On the list for our second day – El Yunque, Luquillo beach, and Fajardo biobay. OH MY!
Originally we had only planned to do a half day trip with the rainforest and the beach. The biobay was extremely fascinating to me… but since the week of our trip was the time of the waxing moon (read: increasing to full moon) it didn’t seem worth it since too much moon means you can’t see the bio-luminescent micro-organisms in the water, which are only visible at night. As they say… le sigh. But the day before, when confirming our rainforest/beach trip, our tourguide told us that he had two people interested in doing the biobay as well and if the 8 of us were to jump in on it… and for <drumroll> a reduced price! Yes! I am a sucker for discounts/reduced prices/sales! Put me on slickdeals and watch a girl go wild!
So we got to do El Yunque/Luquillo Beach/Fajardo Biobay for $100 each! Winning!
The only downside to this was that now instead of a half day tour with some soothing downtime at the hotel, we were now going to do a full day trip from 9 AM to 11 PM. But that was just a teeny little downside.
First, El Yunque. About a 45 minute drive from San Juan, we ended up at El Portal, a visitor’s center that has an informative video (narrated by Benecio del Toro!) and a gift store populated by stuffed denizens of the forest, namely the coqui frog, which has a very distinctive call – (co-KEE! co-KEE!). Actually, we had heard this frog call many times near our hotel pool! At first I was somewhat awed that we had all these coqui frogs there… but then our guide popped this bubble by informing us that some hotels just put speakers to play coqui sounds. Ignorance is bliss!
Our guide was very useful in pointing out various flowers and plants and explaining their uses and backgrounds. I’m not totally sure about how accurate everything was… he did say that some of the flowers were sources of insulin (which is produced by mammals and not by any plants I know of) but it was definitely interesting. Our first stop was at La Coca Falls, which was a pretty and somewhat thready type of waterfall. Let me just say, that being from NY I have seen my share of gorgeous falls (Niagara, Buttermilk, Cascadilla, Ithaca etc!) so this was a little meh. But the tropical greenery went a long way in enhancing its beauty.
Next we drove to Yohaku Tower, a popular lookout point for tourists. From the top of the tower, our guide pointed our various mountain formations that are supposed to resemble things – a man looking up into the sky, a sleeping potbellied cowboy… you had to be a little creative with it.
Then, it was on to the real journey – we would be hiking down La Mina Trail to reach La Mina Waterfall, and then back up to the trail to meet the van. Up until this time we had been coddled along and ferried by our guide, who seemed pretty calm at navigating the narrowish (to me) twisty turny roads. Now we would have to… gasp… walk.
Granted, it was a pretty walk. But when the path is sorta paved with flat smooth stones that are slick with water and there’s a notable lack of handrails (fine… I’m not a hiker) it was hard to concentrate on much else. Still, when I managed to tear my eyes away from the ground in front of me I couldn’t miss all the beauty around me.
And eventually, as you keep following this trail that leads along this little river, it takes you to the star attraction: La Mina Falls!
It’s a popular place for tourists and locals alike to dip in! The water is cool but it’s definitely brisk and refreshing after a little nature hike. Not to mention, it’s a beautiful waterfall!
After frolicking in the water a bit, we made the soggy hike up the other side of the trail to the van, where our guide took us and our now rumbling bellies to the Luquillo Kiosks, a line of roadside shops that sell a variety of Puerto Rican foods and plenty of other different types of food as well. We were at Roca Taino, which specializes in lots of fried stuff, done Puerto Rican style. Namely, different types of tacos (not what you’re thinking, more like cigar-shaped dough filled with different meats), blood sausage (ugh), plantains, yucca, etc.
After our lunch, we headed to Luquillo Beach where we relaxed and recuperated a bit after the hiking of the day. Ahhhh….
It was a rather cloudy day, not the typical bright blue skies and scorching hot Caribbean sun. But I actually preferred it that way because it was more comfortable to lay out and I didn’t really want to tan.
After our beach break we headed out to a group dinner at Metropol, one of a popular chain of restaurants. From the very first night of our trip (right after our plane landed) we had been having a hankering for grouper, a fish called “mero” in Spanish. We were on the lookout for buttery, tender grouper in delicious garlic sauce, and Metropol delivered (7/8 of us ordered it!) and our odd one out ordered mofongo with steak.
Next we drove east to Fajardo, the site of Laguna Grande, one of the biobays of Puerto Rico. Did I say one of? Yep, Puerto Rico has 3 out of 5 biobays in the world! They are pretty lucky. The best one is supposed to be on the island of Vieques of the coast of PR, called Mosquito Bay. We decided to go with Fajardo, though, because it was more accessible. Luckily for us, because it was such a cloudy day –> a cloudy night, which meant the brightness of the moon was diminished somewhat so we wouldn’t have too hard of a time seeing the bio-luminescence.
We geared up with life jackets and boarded our kayaks, where we then made our way in sort-of single file to the bay. It was twenty minute kayaking in the darkness and mild moonlight, following other kayaks by the glowsticks attached to their front and back. However, at several areas the channel was fairly narrow, and bounded by mangrove trees with dangling branches – perfect for smacking night-blinded kayakers in the face. I’m not ashamed to say we got tangled in the trees a few times!
For me at least, the kayaking seemed endless, with left right left right right right TREE left left right left…. and then suddenly you noticed that the paddles hitting the water seemed to glow slightly in the little eddy of water they created with each push. That strap hanging over the side and dangling in the water, was suddenly trailing a neon path behind it. Whaaa~! We were now in the biobay itself! And the deeper we got into the bay, the more apparent the glowing water was. It was pretty amazing and definitely needs to be seen and experienced. My sad underwater camera just could not compute. Every little motion in the water causes the dinoflagellates to glow. Swimming isn’t allowed in the biobay for the health of the organisms…. but someone did anyway, and it was awesome to see their body surrounded by a glowing blue aura as they moved. I was pretty content to just swish my hand around in the water and marvel at the glow!
Unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end and soon enough we had to kayak back out of the bay. Thankfully it went faster this time because we were going with the current… but I was glad to be on solid land and done with it! YAH!
It was a long day (we didn’t get back til 11 PM) but definitely worth it with all the natural beauty of the rainforest and the biobay. Still, I’m relieved that we didn’t plan anything for the next day but to relax!