Author Topic: Mustachian tips for Puerto Rican vacation?  (Read 6465 times)

mustachecat

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Mustachian tips for Puerto Rican vacation?
« on: March 13, 2013, 06:27:09 PM »
I feel compelled to begin this post by saying that we're paying for this trip with found/non-income money, so don't worry guys, our savings rate will stay robust!

We're going to Puerto Rico for a week of R&R (it may possibly end up being our honeymoon) in May. Flying into and out of San Juan. Since we only have seven days, I don't want to go wildly hither and thither. Our focus is definitely enjoying nature, although we might stay overnight in San Juan the first day just to regroup, since we're getting in somewhat late in the day (5pm).  So far, we're thinking about camping on the beach in Vieques and staying somewhere around El Yunque. Or would it be worth heading west or further south?

I'd love to keep our per diem to $75/day, including travel within the country and lodging. Anyone have any thoughts or tips?


brewer12345

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Re: Mustachian tips for Puerto Rican vacation?
« Reply #1 on: March 13, 2013, 08:58:10 PM »
Vieques would be a great choice.  You can always take publicos to the Fajardo ferry, although we always either hired a taxi.  I would also suggest Casa Cubuy, an inn on the far side (from San Juan) of El Yunque.  Its a lovely place to stay and you basically get private access to the rain forest.  It is possible you might find a place to camp nearby, although I have never tried.

atlantalee

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Re: Mustachian tips for Puerto Rican vacation?
« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2013, 08:37:46 AM »
Funny... I almost posted a similar thread a week ago.  My husband and I are thinking about going in June.  I was looking at this place on AirBnB:

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/459813

In the off-peak it's only $69/night (plus cleaning fee and AirBnB fee), so it doesn't quite fit your $75 per diem, but  does provide a kitchen for making meals, which has become one of my requirements for traveling.

I'll be returning to this thread to see what people have to say.  Puerto Rico definitely seems like one of the most Mustachian places for a Caribbean vacation.

JohnGalt

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Re: Mustachian tips for Puerto Rican vacation?
« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2013, 08:48:49 AM »
I went to Puerto Rico for a friend's wedding a couple years ago.  I would definitely recommend staying away from the main tourist drags, which is where we spent most of that trip.  I wasn't particularly impressed with the trip - but maybe some other areas are more enjoyable.

Several people in our group had been to Costa Rica the year before and, even after we did a rain forest tour, all they could talk about was how much better Costa Rica was.

brewer12345

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Re: Mustachian tips for Puerto Rican vacation?
« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2013, 09:20:58 AM »
I went to Puerto Rico for a friend's wedding a couple years ago.  I would definitely recommend staying away from the main tourist drags, which is where we spent most of that trip.  I wasn't particularly impressed with the trip - but maybe some other areas are more enjoyable.

Several people in our group had been to Costa Rica the year before and, even after we did a rain forest tour, all they could talk about was how much better Costa Rica was.

I have been all over PR and the SJ area (aside from rather touristy Viejo SJ) is like any other urban area in the US, IMO.  It is when you go outside the metro area that you find amazing stuff.  Ponce, Bosque Estatal de Guanica (a tropical dry forest), Vieques, the back side of El Yunque (Casa Cubuy is along a road that goes into the rain forest but is closed to traffic), Cabo Rojo, the Cordillera, etc.

A really cool placeto tour that I would definitely try to get to if you have not been there is Hacienda Buena Vista: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacienda_Buena_Vista

nuclear85

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Re: Mustachian tips for Puerto Rican vacation?
« Reply #5 on: March 15, 2013, 03:55:47 AM »
When I went to PR for a week with a couple friends, we stayed two places. Both require you to bring your own camping gear.

1) camping on Seven Seas Beach, Fajardo -- completely free (at least it was for us). We went in December, when there are basically no people. You're supposed to pay something pretty cheap for camping, which was our plan. We showed up late and the place was closed, parking locked up. But, we made friends with the night guard, and he showed us where the hole in the fence was. So, we parked on the street and schlepped in and out of the hole for several days. This trick may or may not work in May. Fajardo is a nice town, with a surfing community if you're into that. Also very close to El Yunque. Even if you have to pay, it is probably worth checking out.

