When I first decided to travel to Puerto Rico, at least three different people immediately started talking trash about how I wouldn’t find anything to eat there, but like most people who trash-talk, they were so wrong. I ate so many delicious meals in San Juan, all vegan, all easy to find, and all well-priced. So please believe me when I say: There are a lot of vegan food options in San Juan!
And I’m going to share them with you, along with everything else.
This trip really had a lot to do with my 40 Before 40 goals. It was about pushing my boundaries, trying new things, and learning more about myself. Of course, this is what travel should always be about (plus relaxation, of course), but this was also my first solo trip. I haven’t decided if it’s going to count towards the “travel alone internationally” goal because PR is a US territory, but taking this trip was still a big step for me. I traveled alone, didn’t know a single person on the island before I arrived, and it was also my first time staying in a hostel!
But let’s start at the beginning…
I arrived early Friday afternoon after taking the red-eye from Denver. Part of my badass plan was to take the bus whenever possible. Uber isn’t allowed to pickup at the airport in San Juan, so it was down to a $25 cab or a .75 cent bus ride. The bus was fine, and air-conditioned, which was the only thing I cared about at that point! I made it to the hostel (I stayed at Villa Eshta– 2 blocks from the beach!), changed and immediately hit the beach. BTW, Walid, who owns the hostel, was very impressed that I took the bus- apparently most people aren’t able to find it at the airport. Guess those Spanish lessons are paying off 😉
I spent Friday afternoon sitting in the shade on the beach with my kindle, watching dogs play and enjoying the atmosphere. It seemed like everyone in PR had at least one well-loved dog, and they loved playing at the beach. Seriously, dogs everywhere. Buenos perros en todas partes! This big boy came running right up to me with his ball, begging me to throw it. Of course I obliged!
When I got too hot, I wandered over to Calle Loiza, the main street through that part of the city, where all the restaurants and bars and shops are. I wasn’t hungry and never looked at a menu, and don’t even remember the name of the place. All I wanted was AC and a cuba libre. Well, I started with one. Una mas, por favor!
I wandered back to the hostel where I met the other woman staying in my dorm, Jami from Toronto! We immediately became friends and decided to meet up later that evening for a drink. I cleaned up and headed out to find dinner, stopping at the beach one more time. I love the beach after sunset, but before it’s dark. It’s moody and colorful and special that time of day.
Then I walked a few blocks to Ocean Park Cafe. I haven’t reviewed any of the places I’ve eaten on Yelp or Happy Cow yet, but I need to. They were all wonderful, but OPC is tied for first place. That first night I had Beefless Nachos which were made with a heavenly, spicy quinoa mix and served with chips made from a local root vegetable. I can’t remember what the veggie was called, but it was something I had never heard of, and tasted great. And healthier than tortilla chips! There were more chips than topping, so also got a small side of bean dip to go with it. Vegan food in Puerto Rico FTW!
The wonderful thing about OPC was that nearly half the menu was marked Vegetarian, and most of that was vegan or could be made vegan. And the staff spoke perfect English and completely understood what was and wasn’t vegan. They made it so easy for me that first night. Oh, and they also have a full bar which is important because you’re gonna want to drink some rum in Puerto Rico!
After dinner I met back up with Jami and we
drank made our way up Calle Loiza. We were intending to meet a friend of hers in a more touristy area of the city, but ended up asking two guys on the street for directions (any excuse to practice mi español), and ended up spending the rest of the evening with them. They were locals, both so nice. Frank, the one in the glasses, also spoke English which helped.
We hit a few more bars and then got very local- the entire city is apparently open container, so we bought a few beers to drink as we walked. When in Rome, right?
The second day I boarded the bus for Old San Juan. This is the part of the city that’s most photographed, and probably what people think of when they think of San Juan.
The buildings are full of amazing architectural detail, are painted soft Caribbean colors, and are beautifully decayed. Many of the streets are cobblestone, and even the alleyways are beautiful.
That last shot is of La Capilla Franciscana, a church built for St. Francis in 1756. Here’s a shot of the inside. Amazing.
Speaking of churches, I also stopped into the Cathedral Basilica San Juan Bautista, which was breathtaking. Also a bit overwhelming for a non Catholic. I sat in the pews for a while, just taking it all in. The church was built in 1521 and according to Wikipedia is the 2nd oldest cathedral in the Americas, which is mind-boggling to me. 1521 is mind-boggling to me! (Although, not as mind-boggling as when I was in Germany and visited a structure that dated back to BC times!)
I didn’t take a lot of pictures because it felt disrespectful. I just sat there in the cool(ish) shade and looked around and watched the people dabbing on the holy water, and looked at all the murals. It was peaceful.
