Puerto Rico: the island of dreamy sunsets, blue water, and mofongo for days. It’s been a month since my boyfriend, Aaron, and I returned home, and I still miss our rental villa complete with crowing roosters in the yard and beaches in every direction. Planned mostly as a surf trip, we stayed in Rincón, a town on Puerto Rico’s west coast known for its world-class surfing beaches. Although I fall off my longboard and tumble through the waves time and time again, I’m always up for traveling somewhere new, and Aaron lives and breathes surfing. So, equipped with surfboards, summer clothes, and our Nikon D3500, we took off from Newark, New Jersey and landed in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
After our four-hour flight, we were welcomed by rainbows and humidity. We cranked up the AC in the Hyundai Tucson we rented and began the two-and-a-half-hour drive from San Juan to Rincón. When we got to the El Mirador Guest Villa, our home-away-from-home for nine days, we were amazed. It was open, airy, had breathtaking beachy views, and the neighbors (including dogs) were friendly, too.
Surfing Puerto Rico
There are plenty of beaches in Puerto Rico, and that means there are lots of waves to catch. During our stay we visited Domes Beach, Maria’s Beach, Steps Beach, and Playa La Ruina. Aaron took on all the waves he could get, but no matter where we went, the local surfers were territorial of the bigger waves. The best spots got crowded quick, even before sunrise. The beaches of Puerto Rico are packed with surfers — locals and visitors — during the winter.
On a small wave day, I rented a longboard and tried surfing at Maria’s Beach. I wound up mostly on my belly or flailing in the water when I tried to stand (I did kneel my way across a wave at one point — I consider that a win).
Riding One of the Longest Ziplines in the World
Although living the beach life is great, Puerto Rico isn’t all about surfing and palm trees. It also happens to be the home of one of the longest ziplines in the world. At 8,300 feet, or 28 football fields long, The Monster zipline is located in Orocovis at Toro Verde Adventure Park. Of course, this was something we had to try, so we took the two-and-a-half-hour drive from our villa in Rincón to take on The Monster, The Beast (4,745 feet long), and a smaller zipline adventure consisting of eight ziplines.
The Monster was by far my favorite zipline and one of the highlights of our trip. We flew like birds over the trees at 1,246 feet high, and apparently you can reach speeds of 95 miles-per-hour.
After we were all ziplined out, we visited La Terraza Del Toro, the park’s on-site restaurant with gorgeous views and the best mojitos.
Snorkeling Fun at Steps Beach
As a surfer, Aaron’s not a fan of small wave days, but those are my favorite beach days because they’re perfect for other fun water activities, like snorkeling. We visited Steps Beach, which includes the Reserva Marina Tres Palmas — a marine reserve — for our snorkeling adventure. I was amazed at the beautiful life beneath the surface. We snorkeled above and around the coral reef on two separate days and saw a sea turtle, a barracuda, schools of blue tang, and a few other fish I couldn’t identify. I love nature and wildlife, and this experience made me appreciate those precious parts of our world on a much deeper (pun intended) level.
Rope-Swinging into Waterfalls
Puerto Rico has so many natural wonders to explore, and there was no way we were leaving the island without seeing a waterfall. After we did our research on waterfalls in the area, we headed out to Cascada Gozalandia in San Sebastián, and I am so glad we did. The walk to the waterfall included a nice hike and to our surprise when we got there, a rope swing!
We swung into the water twice and spent time swimming around and climbing up the rocks, too. It was a good day to be living wild and free.
Hiking, Cave Tubing, and Jumping off Cliffs
Although we were having an adventure of a lifetime in Puerto Rico from the start, we had to save one epic experience for the end of our trip. We got in touch with Noel, the owner of Westside Adventures, located in Arecibo, and signed up for six hours of hiking, cave tubing, and jumping off cliffs into the Tanama River. Noel told us his adventures weren’t for the unfit, and he was not joking.
Along with a few others in our tour group, we had an exciting, adrenaline-pumping time hiking up and down trails through the forest, leaping off cliffs into the river, and climbing onto tubes to explore dark caves loaded with bats. We also did some speedy, turny, getting-caught-on-rocks river rafting through the rapids.
We both had an amazing journey down the river and back, and by the time we hiked a few miles uphill to our car at the end of the adventure, we were exhausted in the best of ways and were drinking all the water.
Good Spots for Food in the Rincón Area
El Gato Negro
Located in Cabo Rojo, El Gato Negro comes with a water view and has indoor and outdoor dining. This is where I tried mofongo for the first time, and I really liked it. Mofongo is a Puerto Rican dish made of mashed fried plantains mixed with garlic, and it can also include a protein, like fish or chicken. I had shrimp mofongo and it was the perfect portion.
P’al 22, located in Añasco, was my favorite restaurant of our trip. The view of the ocean during sunset was gorgeous, my salmon was the tastiest salmon I’ve had in my life, and the mojitos were refreshing. Aaron had lobster and he went through it fast! This restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating and the waitress was friendly and patient with our limited Spanish speaking skills (she spoke some English, which helped!).
Cowboys Cantina & Outside Grill
Very clearly an English-speaking touristy restaurant, Cowboys is a welcoming place to eat outside in the fresh air. To get there, you have to drive up a big hill with winding roads, so it’s up high and has a nice view. I had a salmon dinner that I enjoyed, and Aaron had steak, which was good. Located in Rincón, it was close to our villa and if we stayed in Puerto Rico longer, I think we would have went back to try different dishes.
If you like acai bowls, you have to go here! Aaron (who had his first acai bowl here) and I loved this little place. It’s in Rincón near the beach and the menu is heavenly. Bursting with flavor, it offers not only acai bowls, but smoothies, juice, and poke bowls, too. I was all about the acai bowls (there are also banana bowls, pitaya bowls, oatmeal bowls, and more), so I went with acai topped with bananas, strawberries, granola, coconut flakes, and Nutella. It was beyond delicious. Fortunately, Playa Bowls got its start in New Jersey, so it’s not too far from home.
Strolling Through Old San Juan
Before we journeyed back to the airport in San Juan, we soaked up every last minute we had in Puerto Rico and explored the city of Old San Juan, or Viejo San Juan. We spent a few hours strolling the streets lined with brightly-painted buildings, enjoyed a snow cone in the park while watching kites fly, and stopped at two food trucks for tacos and pizza. I also gave a guy on the street $2 to buy birdseed off him to feed the pigeons and I felt like a cross between a Disney princess and the pigeon lady from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
Before we knew it, we were strapped in our plane seats eating Biscoff cookies and watching movies. I was happy to touch down in New York, but of course, my mind was already thinking up another adventure to look forward to. Puerto Rico is a sight to see, and there’s plenty to do for everyone, whether you prefer relaxing in a hammock between two palm trees, swimming with turtles, or catching some waves. It earned a special place in my heart and I’ll never forget it.