What to Pack for your Sailing Vacation

This weekend we’ve been gadding about on the open water on the good ship West Virgin’Yah with Virgin Motors. It’s a three-day bank holiday weekend in the BVI and we’ve been taking full advantage. You might have seen a bit of what we’ve been getting up to on my Instagram here and you can still follow along on my stories.  

 

I will be giving you the full low down on where we went and what we did in next week’s post but, in the meantime it got me thinking… I often get questions about sailing holidays in the BVI, itinerary suggestions, the logistics and what to bring etc. So I thought I would prepare a packing guide for your sailing vacation.


We’re only spending three nights aboard, but I’m giving you the packing list for a week or a longer holiday on the water (
you’re clever, I know you can adjust as needed). 

 

Here’s my what to bring (and more importantly, what to leave at home) on your sailing vacation! 

 

The key when packing for a boat trip is to only bring half of what you think you need! Boat storage is incredibly limited and overpacking will just mean that everything gets in a mess. Have a think about outfits that will mix and match well. Plan your packing list in advance so that you can streamline what you need and ensure that you don’t leave anything essential at home. 

WHAT TO PACK FOR YOUR SAILING VACATION

 

What to Pack for your Sailing Vacation - What to Bring and What to Leave at Home! The Ultimate Packing List for your Sailing Trip

Rashguard Swim suit | Knot Bikini | Ruffle One-piece Swimsuit | Panama Hat | Travel Mineral Sunscreen Set | Rose Gold Flip Flops | Aviators | Print Maxi Dress | Kimono | Leopard Print Sandal | Seasickness Bands | Beach Shirt Cover-up | Apeman Camera | Print Board Shorts | Duffel Bag | Natural Mosquito Repellent | Dry Bag | Waterproof Speaker | Denim Shorts | Organic Travel Toiletries Set | No rinse Laundry Detergent Travel Sachets

 

Soft bags

Cabin space is small – and storage space is even smaller. Make sure to bring your soft duffel bags and leave any hard suitcases at home. You need luggage that can be collapsed and easily stowed out of the way. Duffel bags are ideal for this. This is the golden rule of packing for a boat trip! Don’t forget to bring a smaller beach bag/day bag/dry bag for trips ashore 

 

Bikinis, swim suits and cover-ups 

The most important item on your packing list. You will essentially live in your swimsuit all trip. Certainly all day, until perhaps you shower, rinse the salt off and dress for sun downers and dinner. Take 3-5 swimsuits depending on whether you’re going for a long weekend or a week. They’re only small so they aren’t going to use up too much of that valuable luggage real estate we were talking about. You can also hand wash and hang them out as they won’t take long to dry.  

If you’re considering trying out any water-based activities; kayaking, paddle boarding, SNUBA, wake-boarding or the like, try one of the rash guard swimsuits. They keep the sun off your back and shoulders as well as being ideal for when you’re active (read: won’t slip down, ride up or move around). 

Likewise, your beach cover ups are going to be heavily utilized this trip. Bring one or two so that you can be dry and comfortable. A sarong is also useful and it can be used as a shawl/scarf if you get chilly in the evening. 

 

Shorts/Tops/Dresses

Two pairs of shorts, 3-5 tops and 2 sundresses. 

Board shorts are great because they dry quickly, and then I’ll always take my denim shorts because they’re a staple. A couple of cute shirts and strappy tops and I’m nearly done. I just need one or two light summer dresses for going out for dinner. Maxi dresses are also a fantastic option and will help keep the mosquitos and noseeums off your legs as the sun goes down. 

 

Flip flops/Flat sandals/Tennis shoes

You absolutely do not need heels on this trip. When aboard you’ll be barefoot, when ashore you’ll likely be on sand. You need a pair of pretty and comfortable flat sandals, a pair of flip flops and a pair of trainers or walking shoes (wear these on the flight to save the space in your luggage!

LIGHT RAIN COAT OR JACKET
Obviously we are hoping for cloudless blue skies, breezy days and endless sunshine. But, the problem with the tropics is that the weather can be a little unpredictable. Despite the fact that I never remember to bring one myself, the sensible side of me suggests you bring a jacket.

Make-up

Less is definitely more. Sweat and salt water are not a good combination with make-up. Invest in a good tinted sunscreen and embrace the natural look. A slick of lip gloss, maybe a swipe of waterproof mascara and some bronzer (to enhance that blossoming tan you’re getting) and you’re good to go! 

