Beautiful beaches, tropical rainforest, amazing food, and plenty of family fun, a visit to Fajardo, Puerto Rico should be on your travel bucket list!
While part of this trip was complimentary, it is no way sways my feelings or review, all opinions are my own. Thank you Rebecca from SugarandSoul.co and Britni from Play Party Plan for taking gorgeous photos during this trip and allowing me to share some of them in this post.
In February I needed to get out of the cold and drudgery of the Utah winter and see some sunshine. So I hopped on a plane with my daughter and my swimsuit and headed to Puerto Rico.
I wanted sun, sand, and relaxation, and that is exactly what I got. But Puerto Rico has so much more to offer than just great beaches, even if beaches like Flamenco Beach on Culebra are amongst the best in the world. A visit to Puerto Rico means lush and verdant rainforest, diverse and vibrant culture, amazing fresh cuisine, beautiful turquoise waters, and of course the luxury and pampering of world class resorts like the El Conquistador, a Waldorf Astoria resort.
When we arrived we rented a car, and headed to Fajardo to the El Conquistador resort where we shed our winter clothes in favor of shorts and flip flops and headed out in search of food and fun! We were greeted with the beauty of a tropical paradise, the chirp of coqui frogs, and a view that is hard to rival.
Puerto Rico is comprised of 5 basic regions, the North, South, East, West, and Central. The majority of our trip was spent in the Eastern region, in Fajardo. It is beautiful, feels very safe, and offers plenty of attractions to fill your time. And so I wanted to share a few of the thing to do in Fajardo, and surrounding areas of Puerto Rico.
A trip to Puerto Rico would not be complete without sand between your toes. During our trip we had the pleasure of visiting more than one beach. Our first beach day was spent on the privately owned Palomino Island, and our last beach day on the island Culebra, at Flamenco beach.
This island offers water sports, snorkeling and horseback riding, along with plenty of places to sunbathe, sip pina coladas, and just enjoy the gorgeous turquoise waters. This island is exclusively for El Conquistador Resort guests. If you stay in one of the resorts five unique villages, you can take a free ferry over to the island (runs every 30 minutes), and spend the day, or just an hour or two.
We absolutely loved our day at Palomino Island. The island had plenty of beach chairs for sunbathing, roaming servers to take drink or food orders, shaded mini golf for when you wanted to cool off from the sun, plenty of iguanas and local wildlife to keep you entertained. Not to mention so much more from spa services to snorkeling.
My daughter enjoyed taking part in the Camp Coqui nature hunt, where you explore the island and collect different rubber bracelets at various stations as you learn about the natural beauty the island and area have to offer. It was fun and educational, so I was all for it.
We loved ordering frozen drinks and amazing fish and chips for lunch, and not having to worry about having our wallet on hand, as we could bill it to the room. Very nice when wearing a swimsuit…no pockets!
If you get the chance to head to Palomino Island I highly recommend it. Wear lots of sunscreen, and enjoy the free amenities, or indulge in something more. Either way, you will have a great day.
A visit to Flamenco beach will clear up any confusion over Puerto Rico being nicknamed the Isle of Enchantment. The crystal clear waters, gorgeous white sands, and friendly laid back vibe brought a smile to my face upon arrival, and that smile never left.
Flamenco Beach is located on Culebra. You can take a 90 minute boat ride from Fajardo port (Go early or you will spend lots of time waiting for tickets), or hop on a small commuter plane and greatly reduce time spent getting there. Once you arrive, you will find an 11-sq-mile slice of paradise. It is an under-developed area where you are more likely to see campers than luxury vacationers. The beach itself was rated #2 in the world by Discover Channel, and I can see why.
It has plenty of amenities, shops to buy sunscreen, and vendors offering beach umbrella rentals. And if you walk down the beach you can even see some relics from the US Navy in the form of tanks that have been left on the beach, and have become an art form with graffiti covering them!
Aren’t they just gorgeous?
We loved the water here, and ended up buying a boogie board at a kiosk and spent the day riding the waves. It was so enjoyable I am already planning a trip back. We may even camp at the campsite there for a night or two!
The East region of Puerto Rico, near Fajardo is home of El Yunque, known as the Caribbean National Forest. It is a quick drive from the El Conquistador resort, as it is located in the Sierra de Luquillo, 40 km southeast of San Juan. Good roads, and GPS directions make it easy to find.
The rainforest is 29,000 acres and boasts being one of the most biologically diverse national forests with abundant plant and animal life. Some of which can only be found there. Keep an eye out for the Puerto Rican parrot, it is among the 10 most endangered birds on earth.
Upon arrival you can stop at the Visitor’s Center, or just head up the road (Rt 191) to the rain forest. I suggest saving the $4 a person and just heading up the road. While there is plenty to see at the Visitor Center on conservation, and exhibits, the biggest value of the Visitor’s Center is the map, which they have you take a picture of with your phone. They tell you where to go and what to do. But since there is basically only one main road that takes you to the top of the mountain, and each highlight has a parking area and signage along the way, the map and instruction is unnecessary. However, the fees help keep the National Forest running, so it may be worth stopping for that alone.
Once there, you can visit waterfalls, take beautiful hikes, and get a great view of the area. Be sure to stop at Yakahu Observation Tower (it is pink) to get an absolutely stunning view. Plan a whole day for the rainforest, as it is lovely. Pack a lunch, take some bottled water, and enjoy yourself. Hiking to the waterfalls is crowded on weekends, make this a midweek trip for fewer people.
Fresh Local Food
As a foodie, I couldn’t mention things to do in Fajardo without mentioning the food. And oh how good it was. From the fresh local fruits, fried plantains and made to order omelets at the El Conquistador Las Brisas Restaurant morning buffet, to the amazingly fresh seafood served at Chops Steakhouse, one could be content just eating on property.
If you visit Chops be sure to order the chocolate cake for the table, it is AMAZING, and the scallops were to die for. I could not stop eating them. The short ribs were juicy and succulent, the lobster tail fresh and fantastic. I ate so much I wasn’t sure I could wear my bathing suit the next day! Hahaha
But, if you venture off the resort for food, you will find warm and welcoming restaurant owners, amazing fresh and local food, and great prices. My favorite was eating breakfast at Las Vistas Café. The owner greeted us like friends, cut fresh aloe for my daughter’s sunburn, made great menu suggestions, and the food was fresh, local, and absolutely fantastic. The banana coconut pancakes are some of the best I have ever had. And her fresh fruit salad medley was ridiculous. Who knew fruit could be so good?
For dinner, check out Las Estacíon, where the food is plentiful, with local flare, great flavor, and the right price. Get a pina colada here, it was the best one I had on the island!
While we did not get a chance to visit Mosquito Bay, also referred to as the bioluminescent bay because of the timing of our trip (everything was sold out), this natural wonder is touted to be worth the trip. What is it? It is a water activity where you get to experience a rare and remarkable phenomenon caused by millions of luminescent dinoflagellates lighthing up when disturbed by movement. Many companies offer kayaking through the bay, of course this is done at night, and is best if you avoid time around the full moon.
Additionally, if you stay at El Conquistador, be sure to check out Coqui water park. It is a fun water park right on the ocean that offers a relaxing lazy river, some fun slides, and a great infinity pool. It was a fun place to cool off and relax after a day out and about. My daughter particularly enjoyed the water slides. And being the lazy person I am, I loved the lazy river. Tubes are provided free of charge.
There is a lot of fun to be had in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. I can’t wait to go back! And with so much of the world to explore, that is saying something.