Aruba, a small Caribbean island 29 km north of Venezuela, is a part of the ABC islands – Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao, which forms the Dutch Caribbean and is a part of the Netherlands. It is famous for its white-sand beaches.
Among all islands in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico (“Rich Port”) is among the few to have historical and geographical places of interest, alongside the beaches. It is a U.S. territory. Flights from the mainland United States are treated as domestic flights. It has tropical weather, so, a visit in the later part of the year is recommended. Public transport is poor outside of the main city of San Juan, so, if you want to explore the island, a rental car is highly recommended. Here is a recommended four-day itinerary.
San Juan National Historic Site consists of two Spanish castles which illustrate the History of Puerto Rico since the Spanish invasion in the 15th century. Entry fee is $5 and a free shuttle not only connects the castles but will also give you a tour of the old city. It will take 3-4 hours to do a full tour of the site. Visit the birthplace of Piña Colada afterwards for a dinner. They do have virgin Piña Colada which is non-alcoholic. Spend rest of the day in the old city.
Drive west and do two underground caves at Rio Camuy cave park and Cueva Ventana (“caves with a window”). We did La Parguera afterwards but I would recommend against it. One, it is too far and second, it is not as good as the Bioluminescent bay in Fajardo. The boat trip in La Parguera is definitely cheaper (7$ per person as compared to 40$ Kayaking in Fajardo) and one can swim in the water but the quality of bioluminescence is much better in Fajardo.
Drive east and do El Yunque National Park, it is the only tropical rainforest in the national forest system. We did the El Yunque trail. It took us about 4 hours round-trip. It was raining badly but even despite that, I think the experience is average, nothing bad but nothing awesome either. After that, we did Charco Frio (“The cold pond”) which I would highly recommend. It is a bit difficult to find, so, I would highly recommend reading the trip advisor entry in detail before heading there.
Drive further east and take a 9 AM ferry to Culebra island. The round trip ferry is for $5 and is totally worth the journey. The island has amazing beaches – Flamenco for swimming, Rosario and Tamarindo for snorkeling. The water is live, that is, it has Jellyfish but its sting is not that painful. Finish the day with Bio bay Kayaking at Fajardo. I had nice vegetarian food at Ocean View restaurant afterwards. For vegetarians, I would highly recommend vegetarian Mofongo.
- You don’t really need snorkeling gear, good swimming glasses work as well.
- If you are a vegetarian, be careful while ordering arroz (“rice”), they are sometimes laced with grasa de cerdo (“pork fat”). Ask explicitly for the same.
- Compared to mainland United States, driving is a bit rough here, people change lanes without giving turning indicators on.
- Puerto Rico is also famous for Zip-line tours. As I had done it, elsewhere, in the past, I skipped. If you have not done it, it might make sense to check it out.