2) Awesome awesome awesome camping place in Camuy. I think it was Potrero Brisas del Mar (it's been a couple years, but that is the only place I can find that fits the description). The fee is not too much, and the owners are awesome!! There is a bar area, and some gazebo things you can camp in if it's raining. If it's not raining, you can drive through their horse field and get to an incredible camping area on the cliffs overlooking the beach. Highly recommended. Arecibo is near by, if you're into giant telescopes, you can see it from the backside with a beautiful hike/float down the river and walk up the hill.



babysteps

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Re: Mustachian tips for Puerto Rican vacation?
« Reply #6 on: March 15, 2013, 09:02:08 AM »
We were in PR this February. 

+1 on Seven Seas.  We didn't stay there overnight (we were in Humacao) but we visited and it was beautiful.  There is a nature preserve  (Las Cabezas de San Juan) just next door that is "appointment only", you may want to check out before visiting to arrange access.  It looks like they are in the process of expanding the parking/camping area at Seven Seas significantly.  To get there, follow the signs for the Conquistador hotel, and then don't go in the gate of the hotel - or you check it out map it takes several turns from the main road.

Check Trip Advisor, I think there is a park in Luquillo near/on the beach that many folks mention for sightseeing - it may have camping?

There is a lagoon nature preserve in Humacao-depending on time of year I think entrance is usually free & there are on-site kayak rentals (cheaper than signing up for a tour).

PR is not that big, imo you need not stay right in San Juan the night you come in (especially if you have a car and/or are not having to set up camp the first night).  Though if you can find a MMM priced place in San Juan, go for it!

If you speak espanol and are adventurous, there are locals-only motels at the edges of most large towns/cities with signs advertising $20/night.  Most with big fences, suggesting if you rent a car you could park there okay (that's the MMM view - others might convince themselves the neighborhood is bad, but such fences seem standard in PR).  Have no idea if these places are on the web, probably not for those prices. 

Food can be expensive in PR, apparently they import a huge % of what they eat (over 80%, I don't remember the exact number but we got into some interesting conversations).  However they do seem to raise their own pigs, so pork (and roadside eggs) is a lot more reasonable than other protein sources if you are cooking for yourself (or in restaurants, where a pork chop main course was often 1/3 the price of other choices - even chicken was more expensive).

If you have a car and enjoy rum, the Bacardi factory just west of San Juan offers free tours with two small (6oz ish) drink samples included per adult.

We were in Vieques several years ago (before the "W" opened/changed brands to "W"), it is a great island but car rental is very pricey and you can't (or it is very difficult to? don't remember which) bring a car there on the ferry.  The ferry is subsidized & very cheap as foot passengers, you could do as a day trip from Fajardo (nearish to Seven Seas) and walk or if you have bikes, bike.  The ferry in Vieques comes right into the main town.  When we stayed on Vieques we did this backwards, took the ferry to Fajardo and back.  The ferry dock is a couple? (less than 3 I think) miles from Seven Seas, up and over the peninsula.  There is also a ferry to Culebra, which is also known for its beaches (haven't taken that one).

I would go to the 'main' El Yunque (in from Luquillo) for a first visit, ymmv.  If you want to see more & have a car, there is a 'back door' to El Yunque - check the maps, it is near Naguabo on PR 191 - some maps make 191 look like it goes through, it does not (at least not for cars).  There is a gate at a waterfall going up from PR31 (after several miles), it is open to cars certain days or seasons, but you can always walk in and the day we were there no one else was there.  No tourist facilities there (or any other facilities), but we had a car and enjoyed poking around the waterfall and walking in the road to stare at the plants. 

