TRAVEL: PUERTO RICO

Puerto Rico Dec. 2015 ~ Old San Juan & Hotel El Convento

We dropped our rental car off at Charlie’s Rental Car, and they took us to our hotel for the night, Hotel El Convento in Old San Juan. This former Carmelite convent was built over 350 years ago, and is now a luxury boutique hotel loaded with charm and history. I love the different levels and the open courtyard in the heart of the hotel, and there are sitting and lounging areas tucked here and there throughout the hotel. The pool and outdoor terraces facing the Atlantic Ocean offer amazing views over the city and a great view of sunset. They have several restaurants offering fine dining to casual. I could stay in this hotel for several days without ever leaving! One of my favorite hotels so far in our travels!  http://www.elconvento.com/

Time to hit the streets of Old San Juan! They are decked out for the holidays…

Time to eat again! We liked La Cueva del Mar Seafood Restaurant on our previous visit, and went with that for our lunch choice.

Here’s a link to their Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/lacuevadelmar

I had featured them on our previous visit – here’s a link to that blog for more pictures of the restaurant and Old San Juan. https://busybeetraveler.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/old-san-juan-puerto-rico/

El Convento offers a wine and hors d’oeuvres hour in the evening, and we watched sunset from the terrace and then took a walk to see Old San Juan at night.

The town is so pretty lit up for the holidays! We had an early morning flight, so it was early to bed. We stopped off at the desk to order our wake up call and a taxi for our departure from lovely Puerto Rico.

Bye Bye Puerto Rico – it’s been a wonderful week! I hope you’ve enjoyed traveling along with us! Until next trip…

 

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Puerto Rico Dec. 2015 ~ El Yunque National Rainforest, Coqui International & Lluvia Deli

We had one pretty day left to explore around Rio Grande, Puerto Rico before going to Old San Juan for our last night. We had hiked the Big Tree Trail to Mina Falls in the El Yunque National Rainforest on our previous spring visit, so decided to try a different trail this time. Here’s a link to the park’s trail map. http://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/elyunque/maps-pubs/?cid=stelprdb5190546&width=full

We stopped off at the Yokahu Tower to see the view to the ocean first. There’s bathrooms here and a little gift store.

IMG_1938IMG_0004IMG_1944Time to explore the rainforest! Note the “faces” that protrude along the mountaintop. There are names for these sleeping giants on signs on top of the tower. I love the huge variety of ferns in the forest, and there were several colorful plants and trees blooming.

We made it to the top of the trail where the Mt. Britton Tower has a great overlook view.

IMG_1972I had spotted some cute gift and artisan shops and restaurants back on the main street in Palmer,  so that was our next stop. They were re-doing the roads through the community, but they should be done by now. Coqui International lured me in with their colorful flags and pretty murals on the building. I was impressed to find a wonderful collection of local Puerto Rican artists, artisans and products and snapped several pictures. I picked out a variety of soaps and a bottle of their  delicious coconut drink Coquito. Here’s a link to their website and online store: http://www.coquistores.com/

Starving now, we went across the street to check out Lluvia Deli Bar and Artefacto, for lunch. I had seen rave reviews on Trip Advisor recommending them, so gave them a try. The interior is cheery, funky and cute and they had sections with local items for sale too. Their menu offers yummy sounding hot sandwiches, Boars Head sandwiches, pizza and salads. They have fresh squeezed juices, home made lemonade (which we loved), lemon ice tea and fresh fruit smoothies. Their breakfast menu sounds divine! I was sad we hadn’t found them earlier in the week to try their breakfast and more lunch! http://www.lluviapr.com/

I bought the two purses shown above as my trip souvenir. I highly recommend this shop and dine experience! They are on the way to El Yunque, so you can get a lunch to go for a picnic, or stop on your way out like we did.

Here’s a link to my previous post on El Yunque National Rainforest and lunch at the Luquillo Food Kiosks. https://busybeetraveler.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/el-yunque-national-rainforest-lunch-at-revolution-pizza-luquillo-kiosks-puerto-rico/

Next up, our last night in Old San Juan at the El Convento Hotel

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Puerto Rico Dec. 2015 ~ Punta Tuna Lighthouse

This is our third lighthouse visit this trip, and they have all been very different. Our destination for the day  was to the Faro Punta Tuna Lighthouse in Maunabo. We drove south, then up and over the mountains and through small villages with breathtaking views out over the ocean.

