A little sun never hurt anyone. And it certainly helps with pre-election jitters. Read on to hear more about our girls’ trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico: Where we stayed, what we ate did, and the precautions taken to ensure our vaca was both fun and safe. Afterwards you can start planning your own trip—for now, or later. I’m sure 2022 will be better…right?
With Coronavirus still present and on all our minds, I felt guilty choosing to go away on vacation at all. Would it be safe? Irresponsible? What would people think? (Shouldn’t I be saving my pennies right about now?) But, while I was having one of the most difficult and stressful times in my life, and my girlfriends were asking me to a relaxing getaway, I decided to just go with it. I’m writing this post from San Juan, Puerto Rico, where I’m enjoying the most relaxing of relaxing girls’ trips. No regrets.
Before flying into Puerto Rico, every passenger must take a COVID test within 72 hours of the flight.
Contact tracing. After filling out your travel form and being admitted into Puerto Rico, you are entered into a database for contact tracing. While here we have been receiving Sara Alerts asking if we have experienced any symptoms.
Masks are required in all public places, including in national parks, as we found out when we visited El Yunque rain forest yesterday.
Temperature checks and sanitization are done on every person before entering any establishment. Grocery stores, restaurants, bodegas, gift shops. At every place you stop at the door, hold out both hands, have your temperature taken on one wrist and receive a spraying of sanitizer on the other hand. It’s incredible how widespread and consistent this is, and how we haven’t implemented something so simple within the continental US. Way to go, PR.
There is a 10pm curfew. All bars and restaurants are shut down by then. We sit down to dinner at a restaurant, as is permissible at home, and have been able to sit in a bar and have a drink, but then must pack it up and head back to our house by curfew. (Sidenote: I’m not drinking but my friends are.)
For personal precautions: We are staying in a home, a private residence, rather than a hotel. We were so fortunate to have a friend invite us to stay in her family’s home. It is just the four of us here, and we all have separate bedrooms and bathrooms. A serious luxury. We are spending most of our time in this home, or on the beach. There has been very little interaction with people that are not the four of us. We are monitoring our own health and plan to take a second COVID test, once we return to the mainland.
Staying safe in PR.
Why are we here?
It’s been a long year. I’m working now, but what layovers consist of mostly is staying in my room, catching up on sleep, drinking coffee and writing. Going for a run outside is about the extent of my socializing and exploring. One of my friends on this girls’ trip to San Juan is a flight attendant and coworker who has been out of work since May and will not go back until January. That is a long time to be grounded. My other friend works in Boston but has been working remotely from home since April and will continue to do so until the Spring. Not only are these women not traveling, as they are accustomed to, they are hardly even leaving their homes. The fourth of our group is another essential worker, a bartender. The effects COVID has had on her job and industry have been sweeping. Add in some family drama, relationship woes, and the beginnings of winter in New England, and each one of us was ready, for one reason or another, to get out of dodge.
The fact that this election cycle has been historically ugly, that chaos would likely ensue on November 3, made island life sound even more appealing.
We chose Puerto Rico as our destination because of their stringent COVID protocols and because of the flight schedule. The flights out of Boston have been cut so severely that it was tough to find another direct flight that did not require a full week-long visit. Plus, I LOVE PR. I have come here dozens of times over the years and it feels as homey to me as Mexico City, where I lived for three months. I love the people, the food, the beaches, and the vibe. I love that we’re kind of one people, but that they have a culture completely their own. And because my airline flies to San Juan daily, and one of the four of us has a family home here, the choice was simple.
Puerto Ricans take their elections seriously. Everyone has the day off of work, and establishments do not sell liquor on election day from 6am-6pm. I’d be lying if I said I was educated enough to speak on this election cycle in PR, but I’ll link to some info below.
As for the US general election, this trip has been a nice distraction. We had cast our votes early, so during vacation we hiked in the rain forest instead of standing in line at the polls. We had a leisurely lunch and offered up our wrists for temperature checks, instead of our names for ballots. We took naps when we got back and then sat in beach chairs from golden afternoon until long after sunset, watching the locals enjoy their post-voting holiday.
