like a real straight shooter, right Maria?)…and he was off. Then, we were left to our devices at the Hotel OK Puerto Rico suite.

Inside the Hotel OK Puerto Rico Suite

Hotel OK Puerto Rico, VIllas Del Rey

Inside one of the Jacuzzi Suites at the Hotel OK Puerto Rico (named “VIllas Del Rey” or The King’s Villas)

Up the stairs, behind the mystery door: A mirrored playroom filled with a Jacuzzi, a stripper pole, disco lights, disco ball, a bar, and strange chair are unveiled.  The latter seemed to be used for confusing sexual positions (a love machine, I’m told). Upon entrance, I was WAY out of my comfort zone, so all I had was a goofy smile on my face. The area seems to be cleaned just enough to not gross me out. However, once I stepped into the bathroom, it seemed like no one had been there at all! There were broken tiles, awkward flushing toilets, no A/C to the bathroom. What was left was an open window, with men joking with one another in Spanish right below it. Since I didn’t know what they were saying, I’ll add lib: “What up Carlos, you here to have sex too?” Carlos: “Hey Sebastian, yeah you know what a kawinkadink LOL.” Sebastian: “Man, can’t wait to tweet this #motelaffair LMAO.”

When I went back into the room, Maria was looking over the Hotel OK Puerto Rico menu (digitally shown on TV). Offerings included food, lube, condoms, dolls…but NO COMBO MEALS! I mean, if I order your fried combo platter, you might as well assume that I ain’t got a chick in here and throw the blow up for free…

The Romantic Hot Tub

Hotel OK Puerto Rico heart-shaped Jacuzzi

Bubbly inside the heart-shaped Jacuzzi

I turned the faucet on to start filling the Jacuzzi. As I waited for the red heart-shaped hot tub to fill up, I flipped the Hotel OK Puerto Rico menu channel onto “regular” TV programming. Then BAM: I’m b**ls deep in what looks like the most amateur porn I have ever seen. The women looked worn, the tracks in their arms fresh, and the camera seemed to be excited as it was constantly shaking. So after a short browse, I turned it off. By then, Maria had decided on what “sexy items” and alcohol we wanted, so we called room service.

Now onto what the Hotel OK Puerto Rico does right: There’s a hidden little wooden door, where room orders are placed. This was built so that no one can actually see each other when “transactions” take place. I could be naked, clothed and/or still in a comprising position–it does not matter. I felt this was genius and all hotels should have this method of room service:

The masked man handed me the food and my card (glad it made it back). At this point, we sat down in the heart-shaped Jacuzzi; jets on and bubbles flowing. I can’t lie: this has been on my travel bucket list since Dumb and Dumber came out. To have it finally checked off with alcohol and fried Puerto Rican food was definitely a highlight. I don’t even think Alzheimer’s will ever take that away.

Sexy Time Calling. And…

Hotel OK Puerto Rico ceiling mirror

Ceiling mirror over bed

After fueling up, we decided to use what the Hotel OK Puerto Rico was made for. So we ****** on *** ******* for about 10-15 minutes, then we ****** in ** ********* which I think are illegal in my home state of Texas if I’m honest. After are some cuddles, Maria and I fell asleep. Now, this is when it got weird…

I woke to someone serenading their mate with “I’m on a payphone” by whatever that band is named (you know, with the dude in the bank robbery music video?).  After the serenade finally stopped, I heard the yip of what I assumed was a woman…but she sounded more like a small dog. When Maria finally woke up and stated that “those cleaning ladies need to stop singing so loud,” I just laughed. Hard.

8 Hours of Fantasy

Around 6 AM, the honeymoon at the Hotel OK Puerto Rico was finally over–we were off to the hustle-and-bustle of Puerto Rican life. We snuck back into her parents’ house early and enjoyed a great breakfast feast from the madre. The great thing about this was the little mischievous smiles we shared for the rest of the day. It was our little secret: we snuck out to have a romantic evening together. It was ours only ours. We were able to wink and hold hands as if we were high school sweethearts that “got away with it.”

TLDR: Get a partner, go to a sexy Puerto Rico motel, and have fun.

Hotel OK Puerto Rico sign

Hotel OK Puerto Rico: No additional caption needed

Next: We step it up & visit a luxurious, cleaner sexy motel

Would you go to Hotel OK Puerto Rico for a sexy fantasy night?

San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips: A local weighs in (photos)

UPDATED: March 2016! Today I got some insider San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips for you. Needing only to be 18+ to enjoy most of the nightlife, I was able to sample a great deal of hotels, casinos, and clubs before I went to college in the USA. Additionally, I have been going back every year. So I wondered…why the heck haven’t I written a post about them yet?!

**I’m referring to the San Juan metro area, including Isla Verde, Guaynabo, Río Piedras

San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips

San Sebastian Festival, Old San Juan (Tif Pic, Flickr)

Party hotel lobbies and casinos

Let’s be honest here: Everything about Puerto Rico is a party. You can find not only a party hotel, but also party lobbies. That’s right: even the locals flock into upscale hotel lobbies during the weekends for excellent free entertainment. Latin bands play live until the wee hours of the night (approximately 4 AM), with an accompanying bar serving until then.

Within the same hotels, there are also lively casinos, some which are open 24 hours a day! In there, the party atmosphere continues with great free drinks, food, and gambling that never sleeps. Below, my San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips + list of my favorite party hotel lobbies and casinos:

Condado strip

Radisson Ambassador Plaza Hotel & Casino: Party at the Ambassador Club Lounge; gamble at the 24-hour casino with 482 slot machines.