 

Reefsafe sunscreen

Since you’ll be spending considerable amounts of your time in and out of the water – consider investing in a reef-safe mineral sunscreen that won’t damage the delicate marine life. The BVI has a great one available locally at EC Soap Co or you can find mineral versions of many of the big sunscreen brands either online or in your local drugstore. I like this set by Coola since it’s got everything I need in handy travel sizes

 

Speaking of… 

 

Travel-sized toiletries 

Depending on whether it’s a crewed charter or a bareboat charter, chances are your boat won’t come with little bathroom amenities the way that a hotel room would. Double check with your charter company or broker but be prepared to bring down travel-sized containers of your usual body wash, shampoo etc. Alternatively this set of shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion by Malie is a great little kit and is all organic with none of the nasty parabens or sulphates. Think about including a Tangle Teezer or a Wet Brush too as salty beach hair ain’t no joke. 

 

Laundry detergent 

Since you are taking less clothing with you, you might want to wash a couple of light items while on your trip. Pack a small amount of laundry detergent so that you can wash on the go. Soak is a no-rinse detergent perfect for your delicates and for washing and hanging out your swimsuits etc. These handy travel sachets take up no space at all and could even go in your hand luggage since they are TSA compliant! I

 

Sun hat

Just as important as your sun screen is a sun hat! Keep your face and ears covered and out of the hot sun. This Panama hat from Lanzom is a roll-up which means it’s perfect for traveling with and shouldn’t get damaged if you have to stuff it in your duffel bag. A hat with a tie is also a great idea as I can’t count the number of hats that I have lost overboard…  if you have fair skin or are prone to burning, look into the neck and face masks for some additional sun protection. I like these ones.

 
Sunglasses

Polarized sunglasses are recommended for concentrated amounts of time on the water, but they don’t have to be super pricey – Amazon.com has a great selection of polarized sunglasses starting from as little as $12 a pair. These Aviators by Pro Acme come in a pack of two for only $17 and come in 11 different colour combinations. Invest in a head guard for your sunglasses too.


Seasickness bands 

I can’t think of anything worse than arriving for a weeks’ sailing vacation and then discovering that you are rather prone to seasickness… For the most part I am pretty lucky in this regard but, to be on the safe side, I would highly recommend bringing some seasickness bands or medication. These kinds of things aren’t always readily available in the islands and even if you don’t end up needing them, someone in your party might.

 

SMALL FIRST AID KIT
Bandaids, seasickness remedies, anti-diarrhea meds, antihistamines, antibacterial cream and bug spray/afterbite are essentials. Check with your charter company as to what is included on your boat to avoid bringing duplicates.


PORTABLE CHARGER
Since the outlets in your cabin are only going to work when the generator is running (which will likely be run sparingly, as it uses a lot of gas). Consider bringing a portable charger so that you can charge your phone and your tech devices, even when underway. 

 

Ziplock bags

Boats mean lots of water, and getting things wet and soggy can be miserable. Ziplock bags are great for keeping money, wallet, phone and camera dry and free of sand in your beach bag. Also great for stashing wet swimwear. Also – while we’re talking about trying to keep things dry. Please, please, please consider getting a lifeproof case for your phone (?!) the potential for wet phone/dropped phone/bashed phone/smashed phone is exponentially increased while on a boat!  


TRAVEL INSURANCE

It should go without saying that travel insurance is a necessity for any trip away. For a sailing vacation, even more so. There are a number of ways that you can rack up minor injuries on a boat and it is always a good idea to ensure that you are completely covered in case of any serious accident. As expats we have always used
World Nomads.

Lads – if you’ve kept reading to this point, I haven’t forgotten you, I swear! 

HERE’S WHAT CLOTHING YOU’LL BE NEEDING:

3 x swimming shorts or trunks
2 x smart shorts
5-7 x t-shirts/rash guards/short-sleeved shirts
1 x flip flops
1 x tennis shoes or trainers
enough underwear for your trip away
1 x lightweight rain jacket
sunglasses
hat

 

Check with your charter company regarding what is included – you don’t want to be carrying down beach towels and First Aid kits if all that is included on board. Our boat came equipped with linens, towels and all the kitchen equipment. You will likely need to bring (or include in your provisioning) garbage bags, clothes pegs, washing up liquid, kitchen towel, aluminium foil, wipes, coffee filters and other sundries. 

