Rio Grande

I have left the best post for last. We, Ricans, pride ourselves on the many things the beautiful island has to offer and we want to share Puerto Rico with the rest of the world.
Tropical rainforests

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Spicey cuisine

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And lastly, a quality that brings people all of the world to the Carribbean waters: the beach.

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Here’s my artsy photo I posted on Instagram of my boricua beach.
Puerto Rico has over hundreds of beaches to visit. They all have crystal blue, warm waters and soft white sand. Being that all of these beaches are gorgeous, sometimes it is difficult to decide to venture out of the beach at the hotel resort.
My favorite beaches to spend a day in the sand and sun is in Rio Grande.

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Only 40 minutes away from my Abuelita’s house is not even a far drive. Despite the fact that there are closer beaches that my familia and I could go to, we always end up driving east to Rio Grande. The water is just as crystal clear as the San Juan shores and the sand is just as soft.
One reason why I like the beaches in Rio Grande in particular is because there are little restaurants to buy homemade food from the locals. This includes some amazing seafood and even flavored coconuts to sip on as you lay on your beach towel.
Now I am going to give you the typical beach day routine with my familia:
9 AM: Grab some breakfast that my Abuelita cooked and bring it in the car. Usually my dad is the one to drive us down.

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10 AM: After snatching the perfect parking spot a block away from the beach, we lay out our towels, apply sunscreen (trust me that Puerto Rican sun is nothing to joke about), and run in the cool water or build sand castles on the shore. My brother, Ethan, always requests that we bury him.

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2 PM: Exhausted from boogie boarding and swimming in the ocean, my cousins and I grab coconuts and flavored ices from one of the local stands and sit on the beach. Or if you’re anything like my cousin, Abhyam, you try to get your own coconut.
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 4 PM: After taking a nap under the sun and cooling ourselves in the water, everyone in the group wants lunch. Because the food is so delicious and it is so hard to decide what to order, we end up ordering a little bit of everything. Mofongo with shrimp, tostones, and the kids’ favorite empanadillas de pizzza. Yes, you heard correctly; it’s an empanada with pizza inside. This one is my brother’s favorite:

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 5 PM: After stuffing our faces with food, we all agree it’s time to go home. We hop back in the car with our sandy feet and passout in the car ride after the long day at Rio Grande beach.
As many times as we visit Rio Grande’s beaches, we never get bored and always are excited for our next beach day. If this post talking about my admiration of Rio Grande is not enough, hopefully this picture that I took last time I visited can bring you to this beautiful boricua beach.

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Culebra

Ever want to swim with the sharks?

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Don’t worry I’m not talking about those great white sharks on the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.
Nurse sharks along with other exotic fish in the sea can be found in the crystal clear waters of Culebra.
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In other words, these are the perfect conditions for an out-of-this-world scuba diving adventure. This small island is located off the east coast of Puerto Rico and takes about an hour and a half ferry ride over.

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Many of the spots on the island are decorated in colorful coral reefs and swarmed with any and every type of aquatic life. Even if you’re not into scuba diving (like my boricua mother), snorkeling is always an option I reccommend. Also for those of you who are beginners, the current on Culebra are very calm! Looking at the ocean from above the service does not compete with what there is to see underneath the water.

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Another reason why I suggest Culebra as the top place to scuba dive is because it is considered a non-tourist area to the PR natives. As if the 1 1/2 boat ride over to the island is not a reason enough, the island does not have any large hotels there. The lack of people traffic on Culebra is one of the major reasons why I like to scuba dive. There is nothing to scare away all the fish and it’s like you have your very own personal beach.
There is nothing more relaxing than swimming with a couple of sea turtles on this island:

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Cuevas De Camuy

ATTENTION: I just found that this summer during mid-July, my family and I are flying over to PR to visit my family! My excitement is through the roof as I am writing this blog post.

