Islands in the Stream: San Juan and Vieques, Puerto Rico
Islands in the Stream
Honeymooners will find harmony second nature on the charming, exotic islands of San Juan and Vieques, Puerto Rico, and have a jolly good time to boot!
By L.A. Jones and Melissa Varnadoe
Puerto Rico’s culturally and ecologically diverse archipelago guarantees a welcoming, hospitable Caribbean honeymoon destination. Plentiful native cuisine, local art and music venues, and outdoor activities assure couples find fun spots to explore, while mountain ranges, rivers, caverns, rain forests and countless beaches mean privacy and relaxation are never far away.
BEST TIME TO VISIT:
If you like it cold, don’t honeymoon here! But if you always have your bathing suit in your car, just in case, you’ll be in paradise. There’s no dodging the heat, but there is a rainy season. Steer clear from August to October to avoid the hurricane season’s peak, unless you’re willing to spring for traveler’s insurance.
San Juan and smaller Vieques both have an active gay community, and are considered the friendliest islands in the Caribbean.
In San Juan:
The beachfront La Concha Resort provides gorgeous, newly renovated accommodations in the exclusive Condado Beach district (http://www.laconcharesort.com/). Your comfort is the main priority here, where you’ll receive pillow-top mattresses, plush robes and slippers, free Wi-Fi, large LCD TVs and plenty of space to wash the sand off your new spouse in a walk-in shower. Trendy evening lounging is at your fingertips in the lobby, and if you’re feeling lucky, let it ride in the 24-hour casino, the Casino del Mar (http://www.laconcharesort.com/casino/index.cfm).
The BBH, or Bravo Beach Hotel, showcases modern décor and a spectacular restaurant that couples can enjoy while being attended to by a caring staff (http://www.bravobeachhotel.com/). This delightful hotel and villa was a private hacienda during the heyday of the island’s sugarcane industry. After a day of relaxing on the beach or walking along the cliffs, you’ll return to a decked-out room. Wi-Fi is complimentary, along with satellite TV, movie channels and a Playstation 2. And don’t forget your iPod: Every room is equipped with a dock so you can play all your own love songs. Maybe make a playlist of all your reception requests, so you can really listen to the words this time.
Fittingly named for a hotel on the Isle of Enchantment, the Inn on the Blue Horizon provides a romantic setting for gazing out at the sea. (http://www.innonthebluehorizon.com). Guests can sip daiquiris from the 50-foot pool as the sun sets, read up in the inn’s library or socialize with the colorful locals and guests. While there is an option of an ocean view or standard room, each exudes island ambience with hand-selected touches, so it’s hard to go wrong.
Vieques’ only resort, the W Retreat & Spa, (http://www.starwoodhotels.com/whotels/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=3170), reopens March 25, 2010. The rooms are styled to reflect the sparkling sands and inviting character of Puerto Rico. Enhance the nature-inspired R & R with a visit to Spa Chakra, which draws inspiration from the holistic nature of the earth, wind and water elements.
WINE & DINE:
In San Juan:
On Condado Beach, slip in to comfortable Ropa Vieja, Spanish for “old clothes,” and taste authentic Cuban and Puerto Rican flavors in this popular restaurant. An added bonus, patrons are often serenaded by fun (but unobtrusive) live music.
Genuine Mexican art, beers, tequilas and cuisine characterize Cielito Lindo, a local favorite. Despite the skyrocketing real estate surrounding its Condado Beach setting, the owners continue to keep it accessible with low prices.
The ultimate local experience, everyone here loves Bebo’s for its dependably good, cheap Puerto Rican food and charming staff.
Even if you aren’t staying there, stop by the Bravo Beach Hotel’s celebrated tapas bar.
On Tuesdays, it’s happy hour and barbecue at Island Steakhouse. Though you’re bound to have a good time and a delightfully meaty experience either way, opt for its one-of-a-kind treehouse dining for an adventurous twist (http://crowsnestvieques.com/islandsteakhouse/index.html).
An open-air beach bar lets you soak in the culture at Bananas Bar & Grill, an island joint serving up burgers, wings other casual dishes at an average price of $10, which leaves you plenty of cash for daiquiris (http://www.bananasguesthouse.com/restaurant.html).
