Not your typical Puerto Rico trip report

Old Dec 26th, 2004, 03:11 PM
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Not your typical Puerto Rico trip report

The snow is falling and I am back from sunny Puerto Rico just over a week. I wanted to write this report because the few off the beaten path suggestions I read on this site helped me plan a wonderful vacation and I am very grateful. For people who want to experience a whole lot more of Puerto Rico than just San Juan, should find this helpful and add to your adventures while on the island.

Rented a car at San Juan airport with Hertz. They were very nice and all went smoothly, including a free upgrade. Drove directly to the southwest part of the island to the resort we actually exchanged for through RCI, Copamarina Beach Resort in Guanica. Missed out on the pretty drive because it was PM. Saw blue flashing lights constantly up and down the highway. Police must do this to show their presence-they never seemed to be going anywhere too urgently.

Pulled into Copamarina after traversing up a rather narrow,hilly, deserted and windy road, which we realized later happens to be the Guanica dry forest. You definitely feel you are in a rather remote area. The front entrance is just georgeous. The office and check-in is all outside. It was landscaped beautifully, lots of white lights everywhere (it was the week before Christmas). Everyone was so friendly. I called the resort ahead of time and requested a 2nd floor room ( there are only 2 floors). I had read on trip advisor that it is better because there is more privacy. I fell in love with the room and I am picky. It was a perfect combination of beautiful caribbean colors, perfect size, natural rattan furniture, natural stained wooden shutters on windows and door to deck, large tv, a safe, and a beautiful, roomy,clean, very modern tiled bathroom. The A/C was great. RCI required us to do All Inclusive for min. 5 nights which is how long we were there anyway. It included all meals, all beverages, gratuities, non powered water sports. If you go to Copamarina and you are a real beach person, you must realize you will want to travel to other beaches. It is shallow, has grass growing - not real inviting. If you are content with pools and just being at the ocean then it is perfect. Gilligans Island is a 5 min. boat ride from the hotel, which we planned on doing a lot to swim and snorkel, but it was closed due to the hurricanes in the Fall and also from too much trash being left on the little island.

1st day - took a couple of short hikes in the Guanica dry forest. The front desk gave us booklet with the different trails described. Go early - it does get too hot later. On the way back from the hikes we drove past the hotel and checked out a series of beaches. Spent the day relaxing. At night we drove to La Parguera. While trying to find our way to the pier to get the boat out to the Bioluminescent Bay, all traffic came to a halt. Turns out, a Christmas Parade was happenning - costumes, floats, candy throwing, the 3 wise men... Got out of car and watched the fun and excitement. Think we were the only non Puerto Ricans there. It was blast to stumble on this experience of the culture. The boat trip was good. I do think it is worthwhile although from what I have heard this bioluminescent bay does not even compare to the one on the island of Viegues. We knew we weren't going to make that one so we decided to do this one. It was 5.00 pp. It was interesting nonethless, but does not have the brilliance that Vieques has.

2nd day - Got up early and packed up our beach and snorkeling gear. Drove Rt.2 North up the entire west coast to Isabela. Finally found Shacks Beach, or Blue Hole. It was a little difficult finding because we don't speak any spanish, signs don't really exist. Someone on Fodors said it was the best for snorkeling. They said we would find it by a row of houses down a side road. Well luckily we saw 2 guys putting their diving gear on and they spoke english. We were in the right place. They told us to not bring anything valuable to the beach, so we didn't. The snorkeling was awesome right off the beach. This is definitely worth the trip. Left and went for a drive through Aguadilla trying to find Crashboat Beach which was also recommended. We were very dissapointed with that beach. Ate a quick picnic with foods we picked up at a local grocery store and left. The town is a quaint fishing town, very mediteranean feel to it. Thoroughly enjoyed driving around - got a real feel for the people and the culture. At the end of the town is Aguada de Colon, a park by the ocean lined with food shacks of all sorts, a great treehouse for kids, and a statue of Christopher Colombus, since this is where he was believed to have first set foot. Lots of families, music and culture. Drove down to Rincon, noted for the waves and tremendous surfing. Stopped by Domes Beach, Indicators Beach and Maria's Beach to check out the scene. Lots of surfing. Stop by in Rincon, Cafe Maria's and a great place to buy T-shirts next door at Desecheo Dive Shop. There is also the El Faro Lighthouse Park, a newly renovated lighthouse overlooking the clifs. They have pay machines to see whales and a great view of surfers and sunset. We actually stumbled on Tres Palmas Beach or Steps Beach it is also called, south of the above mentioned beaches. It is a beautiful, remote beach with great snorkeling. My husband saw a very large sea turtle when he was snorkeling. There are no facilities and you would want to wear water shoes. It is like a picture postcard.