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Immediately the first thing I did after my parents called to tell me the exciting news (and I excitedly tweeted),

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I started to make a list of everything I wanted to do while spending precious time on my favorite island. Of course this includes some of my favorite things; one of which is chowing down on a huge pilón bowl of mofongo after a long day at the beach.
Even after spending all these years in Puerto Rico, I still try to explore and visit places I have never traveled to on the island or revisit. One of the places on my To-Do list for PR this summer is revisiting the Rio Camuy Cave Park in the northern part of the island towards the west. So for those of you who are staying in San Juan, it is an easy day trip.
The last time I was here, I was very young and sadly do not remember much, but my parents always talked about how beautiful these caves are. Plus after Googling pictures, I am determined to go this summer:

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Believe it or not, but these caves are all natural and not man-made. My mom, who visited the caves multiple times when growing up in Puerto Rico, confessed that the pictures do not even capture how breathtaking everything is in person.
Since this is a park that is highly protected, visitors need to sign up for a tour to explore the caves. This is definitely something I would suggest regardless. The caves are very spread out and have hundreds of routes, so you can easily get lost if familiar with the area.
Tip: If you’re lucky, you can find schools of the fish in the rivers and sleeping bats on the ceilings.

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The tours include jumping off cliffs into a sinkhole filled with water, kayaking through the channels, and much more.

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To make the day trip easier, the park has places to get food, bathrooms, and even a souvenior shop. Trust me when I say that this is a very popular tourist attraction since it is only an hour away from San Juan (aka tourist central).
I have heard nothing but good things about Cuevas De Camuy from my friends and family and I cannot wait to see the caves for my own eyes. Goal for the trip: take a picture like this one below:

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Cordillera Central

Pop quiz: When you think of typical Puerto Rican food, what pops in your head?
Rice and beans, right?

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This is understandable considering that dish is the staple of the boricua diet. For those of you who need convincing, I openly welcome you to spend the day at my Abuelita’s house in Bayamón. My 94-year-old grandmother will whip up a huge pot of rice and beans at 11 o’clock in the morning and again at night.
Even though we love our rice, plantanos, and lots of fried food, not everyone eats it. In fact, there is a part of the island that has a very different (but still delicious) menu.
Cordillera Central is the central mountain range of the island, which consists of fo rests and the smallest towns in Puerto Rico. It’s that purple-colored section of the map.

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This area is not just known for El Yunque and out-of-this-world ziplining. Like I said before, this area has a very different core in their food. Being in this jungle-like area, the natives actually eat more Creole-based cuisine, or in spanish cocina criolla.”
This is what’s on the Cordillera Central menu:
1.) Longaniza – pork

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2.) Yuca – (known as “cassava” in other countries) a root that resembles the potato

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3.) Alcapurrias – green bananas fried and filled with ground beef

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And for those of you less adventurous in the kitchen, this might look familiar:
4.)  Sweet Potato – vegetable cooked similar to Yuca

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Because Cordillera Central is land locked, these natives eat a lot of roots and meat; you won’t find seafood out here. Minus the fried food, this is considered the healthy-eating group of Ricans. But even with that, dinner has enough Spanish spice as all other Puerto Rican food!
If any readers have El Yunque on their to-do list, do what my family plans and definitely grab some of this mountain range food after a long day in the rain forest. Look out for one of these:

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My personal tip: grab a coconut! My abuelita actually has a coconut tree at her house and I have been sipping on those since I was little. It is A LOT tastier than the coconut milk baught in the supermarket!

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Bioluminescent Bay

Out of all the places on the island, this post is going to be about my favorite location. Puerto Rico holds one of the most magical and amazing sightings of nature: a bioluminescent bay. What makes this so special is that there are only a few places in the world where this can be experienced; Puerto Rico has three of them.
It looks like something right out of a National Geographic magazine:

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Unfortunately, it does not look as bright and vivid as seen in the picture, but trust me when I say that experiencing a bioluminescent bay is mind-blowing.
As for the science behind it, these very remote places in the world have these tiny microorganisms that glow when movement occurs. So if you reach over and splash the water with your hands, the water around brightens up as this blue light. Kind of like a giant glowstick!

The one that I have visited was on the southern part of the island at la Parquera. The second spot is in Fajardo, which is on the east side of Puerto Rico. Then third place is Mosquito Bay, an island off the eastern coast.
For those of you who rather travel to la Parquera, I’ll tell you that driving there is going to make you feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere. When you finally make it through a jungle-like area, you will find yourself in this very small town. Little shops, old houses, and not a chain restaurant for miles away.

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Traveling to Fajardo will probably be the easiest commute. Fajardo is a town similar to Old San Juan with beautiful beaches and stores. To get out on the water, you have to kayak out through mangroves and reach this big bay where all of the organisms are found.

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Making it to Mosquito Bay is different and can be more difficult. The bioluminescent bay is actually located out onto the water on an island, so the only way to get there is to take an hour boat ride. Even though I have never done the trip out, a couple of my family members have and told me that it is well worth it. Since the bay is very isolated, the bay’s light will be more visible at night.