 

 

Items NOT to bring: 
  • Heels
  • Hair Dryer/Hair Straighteners
  • Hard Luggage
  • Expensive Jewelry 
  • Anything your charter company/crew is already providing

 

Some fun additions – if you have the space: 

 

A flag

Oftentimes your charter company will allow you to fly a flag – this could be from your Country, your State, your college maybe? Have fun with it.

 
A waterproof speaker

Your boat may have a sound system that you can plug into, but occasionally a little waterproof speaker can be fun, if you’re taking it to the beach or up to the bow. These Bose sound link speakers are great as they provide powerful audio despite their mini size. They can also be linked and produce great stereo sound. Don’t forget your battery chargers etc. that go with your tech gear and an adapter.

 
A waterproof camera

You’ll definitely want to bring a camera to catch all those holiday memories, or you can just snap away on your phone like I do. But, for a holiday on the water like this one, what about a waterproof camera? GoPro cameras are ideal for this kind of vacation because they are rugged and easy to stash in your beach bag, however they don’t fit everyone’s budget. The Apeman camera is a much more wallet friendly alternative, yet it still takes great underwater pictures! Don’t believe me? Check out my underwater post with BVI SNUBA – all those photos were taken with my Apeman camera! 

 
Noodles or float

Don’t be the guy that floats away on a unicorn and has to get rescued by the coast guard…  but a small float or pool noodle can make life more comfortable when you’re just bobbing off the back of your boat. Just be sure to tie it to the boat or have a hand on a line so you don’t get pulled out by the current. This palm print ring is both practical and instagrammable.   

A KINDLE/MAGAZINE/CARD GAME
Part of the joy of a sailing vacation is the ability to completely switch off and wind down. Lazy mornings on the bow are just crying out for a good book, while laying out in the sunshine. Playing cards and board games are great for pre or post-dinner with a drink or two. 

COOZIES
Because no one likes warm beer. Enough said. Consider getting some cute personalised ones for your whole crew as a practical little momento from your trip.

SNORKEL GEAR
Check with your charter company before you bring it with you – but if your boat doesn’t come with snorkel equipment it might be worth bringing some with you or renting it once you get here. There is so much to see both above and below the water line in the BVI and it would be a shame to miss any of it. 

ITEMS FOR THE LOCAL COMMUNITY
This year, post-hurricane, many of our sailing visitors have been thoughtfully bringing down school supplies and other small items. Children’s books and games don’t have to take up much space and would be very much appreciated, if you have the room for them.

So there we have it – that’s everything that I will be taking with me on this trip! My ‘what to pack for your sailing vacation’. I have some more watery adventures planned for later this year so you can stay tuned for those. Am I missing anything that I should include on my next trip out to sea? 

Wishing you fair winds and following seas. 

 

 

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How to travel with only your carry-on

I love traveling and I will seize the opportunity to travel every chance I get! Because I have been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit, I like to think that I am starting to get quite good at it. One of my favourite travel talents is that I am now something of a packing ninja. So much so that I have two long (3+ weeks) multi-destination trips under my belt, across South-East Asia and a road-trip around California, armed only with my carry-on… How did I manage that? Read on for my packing ninja top tips!

 

Many people don’t believe that it’s really possible but there are so many benefits of only traveling with hand luggage. For us, it was necessitated by some extremely tight connections – any checked luggage simply would not have made it with us to Los Angeles (one of our connections was only 45 minutes! I like to live life on the edge…) But whether it’s ease of transportation or just less hassle and waiting around at the airport, whatever it is that motivates you to try traveling with carry-on just go for it and embrace the simplicity!

 

How to travel anywhere with only your carry-on. Ultimate carry-on packing guide from The Barefoot Angel 

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:: Lists – 

This style of packing only really works if you’re super organized. Because of your smaller luggage space you can’t just throw everything in and hope for the best. Lists will be your best friend. 

Think carefully about the items you want to take and how well they pair together. You’re going to want your shoes (3 pairs max – one pair trainers, one pair flip flops and one pair heels or smarter sandals) and handbag(s) to go with as many different outfits as possible, for example. Curate your travel wardrobe carefully. Think about items that can be layered, mixed and matched, worn more than once. Include versatile items that can do double duty – scarves, sarongs and kimonos are great for this.

