I can’t believe TEN month came to an end so fast. I remember thinking back in August that “10 months is going to feel like forever, but yet, it is going to go by so fast.” Well, 10 months definitely didn’t feel like forever. In fact, it went by too quickly and just as quickly as I became friends with my co-workers, our school year came to an end and it was time to say good-bye (for now).
Thankfully, for me, the end of the school year meant one thing…one of my best friends, Kristin, was set to arrive to travel the US Virgin Islands, BVIs, and Puerto Rico with me. It was her “beachy” get-a-way and my “start of summer” get-a-way. We’d be chatting and planning her 12 day vacation for months and it was hard to believe it was upon us.
Kristin really only had one “goal” in mind…the surf, sand, and sea. She wanted to spend as much time as possible soaking up the Caribbean sun, the Caribbean blue water, and maybe a few fruity drinks in the soft, tan sand. Her “goal” was pretty easy to fulfill along with a few other excursions…*cough*cough* the British Virgin Islands of course! (Are you sick of me talking about them?!? After all, I’ve only been 6 times in 6 months.)
I digress…The plan was 7 days in St. Thomas (and virgin islands) then jet-set off to Old San Juan, Puerto Rico for 4 nights/5 days (2 travel days) to explore this vastly different and yet, totally amazing island. I was prepared to be tour guide around the VIs, after all I have 10 months worth of life-experience to share.
However, several days took turns, good turns, that neither of us “planned”. Then again, that’s what Mapless Adventures is all about!
For starters, my friend, Kristoffer, aka Kris (you’ll hear more about him in an upcoming blog about my US Summer Road Trip #NoPlansOnlyPossibiilties) asked if we wanted to come kayaking with him over to Hassel Island, an island I have yet to venture too. Of course, duh! Although weather didn’t really cooperate with us (SO WINDY), it didn’t stop us from heading into the wind to kayak the 3/4 mile. Now, it was ABSOLUTELY worth every ache, pain and worry (from my friend) we endured. The views were stunning, the ruins were unique to the island, and the memories were unforgettable.
I should briefly explain, that my friend, isn’t really an adventurous person when it comes to open water so just getting her onto the kayak was a BIG deal. You know what though…the next day when we went on my friend’s boat, she went SWIMMING in OPEN WATER and SNORKELED! I’m not even kidding! I was so impressed and even though I may have pushed a little hard, I knew I was able too because after all what are best friends for, if not to help us out of our comfort zone!
The week continued with island hopping, once again, on Bad Kitty Charters to the BVIs- Virgin Gorda and the Baths, Cooper Island, snorkeling at Norman Island and White Bay, Jost van Dyke, and over to St. John for swimming with turtles and capturing the “gatorade” blue, Caribbean water views (picture).Pretty sure, I could have left her in the water and she’d been happy as a starfish. Before we knew it, our 7 days on St. Thomas came to an end and our journey in Puerto Rico began.
This is where my “true” summer vacation started-ish. It wasn’t my first time in Puerto Rico, as you’ve probably already read about Arecibo/Rincon and El Yunque, so I had a tiny bit of knowledge about things to do and places to see in Old San Juan and the outskirts of town. This doesn’t make me an expert in anyway, shape or form and in fact, many of the things we did came from friends social media (La Perla) and talking with the locals on past trips (The Caves of Puerto Rico). Thankfully, my friend was on board for my random Mapless Adventures.
The day after we arrived, we decided it was going to be our explore, by foot, every inch of Old San Juan, with no plans and little to no use of maps. And that is exactly what we did. My only goal was to find a beautiful picture of the neighborhood of La Perla, which is lined of colorful houses on the North end of Old San Juan.
On our way through the city, we took a pit stop to explore Castillo san Cristobal, a Spanish fort built in the 1700s to protect the city of San Juan. Castillo san Cristobal is a historical site through the US National Park Service and during it’s time, was the largest fort of the New World.
While we were exploring the fort, we learned about the three flags that flew among the fort-
the American Flag, the flag of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the Burgundy Cross (Spanish Military flag). In addition to learning about the flags, the fort offered spectacular views of both the main town of San Juan and of the coast line. As a hobbyist photographer, I’m always looking for unique perspectives of each place I visit. Castillo san Cristobal gave me just that. I was in photography heaven.