If you are driving, there are "auto piste" toll roads in PR, if you rent a car they often include the electronic toll transponder required at most on/off ramps.  You can avoid tolls completely *if* you are prepared - study maps first, some roads switch from toll & back without much warning (toll plazas can sometimes be avoided with easy on/off exits, otherwise no such luck).  Surface roads go everywhere the toll roads do - they are slower, have more potholes, and sometimes are a lot twistier - nothing that would dissuade an MMM driver though!.  We used both toll & regular roads, depending on how fast we wanted to get where (I think our total tolls were still less than $10 for the week - insert face punch, but we *did* budget for them - including the electronic rental, which we were charged for only if we used it).  There seems to be a lot of traffic in PR at least in & around San Juan (say up to 20 or so miles away)...but we were on vacation so we took it as 'local color'.  Random aside: speed limits are mph, but road markers & exit numbers are in kilometers.

mustachecat

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Re: Mustachian tips for Puerto Rican vacation?
« Reply #7 on: March 15, 2013, 11:14:50 AM »
This is all so, so, so helpful. It looks like we won't be able to stick to just two destinations, though (Vieques and El Yunque). Now that I've seen photos of Guanica, we have to go. And Camuy... argh. And Arecibo!

Goddammit. I wish we had longer than a week.

But again, thank you all!

brewer12345

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Re: Mustachian tips for Puerto Rican vacation?
« Reply #8 on: March 16, 2013, 05:50:34 PM »
This is all so, so, so helpful. It looks like we won't be able to stick to just two destinations, though (Vieques and El Yunque). Now that I've seen photos of Guanica, we have to go. And Camuy... argh. And Arecibo!

Goddammit. I wish we had longer than a week.

But again, thank you all!

Now you know why we went there at least a half a dozen times when we lived in teh NYC area.  Tons to see and do.  I will go back eventually, but its a pain to get there from CO, so there are other adventures that take priority.

NWstubble

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Re: Mustachian tips for Puerto Rican vacation?
« Reply #9 on: March 16, 2013, 09:29:56 PM »
I have been all over PR and the SJ area (aside from rather touristy Viejo SJ) is like any other urban area in the US, IMO.  It is when you go outside the metro area that you find amazing stuff.  Ponce, Bosque Estatal de Guanica (a tropical dry forest), Vieques, the back side of El Yunque (Casa Cubuy is along a road that goes into the rain forest but is closed to traffic), Cabo Rojo, the Cordillera, etc.

A really cool placeto tour that I would definitely try to get to if you have not been there is Hacienda Buena Vista: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacienda_Buena_Vista

+1. My advice is get out of San Juan as fast as possible. If you are into history though, the fort and old San Juan may be worth a visit. I really like the west side of the island, mostly because there are less people. Wherever you end up have fun, enjoy some mofongo, eat tostones with every meal, and wonder why they make Medalla cans so small.

Also, if you end up in Boqueron, eat at La Marea.

mustachecat

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Re: Mustachian tips for Puerto Rican vacation?
« Reply #10 on: April 17, 2013, 09:21:27 AM »
Just an update:

I had good luck bidding on a rental car via Priceline's Name Your Own Price feature and have a car for the mainland locked in at $23/day, including taxes, pickup at the airport (I bid $17, so start lower than that)

I also signed up for Gustazos.com, which is a Groupon-like service for PR. So far, I haven't seen anything that works for us, but if you're interested in staying in Isla Verde or Rincon, they have some pretty good rates.

If you were staying for a week or longer and renting an apartment somewhere, it would probably be worth it to stop at one of the four Costcos on the island.

jrs

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Re: Mustachian tips for Puerto Rican vacation?
« Reply #11 on: April 17, 2013, 09:50:06 AM »
I'm also looking at going in the distant future.
Don't know much, but I do know southwest recently started offering flights, so be sure to include them when comparison shopping.

mje173

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Re: Mustachian tips for Puerto Rican vacation?
« Reply #12 on: April 17, 2013, 12:57:28 PM »
Welp, this thread inspired me to register and log on.

Fellow puerto rican mustachian here at your service. Currently living in good ol' PR.

Fire away with the questions, I'll answer them as best I can!

Saludos,
-M

mje173

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Re: Mustachian tips for Puerto Rican vacation?
« Reply #13 on: April 17, 2013, 01:47:38 PM »
Our focus is definitely enjoying nature, although we might stay overnight in San Juan the first day just to regroup, since we're getting in somewhat late in the day (5pm). 