Write a list of everything that you want to pack and then edit it down. This will better help you visualize exactly which outfits to bring. 

Remember also that you’re probably going to find a few super cute items while you’re on your travels which are always a lovely souvenir and also a chance to switch things up a bit if you’re tired of the things that you brought with you. 

 

:: Wear your bulkiest items on the flight – 

I like to travel in super comfortable athletic wear, which is practical for two reasons. Firstly, as already mentioned, it is super comfortable which is exactly what you need for a long flight. Secondly, they are usually the bulkiest items that I am taking, my trainers, my sweatshirt, my jacket (if I’m taking one), my big scarf. By wearing these instead of packing them all it saves some serious packing real estate in my luggage. 

 

:: Luggage – 

Choose your luggage carefully. I like to use a structured cabin-sized wheelie case and then a duffel bag. The case is my hand-luggage and then the duffel is my personal item. My little handbag will then go inside the duffel when we board the flight. (Bonus: the duffel bag doubles up as an excellent large day bag/beach bag once I reach my destination.)

This system works for me because I can rest the duffel bag on my wheeled suitcase and I don’t have to carry it everywhere. To make this even easier I use my super dorky, but infinitely practical, bag bungee. (Note: this might look like it came straight out of an infomercial or an irritating sponsored post on Instagram, but people actually come up to me in airports and ask where I got it from, it really is useful!

Always research your airlines luggage policy to ensure that your carry-on will comply and that you won’t be forced to check-it at the gate (totally defeating the point of the whole exercise!)

 

Traveling with only your carry-on. The Barefoot Angel shares her 7 golden rules to help minimize your luggage and maximize your travel experience.

 

:: Packing Cubes – 

I’m only going to say this once – you need to invest in some packing cubes, or use gallon ziplock bags as an alternative. I am a packing cube convert (and I will try to convert everyone else!) I now cannot travel without packing cubes. My favourites are these ones because they are super durable, and these ones because they have a  cute cactus print. Not only do they help save a ton of space when you compress down all your clothes, but if you’re super organized when you pack them they mean that it is really easy to find whatever you need without tearing your bags apart at every destination.

I use one cube for active wear and casual day-wear, one for dressier items, one for underwear and swimwear, one for toiletries (more on that later), one for dirty laundry and one for tech items. When I’m looking for something I just grab that cube and leave everything else neatly in it’s place. It’s life changing. 

I also have little bags for jewelry and prescription meds – it’s like a Russian doll for bags inside my case… 

 

:: Roll – don’t fold – 

Speaking of packing, make sure that you are rolling your clothes instead of folding them. I am sure that you are aware of this already but rolling your clothes reduces the space that they take up as well as minimizing wrinkles – win, win! 

 

Traveling with only your carry-on. The Barefoot Angel shares her 7 golden rules to help minimize your luggage and maximize your travel experience.

 

:: Toiletries – 

Just don’t take ‘em! I hate traveling with toiletries, apart from the fact that they take up a huge amount of space, I also then worry about bag explosions. I try to take as few as possible with me. This is especially important when you are traveling with hand luggage since (a) you have limited space and (b) all your liquids need to go through security separately in their own clear bag. I carry a few travel-sized mini essentials (toothpaste, moisturizer, sunscreen, perfume, face wipes etc.) along with my day-to-day make up (7 items) and then I rely on the fact that either my hotel will provide the necessities (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion) or that I can pick them up when I reach my destination. 

Note: I carry all of my travel toiletries in my smallest clear packing cube and have never (touch wood) had any trouble taking them through security. But, for that one TSA agent that I will likely one day cross paths with, I make sure that all my liquids will fit inside one of their baggies should they need me to. 

 

:: Minimize your electronics and tech gear – 

I am probably still guilty of taking more tech gear than I need but I am getting better. One of the things that has saved me on recent trips is my travel charger (I have it in white) – with multiple usb charging ports it enables me to charge all my devices on the one interchangeable plug. 

Dual-head charging cables are also really useful – this one charges my iPhone, my kindle and my Apeman underwater camera

Lastly, my kindle is one of my favourite travel companions enabling me to take my whole library with me, while taking up hardly any space! 

 

Traveling with only your carry-on. The Barefoot Angel shares her 7 golden rules to help minimize your luggage and maximize your travel experience.