3rd day - went to check out a local beach in Guanica mentioned on Fodors, called Mangillos Beach. After finding our way there ( got lost a lot driving) we saw that it was closed on Mondays.

4th day - went back and spent most of the day at Mangillos beach. It is so georgeous. Cost $3 to get in. The park service man conveyed to us not to bring anything valuable to the beach. Again, I felt like I was on a remote island. There are these georgeous mangrove trees growing out of the water, the roots and trunks forming these twisted shapes. Not a great beach for snorkeling, swimming was fine, although a little shallow. The color of the water was beautiful. There are cold showers, bathrooms. It looked by the way it was set up with fireplace pits and the many changing areas that it must get busy with locals during summmer. But we basically had the beach to ourselves. It was so relaxing.

5th day - we left the very best til the last! Checked out of hotel and spent 3 hours driving, much of it through very narrow, curvy, mountainous roads to make our way to the northeast of the island, to Fajardo, by 9:00 AM. Booked a high speed catamaran trip with East Island Excursions to the famous but remote island of Celubra, home of Flamenco Beach - rated #2 beach in the world by Travel Channel. WOW, WOW, WOW!! This was like dying and going to heaven - the entire experience. Do not miss it. It takes about 40 minutes on the boat(they are the only ones that go to Celubra, there is a public ferry that takes a lot longer). The ride is bumpy and wet from the ouside seats - it was a blast. If you want to stay dry there is plenty of inside seating. First they stopped at the most amazing snorkeling reef where we snorkeled about 1 hr. I have never seen so many varieties of fish, the colors were so vibrant, the coral was incredible. Then on to Flamenco. Totally unbelievable. The color of the water, the temperature of the water, the clarity of the water was all heavenly. This was nirvana. The sand on the beach was fine white soft sand. You could drop a button in the water and see it drop to the bottom. They served us a great buffet salad and deli lunch including hard and soft drinks on the boat. Spent about 2/ 1.2 hrs. there before we had to head back. Cyndi (I think) who worked on the boat was so nice. She would answer questions about the fish we saw, tell us interesting facts. As the boat was leaving she pointed out St.Thomas to us, which wasn't very far away at all. Got back to the marina by 4:00. It was by far the highlight of our trip and we long to return. Words cannot desribe the beauty. While walking Flamenco Beach, we met a young couple who has sailed the islands extensively. He said Culebra is probably the most unspolied beach he has seen.

That night drove to San Juan and stayed at the Coral Princess Inn. It is a really nice boutique hotel in Condado. I wanted to have our last night also embody the Puerto Rican culture, so I wanted a place that had character and local feel to it. I had read great reviews about it. I highly recommend it. Pushed ourselves to take a local bus ride into Old San Juan. We were leaving the next morning and being so close I thought we should at least check it out. Everything was closed and we were so tired after our incredible trip to Culebra that dinner and bed would have made more sense. Turned around and came back, ate dinner at a fanatastic mexican restaurant in Condado.

THE END. Had a wonderful trip and hope you do too.
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Old Dec 27th, 2004, 06:09 AM
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Thank you for a fascinating report. We're very interested in visiting Puerto Rico but completely uninterested in San Juan, and trip reports about the rest of the island are in short supply. Sounds like you had a great experience.
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Old Dec 29th, 2004, 05:05 PM
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Great report!

I've only ever spent one night in Puerto Rico (in transit) but now on the strength of your report I'm going to do some trip research..

Thanks for sharing
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Old Jan 5th, 2005, 07:39 AM
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juldie: which restaurant did you eat at in Condado that was mexican and you loved because we are going to be there overnight at the Whyndam and want an inexpensive authentic meal?
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Old Jan 5th, 2005, 10:08 AM
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Meesa - do you want an authentic Mexican meal or an authentic Puerto Rican meal? If you want Puerto Rican/Cuban food, then the Metropol might be what you are looking for - good food and inexpensive. I've only been to the one in Isla Verde but I believe that they have one in Condado also.
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Old Jan 12th, 2005, 10:18 AM
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Thanks for the great report. We are going to be staying three days at Copamarina next month (February.) Like you we were also expecting to swim at Gilligan's Island, having heard that the beach at Copamarina isn't great. Did it seem like the island would be reopened soon? If not, what would be a close beach you'd recommend for swimming and snorkling?