IMG_1880We arrived in the small village area of Maunabo using GPS, and was pretty surprised when we pulled up to the lighthouse museum and there was very little parking. The Faro Punta Tuna Lighthouse was built in 1890 and is still in use today. The grounds are maintained by the locals, and there is no fee to tour the grounds. They just ask you to sign in at their little office, and have a display of local artifacts and bathrooms upstairs.

It is a lovely lighthouse perched on the cliffs overlooking deserted beaches and aqua waters. Some locals were doing a photo shoot while we walked around. Here’s some links to find out more about the lighthouse history. http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=1173

http://www.puertoricodaytrips.com/punta-tuna-lighthouse-maunabo/

I loved catching the frigate directly above the lighthouse!

IMG_0874IMG_0878IMG_0873IMG_0872IMG_1869IMG_1867If you want to walk on the beach, you have to go back to the entrance by the museum, and then take the dirt path down the other side of the fence. Lizards were jumping around everywhere in the underbrush, and I swear I could hear crabs scurrying around. It’s untended, and you feel like Gilligan and the Skipper exploring a deserted island.

At the beach, there is lots of flotsam, but not much trash. Just natural stuff for the most part. If you are into collecting driftwood, you’ll find plenty here. Someone had erected a wooden cross on the beach.

On the way back, we stopped off at one of the highest points on the hill where a pincho vendor was set up. Wow – what a view he had! We got 3 pork and chicken pinchos for $5, and it was the perfect light lunch. We talked to him for a while, and he actually owns the property and is planning on building a restaurant there.

IMG_1880He told us about his favorite local beach at the bottom of the hill, so we drove down to check it out. We got a laugh at the ingenuity of whoever had gotten their travel trailer up on top of their house foundation for temporary quarters. There was a pretty beach with just a few people out enjoying the day.

Heading back north we wanted to go back through Punta Santiago and Naguabao. I was delighted to find a local fundraiser of sorts going on at the local pier that sits in front of Monkey Island. They had a vintage and custom bike display, arts and crafts vendors, food and a silent auction. I had wanted some sea glass jewelry and a girl had a table full of it, and it was so cheap!!! I think I got all five pieces pictured below for around $22!!! Happy, Happy!

Our dinner destination was at Naguabo, just  a few minutes from Punta Santiago. There are some gorgeous beaches between the two communities, and locals pull in and set up for the day under the palms.

IMG_1916We had eaten at Restaurant El Makito on a previous trip, and love their porch view over the turquoise bay. It’s a little fishing village, so the fish is caught right out there and served up for you. They also have fresh fish and lobsters for sale that you can buy and take with you. They aren’t cheap though, so be prepared to pay for the view and fresh seafood. I ordered some conch fritters and Wally got a whole fried fish, which he shared with me. http://www.elmakito.com/

I took lots more photos around Naguabo on our previous visit, and they are featured along with the Luquillo Food Kiosks at: https://busybeetraveler.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/palmas-del-mar-to-luquillo-puerto-rico-destination-food-kiosks/

We made it home in time to fix our cocktails and go for a long walk on the beach to watch sunset.

IMG_1924IMG_1922IMG_1920IMG_1928Another amazing day exploring this island!

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Puerto Rico, Dec. 2015 ~ Beach day

We awoke to the sun peeking through the fog and I declared it to be my “beach” day.

IMG_0852But first, food! Just up the road is the La Familia Bakery, and they are well known for their sweet treats, breakfast, deli sandwiches and local food. I resisted the sweets and breakfast items, and ordered us a Cuban sandwich to go. The prices are GREAT here. They have a variety of breakfast plates of two eggs, a meat and toast for $3.50 and under. The sandwiches are large enough for two people, and run $4.50 to $6.50.

This is the perfect place to pick up breakfast or a picnic lunch to take with you to El Yunque National Rainforest for hikes. For those with a sweet tooth… heaven! They also offer a type of food buffet of local favorites for a plate lunch option. They are open daily 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. so you can try them for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  http://lafamiliabakery.com/

With food in my belly, its beach time!