We have been following the election closely. (As of right now, writing this, it hasn’t been called yet, and I’m hoping for a big come-through on Nevada’s part.) But having the space between us and it—literally an ocean—has been wonderful for my sense of peace. Being able to refresh the vote tallies from the beach, then put the phone down and enjoy the time in the sun with my friends has helped temper anxieties. Has helped to remind me that even when uncertain, my life is still so, so good. I hope that by the time this post goes live we have a new president. I haven’t dared to be too optimistic this year, these months, even today. But, should we change course, choose someone new in this critical point in time, this might just end up being the best week of my life. There’s more that goes into a best week, of course, than just a dope vacation and a new president, but the rest is for another post.
My first sober vacation.
This girls’ trip to San Juan is my first sober vacation. And these are friends I would normally drink (heavily) with. The circumstances—anxiety over the election, being in the 80 degree glory after escaping the first whispers of Boston winter, a trip with dear friends I don’t get to see all the time, personal highs and lows swirling in unison—all would be reasons to pop a bottle, crack a beer, take a sip. But here we are, and everything is fine. Truthfully, COVID makes it less noticeable. With a 10pm curfew there is only so much trouble one could get into. But even with the island in full effect, I think this trip would still have been just fine sin alcohol. I am hanging with my friends at the beach, going to dinner with them, sitting up and talking. All of the things I’d normally be doing anyway, but my accessory is a seltzer, and I don’t wake up with a headache. It feels good, reassuring, to be out here sober and still having fun with my friends on this girls’ trip. It is good to know that I can enjoy myself just as much, enjoy the company of my friends, still “be fun”, without drinking. I thought this vacation would be an interesting test of my new lifestyle. And I feel like I’m passing with flying fucking colors.
So, it’s a win.
Where we stayed
For our girls’ trip to San Juan, we stayed in Ocean Park, a section of San Juan that separates Isla Verde and Condado beaches. Smack-dab in the middle between the airport to the east and Old San Juan to the west, close to the hip Santurce neighborhood, and the always fun La Placita. The location could not possibly have been better, and this part of town is an excellent place to stay when you’re visiting San Juan.
What we’ve been up to
Or, things to do in San Juan.
Explore Old San Juan
Obviously. On this girls’ trip to San Juan we only went into Old San Juan for dinner one night. I’d recommend spending at least half a day here if it is your first time visiting San Juan, but it wasn’t in the cards for this vacation. Cities just aren’t what they used to be in COVID times. It was sad to see so many stores, bars, restaurants closed and boarded up, the squares, usually full of people socializing, quiet and empty. There are still some good dining options open, but if you are coming to San Juan anytime in the next year, do check online for updated information and reservations before heading into the old city. There is also still plenty of old charm and beauty, and Old San Juan could be a photographer’s paradise with the smaller crowds.
Go to the beach.
Duh. This trip was not about hitting up ALL THE BEST BEACHES IN PUERTO RICO! It is about r&r with the girls. We stayed in Ocean Park, between Isla Verde and Condado, and spent all of our beach time just steps from the house in the same spot on the beach. It was lovely, save for the pelting of sand we received in today’s windy conditions. On election day, the beach was full of locals, relaxing, celebrating, lamenting, or just making the most of their day off. But the other days of the trip the beach was pretty empty, and that was just fine with us.
Visit the Rainforest
El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the United States. Just 40 minutes east of San Juan, this is an easy day trip that everyone should add to their Puerto Rico itinerary. Right now, due to COVID, reservations are required. There are two three-hour time slots, 8-11am or 12-3pm, which can be reserved online at Recreation.gov. The reservation will cost about $2 and is good for two people. There are four of us, so we made two 8am reservations.
We got up bright and early, had our coffees and breakfast and hit the road. This was my third time visiting El Yunque and it has delighted me each of those times. There are various hiking trails ranging from 40 minutes to 4 hours, a scenic drive right through the middle of the forest, and waterfalls splashing into natural pools, perfect for a post-hike dip. We hiked up to Mt. Britton Tower. It is one of the shorter hikes in El Yunque, only 1.6 miles up and back, but the trek is quite steep. At the top, from the tower you get a nice panoramic view of the rainforest and can see all the way to the coast, the blue of the ocean contrasting against the deep green of the tree line. Mt. Britton Tower is also a great spot for selfies, as my friends and I proved.
