If you’re looking to explore beautiful beaches, try the Third Millennium National Park in Old San Juan. The park is home to a historic Spanish fort; the ship-shaped Normandie Hotel; the Sixto Escobar track-and-field stadium; and a food kiosk that offers a special experience with local music, beverages, and snacks.
Taking a short ride east of Old San Juan is like passing through a time warp. Known as the Condado district, “New” San Juan is filled with high-rise hotels, luxury fashion houses, and world-class restaurants, with immediate access to bountiful beaches. It’s also home to the Bacardi Rum Factory. In the late nineteenth century, the US government created strict standards for its rum factories. As a result, Puerto Rican rums are lauded as being some of the finest and smoothest-tasting in the world.
Take a tour of Casa Bacardi, the world’s largest rum distillery, and discover how the No. 1-selling distilled spirit in the US is made. The tour offers opportunities to sample the rum and to purchase a bottle or two to take home. More than 70 percent of the rum sold in the United States comes from Puerto Rico, generating $337 million in tax revenue every year.
In keeping with its rum tradition, San Juan is known as the birthplace of the piña colada, and the frozen cocktail was named the official beverage of Puerto Rico back in 1978. However, the exact origin of the rum-and-coconut concoction is still disputed, as both the Beachcomber Bar at the Caribe Hilton Hotel and Restaurant Barrachina claim to be the original creators.
To tour both Old and New San Juan, take an exciting bicycle excursion. The twelve-mile-long tour passes both historic sites and pristine beaches. Highlights include El Capitolio (the capitol), home to Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly; Escambrón Beach; the San Geronimo ruins; the Santurce Marketplace; and finally, before returning to the pier, the beaches of the Condado district.
Thrill seekers should not miss out on the Original Canopy Tour, located at La Marquesa Forest Reserve. Soar from tree to tree on a network of pulleys and double horizontal cables that are mounted as high as seventy feet over the rain forest floor. The course includes eight traverses, fourteen observation platforms, and a series of suspended walkways.
If the natural wonders of Puerto Rico are calling, San Juan is a forty-five-minute ride from El Yunque Rain Forest, the only tropical rain forest in the United States National Forest System. It is relatively small compared with other national forests; however, its 28,000 acres are extremely diverse.
The Luquillo Mountains that rise 3,533 feet above sea level have created a tropical haven for more than 240 species of plants, flowers, and wildlife, including twenty-six animal species found nowhere else in the world. Visitors can choose to hike through the lush grounds of El Yunque on well-maintained trails or take a horseback ride through the foothills and alongside the clear waters of the Mameyes River.
El Yunque is rooted in legend. One is that it “rains frogs.” When the humidity is particularly high, the tiny coquí tree frogs will climb to the top of the forest canopy. Instead of returning to the forest floor by the same dangerous path lined with predators, the coquí frogs fling themselves into the air. Because they are virtually weightless, they float to the ground unharmed. As such, it appears as if it’s indeed raining frogs.