My Solo Birthday Trip to Puerto Rico
Back in February I made the decision to go away solo for my upcoming 28th birthday, April 5th. Although I hadn't picked a destination I knew that I wanted to go to a warm place close to a beach, treat myself to a massage, and do some community service while I was there.
I started to look at flights to the Caribbean and instantly felt in my heart a calling to go to Puerto Rico. The flight was $236 roundtrip from NYC and I booked it within the hour. I had no agenda or plans, but I knew in my heart that everything would work itself out.
Two weeks before I flew out I created a list of cute Air Bnb's and sent it to my amiga Darlene for feedback. She knows the island very well as she is Puerto Rican and visits often since her parents live there so I trusted her opinion in regards to the best area for me to stay in. When I travel solo, its very important for me to stay somewhere I feel safe and within close proximity to food and places to chill at so I don't have to go too far. Darlene narrowed it down to two places, one in Carolina and the other in Condado and I ultimately chose the Condado spot because of the balcony view. It was GORGEOUS!
I typically will stay in a boutique hotel or an Air Bnb when I travel depending on my budget. If you've never used Air Bnb I can't recommend it enough. Perhaps I'll do another post on my Air Bnb experiences over the years as I've been using them for my travels since 2014. If you're looking for an amazing boutique hotel in Puerto Rico, I recommend The Olive Boutique hotel in Condado. If you want to stay in a luxury resort check out The Vanderbilt in Condado as well. Both are amazing options and are located down the street from each other in close proximity to everything you need to have a great time in Puerto Rico.
As I shared before I didn't have a set agenda for my trip other than beach, massage, and giving back so I just went with the flow and trusted that everything would align itself and whatever my heart came looking for in Puerto Rico I would find. I arrived the day before my birthday, Wednesday April 4th and stayed until Monday, the 9th. Just as I had expected the trip turned into a magical adventure and something I could have never executed that perfectly if I would have planned it in advance. The entire experience honestly felt like a whisper from the universe as it showed me what happens when you let things flow and follow your intuition.
I did SO MANY THINGS while Puerto so I will try to keep my daily recaps short and sweet because if not you guys will be here forever. Plus, I also vlogged a lot of my trip so I don't want to be repetitive.
For a quick reference here's the shortcuts and highlights:
Day 1 - Arrival, Transportation and Accommodation
Checked into my cute Air Bnb. Loved the location in Condado. It was near Paseo Caribe which is this really trendy area with shops, restaurants, and entertainment. The Air Bnb was in a condo building that had a front desk and security which made me feel safe. You can still see some of the Hurricane damage to the property mostly where the pool is so don't expect for it to be just like the photos, but know that the property is still great for the price! I really enjoyed the amenities and location. My only complaint is that I wish the room was a little more modern. The furniture gave me Motel vibes, but other than that everything else was perfect. It was clean, spacious, and the host was very accommodating and responsive. There was a cold pack of Medalla beer (my new fav!) in the fridge so extra points for hospitality. This is a perfect spot for solo travelers, couples, a chill girls trip or even a family trip. Honestly, everyone!
The Air Bnb was right in between the airport and Viejo San Juan so it was super convenient. Uber is available in Puerto Rico, but they are not allowed to pick you up the airport so you have to take a regular taxi. They have a taxi line at the airport so no need to go crazy looking for one. Much like NYC, taxi drivers feel some way about Ubers taking away their jobs. That's a whole 'nother interesting topic of conversation but I will be honest and say that I used Uber during my time there because of the app convenience and price point. One average my Uber rides around San Juan were $4-6.
Day 2 - Luxurious Birthday
Living my best life! I put my super cute $23 Amazon bathing suit on, a floppy hat, a cover up and sandals and headed to Condado Vanderbuilt for my 11am massage with Jason. It was perfection! The staff kept coming my way with birthday champagne and I couldn't resist. It felt so good to treat myself especially on my birthday. After my massage I got a pedicure and slept through most of it. That massage had me feeling like a baby for real!
My evening plans were to have to drink at the hotel bar and then head to dinner after so I enjoyed the rest of my day at the stunning property and watched the sunset by the pool. It was unreal! I knew the spa closed at 7pm so I rushed back to shower and get ready. I think the spa staff thought I was joking when I said I had plans to spend the entire day there, but I surely was not. I brought a bag with my birthday dress and makeup and rushed to get ready. Thank god everyone there was super sweet and didn't kick me out when I went 15 minutes over. I had the best time at the spa and highly recommend a day of pampering when you travel!
