Take a walk through the only rainforest included in the US National Forest Service.
Flight: I was looking for a trip for my birthday week. I had a Spirit Rewards Mastercard and a bunch of bonus points for signing up. They are very specific about peak times to maximize using your points. I printed out the matrix for places they fly and the points required, and then I searched their calendar for available flights. I was able to be super flexible for flight days because I took the whole week off from work for my birthday. I left on a Tuesday and got back on a Friday, just in time to enjoy my second birthday weekend spent with friends. Tampa to San Juan was 2,500 points + $13 in fees one way. When I used Google Flights to find the cost, it was coming in at $250.
Lodging: There were plenty of nice options for AirBnBs. I looked in the main city areas and out near the beach. The AirBnB I found looked great, had great reviews, and had a private bathroom. When I reached out, the hosts communicated back immediately. They were present on the property, which was important to me. My stay included a daily breakfast. Even though it was $10/day more expensive than others in the area, I booked. Frugal, not cheapest.
Transportation: I coordinated with a friend to drive me to the airport and pick me up when I returned. I considered a rental car for the trip, but decided against it since the cost was higher and I intended to stay mainly in the city. My hosts said uber was an easy option, and the AirBnB was in a walkable area.
Food: I went to Publix before my trip and bought some snacks and bread to make peanut butter sandwiches. (You can’t bring a jar of peanut butter on the plane. You have to make the sandwiches beforehand, but can tuck them right back into the sandwich bag. No need to individually wrap. I just make sandwiches out of the whole loaf of bread.) I had some snacks at home already, too. (Bananas, granola bars, chips, goldfish crackers). I grabbed groceries there on the first night as well, including a gallon of ice cream that I kept in the freezer.
When I arrived in Puerto Rico, I took a taxi over to my AirBnB and got settled in. My host gave me some tips and showed me around the house. Then I went over to the beach, walked the length of it, and collected a couple shells. I didn’t want to stay out late so I stopped at the grocery store and grabbed dinner to take back.
I was up early to eat and then took an uber over to Castillo de San Cristobal. I spent the early morning walking around the fort, and then I walked all along the water to the San Felipe del Morro Fortress on the end. I had a sandwich on top of the fort for lunch. Then I spent the afternoon and evening walking all through Old San Juan. I meandered through the tourist shops, walked along the water and by the docks, and explored a couple galleries. I stopped at a bar on my walk back to my AirBnB for a good dinner. I had walked about 11 miles throughout the day.
The next day was another early morning. I had a good breakfast and then took an uber out to El Yunque National Forest and the El Portal Visitor Center. I enjoyed learning about the forest before starting my walk up the mountain. Two college-aged sisters from Boston pulled up next to me and asked if I wanted a ride, and I decided to jump in. They drove us up the mountain, and we stopped in multiple spots. We did one of the hikes through the woods, too. They were staying in San Juan, so I rode back to the city with them. I don’t advocate rides with strangers, but my first time being a “hitchhiker” was really cool. It was starting to get dark when we got back, so I went back to my AirBnB to shower and eat.
I had my last big breakfast and packed up in the morning. My hosts offered to let me leave my bag until later, but no need – I travel light. For my last day in San Juan, I wanted to explore the newer part of the city a bit more. I walked down to the beach and then walked along the water to get across. I stopped in a couple shops to find a magnet. I enjoyed a quesadilla for lunch at a local bar. Then I took an uber back to the airport.
Exploring the rainforest was definitely the highlight of the trip. It’s such a serene place. The ecosystem is almost untouched by humans. I felt so relaxed and at peace as we walked along the paths just listening to the waterfalls and appreciating the greenery.
These are experiences you won’t get by sitting in a hotel or resort all day. These experiences are real, tangible, life changing, and worth every penny.