As we are nature lovers and bird watchers we picked Copamarina for its proximity to Guanica forest and plan to spend our mornings there, but want to spend the afternoons in the water! So we probably wouldn't want to travel too far afield for the beach. Thanks for any tips.

Also, how did you find the food at Copamarina? Are there other places to eat nearby? We also hope to do the bioluminescent thing at Paraguera; unforunately our time there will coincide with the full moon--not the best time.



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Old Jan 12th, 2005, 02:40 PM
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meesa- I couldn't remember the name of the mexican restaurant so I have done some research for you. It is called Cielito Lindo, on 1108 Calle Magdalena.It was inexpensive,very casual, and very very good.

jczinn- re: Gilligan's Island - A young couple that was staying at Copamarina told us they took out kayaks from the beach shack (it was included as part of our all inclusive) and kayaked out to Gilligan's. They said it was pretty close. They said you can get off the kayaks and swim, can't get on to the island though, but they loved it.

In my report I mentioned all of the close by beaches we discovered. You can either drive past the Copamarina and you will see 3-4 nice beaches or check out my Day 4 what I said about our day at the Mangillos Beach. The snorkeling is not very good anywhere close by the hotel as far as we could determine.

As far as food - because we were on the all inclusive we had no need to eat close by. I did notice fast food places but didn't really pay attention to what else might be around. There is nothing very close just because the resort is a bit isolated. If you are going to be on the all inclusive, let me know and I will be happy to give you more details.

Ask at the front desk for a booklet they have with descriptions of all the hikes and they do mention certain ones noted for bird watching. We actually did one butunfortunately didn't really see many birds. But the hike was great.
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Old Jan 13th, 2005, 11:03 AM
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thanks for the quick reply...and the tip...sounds like Mangillos Beach is the one to find if the island is still off-limits. I can't seem to find any reference to it on the web, but I imagine the hotel can point us in the right direction!
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Old Jan 13th, 2005, 12:58 PM
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Great trip report! You sound like my husband and I - it's one big beach exploration! You mention a few times about not leaving valuables on the beach. Did you feel safe traveling around on your own during the day and getting lost on the side roads?
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Old Jan 13th, 2005, 08:44 PM
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jczinn - ask the front desk for a map. It is a Puerto Rico Travel Map (2004. It's a fantastic map. We used that all the time travelling along with a large road map we got in Barnes and Noble. It is orange. Mangillos Beach is marked on the map, between the hotel and La Parguera (bioluminescent bay).
One woman who works at the front desk told me she used to go to Mangillos when she was a child.

joan - yes I did feel safe travelling to a lot of the off the beaten track places, but I don't know if I would if I was alone or with a woman friend. I had absolutely no reason to feel unsafe. There was never any incidents.
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Old Jan 14th, 2005, 12:09 PM
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Actually I was able to find a bit of information once I found the correct spelling...its actually Playa Manglillo Pequeño and I found some information searching on that. I will be sure to get that map. Thanks!
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Old Jan 15th, 2005, 07:08 AM
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Juldie - Your report about your trip to Culebra has intriged me. We really have just one day to spend and I was thinking about El Yunque - but you've got me thinking about Culebra instead. It sounds wonderful! I can't, however, find any information about East Island Tours. Do they have a website? What did you pay for the trip?
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Old Jan 15th, 2005, 11:30 AM
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It is East Island Excursions. The website is: www.eastwindcats.com. We payed $79/pp. The boat leaves from Peurto del Rey Marina in Fajardo. Culebra is paradise and you will not be dissapointed if you love the ocean and spectacular beaches. Believe me. I think about it every day.
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Old Feb 4th, 2005, 06:18 PM
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We booked the tour to Culebra. Can't wait!
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Old Feb 4th, 2005, 07:56 PM
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lllaros: that's so exciting! Please post when you get back. Have a wonderful trip. Your unexpected post tonight has caused me to take a moment and remember the experience of Culebra - Ahhhh.
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