But then it was time for Ben & Jerry’s. I purposefully avoided American chains (except for Walgreens- the only pharmacy near my hostel), but I feel like B&J’s deserves a pass because they’re awesome and definitely do not represent what America has become lately. So I got a milkshake made with almond milk, their dairy free PB and Cookies ice cream, and was very happy.
I found a shady park nearby with a bunch of great, crazy art and drank that whole thing. And yes, it was a large. But hey, vacation, right?
Is that a kitty cat dragon?
Sitting on a shady bench in that park, sipping my milkshake and people-watching was the first time I truly felt on vacation. You know that feeling, usually the second day or so, when it actually sets in that you’re in another city or another country and you don’t have any of those regular responsibilities on your shoulders and you can relax? This was that moment for me. It was also the first time I knew for sure that I really like solo travel. Being on my own schedule suits me, and not having to deal with other people when I don’t want to really suits me.
Dinner that night was at my other favorite spot- Cafe Berlin. A fried tofu sandwich with plantains, hummus, lettuce, carrots, cukes, tomatoes, olives, and vegan cheese. A side of chips and a Medalla Light, my favorite PR local beer and a really good respite from rum. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian traveling to Puerto Rico, I really recommend this restaurant- they have some of the best vegan food in San Juan!
I’ve decided that I love plantains and plan to cook with them a lot more now that I’m back. I have a few recipe ideas in mind…
The next day, Sunday, was The Beach Day. And it was The Best.
I rented a lounge chair and an umbrella, and spent nearly 7 hours sprawled out in paradise. I had pre-loaded a few good beach reads on the kindle before I left, so I alternated between reading, bobbing around in the waves, and drinking ice cold Medalla Lights that a few nice men were selling from their coolers as they walked up and down the beach. Cerveza fría, por favor! It was an absolutely gorgeous PR day- 85 degrees, a few scattered clouds, and humid- but at the beach that doesn’t matter. With my beer and a book, I was in heaven. This was the second time on this trip when it really hit me how enjoyable solo travel can be. When you’re lying next to someone, you have to listen when they talk. Sometimes you have to get up and get something for them. And you probably had to wait for them (or be rushed by them) getting to the beach in the first place. But not me. I was on my own schedule. I was thirsty? $3 for a beer. I was hot? I’d jump in the ocean. I wanted to ignore all the other humans and focus on my book? Easy.
I did end up a little pink after too much time in the sun, but that had an unexpected bonus- I spent the rest of that evening feeling a little chilly, something I had definitely not felt up until that point!
I went back to Ocean Park Cafe for dinner and another cerveza, and this time I had the veggie spring rolls with a pineapple mango dipping sauce. They were full of cabbage and (I think) plantains, and they were crisp and flavorful and just what I needed.
Later that evening I Ubered over to the part of the city where Jami was now staying in an Airbnb, the very American part of the city. As in, we ended up at one of the only bars that wasn’t a Chili’s or similar. It was still fun though, and I had my first and only frozen drink of the trip, a Miami Vice, which is half pina colada and half strawberry margarita. I was tired from all the sun though, so it was an early night. Well, early for a vacation night!
I spent the next morning walking along the beach, taking in the sights and sounds and smells. It’s so beautiful, but there are also these pockets of abandoned properties that are quite surprising. This was a house on the beach, and judging from the signage (and my limited Spanish) it has been purchased recently by a developer, but it obviously sat vacant for a very long time. There’s something creepy about such an abandoned place, surrounded by life.
Monday afternoon was spent back in Old San Juan shopping for souvenirs with Jami. It was nice- we’d visit a shop or two, then pop into a bar for a drink. A shop or two, then a drink. And of course, a snack.
At Cafe Berlin (again), I had a Medalla Light and the hummus plate:
More Medalla and fried plantains at Hecho En Casa, while Jami had rum punch and guacamole (she’s pescatarian!)-
Happy hour with a random kitty cat…
And another trip to Ben & Jerry’s!
After a final look at the beautiful views…
… we headed back towards the hostel for a final dinner, which funny enough, was at the most “American-ish” restaurant I ate at the whole trip. Which made sense, because it was in the touristy area near all the nicer hotels. Silk Restaurant, which had a generic mix of Asian foods, plus some sushi. And wine. Is anything more refreshing than a really cold glass of pinot grigio?
And that’s pretty much it! I visited the beach one last time before heading back to the airport Tuesday around lunchtime. It was a short trip, but a fun one. And an important one, too. I learned a lot about myself, most notably that:
- I love solo travel, and am looking forward to another trip on my own.
- Without someone there to nudge me, I do get a bit lazy and wont go out of my way to do things like rent a car so I can hike in the rain forest (something I really wanted to do, but just didn’t find time for).
- Hostels are okay for saving money, but 2 nights is probably my limit.
And with that, I’m ready to plan my next trip!