Two years later, I returned to San Juan Viejo. This time, the entire fam was in tow!
We rented an apartment on Calle Sol and Calle Cristo, a stone's throw away from the famed El Convento, and just a quick walk uphill, El Morro awaits.
Originally, the owner of the three-story apartment building placed us on the third floor. And with ginormous luggages, this definitely was unbearable when we first arrived. It was a bunch narrow stone steps, idyllic for young ones, but not so much for older persons who may have trouble climbing up steps! Luckily for mom and dad, the 2nd floor renters moved out within a couple of days of our stay and Charles, the owner of the place, allowed us to move down a floor. This really helped a lot, especially with all of the walking that we were already doing outside of the apartment.
The weather was very pleasant in January. So much better than Baltimore and the rest of the upper east coast, that's for sure.
While in San Juan, we of course did the normal touristy spots such as the Bacardi factory, El Morro, San Cristobal, the Museo de las Americas, Paseo de la Princesa and such. Even a night at the Sheraton Casino. Compared to my first trip to PR, this one was far longer and I was able to see and explore San Juan Viejo much more. This included more time to browse shops, sitting around Plaza de Armas eating fresh donuts and sweets in the afternoon, as well as evening strolls by El Morro, with the cool breeze enveloping you.
The family took a day trip to Ponce and on the way, we stopped by the Plaza del Mercado in Santurce where we picked up some fruits and vegetables such as guyabano, mangoes, guavas, and such. En route to Ponce, we passed by the mountainous roads of Guavate to arrive at the famed Lechonera Los Pinos. I believer Bourdain came here before, or it could have been Zimmern. But in any case, the line was long. Luckily, we got to it right before the line started picking up and put in our order of lechons, rice, plantains, and such. The lechon was alright, but I have to proclaim, Filipinos DO IT BETTER! But this was an OK alternative. Checked that off my list of things to do!
Ponce was a short drive. Shorter than I imagined. But then again, Puerto Rico is only slightly larger than Connecticut. In Ponce, we were greeted by the unassuming Plaza las Delicias. But walking into the Ponce Cathedral (of Guadalupe herself), we were greeted by the magnificent carvings of the altars. The family took some time to sit and pray, but soon we filed out as a wedding party started arriving. Parque de Bombas was next door, with its iconic red and black paint. Souvenir shopping in Ponce was definitely much cheaper than the tourist traps of San Juan Viejo.
Thereafter, we made our way up to the Cruceta del Vigia and Castillo Serralles (sadly, we didn't get there in time to go inside Serralles), but the vista from this hill was enough. Seeing Ponce lay out before you.
A second highlight of the trip was our siblings-only ziplining adventure at Campo Rico.We were staying in Old San Juan and arranged for EcoQuest to pick us up from Plaza Colon, which wasn't that far from our rental apartment. Hector picked us up and we rode with him as we picked up a set of friends from the Condado area. The drive to Campo Rico was about 12-15 minutes. Immediately getting into the compound, we already were surrounded by lush greeneries. We signed in with Luigi (our other guide) and were quickly whisked away to put our harnesses and gears on. We were given a quick but thorough instruction and my fears were somewhat calmed down. The first zipline was a bit scary, as I imagine it would be for anyone doing a zipline initially, but the experience only got better and better! We went through the two new ziplines and were followed by 5 more ziplines and several canopy bridges (I honestly lost count of how many bridges there were). The hike can be a little rough, only rough enough to make the experience so much better. I suggest bringing a bottle of water in your backpack/day pack because we were all wishing we did! The 2nd to last zipline was the longest, and the view: SIMPLY AMAZING. Through all the ziplines, I forgot that I was so high up in the air because the panoramic view was just breathtaking. Throughout the hikes and the ziplines, Hector and Luigi engaged all of the participants in conversation. They are the best. They know what they are doing and just have the natural ability to put anyone at ease to have a magnificent experience. They provided historical tidbits as well as pointed out animals and plants throughout the hike. The last zipline landed us at the bar, where we were given an ice cold water bottle with EcoQuest labels and were given a much deserved and delicious lunch! What a truly amazing experience. And again, that is checked off my list!
Puerto Rico is definitely a beautiful country, and it will take more than a week to fully discover its nooks and crannies but what a time we had! The weather was beautiful and rained only for short periods followed by sunshine.
Suggestions: DO NOT Eat at Raices. It was foolish for me to suggest dining here again, NEVER again. I also wouldn't recommend Airenumo. DO EAT: at El Jibarito. Great food, great prices, Great Atmosphere! Since La Bombonera was (still) closed when we were there, an OK alternative is la Cafeteria Mallorca (calle Francisco). Super Max - sadly could be better, but it's the best place to get the basic necessities. Do try the the pina colada at Barrachina.