1369 Ashford Ave., San Juan 00907

La Concha Resort: Laid-back, yet ultra elegant atmosphere. Rub shoulders with the chic locals. Party is at the lobby as well. Great Latin band at the Ocean Lounge on Wednesday nights, by the way.

1077 Ashford Avenue, San Juan 00907

Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza: Rated among the Top 25 Trendiest Hotels in the Caribbean by Tripadvisor readers, the lobby is where it’s at. Usually best on Fridays, when the entire Condado strip is hot to party.

999 Ashford Avenue, San Juan 00907

Marriott San Juan Resort & Stellaris Casino: An all-time favorite of mine. I have partied at this lobby and gambled at this casino on several occasions. The live Latin bands and even DJs at the lobby are always great. Best San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips for this location: It is an older crowd, best for those over 25 (or anyone trying to avoid the youngsters in their late teens/early 20s). Party starts to sizzle on Wednesdays and Thursdays, depending on the season.

Ashford Ave, San Juan 00907

Old San Juan

Hotel El Convento: The number one hotel in San Juan in terms of charm and service. Ironic, yes–it used to be a convent! Good parties at the lobby on Wednesdays.

100 Cristo St, Old San Juan, San Juan 00901

La Factoria: chic bar in Old San Juan, with a nice selection of wines and specialty cocktails together by so-called expert “mixologists.” A little hipster for some people’s liking, but popular place among upscale locals. If you don’t like it here though, there’s something for everyone all along Calle San Sebastian! Both bars and great food.

Calle San Sebastián 148, Old San Juan, San Juan 00901

Isla Verde area

El San Juan Hotel & Casino: Ultra lavish hotel, beautiful grounds, even non-guests can venture to the beach on its backyard whilst partying. Not only are there great parties in the lobby, but also at the nearby nightclub (Brava) and even burlesque lounge (The Rose Club – call 787.565.7700 for showtimes). **Fridays and Saturdays are best for partying at the lobby, by the way. Brava usually has the best DJs on Saturday nights.

6063 Isla Verde Ave, Carolina 00979

San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips, El San Juan Hotel

Grand chandelier at El San Juan Hotel & Casino’s lobby                         (Josh Friedman, Flickr)

Nightclubs

Most of the hottest nightclubs in the island play Latin (salsa, merengue, bachata, and particularly reggaetón) and/or electronic music. The more upscale establishments will usually have two rooms or more– with at least 2 different DJs dedicated to these genres. Conversely, a select few offer metal, underground genres, and even poetry readings.

One of the best San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips I can give you, by the way? Even restaurants are turned into nightlife hotspots on my island 😀 Case in point:

Di Zucchero Restaurant & Lounge: Very busy on weekends, particularly after 12:30 AM. Better yet? Party goes on until 5 AM!

1210 Ashford Ave, Condado 00908

Brava (inside San Juan Hotel & Casino): Quite possibly, the classiest crowd in Puerto Rico. Also popular with tourists staying at the hotel. Most guests are in their 20s. Best parties usually take place on Saturday nights.

6063 Isla Verde Ave, Carolina 00979

The Rose Club (also inside El San Juan Hotel & Casino): As described on their website, this is “Puerto Rico’s First Cabaret Nightclub Venue featuring Miss Dakota’s Ran Can Can Burlesque Show.”

6063 Isla Verde Ave, Carolina 00979

Nuyorican Cafe: unbelievable salsa dancing is what you seek? This is your spot! Tucked away in historic Old San Juan, Nuyorican is popular with some of the best dancers in the island. Another personal favorite!

Calle San Francisco 312, Old San Juan 00901

La Respuesta: Self-described as “home to Puerto Rico’s underground artists,” you may come here to listen to local poetry or even metal bands. Great place to learn about the youth culture of the island. Many special events; official website updated frequently.

1600 Ave. Fernandez Juncos, esq. Calle Del Parque, Santurce

San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips, reggaeton

San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips: join the dirty reggaeton dancing (Generation Bass, Flickr)

Sport bars and other watering holes

Great cover bands and too-good-to-be-true drink specials characterize the sport pub and dive bar scene in San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife. Then it is a really big party when an important boxing fight takes place or if the Puerto Rico basketball team is playing in an important championship abroad. If you want to party with the locals like very few do, you must come down here on a boxing weekend! Below, a list of my favorites:

Shanna’s Pub: Irish bar, extremely popular with the locals. Goes crazy on boxing match nights and any given Friday or Saturday. Also very busy on Wednesdays, so be there before midnight.

On marginal of Martínez Nadal Expressway, corner of Esmeralda Avenue, Guaynabo

Stop and Go: this is where you pregame, no exceptions! Unbelievable, unheard of prices for the Condado strip. Some great examples? A bucket of 6-7 Coronita beers for $7; large Heineken bottle for $3. Essentially a semi-open dive bar, with a few slot machines, that also sells Puerto Rican fried foods. Popular with the locals, naturally.

1214 Ashford Avenue, Condado 00907

Small Bar: Crowded, tiny hot spot–yet relatively relaxed for Condado. Great artisan beers, great food, good prices. You can even drink outside 😉 love it! Open late as well, usually beyond 4 AM.

1106 Ave. Dr. Ashford (Across La Concha, between Mhan Chung & El Balcón), Condado 00907

San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips, La Placita

Bongos at La Placita, Santurce by Adrian Salgado, Flickr

La Placita: the hidden gem of my San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips for tourists. La Placita is not just an establishment, but an entire plaza full of popular bars. College kids attending the state university and even young professionals alike flock here on Wednesdays and weekends. Some of the cheapest drinks in town!

Parada 18, between Ponce de Leon and Baldorioty de Castro, San Juan

Got additional San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips? Share them below!

**Special thanks to Stella Rodgz for being the major contributor of this San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips post!