Since I was able to spot La Perla from san Cristobal, we headed in that direction and thankfully beat the storm. La Perla was everything I wanted it to be, just unbelievable beautiful and packed full of color!
The next day was another “first” for me and an adventure I’ve been waiting for since I first found out about them- The Caves of Puerto Rico! We had to rent a car in order to get to the Camuy Caves and Cueva Ventana, but it did make for a great day trip outside the city. I’m such an outdoor feen and love any chance I get to hike or bike or explore mother nature.
Each of these caves are unique in their own way. The Camuy Cave is a cave and sinkhole combination and very “tourist”. They shuttle you down to the entrance of the cave and then you follow a path through the cave listening to the information via headphones, as the tour guide can be far away, as it was for us. Then again, we purposely stayed in the back to avoid the crowd.
Next it was Cueva Ventana, which although still a bit touristy, was WAY more of the cave I was expecting. Dark, damp, and flashlight required. The tour guide was very informative and provided enough time at each “stop” to allow for pictures, questions, and simply enjoying the scenery.
This particular cave is located along a cliff edge and it is know as the Window Cave and full of bats! I’d consider this to be the highlight of our day…well until we found a restaurant.
Leaving the caves, we both knew ONE thing…we were STARVING. Thanks to good ol’ Yelp, we found a restaurant which is known for Mofongo, a local Puerto Rican dish, drove straight there and proceeded to stuff our face of delicious and customizable Mofongo. By the time we made it back to our AirBnB, we were beyond exhausted.
However, our vacation didn’t end with the caves. We still had the Bacardi Factory Tour, which we booked prior to our arrival. There are three different kinds of tour offered at Bacardi including a walking history tour, a Bacardi Rum Tasting tour and a Mixology tour. Each tour includes a factory tour, which provided an insight into the largest rum distilling operation including the history of the Bacardi family.
We opted for the rum tasting as my friend was a huge fan of Bacardi Silver, so why not extend our rum palate and experience other blends. So following the walking tour, we ventured into the tasting room. This is where my “rum palate” failed me.
The tasting was comprised of 5 different rums: Carta Blanca (silver), Special Reserve, Legacy, Reserva Limitada, and Gran Reserva Aged 8 Year.
The tasting started with the famous Carta Blanca, commonly known as Bacardi Silver in America and almost immediately after the first few sips of the second rum, my esophagus and stomach were NOT cooperating. The rums were so powerful, more than what I was expecting, and I could barely finish the tasting. I still managed to at least TRY the other 3 rums, but with nothing to calm my stomach, I really had to pull back.
These types of “occurrences” happen when you travel whether you are ready for it or not. One thing I know for sure, is I NEVER let them damper my time and I refused to let it take away from Bacardi.
By the time we returned home from our Bacardi Adventure, it was time for our last supper, which included a mini bar hop before calling it a night. By the time the sun rose, we were off to the airport and going separate ways. I returned to St. Thomas to finish a few things before my next Mapless Adventure, and Kristin was jetting off back to Phoenix.
I have to say that 12 days was the longest I’d travel with any of my friends (family doesn’t count) and it’s safe to say, I think we were both ready for our departure, just simply to REST, but I wouldn’t have changed anything!!
Here is the breakdown in list form of our days
- Thursday, June 22nd- Her Travel Day from AZ to STT
- Friday, June 23rd- my final day of work
- Saturday, June 24th- Kayaking to Hassel Island
- Sunday June 25th- Boating around St. Thomas/St. John
- Monday, June 26- BVI Charter with Bad Kitty Charters
- Tuesday, June 27- DAY OF MUCH NEEDED REST
- Wednesday, June 28th- St. John Day
- Thursday, June 29th- Travel day to Puerto Rico
- Friday, June 30th- Wandering Old San Juan
- Saturday, July 1st- Exploring Caves
- Sunday, July 2nd- Bacardi Factory Tour
- Monday, July 3rd- Travel Day
If you’ve never been to the USVIs, BVIs, or Puerto Rico, I cannot RECOMMEND it highly enough. There is so much culture that lies within these islands and for fellow USA citizens, NO PASSPORT NECESSARY! Well, except for the BVIs. In that case, you can use a passport card, just make sure you remember your custom fees (now set at $60 per person/per entry).