By Sylvia Mitchell
If you’ve followed us for a while, you know we can’t ever resist those Fare Club specials from Spirit Airlines. When we saw the $20 special to San Juan, we jumped on it!
We were all tired as we headed to the Fort Lauderdale International Airport Saturday morning, having had a full work week in our respective professional roles. However, the fatigue quickly subsided as we whipped through TSA pre-check and settled at our gate while the sun began to rise. As the sun rose, so did our enthusiasm.
We were able to snooze briefly on our pleasant 2.5 hour flight and landed to beautiful weather and welcoming smiles at San Juan.
We exited our flight to sounds of Merengue, Guaracha and salsa, and the day’s visit began as we picked up our rental car and set on our way.
Puerto Rico is a “driving island” and venturing out on the highway is easy and enjoyable. Our drive to Luquillo was about a 45- minute drive from the San Juan International Airport. We wanted to see how it’s changed since our last visit. For more on that visit, see here.
We knew our activities would be limited so we opted for food, beach, and El Yunque! The kioskos in Luquillo are once again thriving following the devastation from Hurricane Maria in 2017. If you truly want to get a feel and true taste of the heart of Puerto Rico, you must visit them. With a masala of food choices, smells, and seasonings as well as the local shops you get an authentic sense of why people fall in love with the simple beauty of Puerto Rico.
Our timing couldn’t have been better as we beat the afternoon crowd and chose to dine in front of the ocean on the top floor of A Fuego Bar and Restaurant. We enjoyed Empanadas Colombianas, skewered shrimp marinated in a wonderful coconut garlic sauce, soup of the day and Rabo de Langosta, Spiny Lobster Tail.
With full bellies and the clock ticking, we headed for a drive through Luquillo and made a brief stop at La Pared Beach. Some of the familiar mom and pop eateries were no longer there, but the beach was full and thriving.
Even with a little bit of rain, the brief visit was refreshing and memorable. From La Pared, we headed to Carabali Rainforest Adventure Park. This was truly a first look at how lush and fertile the land of Puerto Rico was building itself back to. Nature truly heals itself in time. The view from the top of our drive was nothing short of breathtaking.
Our next stop would be the highlight of our short day. As we approached the El Yunque National Forest (the only rainforest in the U.S. National Forest Network), the unique ecosystem of nature’s unspoiled beauty greeted us.
What a beautiful drive this would be! As we ascended the winding road up El Yunque, the greenery, exotic leaves, ferns, grasses, rolling streams, and cascading waterfalls welcomed us back to its unfolding magnificence.
We decided to stop near the Bano De Oro natural Area and Landmark. While the Bano de Oro trail has not fully reopened yet, everything surrounding its entry gives hope that it will soon. Near the trail, the rolling and boisterious La Coca waterfall serenaded us with fresh drops of renewal.
Just across the road and up the hill was the Yokahu Observation Tower. This beautiful panorama is an absolute must for experiencing a 360-degree view of the awe-inspiring scenery of Puerto Rico! The blue skies, nature-filled mountains, and unique residential landscape were the perfect backdrop to our day. With an elevation of 1,575 feet, this tower is considered the better of the two (Mount Britton Tower is situated at a slightly higher elevation) for its view and convenience of parking for visitors.
We would be remiss in featuring the highlights of our day trip to Puerto Rico if we did not include the wonderful opportunity that was presented to us to assist fellow travelers. James, the ever-happy-bubbly- people person engaged a couple as we descended from the tower and learned they had been stranded for a few hours with no mode of transportation to get back to the bottom at the entry of the park. There was no debate as to whether or not we would assist them. We did so with willingness and joy, as best we could. We threw personal space out of the windows (literally), and crowded seven people into our economy-sized Kia! Yes! SEVEN PEOPLE. We were sitting in each other’s laps and laughing in each other’s ears and we knew our paths had crossed due to fate and timing. We learned their visit was a spontaneous birthday trip and while their understanding of the Spanish language was a barrier, they were embracing the culture, the people, and the beauty of Puerto Rico.
Earlier that morning, before our flight out of Fort Lauderdale, we passed a sign on the back of a car the stated simply “Be Nice.” It set our intention for the day. As we reached the bottom of El Yunque, we continued to a more accessible area of town and dropped off our passengers to await their ride-share service We couldn’t have asked for a better day and more fulfilling experience.
We arrived back at San Juan International with plenty of time to spare. Spending time in the members lounge afforded us the opportunity to recap our day and discuss our excitement for our Panama Getaway in July!
The last flight out of San Juan was almost empty and we each had our own row. Even the brief turbulence on our return flight couldn’t spoil the awesome experience of the day. Day trips can be wonderful adventures when shared among friends in beautiful places.