People always think you have to be rich to travel well and that is simply not the truth. Just because you can't afford an entire vacation stay at a luxury resort like the Vanderbuilt doesn't mean you can't enjoy a day of pampering at the spa or even drinks at the bar or a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant during your trip. Honestly, my favorite vacations are the ones where I do a little bit of everything. Yes, I love being fina at the spa, but I also love eating alcapurrias and bacalaitos from a little restaurant shack off the side of the road in a small town. It's my favorite way to travel. I want to feel like a local and experience everything a place has to offer.
I had a tasty ginger margarita in the hotel bar and then David of I Got Tours PR picked me up with one of his other tour clients and we went to dinner at Latido, a super dope and trendy restaurant in Santurce. We had a bunch of delicious drinks and dinner was a 6-course meal. Our only regret was not getting the 11-course option because EVERYTHING. WAS. EFFIN. DELICIOUS. If you're in the area this is a MUST!
Day 3 - BEACH PLEASE!
I knew for sure that I wanted to visit Culebra on Friday, but to get there from San Juan you have to travel about an hour a half by car to Fajardo and then take a 45-minute ferry or you can fly from San Juan to Culebra. I was leaning towards flying since it was probably going to be around the same price as all the transportation I had to do, and it would have saved me so much more time, but I never set an actual plan in motion and decided to figure it out when I go to Puerto Rico.
Funny thing is, an amazing Vecina by the name of Deddye who just so happens to know and follow my amiga Melanie as well, was visiting the island around the same time with her prima. She left a comment on one of photos and told me to hit her up if I wanted to chill. I had already heard so many amazing things about her from my friend Melanie so I slid in her DM's and was like "Heyyyy Vecina". Crazy thing is, she was planning to visit Culebra with her cousin on Friday and they just so happen to have rented a car so they scooped me up early Friday morning and we had the most amazing time in Culebra. I seriously can't thank them enough for picking me up and letting me join them. The entire day was perfect! Flamingo beach is stunning and the food from the vendors hit the spot after a long day.
That night we met up again and went to La Placita in Santurce. It's basically a huge block party with bars and restaurants in an outside plaza. Then we meet up with David and went to Esquina Watusi for an anniversary festival they were having. It was basically another block party and it was LIT! If you want to experience nightlife from a local's perspective check these two places out.
Day 4 - Giving Back
I'm sure wondering how I met David, the tour guide. I met David because of Instagram. Chachi mentioned him in a post the day before my flight, I sent her a DM asking about volunteering while I was there and she told me to hit up David and vouched for him. I hit him up and that's basically how we met and the main reason why I was able to see much more of the island beyond the touristy area I stayed in.
I told him I wanted to volunteer so he picked me up Saturday and we went to Loiza, a town with the highest percentages of African descendants in Puerto Rico. I learned A LOT specifically about the strong Afro-Boricua community that lives there and how they keep their Afro traditions alive. I also learned about the musical genre of Bomba and Plena from the Director of Tambores Calientes Marcos Peñaloza and got to experience Bomba music and dance during his group practice. It was amazing!
We serviced the Loiza community by donating food and other items and then headed to Bayamon to help an elderly couple who needed their new Ikea beds assembled. We didn't finish building the beds until 11:30pm, but the joy on their faces when they sat on their new beds made every second worth it. I'm so thankful to David for letting me give back to his community during my trip. If you guys ever go to Puerto Rico you have to hit him up for a personalized tour. He really knows the island and can put together an amazing experience for you. Let him know you're a Vecina and tell him I sent you!
Day 5 - Brunch
On Sunday I just wanted to chill. Nothing crazy or extra. Just some good food, drinks, and chill vibes. I met up with David for Brunch at Musa and OMAIGAWD!!!! This restaurant and Latido were my absolute favorite food places during my trip. Musa is the type of spot I would be at on the regular if I lived in Puerto Rico. It's a hot spot in Santurce and it doesn't take long to see why! So much attention to detail went into this business and I truly appreciate it.