 

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Travel anywhere with only your carry-on with a comprehensive packing guide from The Barefoot Angel

Duffel BagBag Bungee | Clear Packing Cubes | Cactus Packing Cubes | Kindle | Travel Charger | Apeman Camera | Dual Head Cable

 

So there we have it – my 7 golden rules for traveling with only your carry-on. Totally do-able! Do you think that you would be tempted to give it a try? Which top tips do you have for me to try next time? And, most importantly, where are you off to on your next adventure? 

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Serafina Beach Hotel, San Juan: A Review

Serafina Beach Hotel review - Luxury Beachfront Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

This is the last post in the Puerto Rico series (for now…). If you missed them, you can read more about our adventures and all my recommendations for Old San Juan, Condado and elsewhere in Puerto Rico here and here

 

In my last post I had given you a teeny sneak peek into the gorgeous hotel we stayed at, but I really felt that it deserved a more comprehensive review, as we had such a lovely time there. So, without further ado, here’s my full review of the Serafina Beach Hotel, Condado.  

 

First up, if I’m completely honest, I kinda wanted to stay here after seeing JetSet Sarah’s beautiful Insta-stories while she was staying. That’s one of the things I love most about following other travel bloggers, all the top tips and first-hand accounts! 

Serafina Beach Hotel review - Luxury Beachfront Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

As I discussed in my previous Puerto Rico posts, I had been itching to get back over to San Juan, post-Maria, and see how the recovery efforts were going. One of the reasons I was so excited to stay at Serafina is that it is the latest resort to open, brand new since the hurricane and an important step in bringing much needed tourist dollars back to the area. I was not disappointed. 

 

Set on the right on the beach in Condado, Serafina Beach Hotel has ocean-front rooms as well as rooms that look over the lagoon. We had opted for a lagoon-view room (price peeps, they are a bit cheaper) but next time I would definitely splash out for an ocean-view room. The lagoon views are not without their own charm but once I saw the spectacular ocean views from the pool, I sorta wished my room had the same. 

Serafina Beach Hotel review - Luxury Beachfront Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Our room was large and really comfortable. Decorated in white, grey, teal and sea foam greens it really incorporates the water views into the room and is very calming. This is further accentuated by the use of natural wood tones and the magnificent floor to ceiling window, which really helps to bring the outside in. There is a definite beach house vibe. It all looks clean, bright and modern too, which I appreciated. The mini bar was fully stocked and had some tasty little treats, although I was somewhat disappointed to find that there were no in-room tea and coffee making facilities. 

Serafina Beach Hotel review - Luxury Beachfront Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

 Serafina Beach Hotel review - Luxury Beachfront Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Downstairs in the lobby was more of the clean and simple blues and whites with interesting lighting features and quirky pieces of decor. The lobby area has a bar and a small but well curated clothing boutique with some really beautiful pieces. But drawing you out of the lobby, and practically running outside, is the spectacular view of the pool and ocean. 

Serafina Beach Hotel review - Luxury Beachfront Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Serafina Beach Hotel review - Luxury Beachfront Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

 Serafina Beach Hotel review - Luxury Beachfront Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Go through the revolving glass doors and out onto the pool deck to find the pool bar which serves coffee, cocktails and light bites. Pull up a lounger and enjoy uninterrupted views across the infinity pool and out to the ocean, watch the pelicans fishing as you sunbathe, it really is a beautiful location to wile away a couple of hours.

Serafina Beach Hotel review - Luxury Beachfront Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Serafina Beach Hotel review - Luxury Beachfront Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

And when you start to get peckish, just head next door to aMare restaurant. The restaurant shares the stunning ocean views and the outdoor patio area is a beautiful place to dine. 

I, sadly, only had a chance to sample breakfast and lunch at aMare, but I was thrilled with the delicious looking Italian menu. Breakfast has a great selection of the usual favourites (I opted for the avocado toast because it’s delicious/I really am that basic) along with some combo breakfasts if you’re feeling a bit hungrier. 

