Destination: Puerto Rico part 1

Last month we visited  Puerto Rico over the school winter break. Too much to show and tell, so I'm going to break it up. This post will focus primarily on food and lodging. Part 2 will cover history and geography. Sounds boring, but I can assure you it will be interesting.

Coqui Cabana

This is what we nicknamed our villa at Las Casitas in Fajardo, which is located on the East side of the island. My son thought it was a clever twist on Barry Manolo's "Copacabana." Seems he has heard the song a few times in my car. Yes, I do I listen to the 70s station on satellite radio.

Coqui are tiny tree frogs indigenous to Puerto Rico. Their chirping, which sounds like birdsong, can be  heard at all hours day and night. But we never saw one. Las Casitas is part of Waldorf Astoria's El Conquistador Resort. If you are traveling with your family, I highly recommend staying at the villas. One-, two- and three-bedrooms with full kitchens can be had. You are secluded from the hotel, but share all its amenities, including shuttles to and from the hotel. My boys love to ride in the back of golf carts, especially at high speeds on winding roads. It's the little things, right. There was a pool right outside our door --  a necessity when traveling with kids. Remember, the keys to a successful family vacation -- an oxymoron in most cases -- are snacks, having more than one room, a pool and electronic devices -- only to be used when absolutely necessary, of course.

You can check out interiors photos on tripadvisor. Just outside our balcony though…

 {yummy-colored flowers abound. not sure what these are, but they sure are pretty}

Let's take a look.

The resort is situated on cliffs above the ocean. Although Puerto Rico is often referred to as the gateway to the Caribbean, much of the island is surrounded by the Atlantic. The hotel leases space on the privately-owned Palomino Island.

{Palomino in the distance}

The free ferry service over to the island runs every 30 minutes and takes about 10 minutes. Described as "an unspoiled tropical oasis," the hotel has done a good job of commercializing the beach IMO. You can wade into the beautiful water for about 40 feet. The rest is roped off because of reef and rocks. This was a major disappointment for me as I was planning to get a lot of beach time in. We went once, never to return.

{adios Palomino}

That's okay, because the resort has a number of pools, and, more importantly, a fun (very clean) water park that overlooks the ocean.

{view over the edge of one of the infinity pools. ferry headed to Palomino}

I relaxed on the edge of the park taking in the ocean views and reading The Goldfinch….

{the island in the background is privately owned. nice place to retire or visit for a weekend junket}

while the kids raced down slides and floated around the lazy river. The resident iguanas would visit from time to time.

{the kid holding on to the wall for dear life does not look psyched about the visitor}

Not the Four Seasons and no heavenly beds, Las Casitas was the perfect accommodation for this trip. I doubt there is any other place where you can see the sun set behind the clouds hovering over the rain forest.

{view from the golf course at dusk}

Before I move on, there are some fabulous beaches you can visit via ferry from the Fajardo marina. I had my heart set on going to the famous Flamenco Beach in Culebra. To get there, you have to arrive at the marina at 7:00 am and wait in line to get $2 tickets (bargain!) for the 9:00 am ferry. Return ferries from Culebra leave at 3:00 and 5:00 pm. You have to take a taxi to the beach once you get there. Note: Ferry schedules vary by season. You can also catch a ferry to Vieques. The hotel staff told me that the beaches in Culebra are much nicer and less crowded. Bottom line: this is an all-day excursion unless you want to fly on a puddle jumper for $150 per person round trip. Not cheap. Plan to go on a weekday to avoid weekend crowds and pray for smooth sailing. Those who tend to get seasick should be prepared for the worst -- bring meds and a barf bag. We never made it. Next time though.

Garlic & Mojitos

Rip off from Ruth Reichl's book Garlic and Sapphires. I've become somewhat of a food critic myself. But I don't get paid for my reviews and have not been published -- that is, not yet.

Although the mojito is technically Cuban, they are ubiquitous in Puerto Rico. Most restaurants serve a variety of flavors. Champagne mojitos are common as are sparkling margaritas, which are topped off with prosecco. Locally produced Don Q Premium rum is the only way to go.

{mojito in Paradise}

The resort food was typical. Meh. Chops Steakhouse is one of the fancier restaurants. It was extremely dark. Steep prices for just okay food. I did enjoy this grapefruit ginger martini. Nice touch with the crystallized ginger garnish. An idea I plan to steal.

As with any travel destination, good things happen when you ask the locals where they eat. That's how we found this diamond in the rough. La estacion -- the station -- BBQ and grill. A hop skip and a jump down the road from the hotel although I would recommend driving. We ate there twice. Our first trip was after dark, so some of these photos are grainy.

An eclectic selection of vintage gas station memorabilia. So charming. Come on in.

{resident restaurant dog named after a Cuban sandwich taking a siesta}

{some of the fabulous menu -- everything is locally sourced}

{cool old motorcycle}

{working hard at the grill}

First stop, the bar. Each drink is made to order with great care. Well worth the wait. The best mojito -- not to mention strongest -- I've ever had.

{pigs galore -- i think that's a voodoo doll hanging on the right}

{knock your socks off mojio and watermelon lemonade for the kids}

Here's where the garlic comes in. Mofongo is a traditional Puerto Rican dish made with fried green plantains mashed together with broth, olive oil, some bacon bits and enough garlic to ward off vampires for a lifetime. It is often served as a side or topped with meat, fish or veggies.

 {mofongo topped with fresh shrimp and fish and lots of garlic. nice plantain chip garnish. delicioso!}

Other dishes we relished...

{grilled Caribbean lobster tail over spinach with fresh salsa and papaya drizzle with a side of garlic laden butter -- to die for}

{grilled shrimp & fried plantain cake}

 {best frozen Margarita ever}

{grilled bacon wrapped hot dog -- best dog my son has ever had}

I'll be back soon with part 2. In the meantime…

 {sign in la estacion restroom -- pretty blue walls}

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this post so much! My husband is a Puerto Rican from NYC but we haven't been able to travel to Puerto Rico together so that he can show me the beauties of the island. Thanks for sharing. :)


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