Puerto Rico: Beach & Forest

Isla Verde is a surfer's playground

Like any other closed-looped cruise, our trip on Carnival Valor ended where it began eight days back. We're in Puerto Rico again. So a week of pampering wasn't bad at all. Or at least in my case after letting travel take care of me and not the other way around. I knew cruising isn't for everyone much as backpacking isn't for everyone either.

While I'm accustomed to roughing it up whilst traveling, this high seas experience allowed me to see another side of the travel industry. Many people plan trips to get away from stress hence the need for some protective bubble. Which of course I truly respect. Even my parents knew well what kind of travel they want. So we gave them that.

Carnival Valor docked in San Juan

Our last night aboard Carnival Valor was spent packing our stuff. Announcements were made about what to do during debarkation day. We were told to leave our bags outside our stateroom; by midnight some crew members already took them away and we won't see our bags till the next day.

Tired after a long day in Sint Maarten - our last port of call - and tired after all that packing, I fell asleep quickly. Carnival Valor sailed silently back into San Juan in pre-dawn darkness. Puerto Rico isn't too far from Sint Maarten so the captain basically had the ship sail slowly in a holding pattern all night.

Big Tree Trail at El Yunque National Forest
Yukahu Tower view
Yukahu Tower view

Even with more than 3000 passengers leaving the ship, it was a relief to find the smooth process involved. All passengers were assigned a group number. Up on Lido Deck we took our last breakfast and waited there until it was our turn to go down the gangway. In no time we got reunited with our bags. Unfortunately, there was this massive queue going through customs, taking us almost an hour before we finally made it out of the pier.

San Juan embraced us back warmly. The weather was great, the locals were smiling. We walked the short distance from the pier to where we picked up our Hertz car rental. Driving to the hotel was effortless on a Sunday mid-morning. However, our rooms at the Courtyard by Marriott Isla Verde were not yet ready.

On Big Tree Trail
La Mina Falls

No worries, we had Plan B. We hit the road again, this time heading about 50 kms east towards El Yunque National Forest. My sister's GPS worked like magic, guiding our way to this green oasis up on the Sierra de Luquillo. Despite its relative small size (28,000 acres), it remains a popular destination given that it is the only tropical forest in the US National Forest System.

Outdoor lovers won't be bored. There are plenty of hiking trails. And there's no entrance fee to the park! Since I was dying to walk, I managed to convince my parents and my sister to try one easier path called Big Tree Trail. This is an asphalt-paved self-interpretative trail snaking for 0.8 mile or about 45 minutes down into La Mina Falls. Not exactly my ideal trail but with loved ones in tow I'm a happy camper.

Courtyard by Marriott Isla Verde
Courtyard by Marriott Isla Verde
Beach view from hotel room

Many hikers end up taking a dip beneath the falls but I wasn't keen on cold-water therapy. Besides, there were many others down there, mostly locals enjoying a weekend off. So we walked up the same path leading to where we started at the car park. Before heading back to San Juan, we stopped by at the Yokahu Tower offering great views beyond the forest canopy.

An hour later, we were back at the hotel and was gladly given our room keys. While this beachfront Marriott property looks like a 1970s building from outside, the rooms at least looked like they had a fresh makeover. We went out to explore the beach and find the water too rough for swimming. There were actually more surfers hitting the waves.

We lay on the beach loungers, gazing intently at a restless Carribbean sea. The view was like an instant replay of all the past week: there was the sea right in front and behind us was this building that might as well be a cruise ship. If my parents are dreaming of another cruise somewhere, I'm afraid I might be cajoled one more time.


  1. Wow, the Mina Falls look spectacular. When I was in El Yunque the fall was just a trickle and I was disappointed. Glad to see how it is at its best. Nice shot!

    1. Thanks! Must have rained a lot the day before we got there - as it happens from what I understand. Just couldn't do the pose the guy did haha!

  2. We took our first cruise for curiosity's sake and now we prefer doing this because we do need to get away from it all and rest easy. Although on the ports of call we do our adventures, it just make it easier for us. I must admit I like this kind of vacationing :)

    You are no longer a cruise virgin, hahaha!

    What's next?

    1. I'm currently traveling, desperately typing this reply on my iPhone while connected to an excruciatingly slow WiFi in this remote island. You'll soon find out where:)

  3. you were bitten by the cruise bug already; if there's such a term.
    who would not enjoy such vacation? and a national park with no entrance fee? ayos yan!
    sa yosemite at sequioia sa california mayroon and of course, the rest of the more commercialized (theme) parks. ok din naman if the admission fees go to maintenance and all.

    marriott really lives to its reputation of wonderful accomodation, kahit dito sa asia they're one of the best hotels around (i know they also own renaissance hotels).

    1. Yung bug bite na yan ang kinakatakutan ko hahaha! Unfortunately nga, not all national parks are free. I'm visiting one isolated national park and i had to pay $60. Oh well, it is what it is.


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