An Outdoor-Lovers Guide to Puerto Rico
There's a lot more to Puerto Rico than San Juan--including a spectacular rain forest, scruffy beach towns, and locals who really know how to roast a pig.
Later that day we check into theHotel Meliá, a 73-room inn in the heart of the city's historic zone; our room has a balcony overlooking the main plaza. For dinner, the receptionist recommendsPito's Seafood, about four miles southwest. It's a romantic spot right on the water, and as we dine on fresh cobia, we can't help but lament the absence of our significant others.
Josh and I skip a sit-down dessert in favor ofKing's Cream, a popular ice-cream shop located on the ground floor of our hotel. At 9:30 p.m., the line is out the door. We eventually order cones ofguanábana (soursop) and stroll around Las Delicias Plaza.
- Hotel MeliáCalle Cristina, Ponce, 787/842-0260, hotelmeliapr.com, from $95
- El Rancho OriginalRte. 184, Guavate, 787/747-7296, pig plate $7
- Pito's SeafoodRte. 2, Ponce, 787/841-4977, cobia $22
- King's CreamCalle Cristina, Ponce, 787/843-8520
- Santuario Diocesano Virgen del CarmenRte. 7740, San Lorenzo, 787/736-5750, free
- Ponce Museum of Art2325 Ave. Las Américas, Ponce, 787/848-0505, museoarteponce.org, $5
Josh has a real sweet tooth, so when I tell him that we're going to Ricomini Bakery for breakfast, he's delighted. We've been tipped off about the brazo gitano--sponge cake rolled with fruit and cheese and then dusted with powdered sugar. It's traditionally a special-occasion dessert, but it sure goes well with morning coffee.
The bakery is in Mayagüez, an industrial city on the west coast, and when we finally get a taste of the guava-filled cake, we agree that all the wrong turns were worth it. We're tempted to see what else is nearby, but the laid-back surf town of Rincón is just 15 miles northwest.
Lined with towering palms, the winding Route 413--known locally as the Road to Happiness--allows us our first glimpse of the Atlantic. We stop right away atRincón Surf & Board, a surf school and hotel that also rents surfboards. Cobby, who moved from San Diego to Rinóón to become a surf instructor, helps us rent nine-foot longboards and offers to escort us to Maria's Beach, one of nearly a dozen local breaks, which he swears is "going off."
Josh and I stick our boards nose down in the backseat and follow Cobby. The waves are chest high, perfect for us East Coasters. By the time we dry off, it's happy hour at theCalypso Cafe, an outdoor bar steps from the beach. We grab a cool rum punch each and watch the sun dip into the ocean.
AtThe Tapas Bar at Casa Isleña, we eat the best food of the trip so far: small plates, starting at $3, of dishes such as seared yellowfin tuna, empanadas stuffed with beef and olives, and skirt steak marinated in ginger, garlic, and soy.
We have a reservation for tonight atBeside the Pointe, a guesthouse where the beachfront location makes up for the below-average rooms. It has one of the liveliest bars in Rincón, where we drink one too many Heinekens on the deck.
- Beside the PointeRte. 413, Sandy Beach, Rincón, 888/823-8550, besidethepointe.com, from $70
- Ricomini Bakery101 Calle Méndez Vigo, Mayagüez, 787/833-1444
- Calypso CafeMaria's Beach, Rincón, 787/823-1626, calypsopr.com
- The Tapas Bar at Casa Isleña Puntas, Rincón, 787/823-1525, casa-islena.com
- Rincón Surf & BoardPuntas, Rincón, 787/823-0610, surfandboard.com, board rental $20
Nearly everyone we met the night before raved about breakfast at La Rosa Inglesa. Opened in 2006, the hilltop B&B is run by Ruth and Jethro Wickenden Rivera, a cheery couple who met in Britain and moved to Rincón. They constructed the building from the ground up, and, says our waitress, "have been serving the best breakfast in town ever since." After trying the huevos rancheros and limeade, we couldn't agree more.
We're used to getting lost by now, and we take some time to findRío Camuy Cave Park, home to one of the world's largest cave systems. The guide's humor feels canned, but once inside the main cave, we pay little attention. The place ishuge. My childhood trip to Virginia's Luray Caverns was nothing like this. The dome is 170 feet high, and there's a giant stalagmite directly below that's 30 feet in diameter. Each step is more eye-popping than the last.