IMG_1842I had brought along the small hammock I had gotten on a previous trip to Puerto Rico at Walgreens for $10, as there are endless trees to tie up under around the island. With a good book, some water and blue skies, I was ready to swing in the ocean breezes. Wally helped me get tied up, and he headed out to check out the golf course facilities. Ahhhh…

 After several hours and walks along the beach, Wally returned to pick me up to head back to our apartment. We cleaned up, consulted online reviews for lunch choices and decided to give Boardriders Surf Bar in Luquillo a try. It’s located right across from the beach and a surfing area and is a popular hangout for the surfers. They have a nice little outdoor patio where you can watch the water. Inside, they’ve recycled and re-purposed lots of items for a cool and casual atmosphere. Their menu has some really different and yummy sounding choices. We went for a salad and burger and they were tasty. Their brunch menu sounds reallllly good! Here’s a link to their Facebook page where they post live music, specials, etc. https://www.facebook.com/boardridersinc/

 That’s all for now… Next, we’ll drive south to explore the Punta Tuna Lighthouse and places in between.

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Puerto Rico Dec. 2015 ~ Arriving in Rio Grande

We left Rincon mid-morning to drive to the west end of Puerto Rico for the second half of our trip. As we were leaving our little road along the coast, we spotted a monster in the water… the Anastasia. Wally found a spot to pull out with a good view. I snapped a few photos of this beauty as Wally drooled and speculated how many millions it was worth.

I googled her and she has her own website! http://www.yachtanastasia.com/ At 75 meters long, this amazing super-yacht was created by designer Sam Sorgiovanni, and launched in May 2008. She’s available for charters – who’s in? I’d be pretty happy with just the small boat trailing behind…

IMG_0848IMG_0850It took us about 3 hours to drive from one end to the other, and we arrived in the Rio Grande area at lunch time. I was craving pizza, so decided on the Luquillo Food Kiosks so I could get my fix at the Revolution Pizza Shop. IMG_1803IMG_1804IMG_1808IMG_1809A young man was walking along trying to sell palm frond flowers and hats, and gave me this one. IMG_1805I featured Revolution Pizza on our spring trip to Puerto Rico when we lunched there after a hike in El Yunque National Rainforest just down the road. See more photos on my previous post: https://busybeetraveler.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/el-yunque-national-rainforest-lunch-at-revolution-pizza-luquillo-kiosks-puerto-rico/

After lunch, it was time to check into our vacation rental apartment located on the Wyndam Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort and Spa. They have an ocean and river course and we had a great view from our balcony. http://www.wyndhamriomar.com/

This is a view at the top of the hill overlooking the Wyndham Grand Resort area.IMG_2024Our apartment was located in a gated townhouse complex, and there was a pool just steps away from our apartment. They had the complex decorated for the holidays with these cute figures.

Here’s our view from our apartment balcony… ahhh! Very nice with the rainforest mountains to the right. We found the apartment through vrbo, and the manager was very nice and easy to work with making our arrangements. I had neglected to book our first night there (thinking I had) and she was able to get it cleaned and ready for us by the time we arrived. Here’s a link to the rental vrbo site: https://www.vrbo.com/598103

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IMG_1815Those are the Ocean’s Sixteen condos to the left in the below picture that are located beachfront and on the golf course if you are looking for luxury accommodations. IMG_1816The inside of the apartment was very spacious with high ceilings, lots of windows, books, games, and charming old fashioned painted tiles. The bedroom was huge with a bathroom, as well as another full bathroom off the living room with a washer and dryer. I was delighted to discover a hammock you could stretch between the dining and living room area to nap and read. I could have moved right in and stayed in this comfortable apartment for quite some time! Would highly recommend for anyone thinking about staying here.

We rested a bit then drove down to the beach club to check out the beach. They have a nice swimming pool, beach bar and bathrooms right next to the beach so you can enjoy the pool and beach. It was sunset, and walking this almost empty beach was a nice ending to the day and I even found a small treasure. IMG_1819IMG_1825IMG_1821That’s all for now ~ Tomorrow’s beach day!