Serafina Beach Hotel review - Luxury Beachfront Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Serafina Beach Hotel review - Luxury Beachfront Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Serafina Beach Hotel review - Luxury Beachfront Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

When lunch rolled around I struggled to choose between all the Italian classics, I really needed more lunches there! I eventually chose the ‘linguine alle vongole’, as it has been a long-term favourite and I so seldom find it on the menu. (The ‘cacio e pepe’ and the ‘porcini e arugula risotto’ only narrowly lost out though! And what about trying the ‘black truffle and champagne risotto’?? Mamma Mia! Got to stop now, making myself hungry again…) 

Serafina Beach Hotel review - Luxury Beachfront Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Serafina Beach Hotel review - Luxury Beachfront Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

Service in both the hotel and restaurant was friendly and attentive. The staff are quite a young crew, in keeping with the ‘Social, Sexy, Serafina’ vibe they are cultivating. I see from their social media that they have started various events including sunset yoga and other ‘Serafina Happenings’. I am excited to get involved. 

Serafina Beach Hotel review - Luxury Beachfront Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

 

If you are looking for a fresh vibe in San Juan with chic style and distinct South Beach feels, Serafina Beach Hotel is for you! I know that I can’t wait for my next visit! 

 

 

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San Juan, Puerto Rico – A Travel Guide

So, in my last post I took you through all my top tips and recommendations for what to do and where to go in Old San Juan. In case you haven’t already, you can read more about it all here. Today we’re covering the wider San Juan area and my favourite spots in Condado, Isla Verde, Ocean Park, Santurce and beyond! I have been coming to Puerto Rico for years, it is one of my favourite places to get away from it all, but I still seem to find something new every time I visit! Sadly a few of my long-term favourites have closed since the hurricane but there is still so much fun to be had!

 

Eat and Drink: 

 

Santaella (Santurce) 

Puerto Rican fine dining at Santaella is such a treat. Home to renowned Puerto Rican chef, Jose Santaella, this restaurant aims to showcase the very best of Puerto Rican cuisine and sources many of the ingredients from the local farmer’s market. Very popular (be sure to make a reservation) this restaurant is a bustling and busy, leafy oasis in the heart of Santurce. Santaella serves up truly delicious Puerto Rican dishes with a specials menu that changes daily. Portions are generous so be sure to share some of the fantastic starters with whomever is lucky enough to be dining with you, and try to save room for dessert. 

 

Blonda (Condado) 

I take brunch very seriously (is there a certification in brunching? Because I’m almost certainly qualified!) and this place is seriously good. Huge (!) portions (the ‘Famous Blonda Breakfast’ (not pictured) is obscene!), extensive menu, a selection of different mimosas (orange, raspberry, guava, ginger, passion fruit, grapefruit, mango and acerola to mention a few) including an option to sample 4 smaller glasses for $15 (sold!!), what’s not to love? Try to get there by 10:00 am for the best chance of getting seated quickly (no reservations on the weekends) or expect to queue for a table. 

 

Kasalta (or ‘The Obama Cafe’) (Ocean Park) 

Made famous by (you guessed it) Barrack Obama’s presidential visit in 2011, this large bakery/diner is very popular with Puerto Ricans and packed at the weekends. Stop in for breakfast, join the queue, order from the huge menu of local favourites (you can order exactly what Obama had, if you fancy, but personally I like the Mallorca con jamon, queso y huevo) and then jostle for a seat at the busy communal tables. 

 

Ceviche House (Isla Verde) 

Slightly off the beaten track but worth the trek/Uber is the Ceviche House. As the name suggests, it’s famous for it’s Peruvian fish dishes. Great for lunch or dinner, try to make a reservation – if you can – or expect a wait for a table. Choose what sort of fish/seafood you want and order pitchers of sangria. 

 

Stay: 

 

Serafina Beach Hotel (Condado)

On our most recent trip to San Juan we stayed at the Serafina Beach Hotel in Condado – truthfully I have so many pictures and so much to say about this hotel that it probably deserves a post of its own. So, for now, I will just say that I highly recommend it… [Read my full post here

 

The Condado Vanderbilt (Condado) 

San Juan’s premier 5* hotel, for old school glitz and glam you don’t get much more luxe than the Condado Vanderbilt. Think lots of marble and gilt and impeccable service.

 

Acacia Boutique Hotel (Condado)

For a more budget-friendly option try Hotel Acacia, a short walk from the main drag in Condado, Acacia is clean and comfortable with a large hot tub and pleasant cafe called Niche. Their sister hotel (Windchimes) across the street also has a swimming pool that you can use. 