I’ll pause here to say that I love the new COVID restrictions and reservation system. I have hiked up to this very tower before, and in normal days it is a terribly crowded experience. Parking at each trail head and point of interest was a breeze. We saw few other people out and about the whole time we were there. We had the paths to ourselves to enjoy the fauna, the fresh air, the quiet still of a beautiful Borinquen morning. I think reservation slots should stick around after COVID. For everything—museums, national parks, all of it. This goes against everything in my commitment-phobic, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants lifestyle, but seriously the experience is SO much nicer with fewer people.
Mina Falls, one of the most popular waterfalls in El Yunque, has been closed ever since Hurricane Maria. It’s incredible, the devastation that still lingers years later. We stopped at Juan Diego Falls to take a swim. We climbed past the first set of falls and small pool, up to the second, bigger one. Then from there, we continued climbing. Up a steep, muddy path, holding onto branches and trunks to keep from slipping and tumbling back down to the bottom. The climb up to the third and final waterfall was a bit touch-and-go, but we made it. To our dismay, we found other people there (ew)—a large family, already enjoying the cool, refreshing water and the picturesque scene. I had time for a quick dip in the water, but ultimately, we did not want to spend time with so many other germs people in close proximity. Back up and down the muddy path we went, and hilarity ensued. By the end, some of us were scratched and bruised, some of us were soaking wet, and all of us were mud-splattered.
At 11 am, right on schedule, we headed out of the park and onto our next destination: LUNCH.
Kioskos de Luquillo
I have driven by the Kioskos de Luquillo a handful of times, and have been advised to go there for lunch by several Puerto Rican friends. Yet somehow, I didn’t make it there until this trip. The Kioskos de Luquillo is basically a bunch of restaurants and food stands, all stuck together in a row along Luquillo Beach. 35-ish minutes East of San Juan, and very close to the rain forest, this is the perfect place to stop for a post-hike bite.
Because we arrived so early (and on election day, no less) many of the establishments were not yet open or were just opening up for business. We chose a restaurant called Edelweiss and had our fill of fried cheese, stuffed avocado, coconut rice, and mofongo. The food was delightful and so was my virgin piña colada. A couple of the gift shops were open, so we checked them out and bought souvenirs—a Puerto Rican flag bathing suit, in my case. Then, stuffed to the fills with avocado and plantain, we made our way back to San Juan.
In each of these establishments we did the usual temperature check and sanitizer routine. It also was the perfect time of day to arrive, as there just weren’t many people out for lunch and shopping yet. At the restaurant, there was only one other couple dining at the same time as us. It was nice having the place to ourselves and feeling like the whole distancing thing was working out.
Mahi mahi mamposteo from Chloe, Condado
Stuffed aguacate & mofongo at Edelweiss, Kioskos de Luquillo
Chloe, Condado, San Juan
We chose Chloe for a nice dinner one evening and were so glad we did. This place was adorable. We sat outside on the balcony, with sweet views of Condado below. The service was warm and attentive and every menu item we got was So. Freaking. Good. Tuna tar tar, cauliflower in a cheesy-spiced, delicious sauce, mahi-mahi over mamposteo. Even the side of vegetables I ordered were somehow worth talking about. Far from your run-of-the-mill squash, zucchini, and carrots you might think of as “mixed veggies,” this dish brought the all-star healthies: asparagus, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts. All cooked to perfect slight-crunch perfection, in a to-die-for sesame oil that made you forget this shit is good for you. The cocktails, of which I did not partake, looked like the kind of thing that would be right up my alley. A+++
Of course, we ate more, but these are the standouts of our trip. I almost regret posting this before it’s over since we’ll likely be eating well tonight, on our last night here. But if anything mind-blowing is eaten, I will be sure to update accordingly.
And that’s our girls’ trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico in a nutshell. We are making memories, having a lot of laughs, getting way too much sun, and straight chillin’. I was hesitant to come on this vacation, but now I’m so grateful to have had this time to decompress and have some fun with my girlfriends. Tomorrow we’ll make our way back to the cold, to work, to the aftermath of the election, to our homes and real lives—with all the good and the not-so-good that entails. But for now, I’ve got 24 hours left in paradise, and I plan to make the most of it.