Active & Outdoorsy Adventures in Puerto Rico

For the first three decades of my life, Thanksgiving consisted of turkey, pumpkin pie, and sitting around staring at people I’m related to. This Thanksgiving, however, was a little bit different.

Flights to Puerto Rico were super affordable over the holiday, so we decided to switch things up and spend five or so days on the island. The week was packed with active and outdoorsy adventures, and these were some of my favorites!

DISCLAIMER: This is just a quick overview because my attention span and patience are running low today, but for more details on how to replicate these adventures, I’d recommend checking out the site, Puerto Rico Day Trips, which proved to be very useful when planning my trip.

Hike the El Yunque Trail to the Summit

El Yunque is a rain forest in the northeastern corner of Puerto Rico and home to hundreds of species of trees and flowers. Take the steep, winding back-roads to drive here from Fajardo for a unique glimpse at village life.

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The guy working the front desk at the park warned us that the trek to the summit would take four hours, but we did it in three. We weren’t really hustling that much either. The hike to the summit is a moderately-strenuous 5-mile hike that ends at an observation tower riddled with graffiti.

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It was super foggy at the summit on the day we hiked here, but it honestly just added to the mystery and intrigue of the whole place. The better views were down a bit further on the mountain.

Hike La Mina Trail to the Famous Waterfall

Also while in El Yunque, make sure not to miss the famous waterfall that you see on all the postcards. Otherwise, who will ever believe you went to Puerto Rico?! Even the cruise ships take excursions over here to see it.

Take a Dip in the Waterfall along La Mina Trail

The ultimate reward for a strenuous day of hiking is taking a dip in the waterfall along the La Mina trail. Sunbathing is popular here, so bring your swimsuit and a towel if you feel like getting in. We opted to continue hiking in the rain instead.

Bike around San Juan

The city has been making efforts to become more bike-friendly, and there is a great bike lane between Condado and Old San Juan. The hostel I stayed at, Mango Mansion, rents bikes for $20 per day. Local rental shops charge around $30-$45 per day.

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Honestly, he bikes were pretty crappy and hard to ride, but we made do and arrived back in one piece.

Bike around San Juan

Just keep in mind that bike lanes here aren’t continuous, so you’ll need to be comfortable riding on streets, bridges, and the occasional sidewalk to get around too.

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Bike to the forts…there are two of them and you’re admission fee at one gets you into the other one too. The streets in Old San Juan are pretty steep and cobblestone-style, so you might want to lock up the bike and set out on foot for a while. The whole area is pretty walkable, although my feet were definitely killing me at the end of this day.

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Explore Caves at Parque de las Cavernas Del Rio Camuy

This is a beautiful park that offers guided cave tours following a trolley ride to see a huge sinkhole, stalactites, and ancient rock formations.

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The trolley seemed a little bit silly; we could have totally hiked down to the cave. However, such hiking is not allowed so we reluctantly hopped aboard and squeezed in next to a bunch of other tourists.

See the Caves at Parque de las Cavernas Del Rio Camuy

Regardless, the Parque de las Cavernas Del Rio Camuy tour was pretty worthwhile just to learn some stuff about what you’re looking at. It lasts about 1.5 hours and is bilingual in both English and Spanish.

At the very end of the tour, our guide mentioned that we might be allowed to hike around the area if we found the director and got special approval. By that time, it was a little too late to work into our schedule. But something to keep in mind to ask if you visit and want to ditch the tour crowds for a while.

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Hike at Bosque Estatal de Guanica

This is a dry forest in southwest Puerto Rico, and the Fort Trail extends about 6 miles round-trip to give you a taste of the island’s diverse terrain. The Guanica State Forest wasn’t a big tourist destination when we visited, but it’s pretty quick and easy to get here from Ponce.

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The trail is honestly pretty boring, with not much to see along the way and really no other hikers either. But it provides a contrast from the El Yunque rainforest, and it was just nice to be outdoors in the 80-degree weather.

Fort Capron is a small watch tower that offers lovely views of the rolling hills, sea, and village down below.

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This is also a nice area to sit and enjoy a little peace and solitude.

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This was the ideal picnic spot that we found to relax for a while between two separate hikes in the dry forest area. I could literally just stare at crashing waves for hours.

Have a Picnic along the CoastDon’t be intimidated by little local shops in villages along the way. Something that surprised me while visiting Puerto Rico is that food and drinks are far from cheap.

It’s basically American prices paid for with American money. At this little local shop, I picked up a sandwich for $5 and a bottle of rum for about $7, and juice mixer for a couple bucks…perfect for picnicking!

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Watch for Wildlife in Unexpected Places

Iguanas are commonly seen around the fort areas and are a favorite photography subject for tourists.

Keep and eye out for iguanas

But apparently, Puerto Ricans have viewed the infestation of iguanas as a nuisance species that chews native plants and burrows under roads. I still think they’re kind of cute, photogenic, and slightly terrifying.

Kayak to Monkey Island

This was one of the main reasons we chose Puerto Rico for our Thanksgiving destination, and unfortunately, it’s the one and only outdoorsy activity that didn’t work out. Rain, high winds, and treacherous water conditions prompted our guides to cancel the trip on us. But I’m including it here to encourage you to give it a try when you visit Puerto Rico.

