San Juan, Puerto Rico is a diverse metropolis that caters to both travelers and vacationers alike.
If you’re looking for sun, sand and umbrella drinks, than the high-end resorts of Condado and Isla Verde are right up your ally. They’re clean, accommodating and everybody speaks English, so you can vacation just like you’re anywhere else in the United States.
For those of you looking for a bit more culture (and sexiness), I suggest you sneak off the resort and head down to Old San Juan, where the beautiful cobblestone streets and colorful buildings will make you feel more like you’re in Cartagena than Cancun.
You can explore the Spanish Castle of San Cristobal (T2T Quickie) and el Castillo San Felipe del Morro during the day and stroll through the peaceful narrow streets and waterfront walkways by night.
My only concern is that Old San Juan will loose some of its Spanish influence as the United States continue affirming their presence on the island, so I suggest you fly down and experience this beautiful colonial city for yourself, before it’s too late.
With no passport required, Puerto Rico offers the most authentic Latin culture experience outside of Texas.
Don’t take my word for it that Old San Juan is a place worth visiting, check out these photos from my most recent visit and judge for yourself…
Lush green vegetation, steep hillsides and cascading waterfalls were the perfect contrast to the sandy beaches and cozy accommodations back at the San Juan Marriott.
A 7am departure wasn’t an ideal match for the all-night Puerto Rican dance parties, but the fresh rainforest air quickly trumped the urge to retreat back into my plush king bed.
El Toro Negro is the highest rainforest in Puerto Rico and is much less visited than the large el Yunque Rainforest to the east.
Hiking up El Toro Negro Rainforest in Puerto Rico
The adventure takes place at a private land inside one of the segments of the National Forest where our tour guides, Acampa, is the only authorized company that operates.
We hiked down through a coffee plantation into the Canyon of Toro Negro River where we made our way along a pristine rainforest creek and through a series of waterfalls, rock climbs and refreshing pools.
Admiring the pristine waterfalls of El Toro Negro Rainforest
From the riverbeds, we hiked up the mountain to the rainforest canopy at 3,000ft above sea level and reached the highest point of Puerto Rico.
Along the journey our guides impressed us with their knowledge of the area and foliage, and I almost convinced them to let me stay and camp out for a few nights.
Rappelling down a waterfall in El Toro Negro Rainforest
Once everyone caught there breathes from the hike (and amazing views) we strapped on the zip-line gear and soared above the jungle below along five incredible zip-lines.
Zip-lining high above the treetops of El Toro Negro Rainforest
Cap off the day with a traditional Puerto Rican feast of rice and beans, barbeque chicken and mofongo and you got yourself a great day of nature adventure in Puerto Rico!
Our awesome tour group takes a dance break during the hike to film "A Puerto Rican Dance Party"
Make sure to check out Acampa on your next trip to PR.
Puerto Rico makes me want to dance. Don Omar’s “Danza Kuduro” makes me want to dance. So, I flew down to San Juan, Puerto Rico, pressed play on my walkman and let the good times roll! This is what happened.
Take a three minute journey of highlights from my four-month trip to Bolivia, where the mission was to volunteer with literacy NGO, BiblioWorks, in Sucre, Bolivia.
I helped develop learning initiatives at one of their eight libraries in the small town of Morado Q’asa outside the city and worked with the BiblioWorks staff to organize, execute and fund the first ever Literacy Fair in downtown Sucre.
It was a much different experience than traveling deeper in Guatemala, Argentina and Colombia, but like each of the other countries I’ve called home, I have memories and friends that I’ll keep with me forever.
I passed through Ica, Peru for a few nights to check out the Huacachina oasis and to ride sandboards and buggys through the desert. Here is a short video of my sandboarding experience on the sand dunes of Huacachina, Peru.
If you notice, the snowboarding approach didn’t work very well because the sandboards were very sticky, the straps unstrapped easily and the sand was very hot.