 

Do and See:

 

Relax at the beach – 

It would be a shame on your Caribbean holiday if you didn’t hit the beach for a little bit. Condado/Isla Verde/Ocean Park are all located along the ocean front and are popular with kite-boarders, stand-up paddle boarders and other water sports, you can rent water sports equipment or participate in tours through companies like VIP Adventures. Or, if you’re looking for something a little bit more laid back, and staying in one of the many beach front hotels (like Serafina or the Vanderbilt), you can pull up a sun lounger on the beach by your hotel and still be only footsteps away from a really good cocktail (priorities people…)

 

Salsa dancing –

Santurce (where Santaella is located) is a neighborhood in San Juan that really comes alive after dark. If you had been to dinner at Santaella you’ll be right in the thick of it, if not there are plenty of little bars and food stalls around to grab a bite. Busy bars line the streets surrounding La Placita, the salsa music is loud and it’s not unusual to find couples dancing in the streets. 

 

Hire a car and explore Puerto Rico – 

Within easy driving distance of San Juan there are several fantastic Puerto Rican sights that are well worth taking the time to do. Here are my personal favourites: 

 

Cueva Ventana – Head out towards Arecibo to visit Cueva Ventana. Involving a relatively gentle hike and then a climb down into the cave, please wear appropriate clothing and consider your fitness levels (suitable for older children). All that exercise is worth it though when you descend down into the cave and see the view opening up in the side of the valley and the lush greenery. Watch out for the bats! 

 

Arecibo Observatory – While out in Arecibo you should pay a visit to the Arecibo Observatory. Famous for a few reasons (it was the world’s largest radio telescope for over 50 years) but you’ve probably seen it in the climactic scene of the Bond film ‘Goldeneye’ (Bond and Alec Trevelyan engage in a fight on the antenna overhanging the huge dish at the end of the film). As well as the view from the top, and the Bond-themed photo opportunity, there is also an educational science centre that is great for kids and adults alike.  

 

Horse-riding in the jungle – In the foothills of El Yunque National Rainforest is Carabali Rainforest Adventure Park where you can go horse riding through the forest. Suitable for beginners or slightly more advanced riders (the husband is a complete riding novice, whereas I rode a lot when I was younger), all levels can enjoy a couple of hours, at a fairly sedate pace, exploring the forest and out to the banks of the Mameyes river where you can cool off (and drink the water) with a quick swim. 

If you are a bit more of an adrenaline junkie and fancy something that moves a bit faster they also offer ATV tours through the rainforest. In order to keep both the husband and myself happy we compromised on a horseback tour in the morning and an ATV excursion after lunch.  (In case anyone was wondering, I’m really outstandingly bad at driving an ATV…)

 

So, there we are, this is by no means an exhaustive list as there are literally so many things you can get up to in Puerto Rico. But I look forward to updating this post after more Puerto Rican trips and new adventures, and as I discover even more of the hidden gems. 

 

Have you visited Puerto Rico? What else should I be putting on my list of things to do?? 

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Old San Juan, Puerto Rico – A Travel Guide

Living on a very small rock often requires a trip to somewhere slightly larger in order to maintain your sanity! As much as we love our little slice of paradise, occasionally you need to go to a place where nobody knows who you are… 

 

Only a 30 minute flight away is neighbouring Puerto Rico and a taste of the ‘big city’, with malls, highways, historical sites, museums, art galleries, cinemas and the occasional concert tour (even Madonna has toured here). 

 

I have visited Puerto Rico, in particular San Juan, a number of times during my years in the Caribbean – sometimes with the husband and often with my girls. 

 

After category 5 hurricane Irma hit us and then category 4 hurricane Maria pummeled Puerto Rico, life has been a little different and I was desperate to get over there and see how they were getting on! Finally I got the opportunity to visit this weekend and spent a happy couple of days getting my fix of Puerto Rican food, culture and hospitality. Sadly a few of my favourites have closed since the storms (physical damage and then a slow tourist season has made for really tough times in the hospitality industry) but I was thrilled to visit some of my old haunts and make new favourites on my trip this weekend! 

 

This post focuses purely on Old San Juan, you can read here for my suggestions on Condado, Isla Verde and other areas of San Juan and Puerto Rico… 

Featuring suggestions at a variety of price points, here are my top tips – my things to do, places to eat, where to go and what to see in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico:

See: 

The colourful buildings and cobbled streets –

One of my favourite things to do in Old San Juan is just to take a wander through the squares and streets. The colourful Colonial buildings are beautiful (I always like to pick favourites and imagine which one I would like to live in) and there are painted murals and bits of street art dotted around too. Stop for coffee, sit outside and people watch. There are lots of little coffee shops and bars where you can sit and pass the time, opportunities to rest your legs after lots of exploring, or ‘shopping breaks’ as I like to call them. 