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Puerto Rico Dec. 2015 ~ Sandy Beach, Tamboo & La Cambija

Sandy Beach was our destination for the day, and we took along our beach clothes and books to hang out for a while. We stopped in the Mango Beach Shop to check out their local souvenirs.

IMG_1761IMG_1757 Wally got a new Puerto Rico golf hat for his souvenir.IMG_1758IMG_1759IMG_1760We parked at the Tamboo Restaurant public beach access lot and went to the beach to relax while waiting for the restaurant to open for lunch. IMG_1765IMG_1764There were quite a few surfers bobbing about, waiting on waves. It was pretty calm in December – the big waves come later.IMG_1771IMG_0691IMG_1580IMG_0672IMG_0670Time for lunch at Tamboo! They’ve been written up in numerous magazines as one of the top beach bars in the world, so I wanted to check them out! You can read all about them on their website: http://www.besidethepointe.com/

IMG_1762IMG_1774Great view from Tamboo…IMG_1770We ordered a sandwich and a wrap and they were both good washed down with some cold beer. IMG_1773It was time for afternoon siesta, so we drove back to our vacation rental, Casa Blanca, south of Rincon. For dinner, we chose La Cambija in downtown Rincon, and it was hopping. This was one of the most delicious meals we had while in Puerto Rico. I ordered conch fritters (the round balls) and Wally had the Caribbean ceviche. It was soooo good!

I loved the local houses all lit up for Christmas – this one was especially festive!

IMG_1799That’s all for now. Next up, we leave Rincon and head west to the opposite end of Puerto Rico for the second half of our trip in Rio Grande.

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Puerto Rico Dec. 2015 ~ Cabo Rojo

Our destination for the day was a day trip south of Rincon to Cabo Rojo and its lighthouse perched on the cliffs. There are salt flats and this is part of the Caribbean so the water becomes more aqua and calm. Picture below is an inlet of water that lies behind the lighthouse. Here’s a link with lots more info: http://www.topuertorico.org/city/caborojo.shtml

IMG_0759Manatees can be found in these calm waters but we didn’t see any that day. IMG_1670

IMG_1671Here’s a panoramic view

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IMG_1688IMG_1680IMG_1682IMG_1686IMG_1685Several artist’s works are displayed inside the lighthouse. IMG_1681IMG_1679IMG_1683

IMG_0779The chalky cliffs are dangerous near the edges as they are eroded underneath the edge. People have died from getting too close to the edge and the cliff lip crumbled away with them. The penisula this couple is on is wider than it looks!IMG_0781IMG_0780IMG_0782The coast guard keeps a close watch over the lighthouse area…IMG_0770IMG_0776IMG_0765IMG_0787IMG_1690Back at the parking lot was a litter of young cats someone must have dropped. People were leaving them food and they were probably scavenging from the trash cans. IMG_0788We picked nearby Annie’s Place Restaurant for drinks and a snack of ceviche and fried calamari rings. Great view of the calm Caribbean sea…

IMG_1716IMG_1714IMG_1703IMG_1713IMG_1701IMG_1697IMG_1698IMG_1700IMG_1702IMG_1706IMG_1708IMG_1710Filled up, we drove back north to our casa for an afternoon siesta.

IMG_1746For late afternoon entertainment, we drove back north to Maria’s Beach to watch the surfers at sunset.IMG_0814This cute dog was wondering about and came to say hello.

IMG_0664IMG_0680Wally wanted to try out the local oysters they brought up from the Cabo Rojo area – they were quite small!

 Another amazing sunset!

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IMG_0832IMG_0803IMG_0801IMG_0843IMG_0825IMG_0826IMG_0807That’s all for now!

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Puerto Rico Dec. 2015 ~ Around Rincon

We awoke our first morning at Casa Blanca to roosters crowing, dogs barking and a cat in the bed with us… We had slept on our outdoor king-sized bed, enjoying watching the stars travel across the sky and the pleasant evening temperatures. I heard a bell tinkling in the night, but didn’t really think much about it. We’re used to two dogs sleeping with us, so an extra little body wasn’t something out of the ordinary. Wally’s animal magnetism must have attracted this friendly fellow, and he hung out with us for several days.