*INSERT NON-EXISTENT AWESOME MONKEY KAYAKING PHOTO HERE*

Read some of the TripAdvisor reviews from lucky bastards who actually got to do this since I can’t provide a first-hand report. The monkeys here have been used for research, which is totally sad and wrong, but they seem to be here to stay so you may as well stop by to say hello. Depending on the weather conditions, there are also snorkeling opportunities on this tour, but I’m pretty sure monkeys aren’t into snorkeling with you.

To book your tour, visit the Barefoot Travelers Rooms site and contact Keishya Salko at [email protected] or 787-850-0508 to schedule. She’ll send you directions, a list of what to bring, and tips of other fun things to do like the Guavate Pig Roast.

And by staying active in all these ways, you can have all the mojitos your heart desires! Right? Right? At least that’s that I keep telling myself.

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To learn about some more awesome things to see and do in Puerto Rico, check out my post, Incredible Ways to Spend Your Vacation in Puerto Rico (List-Style Highlights Published on Trips to Discover!).

Spelunking at California’s Lava Beds National Monument

As I recently discovered, one of the best ways to break up a West Coast road trip is by taking a slight detour to the Lava Beds National Monument. Located in that mysterious Northeastern corner of California, this park makes up the largest total area covered by a volcano in the Cascade Mountain Range.Lava6

Mammoth Crater erupted 32,000 years ago and sent massive lava flows 10 miles downhill, creating some really impressive tubes, caves, and boulder fields. Medicine Lake Volcano last erupted 950 years ago, and shifting tectonic plates in the Pacific Ocean could actually make it active again someday.

This area is also steeped in brutal American history, thanks to textbook clashes between the Modoc Native American Tribe and Euro-American settlers. But you don’t have to know much about the Modoc War of 1872-1873 to enjoy this bizarre scenery.

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Surrounded by a high desert wilderness, this national park has over 700 caves, Native American rock art sites, historic battlefields, and campsites. Designated as a national landmark in 1925, Lava Beds has numerous lava tube caves, a couple dozen of which have marked entrances and developed trails you can venture down and explore.
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The best part? You can explore these caves on your own without forking over cash for a guided tour or having to put up with annoying tourists huffing and puffing next to you.

Not surprisingly, the best place to start is the visitor center because you can rent flashlights out here for free. They are heavy, bulky, and painfully dim, but they will set you back zero dollars. Basically, if you don’t have one of your own, they’re better than nothing down there.

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However, if you plan to spend a few hours at the park exploring the caves beyond just a few safe steps inside, splurge on an $8 plastic helmet at the visitor’s center. The cave ceilings get lower the farther you hike in and the ceiling rocks are dreadfully sharp. I had a head wound a couple years ago (the kind that requires 11 staples), so I wasn’t exactly into the mood to go through that all over again.

But before you lose yourself in the netherworld of spelunking, keep in mind that there are plenty of nice hikes above ground as well. Soak in the views of the cooled lava beds with gentle mountain peaks in the distance as you give yourself a mini history/geography lesson to stimulate some sort of brain activity.

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You can wander around to your heart’s content around the lava rocks around Black Crater and Battlefield. This is an awesome place to hike if you don’t want some “trail expert” telling you where you can and cannot go. Vegetation is very minimal, so it’s pretty hard to get lost too. On the day I went, the crowds were unbelievably slim and the whole place had a super eerie vibe.

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Definitely don’t miss out on hiking the Schonchin Butte, a 0.7 mile trail that feels about triple that because of the steep elevation. At the top, there’s a ranger station and the dude hanging out all alone inside was quite friendly. However, I truly wonder what he does all day up there.

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As you get back in your car and drive along the park roads towards the main section of caves, there are lots of places to pull off and check out. The most accessible caves are surrounded by metal fences and a ladder that leads down to their cool and creepy depths.

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To get a small taste of caving without much intensity, you can check out the Mushpot, an accessible cave with a high ceiling, paved surface, installed lighting, and lots of informational plaques to read.

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If you’re craving some more caving at this point, you can either hike or drive along the main road to explore a few others. I hiked down and around Labyrinth, Lava Brook, Sunshine, and Sentinel during my time at the park.

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But by far, one of the most awesome caves to check out is Skull Cave. Not only because it has a hardcore name, but also because the floor is covered in ice…even on a sunny 90-degree California day.

The trail down to Skull Cave isn’t very challenging, but it’s really unique. It’s a remnant of three large lava tubes situated on top of each other, and the rock ceilings are high enough so you don’t have to duck down at all. This odd setup traps the cold winter air and creates a year-around ice floor down a metal stairway on the lower level.

But why “Skull Cave?” Because two human skeletons and the bones of some pronghorn and bighorn sheep were once discovered inside…that’s why.

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To pick out a few routes before you visit, check out this handy PDF of cave descriptions. All the caves are really chilly inside and regardless of the outside temperature, the caves range from about 30-55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Although visitors are free to roam around pretty much everywhere on their own, the caves are still fragile. So don’t touch stuff!

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There’s also been an issue with white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal bat disease that’s been killing off bat populations down there. Check the National Parks Service site for current cave closures because of this.

After visiting other national parks on busy summer days, I really appreciated the low crowds and the freedom to wander around on my own at Lava Beds. Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, for example, doesn’t allow visitors to explore the caves unless they’re part of an organized tour group. Mammoth is still an awesome place though, especially if you sign up for the hardcore 6-hour “Wild Cave” tour.

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Lava Beds National Monument might seem a little out of the way for some travelers, but if you are in Northern California or are looking for a really unique road trip destination, I’d definitely recommend swinging by! Who knows, you might even find some of my gnome friends guarding the entrances…