Last week 51 of my best friends and I packed up our tiny carry on bags and headed to the enchanting island of Puerto Rico. We went with Ole Miss CRU, an interdenominational campus ministry, on mission to share the the love of Jesus with Puerto Rican college students.
7 days + 4 flights + a few bottles of SPF 50 and hundreds of challenging, exhilarating gospel conversations later, I returned to the states a few shades tanner and completely encouraged by the work Jesus did on our trip.
When we weren’t on campus initiating evangelistic conversations, we got to explore the island and experience local culture and flavor.
So, let’s talk about island life:
Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory with its own unique style. It’s really an ideal place to travel because there’s no need for a passport, international cell-phone plan, or currency exchange but the small island truly exemplifies the slow paced romance of tropical living. Puerto Rico, in short, is the ultimate place to get away without really getting away.
Here are some of the things we did:
The only national rainforest in the U.S. is found in San Juan. El Yunque is a great place to hike, zip line, and see things you can’t find anywhere else. Up the long, winding mountain road there’s a great hike that ends at a breath-taking waterfall.
You know whenever we talk islands, we’ve got to talk beaches. Puerto Rico is home to some of the most incredible beaches in the world. Around every corner is another beautiful, untouched ocean front with incredible views and crystal clear water.
Luquillo Beach is a classic white sand beach that runs along side some fun hotels and restaurants. It was here that I found the best tuna and coconut rice I’ve ever had. Pueblo y Pasta is a fun, quirky beach restaurant that serves the freshest fish dishes.
The secluded Playa Mar Chiquita is a real treasure. If you didn’t know about it, you never would. Miles away from anything mirroring civilization, this beach is a natural wonder. Bright blue water crashing on soft, brown sand in a cove of towering rocks. If you’re looking for an adventure or just want to lay in the sun, you can have the time of your life here.
On our last day, we took a ferry an hour and 45 minutes out to the tiny, isolated Culebra Island. The ferry was rocky and rather long, but let me tell you, it was worth it. We descended the ferry, some a little more queasy than others, and boarded a bus for another 20 minute ride before arriving at Flamenco Beach. Flamenco is the number 6th most beautiful beach in the world, and number two in the Caribbean. I felt like I was straight out of an episode of the Bachelor, constantly looking over my shoulder for Chris Harrison to crawl out from behind the brush to hand me a red rose. 🙂
Can you say plantains?
Puerto Rican cuisine consists of a lot of these. Fried, sweet, or mashed into mofongo- these banana-type fruits are everywhere and anywhere in a million different varieties.
If you’re like me and you can only eat so many plantains in a week, I would focus on some other facets of local cuisine. For example, fresh fish caught off the shore hours before.
Not to mention, fresh picked fruit. I picked up a pineapple filled with fresh juice and topped with whipped cream, and it was a dream come true.
In the old, historic district, Viejo (or Old) San Juan, colorful buildings in hues of pinks, yellows, and blues line the cobble stone streets where travelers walk and wander, taking in the smell of the sea-salt air. Here, ancient forts and tall, stone walls surround the city. What once served as a place for fortitude and safety is now an incredible place to sit and watch the sunset and take some fabulous photos.
In Old San Juan you can find traditional Puerto Rican cuisine as well as dishes from other nearby Latin countries. Venezuelan, Mexican, Argentinian, Peruvian to name a few.
Pro Tip: Pirilo’s Pizza is a game-changer. If you’re in San Juan, make the stop.
In short, if you’re sitting at home wondering if Puerto Rico should make it on to the short list of your dream vacations, I’ll make it easier for you. The answer is yes!