Puerto Rico: College Edition
Updated: May 21, 2020
By: Michelle Holder
A week before the coronavirus made its way across the entire globe, I was drinking a Medalla in the historic streets of San Juan. As sunrays sweated down my neck, I had no idea this would be my last time out in the world before quarantine pulled me home for the next months.
I spent my spring break with my close college friends in Puerto Rico. For seven days, I toured a beautiful island with my best friends and my boyfriend. It was something out of a movie; this trip made me feel free, alive and adventurous.
The idea of traveling for spring break came up when one of my close friends, Melvin Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican native, said to everyone sitting at the library table, “So, who is coming to Puerto Rico to party this spring break?!” The next week, Melvin and I whipped up a trip itinerary and made powerpoint presentations to convince our friends to join us on a once in a lifetime trip.
I had never been to Puerto Rico before. This island nestled in the wide expanses of the Atlantic Ocean is home to rich foods, diverse wildlife, and intense Spanish culture. It was the perfect college trip: if you’re on a budget and need a beautiful, tropical oasis after your mid-semester exams, then you’ll want to book a ticket here ASAP. My round trip plane ticket was only $100 and by splitting accommodation prices, this trip didn’t break the bank.
While Puerto Rico is a small island, there are a multitude of places to see. Here are the highlights of all the places we went, and why you should go there too.
The Capital City: San Juan
Our first day in Puerto Rico, my friends and I woke up in the late morning. Our flight had landed at 3 a.m., so we had indulged in sleeping in until the warm Puerto Rican sunlight swam through the windows to wake us up.
After breakfast, we drove into the city of San Juan to finally get a flavor of Puerto Rico. The pastel buildings surrounded us, the cobblestoned streets uneven beneath our sandals.
We headed to the Castillo San Felipe del Morro to walk around and marvel at the enormous fort. A green field unfolded before the looming structure, providing the perfect place to take photos.
The drinking age is 18 here, so after walking around the city and snapping photographs all day in the grueling sun, we were parched. We quickly stepped into a bar nearby and got ourselves some Medallas, a classic Puerto Rican beer.
San Juan is home to the most mouth-watering foods. It’s hard to just choose a favorite spot, so I’ll settle with two. Chocobar Cortes is where all chocolate lovers conviene to try unconventional flavors that somehow make the perfect combination. Ever had a chocolate grilled cheese? Trust me, you’re going to need it in your life. From milkshakes, to burgers, to any type of dessert, Chocobar Cortes is a top restaurant to try when visiting.
If you’re a big pizza lover, Pirilo will spark a love affair with their cheesy, thick pies. With a variety of pizzas and pastas, I settled with the classic Pirilo pizza, a pie with a homemade marinara base topped with ground beef and ripe plantains. It was like taking a big bite out of the island itself.
We ended the night at La Placita de Santurce. Swarming with intermingling locals and tourists, the nightlife was festive and friendly. I danced the night away in the arms of my boyfriend, sand all night long with my girl friends, and soaked in the island's energetic culture.
An hour away from San Juan, Toro Verde Adventure Park is a bucket list item for all adrenaline junkies. If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to fly, then the El Monstruo zipline will make your dreams come true. As you zoom across the depths of the jungles, you feel like Superman flying across mountains. If you’re a fan of Saturday Night Live, then I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. El Monstruo is the largest zipline in the Americas, with 2.5km of cable over lush forestry.
A ticket was $99 for the entire day. My friends and I spent all morning and afternoon strapped into the cables and enjoying views of the vast landscape. It honestly was one of the most thrilling, beautiful things I have done in my life.
Crash Boat Beach
Our beach day at Crash Boat Beach was one of my favorite days on the island, and here’s why. The crystal blue water, calm and glittering in the sunlight, gently splashes onto the yellow, coarse sand. A long, wooden pier stretches out into the ocean, and peering into the water, you can see hundreds of fish darting beneath the ripples.
My friends and I spent hours jumping off the pier and plunging into the cold, refreshing waves. We would race each other to shore, only to run back to the pier and do a backflip off. Once my muscles started ached from all swimming, I tumbled onto the beach to relax. There are many food vendors at the beach, so finding a snack was quick and easy. But, the best part was a frozen Pina colada that cooled me down in no time.
La Parguera, Lajas: The Bioluminescent Bay
There are only five bioluminescent bays in the world, three of which are located in Puerto Rico (the other two are located in Jamaica and Vietnam). However, the bay in La Parguera is the only bay where boats are allowed to come in and out of and where people are allowed to swim. I was able to find a tour for only $40, which was worth every cent. Swimming in the bay was an experience I will never forget.
Our tour started at 6 p.m. We were loaded into our own private boat and were fed hot, tasty chicken empanadas. As the tour guide drove us to the bay, the sun set around us making everything golden. We had to wait until it was dark out before we were able to get into the water.
Once night settled into the sky, we jumped into the water, snorkels and goggles secured onto our faces. Beneath the water was a sight so profound, pictures nor words could do it justice. As I moved my hands in front of my face, glitter exploded in front of my eyes. Tiny dinoflagellates illuminated the pitch black water. Mesmerized, I swam deeper into the water, marveling at the sparkling microorganisms.
We all know the quote our parents have said to us as kids: “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”
Well, I’m here to tell you if all your friends jump from the Gozalandia waterfall, you better be doing it with them. This waterfall crashes down from smooth rocks into a cold pool of water, which is very refreshing to swim in after bathing in the sunlight. The daunting jump is well worth the heart palpitations; the euphoria of safely splashing into the pool and water rushing up my nose is a feeling embedded into my brain.
Gozalandia is a wonderful retreat to escape the busy beaches and enjoy the soothing sounds of moving water. Go for a hike to see two towering waterfalls, explore a small underwater cave or meander in the small creeks and enjoy the natural beauty of Puerto Rico.
Ladies, it’s time to take out the little black dress and the high heels. Located inside the El San Juan Hotel, Brava Club is a famous nightclub you have to visit if you want to see how Puerto Ricans party. The nighttime atmosphere, equal parts classy and rambunctious, will give you a night you’ll never forget.
We spent our last night here, dressed up in our finest clothes despite the peeling sunburns. The whole night we danced and enjoyed the club’s lively music. We waited for the song Tusa by KAROL G and Nicki Minaj to play, which was the anthem of our trip. If you love Latin music and want to feel wild and crazy for the night, Brava Club is essential.