We took a walk around the neighborhood, exploring our little beach where we found some pretty sea glass and a few shells. I love the small wooden boats the locals use for fishing, and there was some really cool cactus growing in the trees.

A typical street in Puerto Rico

IMG_1755We decided to explore up the coast to some of Rincon’s beaches. You have to look very closely for handmade signs on the road and dirt tracks that lead down to the beach. Amazingly, Steps Beach is on the edge of a cattle farm – I wonder how much that farm is worth in beachfront property??? They use local trees and branches for their fence posts and having been a cattle farmer for years, I’m amazed the whole fence doesn’t just fall over – kind of like how the telephone poles lean precariously! IMG_1600We pulled in and parked to explore Steps Beach and here it is – beautiful and quiet with just a few families and couples basking in this paradise.

IMG_1633Note the concrete “steps” in the waterIMG_1635Back on the main road, you never know what might come along. The Puerto Ricans love their horses! IMG_1603The Punta Higuero Lighthouse was our main destination and we had great light for our visit. Here’s a link with history:  http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=1161

IMG_1589The walkways offer fabulous views along the beach. IMG_1591IMG_1596IMG_1594After our photo ops at the lighthouse, Maria’s Beach was our next stop just up the road. This is a surfing beach and from the looks of their sign, must be good for whale watching during their migration. There were a few surfers out with some tame waves coming in – big surf season is yet to come.

The Calypso Cafe is right next to the beach and was our obvious lunch spot. Rum drinks, juicy burgers and a tasty wrap had us ready for a nap. http://home.coqui.net/calypso/bar.htm

So back to the casa for a snooze, and then some beach time down the road. Life’s good…

IMG_1728IMG_1719IMG_1734IMG_1737IMG_1738IMG_1775IMG_1732Sunset from our porch – it’s as if the sun drops off the side of the world… glorious!

IMG_1660IMG_0695IMG_0720IMG_0714IMG_0716IMG_0738IMG_0731IMG_0701And that’s it for today… next up, Cabo Rojo.

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Puerto Rico Dec. 2015 ~ San Juan to Rincon

We had visited Puerto Rico in March of 2015, and really liked it, so we decided to go back in December to do some more exploring of the island. We still had lots of points with Southwest Airlines, and were able to book our flights from Nashville to San Juan for only $22 round trip. (woo hoo!)

We arrived in the afternoon, so chose to stay at the San Juan Embassy Suites for the night. It was a quick cab ride from the airport to the hotel and cost around $20. The cab fares are standardized, and the cab driver will hand you a card with the fees. They charge a set fee depending on where you are going, and then an amount for each piece of luggage.

The Embassy Suites offers a complimentary cocktail hour in the late afternoon, and we got our fill of free rum drinks (probably too much judging by the pounding of our heads the next morning). We got out and walked around the hotel strip a bit, and then went back to the Embassy Suites and ate dinner at their Outback Restaurant.

In the mornings the hotel offers a really nice breakfast buffet with pretty much everything you could possibly want. http://embassysuites3.hilton.com/en/hotels/puerto-rico/embassy-suites-by-hilton-san-juan-hotel-and-casino-SJUESES/index.html

After breakfast we walked the couple of blocks to the beach to check it out. Below are two views of the hotel beach strip in that section.

We had reserved a rental car from Charlie Car Rental, located just a few blocks from the Embassy Suites. So while on our walk, we picked up our car and drove to the hotel to load up and check out. http://www.charliecars.com/

 We were curious about the Royal Isabella Golf Course, so stopped off along the way to Rincon to see what it was all about. It was VERY nice with gorgeous views over the ocean and Wally was drooling over their gold course. They offer luxury rental cottages and some homes are on the course, but it was way too pricey for us. http://www.royalisabela.com/home.php

This part of the resort featured a fine dining restaurant and outdoor casual restaurant and bar area. I loved the stone tower with its gorgeous iron chandelier.

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IMG_1565From Isabella, we drove along the coast, stopping along several of the amazing empty beaches along the way. It’s just amazing how many stretches of clean beautiful beaches with no one on them!