The food was one of a kind and the staff and vibes of this place were on point! I loved the passion each one of the staff members had for their roles in the business. They love working there and it is clearly evident. Every single person having brunch looked so happy to be there and the long line outside confirmed that this is the place to be at, period. A MUST GO. NO DEBATES. I follow them on Insta and I would go back to PR just to eat there! LOL The menu is crazy good. I had Mac & Cheese with ropa vieja and alcaupurrias in it and my mouth is watering as I type this. The mongolian hash brown with salmon that David had was also bomb. You're welcome.
After brunch David took me on a ferry ride to Viejo San Juan to avoid weekend traffic and we walked around. I had a chocolate martini at Casa Cortez Chocobar and then we headed to a chinchorro.
A “chinchorro” is a place that many locals frequent to enjoy traditional food, buy inexpensive drinks, and listen to good music surrounded with friends and family. “Chinchorrear” is basically bar hopping Puerto Rican style and it's so much fun! Two places we went to were La Vergüenza and El Callejón de la Tanca. The live music and DJ were amazing and after a few Medalla's I was dancing salsa like I actually knew more than just the basics thanks to David and his salsa skills.
Aftwerwards, we went to Piñones for some fritura, seafood, and mofongo. It was the perfect way to end the night!
Day 6 - Last Day
My flight didn't leave until 9pm so I had the entire day to say goodbye to Puerto Rico. I finally got to use the pool at my Air Bnb and got the worse sunburn that turned into sun poisoning. Bring your SPF on vacation please! Trust me you don't want to have the crazy tan I have going on right now because I used an cheap SPF stick. TRUSSS ME FAM! Also, sun poisoning is a real thing and it SUCKS. The Caribbean sun no joke!
I had lunch at El Jibarito in viego San Juan and then went to have a drink and watch the sunset at the beautiful Olive Boutique Hotel in Condado. It was the perfect way to end my trip and gather my thoughts before I came back home to the madness that is NYC.
All in all, I had an incredible time in Puerto Rico and seriously could not have asked for a better trip. I loved getting messages from you all saying how much you enjoyed my little adventure and how you were encouraged to travel solo or visit the island. The best messages were from my Boricua vecinas who shared how thankful they were that I chose to visit their beautiful island and share my experience while I was there. As I'm writing this one of you literally just sent me a message saying how I inspired you to go back and visit the island this summer after years of not going.
Who would have thought that following that little gut feeling aka my intuition would have lead me on such a fun and magical ride? So happy I listened.
How You Can Help Puerto Rico
This post is hella long, but I poured my heart into it. It was the least I could do to honor the beautiful country that is Puerto Rico, especially after all they've been through. It was my first time visiting and I felt right at home. The Caribbean has a special way of doing that to you though. Making a foreign place feel familiar thanks to the warmth of the people and their love and pride for their culture.
Puerto Rico is up and running, but don't get it twisted, there are still parts of the island that do not have power and have not received any aid since Maria. There are still people trying to pick up their lives from the shambles that the Hurricane left it in. It's so horrible and unfair. It breaks my heart knowing the struggle that a lot of Puerto Ricans are still dealing with. I wish I could do more to change the circumstances of the many issues in Puerto Rico (lets not even get into politics), but I hope that the six days I spent on the island encourages someone to take their very own trip and experience Puerto Rico first hand as tourism is a very important source of income for the island. The country is rebuilding and hoping visitors will provide a boost to it's economy.
If you choose to visit, please open up your mind and heart. Venture off the beaten path and visit neighboring towns, with amazing tour guides like David of course! Get to know the locals and buy local. Support small businesses. Tip using cash versus putting it on your card. It makes a huge difference to the employees take home pay. Don't just donate money and call it a day. Go to the source. Create a memorable vacation. Give back while you are there if you can. I promise you will come back home with so much more than a poppin' tan. The resilience and warmth of the Puerto Rican people will light your soul on fire in a way that will have you yearning for another trip back to the island to experience it's magic all over again.
I hope I made Boricuas everywhere smile with this post. Thanks for sharing your beautiful patria with this Dominicana. #PuertoRicoSeLevanta
P.S So many of you gave me amazing recommendations. Thank you for the great suggestions! I saved the post and archived it so I can reference it in the future. You all should do the same. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE POST!