Puerto Rico was always on my list so you can imagine my excitement when I booked my trip and how much that excitement grew when I started to look at the San Juan Marriott website. The pool, the beach, the food, the room, and the view are more than enough reasons to stay on the property and bask in the beauty of Condado area. Sometimes I wish I had it in me to just relax and enjoy all the amenities at the hotel, never leaving the grounds except to return to the airport, but that’s not the type of traveler I am. Besides, there is too much out there to explore and venturing out into it is what my bucket list is all about. Life is worth living, right? I chose three activities that are all doable from the Marriott and made the most of every second in Puerto Rico. Your favorite maybe not be what you’d expect. Rather than trying to cram them all into one post, I’ll share them one by one, leading up to my favorite.
On my first adventure from San Juan Marriott, I headed into the United States’ only tropical rainforest, El Yunque. Covering 28,000 acres, El Yunque Rainforest has more than 200 inches of rain every year and some of the island’s most rare species and wildlife.
At the entrance to El Yunque, we stopped at El Portal Rainforest Center where we explored interactive exhibits and watched a 15-minute video about the history and ecology of El Yunque. Normally, I find this sort of thing boring and I’d suggest skipping it, but this time the video provided insight into the life of the park; a life that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise including the destruction caused by hurricanes. Seeing the before and after gave me an even greater appreciation for the forces of nature.
Our guide made us a creative hat from one of the massive leaves near the center. His free-spirited, child-friendly nature was a welcomed addition to the experience.
From the center, it was a short drive to La Coca Falls. With views of bamboo thickets and gigantic trees, it was like watching a movie from the van window. It was well-worth getting out at La Coca Falls to appreciate the immense rock face and its subtle cascading falls. It’s a popular stopping spot so arriving early was a good call on the part of our driver.
Next up was the Yokahu Observation Tower, a round, stone lookout at 1,575 feet above sea level. The observation tower looks historic from the outside but is a new addition to the park. The walk to the top is easy with a spiral staircase and windows leading to a windswept observation deck. 69 feet up, we were rewarded by commanding views of El Yunque peak and a broad expanse of the island’s northern coastline.
The highlight of the tour was a 30-minute hike along the La Mina River where the photo opportunities were abundant. I wasn’t sure what to expect for the trail so I prepared by wearing runners, dry-fit clothes, and my bathing suit underneath. Even though it’s a 30 minute hike in and out, the runners weren’t a necessity. The entire path is wide and paved with a few staircases and the occasional slippery rock. It was doable in flip-flops or water shoes, although maybe not for children. I was over-prepared but it was a good problem to have.
Arriving at the falls, I was greeted by rushing water cascading over a cliff down to a pool below. After hiking the trails and the tower on the hot, sunny day, I quickly stripped down to my bathing suit and made my way under the falls. Again, arriving early was the ideal situation because we were the first group there. I was able to play under the water and get a few photos before a large group of people arrived. The falls are strong and I wouldn’t suggest going directly under them unless you’re prepared to get hit hard with the water. It’s definitely possible; I just used caution and moved slowly, making sure I had footing the entire time.
It wasn’t until we were about 10 minutes away from the van that it started to rain. It was heavy and fast but I was already wet from the swim and I liked the cool water on my face. I put on my rain jacket, put my camera gear inside for protection and looked skyward. The sound of the rain hitting the trees was better than meditation. I zoned out for the rest of the walk and enjoyed my surroundings. I was at peace in the forest, engulfed by towering life all around me.
I felt refreshed when we were to the van. There are events in our life that take years away and there are events in our life that give years back. Being encircled by natural beauty and wonder at El Yunque Rainforest easily gave me an extra year of life. It’s moments like this that are truly bucketlist worthy.