SEE & DO:
El Yuque Rain Forest. On the eastern side of the Luquillo mountain range is the El Yuque Rain Forest, a serene, clean and snake-free rain forest. A short ride and hike up the mountains leads you to the small park, where couples can explore a completely unique botanical world. One section features an enchanting “elfin” forest where the heavy rains compress and twist the plant life into bizarrely squashed forms. The very lucky may even catch a glimpse of the endangered Puerto Rican parrot (http://www.elyunque.com/about.html).
Deep Sea Fishing. As Puerto Rico is just offshore of the deepest trench in the Atlantic Ocean, big game fishing is an understandably popular sport on the island. Competitive fishermen flock here for tournaments, and beginners will have no trouble chartering a guided half or full-day trip. The waters just off San Juan are full of big game fish like blue marlins, mahi-mahi and yellowfin tuna year round, but winter is your best bet for landing dorado, white marlin and wahoo.
Viejo San Juan. The oldest settlement in Puerto Rico and the second oldest in the Americas, “Old San Juan” was founded in 1509. Spanish fortifications fended off Sir Francis Drake, and many others, from within a walled colony. Now San Juan reaches far beyond this border, but the ramparts of Fort San Felipe del Morro, cobblestone streets, and the Casa Blanca, Juan Ponce de León’s family home stand to this day, guaranteeing a fascinating historical experience.
Castillo de San Cristóbal. Spanning 27 acres, this was Spain’s largest fort in the New World. Meander through the extensive tunnel system, view authentic uniforms and mortar shells, or maybe even catch a reenactment. From Cavalier San Miguel, the highest point in the port, get an unobstructed view of San Juan (http://www.nps.gov/archive/saju/sancristobal.html).
Bacardi Rum Factory. A staple of parties and pirates, the Caribbean just wouldn’t be the same without sugar cane spirits. The tour takes about an hour, not counting time to savor the product, and tells you a good bit about the Bacardi family history, the company’s advertising past and the beverage-making process. If free drinks (two per person), an entertaining and informative tour and the mixed drink recipes on your parking pass don’t sell you on this stop, you clearly need another drink. Bottoms up!(http://www.casabacardi.org/)
Casinos. Gambling is legal and common here, so if you’re on good terms with Lady Luck, be sure to check these out.
Beaches. Pack a picnic lunch (or have your hotel do it for you) and head to one the island’s many isolated and pristine beaches. Horses are a popular mode of transportation here, and jeep rentals are recommended to fully immerse yourself in the islands uncommonly peaceful dry forests and multitude of deserted beaches (http://www.vieques-island.com/todo.shtml, http://www.isla-vieques.com/puerto-rico/carrentals.html).
Biobays. Called the Eighth Wonder of the World, a magical experience awaits you in the bay of Vieques. Even though there are boat trips, it’s much more exciting to rent a kayak at night and take a dip in the world’s brightest bioluminescent bays. Microorganisms make the water glistening blue, even when it’s on you. It’s even bright enough to read in! Just be sure not to get in the water with DEET-containing insect repellant on, as it kills the dinoflagellates that cause the glow. (http://www.biobay.com/)
PERFECT FOR COUPLES LOOKING FOR:
A romantic, relaxing island getaway with a little history on the side and good cuisine.
DAYS TO STAY:
San Juan: Give yourself at least three days to take it in.
Vieques: It’s impossible to overstay in paradise.
OH, AND BY THE WAY…
It’s a good idea to brush up on your Español. Although most destinations in tourist areas tend to employ people fluent in English, nine out of 10 Puerto Ricans are not.
San Juan offers an ample selection of same-sex bars. (http://www.moon.com/destinations/puerto-rico/discover-puerto-rico/explore-puerto-rico/gay-puerto-rico), (http://www.gayclublist.com/Puerto_Rico_gays.html).
Vieques is just a 15- to 20-minute flight from San Juan on a commuter plane, or you can take a ferry. (http://www.enchanted-isle.com/), (http://www.viequestravelguide.com/airlines-flights.html), (http://www.vieques-island.com/val/).