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So you've decided to spend a weekend in Puerto Rico. Three days is enough to see plenty but nowhere near enough to see it all. How should you allocate your time? Relax; we've got you covered.
This three-day itinerary lets you enjoy a few different sides of Puerto Rico. You'll start off in Old San Juan, the historic and cultural center of the island, and home to some of its best museums, monuments, shops, restaurants, and hotels. Day Two will take you out of the city, to a tropical rainforest, a beautiful beach, and a unique, finger-licking dining adventure. Your last day is reserved for the beach, the shops, and the casino.
Remember to pack the following:
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- At least one good pair of shoes: the trails in the rainforest require good walking shoes, and you'll want to be comfortable as you explore the old city.
- Light, summer clothes: It's almost a sure bet that you won't need coats and sweaters here.
- Sunblock: whether you're walking the streets or lazing by the ocean,... sunblock is your friend in Puerto Rico.
- Your camera: You'll be happy you did.
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Day One: Old San Juan
Unless you're really trying to avoid it, you'll be flying into Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, which is located in Carolina, about three miles away from San Juan. Assuming you get here in the morning, you'll be checked in and ready to start your vacation before noon. And your first stop will be Old San Juan.
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- Maximize your time in the Old City by taking a walking tour.
- When you're ready for lunch, you'll have a myriad of options to choose from. The Parrot Club on Fortaleza Street is a fun place with excellent food, but if you want to eat like a local, head to La Fonda del Jibarito on Sol Street for cantina-style Puerto Rican specialties.
- Spend the rest of the day in the Old City, where there is never a dearth of things to do. Browse through one the city's many art galleries; shop for arts and crafts, jewelry, or fashionable clothes; visit one of the many museums; or simply walk around and enjoy the ambiance of a city that was prospering before The... Mayflower set sail.
- If you're not too tired by the evening, book yourself on a tour of "Night Tales of San Juan" with Legends of Puerto Rico. This is a fun, two-hour evening romp through the city's streets and buildings, full of historical anecdotes, folklore, and ghost stories. At night, the streets take on a different vibe, and Guide Debbie Molina brings them to life.
- You can eat very well in San Juan. Walk down Fortaleza Street to check out some of the hippest restaurants, like Dragonfly and Aguaviva. Many of these hotspots have a roaring bar and lounge scene after hours.
- If gambling is your thing and you're staying in the old city for the night, head to the Sheraton Old San Juan, the only casino hotel in Old San Juan.
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Day Two: Getting Out and About
Day Two has you getting out of the city and seeing a whole new side of Puerto Rico. And there is no more dramatic change of scenery than the one from San Juan to the El Yunque National Rainforest.
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- Pick up your rental car (you can take a guided tour, but the flexibility of having your own car will come in handy). Don't forget to bring your bathing suit!
- Take Route 3 east until it intersects with Route 191. You'll see signs for the rainforest. (By the way, on the road to the rainforest, in the town of Palmer, you'll pass by the Palmer Bakery; this is a good place to pick up sandwiches and pastries for a picnic lunch.)
- Make your first stop in the rainforest the El Portal Visitor Center, where you can pick up maps and hiking trail information.
- Take the La Mina Trail to the La Mina Falls, where you'll have the deliciously refreshing opportunity to wade through a shallow pool and dive under a natural waterfall.
- Enjoy El Yunque, ("The Anvil," so-called for its flat... plateau) at your leisure, but be prepared to leave by mid-afternoon.
- Make your way back to Route 3 and continue east until you see signs for Luquillo Beach. This beautiful, palm-tree-lined beach is extremely popular with the locals both for its unspoiled view (there's not a high-rise in sight) and its excellent facilities. After the dense canopy of the rainforest, it's another dramatic change of scene.
- Heading back onto Route 3 towards the city, you'll soon come to a line of Kiosks. Do not drive on! Stop at this famous roadside institution and have a blast going from stall to stall, sampling all kinds of fried goodies and other snacks.
- Recharge for a bit and then hit the nightlife in Isla Verde. Wet, the rooftop lounge at The San Juan Water & Beach Club and Brava, the club at the El San Juan Hotel & Casino, are two of the best places to go after the sun goes down.
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Day Three: Rest, Relaxation, and Retail
And on the Third Day, He (or She) Rested.
Your last day in Puerto Rico is a time to take it easy, and the best way to do that is to hit the beach in the morning. It's also a good idea to do this early, so you can shower, check out of the hotel, and go out to enjoy shopping for souvenirs, jewelry, clothes, or anything else that catches your eye.
- You have a few choices on which beach to hit in San Juan. If you're staying in Puerta de Tierra, you'll be best served by the El Escambrón public beach nearby. For those of you staying in the resort strip of Condado and Isla Verde, or in the Ocean Park neighborhood, the choice is easy, because the beach is right in front of you. You can't go wrong with either option, but I'm partial to the Ocean Park Beach for its laid-back ambiance. Nearby, Punta Las Marías Beach is a haven for surfers.
- For your last lunch, try to make it out to La Casita Blanca, a short cab ride away but well worth the trip for authentic Puerto... Rican home-cooking. Closer to home are Pinky’s in Ocean Park for health-conscious wraps and shakes and Ceviche House in Isla Verde for Peruvian specialties.
- Spend the remainder of your day getting some shopping done. If you're looking for a souvenir, check out this listing of recommended shops. If it's jewelry you're after, head to Fortaleza and Cristo Streets in Old San Juan. For high fashion (think Gucci and Louis Vuitton), stroll along Ashford Avenue in ritzy Condado.
- If you hate shopping, there is always a casino ready to welcome you. In Isla Verde, the El San Juan Hotel & Casino and the Ritz-Carlton have two of the nicer ones on the island.