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The only problem with these magical bays is that luck is needed to be on your side. Sometimes visiting can either be a hit or a miss.
Rainy or windy weather? Nope.
Cloudy sky? Nothing.
Even the wrong phase of the moon can determine how well you can see the microorganisms appear.
The perfect set up to see everything clearly and bright is on a clear night with no clouds and a full moon. If those factors are in your favor, it might look just as dazzling as the pictures.
I highly reccomend everyone who visits Puerto Rico so spend a night in a bioluminescent bay. Nothing on this island is more magical than glowing water.

Isla de Mona

For those of you, who are more on the adventurous side, this post is for you. Laying out on the beach does not cut it for you.  I’m refering to the tourists who go on vacation to release their inner Indiana Jones. Set sailing out into a far off, unfamiliar land and exploring what you have never seen before. Hopefully minus the booby traps.

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Between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico lies an uninhabited and partially underwater island, Isla de Mona. If you look at the map below, the island is ALLLL the way to the left on the west side of PR. The boat ride out to the island is about a couple of hours, but all of the island visitors agree that the travel time was worth it when they got there.

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When I say the island is deserted, I mean exactly that. No people live on the island except for police and rangers to help manage visitors and scientists working on research studies. Because the island is protected by Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, only 100 visitors can be on the island at one time. Isla de Mona is one of Puerto Rico’s most precious islands so they are trying to preserve it as much as possible. From what I can see, they are doing a pretty good job, too!

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In terms of life, the only living things here are wild animals and miles of vegetation. Trust me, you will never spot a bigger lizard in your entire life. Sharks, boars, dolphins, goats, sea turtles. It’s like your very own outdoor zoo and aquarium! Oh, and also don’t be freaked out if you cross paths with a snake or two.

Sorry, Doctor Jones.

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Nothing can be more off the grid than this mysterious and gorgeous island. From caves with ancient transcriptions carved on the walls to scuba diving in some of the world’s deepest trenches, spending a day or even the weekend on Isla de Mona is an adventure all in it’s own.

Already decided that this is on your vacation bucket list? First make sure to know every bit of information for what to expect and prepare. One is to bring your own food and water! Just because the island allows visitors does not mean you will even find a small hut that cooks up food and sells tropical drinks.

Another tip, as adventurous as you may be, STAY WITH YOUR GROUP. The last thing that needs to happen is you getting lost on a deserted island in the middle of the Caribbean.

Walk off the boat and onto the island like this:

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Don’t follow the rules and end up like this:

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Everybody’d Be Surfin’

For those of you who are Beach Boys fans understand my caption!
Of course some of the best surfing in the world can be found in Hawaii or Austrailia, but it can also be found in Puerto Rico! On the west side of the island lies the town that is most known for surfing, Rincón.
And in case you forget, there’s a giant sculpture of a surfer to remind you:

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Although this place attracts a lot of tourists, locals love to go on day trips to this shore. Not only do the locals enjoy relaxing on their boards here, but surfers from all over the world visit to catch some real Rican waves. During the winter season, which is prime surfing time, Rincón is packed with people. This town has even hosted the World Surfing Championships. And of course during the summer, vacationers tend to watch and even try out surfing for themselves.

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TAKE MY ADVICE: try surfing!!!
If you’re anything like me, the thought of getting on a surfboard is frightening. Miles out in open water on a little board? Yeah scary to try out, but what better place to try this out than one of the top surfing towns on the planet?
Remember that a lot of people who live and visit Rincón surf regularly. The beach is a huge part of the PR lifestyle for those who live by the coast. So if you happen to be a newbie, don’t feel bad when you spot the surfer next to you pulling stunts like these:

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The great part about this town is that there is a great mix of people. The die-hard surfers and the first timers. When you feel intimidated about those professional surfers next to you, remember that the other half are people like me:

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Remember it’s all about trying new things (and documenting them as seen below):

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Yes, that small girl with the giant surfboard is me.
If you are totally against surfing, there are other things to do in this town. It is also known for the whale watching trips from January through March. Personally, I haven’t gone on one of these trips, but my family has before. They take you out on a boat into open sea where the whales are commonly seen. Also, if boats get you sick, there are whale watching towers around the town to catch a glimpse.
A little tip: if you decide to see the humpback whales up and close on the boat, wear a poncho! If you decide not to, you will get a bigger splash than any waterpark ride you have ever been on.

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