 

El Morro and Castillo San Felipe del Morro –

Get up to the top of Old San Juan, take a stroll along the old fort walls and explore the castle ramparts. There are beautiful views of the ocean and locals ride their bikes and run along this stretch of the city – sometimes families will come up at the weekend to fly kites. 

Eat: 

Marmalade – 

My favourite restaurant in San Juan (if not the world) is Marmalade restaurant. Their tasting menus with wine pairings are a treat for the eyes and the tastebuds. Inventive, unusual and always with impeccable service. 

This is not a budget meal, but worth every cent – tasting menus start at $55 pp for three courses and go up to $85 pp for six courses. I recommend opting for four ($65) or five ($75) courses depending on your budget to give yourself the opportunity to sample lots of their dishes.  Save it for a special occasion, dress up and enjoy it.

Top tip – try the Global Warming cocktail pre-dinner, your margarita-based libation has a large ice cube made of chili water, the longer you take to drink it, the hotter it gets. 

Rosa de Triana

For a more budget-friendly meal, head to this delightful little tapas restaurant. Ask for a table outside in their little courtyard, lit with fairy lights for a really charming dinner experience. Most of the tapas dishes cost between $8-$12 so you can order a few to share. The tapas is traditionally Spanish, rather than Puerto Rican, and really delicious! 

 

 

 

Drink:

La Taberna Lupolo – 

After your meal walk off your food with a climb up the hill to La Taberna Lupolo to avail yourself of their extensive beer menu – reading like a wine list there is a huge variety of lagers, bitters and IPAs all inventively named (yes, ‘Kilt Lifter’ I’m talking about you). This time I tried their rum punch, but even that was beer-related as it included hop oil! 

El Batey

A little hole in the wall dive bar – the interior of El Batey is completely covered in graffiti making for some interesting photos. More eclectic than the artwork are the regulars, stop a while and hear some stories. There’s a pool table and a jukebox and it’s right around the corner from Rosa de Triana, so if you went there for dinner this would be a natural spot for your post-dinner drink… 

 

Stay:

El Convento

Not just a hotel but a piece of San Juan history, El Convento is known for its beautiful but quirky rooms. It also has a gorgeous tiled courtyard restaurant which serves excellent tapas for lunch and is well worth a visit, even if you decide to stay elsewhere. 

Hotel Casablanca – 

If you’re a fan of a cheap and cheerful, unique boutique hotel, this one is for you. Moroccan inspired decor with silver walls, four poster beds, lots of mirrors and tiled sinks can be found in the rooms – while downstairs in the lobby is decorated with giant chandeliers, huge orchids, original artwork and the film ‘Casablanca’ playing on a loop. Located right in the thick of it on Calle Fortaleza, street noise can be an issue. If you’re planning on any early nights keep this in mind and opt for an internal room (no windows means not street noise).  

Shop: 

Old San Juan is full of little boutiques and galleries, all of which are well worth exploring, but here are a couple of my personal faves. 

El Galpon

Selling genuine Panama hats, cigars and local artwork and with some of the best and friendliest customer service in the whole of Puerto Rico, stop in here if you want a quality sun hat that will last. 

(My El Galpon panama hat)

Pure Soul Boutique –  

Great fashion, jewelry, accessories and even some bath and body products can be found in this pretty little store, at Pure Soul Boutique. 

Do:

Salsa – 

When I think Puerto Rico, I think Salsa and nowhere is better to dance the night away than the Nuyorican Café just off Calle Fortaleza. Featuring live salsa music and a host of local dance partners just waiting to teach you the moves… 

Visit the art galleries – 

Old San Juan has a host of galleries and boutiques showcasing local art – but my favourite is Galeria Botello. Featuring sculptures and other artwork by Angel Botello alongside various international artists. 

Rent a bicycle –

For when you want to do more, see more, explore more and cram more into your day! What better way to get around the old city, but with a bicycle. There are a few bike rental places around, either rent the bicycle for the day or even take one of the guided bicycle tours – find out more here.

Have you been to Old San Juan? Do you have any tips or suggestions for me to try out next time I visit…?

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