Hiking in a forest and visiting a beach in just one day
Puerto Rico is home to El Yunque National Forest, which is the only rain forest in the National Parks system. I knew right off the bat that this was going to be a place I'd want to explore and - given my love of nature - one that I would love.
We decided to dedicate a day to El Yunque, and what day it was. Earlier in the week I had hired a local driver for the day who was familiar with the area and knew all the best times to visit certain places.
He recommended getting to the forest early in order to avoid the crowds, and that's exactly what we did. We were up and out of the apartment by 7:30 in the morning and at the forest a little under an hour later.
We had to wait a few minutes for someone to come by and open up the tower so that we could climb to the top (that's how early we were), but it was completely worth it because of the incredibly, lush view of the rain forest we were greeted with in return.
So much green, right?
After standing around for a while and taking in the view, it was time to do a little more adventuring. Our driver took us to the start of the trail to get to La Mina falls. This was just as the weather started to take a little bit of a turn and the clouds were rolling in. Afraid that we might get stuck in the rain, he told us that it should only take us just over an hour round trip, and if he didn't see us coming out around that time stamp, he'd have to go in after us. So taking note of the time, we started down the trail.
Along the way, we got distracted by the gorgeous scenery, which included massive leaves, exotic plants and the sounds of so. many. birds.
We didn't see a drop of rain and enjoyed a dry trail....until the moment we reached the waterfall. Out of nowhere a huge downpour started and I found myself running under the trees for cover and quickly protecting my camera (and our snacks) in a waterproof cover.
Turns out, the huge trees and leaves provided a great cover from the storm, so we didn't get completely soaked. There was a little shelter about 10 minutes up the trail, so we headed there and waited out the rest of the flash storm while we had a snack.
Once we made it up to the start of the trail, our driver told us he was just starting to get worried and was considering coming to look for us. I guess our little break along the trail was longer than I thought! Thankfully, we had already dried off pretty quickly and the morning's activities had made up decently hungry. We asked Jonathan (our driver) if he had a favorite restaurant, and he told us about a place that a friend of his owned. Of course, recommendations from locals is always my favorite way to learn about a new place, so we decided to check this place out.
Jonathan called his friend to reserve us a table and we told him to just have the chef surprise us with anything. We had a little over an hour before we would eat, and since the restaurant was right on Loquillo beach, we took advantage of the location and went for a swim. There was also a jetski rental booth nearby, and I knew that I couldn't pass up the opportunity to ride around on the open, beautiful water.
I basically failed at taking pictures on my camera the rest of the day, but I have a few phone photos I stole from my mom so you can get an idea about just how INCREDIBLE our meal was, and our little jet ski ride.
After enjoying the afternoon, we made the hour-ish long drive back to San Juan. For dinner, we decided to visit a few local grocery stores and get the freshest fruit possible. I drank even more passion fruit juice, and then we finished off the night with some final souvenir shopping and enjoying the night life.
Then, sadly, it was time to pack and get ready to wake up early for the airport.
I had no idea what to expect from Puerto Rico. We'd picked it on a whim, very last minute, and I didn't even know anybody who had been there as a vacation spot. But what I experienced was a place full of some of the kindest, most welcoming and helpful people I've ever been pleased to meet. Everyone had smiles and everyone helped to make our experience there something truly special.