The British Virgin Islands only grant visitors from most countries a stay of up to 30 days (so mean). Obviously, my moonlighting as a local islander and chilling out on BVI beaches and boats while staying with Claudia was going to take longer than that so the Easter break seemed a perfect reason for Claudia, Barry and I to flit off to San Juan for a visa run. And flit we did, in a tiny Seaborne Airlines plane (actually sizeable for the Caribbean) that takes about 45 minutes to cross the water (Barry still managed to have a nap though).
Technically still in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico seems a world away from the other islands, and much more American. Most people speak English with an American accent, there are shopping malls and massive Walmart supermarkets and the historical sites and national parks are administered by the National Park Service US Department of the Interior. Little wonder that Peurto Rico is often referred to as the 51st State.
We visited one of the shopping malls but only because Claudia promised me cheesecake. At the Cheesecake Factory (see, American). Got a new bikini from JC Penney as well in a massive sale (see, American), which I’m sure looked great after the massive slabs of cheesecake.
There is a heavy Spanish influence though, from the colonial times of Spanish occupation. Spanish is what you’ll hear outside of the main tourist areas and most signs are in both languages. We spent most of our time drinking beer, wine, white sangria and eating tapas.
We found a cheap studio apartment in Miramar, a local neighbourhood a short bus ride from the old town and walking distance from Condado beach. The apartment was okay, however, Miramar turned out to be a fab area to stay. It was dead easy to get the bus to Old San Juan (they all seemed to got that way and it was only 70 cents on the A/C coach or $1 in a clapped out mini-bus)) and there were quite a few nice restaurants and cafes nearby. Which is just as well as a couple of days before we left I’d stood on a sea urchin and had thorns stuck in the instep of my foot so not moving around much suited me just fine. I’d stay there again just for the excellent food at the Mexican restaurant.
We hired bikes near Condado beach with the most uncomfortable saddle I’ve ever ridden on and had a lovely day cycling around the beaches, the lagoon and, of course, Old San Juan (much needed drinks break), where the Spanish history really shines.
The walled city enclosed buildings which are very European in feel, and very photographic.
Thanks to that US Department of the interior, there’s a free trolley bus (no more painful bike saddles!) that runs around the Old Town of San Juan so we didn’t have to walk (or hobble far), or sweat too much in the humidity.
One of our favourite things about San Juan was a windy Saturday spent flying a kite in the park in front of Castillo San Felipe del Morro. Very fun and it turns out we were quite good at it.
The El Morro fortress was also worth a visit, to learn more about the Spanish colony and the battles for control of Peurto Rico. $5 gets you entry to this and San Crisotbel fortress.
Cafe Nuyorican in Old San Juan is the place to go for salsa dancing. Worth going to even if you’re not going to dance. It was fascinating watching the couples on the dance floor. Not just for tourists, it looked like folk on dates, or just getting a weekly (or nightly?) salsa fix. It kicks off late so have a siesta (not American after all).
All too soon, Easter was over and Claudia had to go back to work. Barry and I stayed on for a few extra days of tapas and Spanish Caribbean. We had to wait until our 30 BVI days had completely expired (and somehow immigration had messed up and we had different expiry dates) as returning with an active entry stamp would not have reset our time. We moved to a lovely Airbnb apartment, still in the Miramar area and we highly recommend staying there. Beautiful art deco apartment with wonderful hosts in Carlos and Joy.
They sent us off to a fantastic restaurant serving modern Puerto Rican food. Incendium served up the best food I’d eaten in San Juan. Eat the smoked chicken and mofongo.
Love San Juan.