Avoid San Juan, and the metropolitan area then (all around San Juan for 20 minutes on car).

So far, we're thinking about camping on the beach in Vieques and staying somewhere around El Yunque. Or would it be worth heading west or further south?
Definitely. There is a little american colony in Rincon, mostly american surfers that moved down there. The beaches are much more beautiful on the western side of the island - approx. 1.5-2 hours drive from San Juan on major expressways.

BTW it's "auto pista" or turnpike.

I'd love to keep our per diem to $75/day, including travel within the country and lodging. Anyone have any thoughts or tips?

Impossible my moustache tells me. The car, sure. The car and gas? Probably. Gas isn't super expensive (sold per L here, not Gal). Renting a car with insurance + food + lodging under $75 will be a challenge in itself.

Also, PR imports around 85% of our food. PRican farmers don't get sweet subsidies American farmers do, we use the dollar, and the Jones Act just kills anything shipped to/from the island. So they get out-competed. Also, most of our pork is also imported.

mustachecat

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Re: Mustachian tips for Puerto Rican vacation?
« Reply #14 on: April 17, 2013, 02:09:50 PM »
Haha, thanks for the reality check, mje173! I think it's looking more like $115+/day now, as we're beginning to book things and budget everything out. If we go to Vieques, the car rental there will definitely push us higher.

Do you think this site has relatively good estimates for food costs in PR? http://www.numbeo.com/food-prices/country_result.jsp?country=Puerto+Rico More importantly, how much is a case of Medalla Light? ;) Is there a good local grocery chain that you recommend?

mje173

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Re: Mustachian tips for Puerto Rican vacation?
« Reply #15 on: April 24, 2013, 09:27:55 AM »
1. Look at a map of Vieques. Why would you rent a car there? Walk. :)
2. Decent estimate range. Food here is more expensive than in the US, due to the Jones Act and the US Merchant Marine.
3. Case of Medalla light, I don't know. Sorry! but outside of the metropolitcan area (San Juan et al), it should be relatively inexpensive.
4. Cheapest food supermarket chain: Econo (http://www.superecono.com/tiendas/default.aspx). Here is a list of locations: (http://www.superecono.com/tiendas/default.aspx). As you can see, they're all over the island. "Cuadro" just means main telephone number, that'll get you in touch with a secretary or attendant. Hopefully they speak english, probably a very bad and broken english if they do speak it at all!

Good luck!

Also, always be wary for that sneaky thief in the night! Especially in leaving things around, like your purse. Hehe.

mustachecat

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Re: Mustachian tips for Puerto Rican vacation?
« Reply #16 on: May 12, 2013, 08:50:41 AM »
I'm baaaaaack, guys. Puerto Rico was amazing, and I'm filled with both overwhelming joy/satisfaction and niggling regrets.

I'll start with the regrets first and tie them to their financial impact, as to not make this thread wildly OT. ;)

First, don't be idiots like us and check the rainfall averages for the month you're going. We got rained out a couple of times, to the extent that camping was out of the question for us for those nights, so we checked into a guesthouse, which cost us an extra $280.

Also, be firm with yourself as to why you want to go. What we wanted was a beach vacation, but once we started researching PR, there were so many things we felt we had to see/do/experience. Since we only had a week, this was a mistake. While it's a small island, driving to and fro still sucked out a ton of time and money. The Guanica Dry Forest and El Yunque were truly beautiful (one of the most beautiful beaches we went to was on the southside of the Dry Forest; can't remember the name, but the nice man at the check-in point for the hike will tell you which one to go to)... but if we do it again, we would head straight to Vieques.

We did camp for two nights at Seven Seas in Fajardo. We were the only campers, and we felt completely safe, but I wouldn't do it again--although it was free, since no one was around to collect the camping fee. It was the least nice beach we saw in PR. There's a lot of trash, which we spent time picking up in lieu of payment. However, there are sinks, flush toilets, showers, pavilions, etc., etc., so if it were cleaner, it could have been a nicer experience.

