Organizing a bachelorette weekend is tough stuff.
My friend Jamila and I began planning her girls getaway in January 2016 — seven months ahead of the trip.
In the beginning, we had nine girls committed and a very ambitious list of possible destinations. We looked at travel packages for Aruba, Turks and Caicos, Barbados, Costa Rica and also Cuba at one point.
By June (Less than two months before our scheduled trip), nothing had been purchased — no flights, no hotels, not even a new bikini.
Most of the girls were no longer going and one of the girls still interested didn’t have a passport.
But somewhere in the midst of our desperation and exhaustion, Jamila came across San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Affordable, easy to plan, and no passports necessary, we purchased flights and booked a Condado studio apartment on Airbnb that same day.
Our plane tickets were pretty cheap considering how late we bought them (I think I paid about $400 round-trip). And our Airbnb apartment came to a grand total of $291 for 3 nights. Split between 3 girls, we each paid just $97 for our entire stay.
I haven’t explored many tropics in my life so in the few weeks remaining before the trip, I studied up on everything from weather patterns to dining options.
One of my favorite sources to seek out before a trip is the New York Times’ popular “36 hours” series. Sure enough, they had already written a piece back in 2013 called ‘36 hours in San Juan, Puerto Rico’. If you’re not already familiar with the Times’ travel column, it’s definitely worth exploring. I have yet to find a place that they haven’t written about.
During my research, I also learned a lot about Puerto Rico’s financial crisis, San Juan’s crime rate and the growing threat of the Zika virus in the Caribbean.
The girls and I used GroupMe to share all of our findings and interests. And by the time we arrived to San Juan on July 28th, I felt we were well equipped and in control of our own adventure.
From the airport to the apartment to Old San Juan and back, we traveled only by “Taxi Turisticos.” These are different from regular cabs and are more affordable because Turisticos charge fixed rates by zones and regular taxis charge by meters. Uber and Lyft weren’t available on the island at the time of our trip but I recently read that both services are now operating there. Even so, it’s worth taking a moment to compare their transportation costs to Turisticos. Uber/Lyft surcharges can bite sometimes but none of our taxi fares ever rose above $20.
Our Airbnb was just a 5 minute walk from Condado’s gorgeous oceanfront. So for our first day in the city, we walked to the beach to admire the scenery before heading along Avenida Ashford, the island’s main tourist strip, to find food.
I was pretty disappointed with our dining experience that first night. Condado, as it turns out, is completely Americanized (yes, I’m aware it’s a U.S. territory and all but jeeze loueez..). We passed Burger King, Subway and Tijuana’s before we finally gave up on the idea of trying some local cuisine for dinner. Instead, we settled on a burger joint called Buns and it was pretty good (Or maybe I was just really hungry by that point). Either way: Eating food that you can find in the airport or at home is one of my biggest travel pet peeves so I wasn’t feeling too optimistic about the rest of my culinary experience in Puerto Rico.
But then we went to Old San Juan.
This historical island absolutely charmed me. From the architecture to the hospitality and, of course, the food, Old San Juan offers endless beauty and culture and adventure. As soon as we stepped out of our taxi and onto the island, we met a local who was eager to whisk us into a restaurant that had just reopened up for lunch service. We didn’t need much persuading: La Bodego del Viejo San Juan was a pretty little corner eatery with great drink specials and no wait for service.
There was a long day of exploring ahead of us so we all ordered from their tapas menus: dumplings, bruschetta, mofongo, mojitos, sangria and, as an added bonus, our new friend brought us a free avocado. Everything was so flavorful, well-presented and left us the right kind of full.