It was time for lunch, and several restaurants along Playa Jobos look enticing. They are located right on the water and this was the view from our parking spot.

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IMG_1575Restaurante Sonido del Mar had really good reviews, so we chose it as our lunch spot. It was casual, had a great view where we could watch the surfers try to catch a wave, and the food was pretty AND delicious. I ordered a pina colada and it was the best one I’ve ever had (and that’s saying a lot)! Here’s their Facebook page link: https://www.facebook.com/rest.sonidodelmar/

They make use of the old rum/whiskey barrels by turning them into tables. This was next door at the Kai Restaurant.

IMG_1577Our evening destination at our vacation rental, Casa Blanca House, was just south of Rincon and this was our road! Wow! Sitting on the edge of the world!

IMG_1657Here’s our vacation rental house – we had reserved the top penthouse apartment, and there is another unit also. https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p3946436

IMG_1625The balcony with king-sized bed and hammocks with a fabulous view of the ocean sold us on this house.

The house faces west, and we had some fabulous sunsets during our stay.

IMG_1618For dinner we ventured down the road to the neighborhood restaurant, Los Pescadores, ordering up grouper bites, fries and rum drinks. The grouper bites were so good we had to go back another night! This is a very casual, laid-back restaurant with a deck overlooking the beach. Here’s a shot of Los Pescadores from the beach I took during the day, and the view down the beach from it.

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IMG_1665Full and tired from our travel day, we called it a night and headed back to the casa. Next up we’ll begin to explore Rincon. Manana!

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Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

We made a blazing fast trip through part of Old San Juan on our last day before we flew out for home. As we drove in, I snapped pictures from the car, so here’s a few “drive-by” photos of some of the important sites we didn’t have time to visit…

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Two hours in and out was all we had time for before flying out. I navigated us to the parking garages noted on my map, and when we missed our turn into the garage and had to loop around the block, realized we were at the cruise ship port and there were several in port! Uh oh… people everywhere ~ Wally’s nightmare!

So we got our parking ticket stub and figured out we had to take it with us and then pay at the main floor before going back to our car.

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I was actually pretty happy I was able to get some nice snapshots from the parking garage out over Old San Juan towards one of the fortresses. The fortress is the farthest of the buildings on the horizon.

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We hit the streets moving fast, and I was snapping at everything along the way. We did about a six-block loop and having spotted several restaurants just across from the parking garage, made a mental note to come back there for lunch. I loved the Caribbean colors, architecture and ornate iron balconies, lamps and accents. There were tons of shopping spots/tourist traps, restaurants and local businesses, but we didn’t have time (or Wally’s patience) for me to do any shopping. Here’s our whirlwind tour…

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The famous blue cobblestones that were ship ballasts

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We were in the mood for seafood and La Cueva Del Mar was packed with locals, so we knew it must be good. We picked a winner – service was great, the drink specials quenching and our meal was delicious. https://www.facebook.com/lacuevadelmar

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Done with lunch we walked across the street to pay our parking garage fee to leave. There are public restrooms there on the same floor for those that might be in need.

Now, note to self, place paid parking ticket in secure place. I lost ours between paying and getting to car – *%$#%$^@#$! Wally pulled aside by the check-out gate and I ran back to the pay lobby in search of our ticket (no luck), but they were super nice and remembered me paying and gave me a replacement – whew!). So now off to say goodbye to his sister and only a few wrong turns on the way to the airport during a traffic jam (more &^%*$^$) and up, up and away… home to Nashville!

It was a great trip to Puerto Rico and would recommend for other travelers. Why? The scenery is amazing with diverse mountains and valleys, endless turquoise beaches, rural farmland, and all the amenities of home. Add to that a wide variety of delicious local food offerings governed by our U.S. FDA laws (so no tummy ailments), history, culture, boating, fishing, surfing, diving, golf, tennis, riding and many other sports, most of the locals speak Spanish AND English – and there’s great retirement perks.

So, yes, go. Rent a car and explore. And for those that can’t unplug, our cell phone service was spotty, but still considered U.S. So basically, you feel like you are in an exotic Caribbean island, but have all the perks of home. No passports, no hassles… It’s a U.S. territory!

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