We didn't end up camping in Vieques because the first day we got there, there was a rather spectacular thunderstorm that drenched the campsite at Sun Bay... and which brought up hordes of fire ants, who really know how to bring the pain. However, had it been dry, I don't think it would have been a problem. Again, perhaps because it was the low season, no one was interested in collecting our camping/parking fee. The Sun Bay campsites are also right by bathrooms, showers, etc., so, again, could have been very nice.

After trying to set up and getting caught in a downpour, we decided to check into Trade Winds in Esperanza, just down the road on 201. Although I threw a minor tantrum/sulk at spending money when we'd already spent so much time, money, and effort in bringing our camping equipment along, we had a really, really nice stay. I think it was $80/night, plus tax. The rooms aren't fancy, but the beds were very comfy, and each room comes with a mini-fridge. We stayed on the first floor, but I think a room on the second would have been nicer--they had access to a sunnier terrace. The place itself was extremely well-run, with awesome staff, a really terrific restaurant, and a friendly orange cat named Cornflake.

We rented a Jeep for Vieques, and although it was heart-palpitatingly expensive, I'm glad we did. All of our favorite beaches were miles off the main road, down rutted dirt paths filled with muddy puddles. We ended up with Avis, but I hear that Chepito's has the best rates (about 1/2 of what everyone else charges, presumably because his fleet is older). We tried to book with him, but all his rentals had been booked up.

Most of the bars/restaurants/bodegas/etc. take credit cards. There are two ATMs in Esperanza: one at Duffy's bar, another at the bodega on Calle Almendro between Calle Hucar and Calle Tintillas (take a right off of 997 at Trade Winds, then the first left).

On Vieques, a six-pack of Medella was $3.99 (I think?). Every supermercado and bodega sells a good selection of booze at solid prices. There was a very nice happy hour at Trade Winds from 5-6:30pm, with (strong!) $4 specialty drinks and $3 well, amongst other libations. Most traditional PR restaurants won't have salad, so you will have to go to an expat place to get your greens. Alternately, there is a woman who sells fruits and vegetables on the side of the road at the intersection of 200 and 201; she's just a bit down on 201. Her vegetables looked significantly better than what we saw in the supermercados. Can't remember the price comparison, though.

Every sit-down meal we had was absurdly, ludicrously generous in portion size. We went to the most upscale place in Esperanza expecting smaller portions, and my sides were the size of a fancy New York entree.

Our favorite beaches were Media Luna (lots of places to string up a hammock and very shallow, calm water, but shorter depth of sand to sprawl out on) and Navio (extraordinary white sand, makes you feel like you're in a movie, but water can be very rough depending on how the wind is blowing). Unfortunately, the furthermost beaches in the national preserve were closed during the week. We were kind of unimpressed with Green Beach, and there is no reason to visit Sea Glass Beach except for the fact that there's a mango tree on public land at the end of Calle La Infanteria. I found a perfectly ripe mango, and it was the best goddamn mango I ever tasted. 

Almost everyone we spoke to spoke English, and everyone who spoke English certainly spoke it better than I spoke Spanish.

We would love to return in the future, and here's what we would do:
  • Go during the drier season (November - mid-April).
  • Dispense with renting a car on the main island; get to Vieques via publico and taxi and hop on the ferry.
  • Call Chepito's early.
  • Plan to camp on Media Luna, a beach past Sun Bay on municipal land; I didn't see it listed on the official PR government site, but when we got there to go swimming, there were at least 15 clearly marked campsites right along the beach. Much more beautiful, IMO, than the sites at Sun Bay, although without any facilities (running water, bathrooms, grills, etc.)
  • Although not officially permitted, grilling on municipal beaches is de facto allowed (although bonfires are not). If you don't have a packable grill, a metal bucket from a supermercado will suffice.
  • Bring two hammocks.
  • Pack fewer clothes (two pairs of shorts, two swimsuits, 2-3 t-shirts, and 2-3 pairs of underwear each, plus one dress and one button-up for us respectively).
  • Bring more sunscreen.
Hope this is helpful to any other Mustachians planning a trip down!