When sandboarding in Huacachina, I would recommend renting a good snowboard (available for an extra fee) if you want to actually try to stand and “surf” down the dunes, and also, go early in the day or just before sunset when then sand is cooler.
If speed is your goal, laying down on the boards proved to be the best option. You’re given a piece of wax to wipe down the board before you launch yourself down the dunes, and as long as you don’t put your hands or feet down you can really get moving.
We hit about six dunes in all and our driver carted us from one to another at high speeds in the dune buggy.
Definitely add Sandboarding and dune buggy rides at the Huacachina Oasis outside Ica, Peru to your Travel Peru bucket list. It is much more exciting than the popular Nasca Lines and the Las Islas Ballestas (the Ballestas Islands) tour.
Drinking and sharing Mate in Argentina is one of the most beloved traditions in Latin America.
An employee at the hostel I stayed at when I first arrived in Buenos Aires introduced me to the mate culture, and from that point forward, I’ve developed an appreciation (and taste) for what this powerful tea signifies for the people of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and some parts of Brazil, Chile and Bolivia.
As Mariela describes in the video, “the idea of mate is that you meet with your friends and family and share a moment.” Those moments are shared amongst college friends in the public parks of Buenos Aires, between gauchos in Las Pampas of Argentina and even shared between old couples on the beaches of Mar del Plata.
Mate is a great symbol of Latin American culture.
I believe that all travelers and expats in South America should learn the basic guidelines and rules of preparing, drinking and sharing mate if they ever want to travel deeper and live like a local in these regions.
Here are 18 of the most important thingsto know about the art of drinking mate in Argentina:
1. Mate (ma-te) is the name of the cup in which you drink from.
2. Traditional mates are made of animal horn, gourd or wood. Some new mates are made of stainless steel, plastic or some type of composite blend of plastics and metal. Stick with the traditional mates.
3. When using a gourd type of mate, you must “cultivate” the mate before using it. You can do this by filling the mate with yerba and warm water and letting it sit for 1-2 days before scraping out the mate and gourd lining to begin using.
4. The straw is called a bombilla or bomba in Portuguese and is made of plastic or metal, but it was traditionally made of silver.
5. To drink, the mate is filled about 75% full with Yerba Mate. Yerba Mate leaves are dried, chopped and ground into a powdery mixture called yerba.
6. Some people add sugar, honey, orange or lemon peel for taste to the yerba for taste, but the traditional way to drink it in Argentina is mate amargo (bitter mate) – without any additives.
7. Adding water is a very important step. The water must be just under boiling and should be poured slowly into the mate to ensure maximum usage of the yerba (by multiple people).
8. There is one designated Cevador or server who drinks the first mate to ensure its taste and temperature before passing.
9. The mate should always be passed to the right to whoever would like to partake.
10. You do not say “gracias” or thank you unless you do not want anymore.
11. You sip until there is no more water left (loud sucking noise is okay) before passing it back to the Cevador for he or she to prepare for the next person.
12. Everyone uses the same mate and bombilla. No cleaning is necessary between mate passes.
13. It is considered bad etiquette to hold the mate for too long. Expect to be told “it’s not a microphone” or to “bring the talking gourd” if you are bogarting the mate.
14. Mate is not traditionally ordered in restaurants, bars or coffee shops, but rather something you prepare at home and take out with water in a thermos.
16. In Paraguay, people get real creative with their mate drinking. They use hot or cold water, add mint or lemongrass and fruit juices such as Orange juice and call it tereré.
17. In Uruguay, people are known for toting around a thermos and mate in public and there is a national law In Uruguay that prohibits drinking mate while driving, because it caused many accidents of people getting scalded with hot water while driving.
18. Mate is considered to have many health benefits and has tons of antioxidants and vitamins like calcium, iron and Vitamin A,B, C and E. It’s great for late night work or study sessions.
The Art of Drinking Mate in Argentina (Everybody's doing it: Maradona, Shakira, Che, Guachos and Me)