Contributed by: Paul Hurwitz | Last Date of Travel: December 2006
Most tourists staying in San Juan actually stay in the nearby suburb of Carolina, which is near the airport.
The San Juan area does not have any kosher restaurants. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have any options. Because PR is part of the US, the supermarkets do carry many US brands that are kosher, especially the Pueblo market in Carolina which has many tourists. Items you can purchase in Pueblo include (but are not limited to) frozen Empire chicken products, milk, Lactaid milk, juice, yogurt, cereal, bread and snacks. You can also order kosher meals for both weekday and Shabbat from Chabad of Puerto Rico. You can join the Chabad Rabbi, Rabbi Mendel Zarchi, and his family for Shabbat dinner. Make sure to order meals or arrange to join the Zarchis before your trip.
Because Puerto Rico is part of the US, Americans do not need a passport to vacation here. The currency is US Dollars.
The time of year that you visit will have a big impact on how much a hotel costs per night. The peak season starts at the end of December and runs through mid-April. My wife and I went in the middle of December and saved $150 per night in our hotel because it was before the official peak season. There are many hotels in San Juan/Carolina to stay at and most are right on the beach. The hotels in Old San Juan are going to be more expensive than the ones in Carolina.
My wife and I stayed at the ESJ Towers (different from the El San Juan Hotel) and I cannot recommend it enough, especially for frum travellers. The owner of the hotel is a Jewish gentleman who is friends with the Chabad rabbi. One of the main reasons we chose this hotel is that each room has a full kitchen. This allowed us to bring a lot of our own food and cook in our room. The ESJ Towers is extremely accomodating to frum travellers. If you ask for new dishes, utensils and toaster oven for kashrut reasons, they will provide brand new items at no cost. All of the rooms use an electronic card key, but just leave it at the front desk when you leave the hotel on Shabbat and when you ask for your key they will send someone with you to open your room without you even needing to ask. Clearly this is a hotel that has had quite a few frum guests. We recommended this hotel to friends who went several months later and they had the same experience.
Things to do:
We only did activities in the northeast quarter of Puerto Rico, so these suggestions are from our experiences.
Old San Juan is an almost 500 year old neighborhood and contains many plazas that are interesting from an historical perspective. There are several forts in Old San Juan that are very impressive especially El Morro, the largest one. On Calle Christo, there is a Ben and Jerry’s Scoop shop. Plan to spend about half a day in Old San Juan. From Old San Juan you can take a ferry from Pier 2 across to Cantana and visit the Casa Bacardi Rum Distillery. The grounds are beautiful and you can take a tour and get 2 free drinks. Available in the gift store and nowhere else is a Premium Aged 12 year old rum for $70. I bought the 8 year old rum and love it. It can be compared to a nice aged single malt scotch. If anyone goes and wants to bring me a bottle of the 12 year rum, I will be forever greatful.
Two more activities that we did and most people said cannot be missed are hiking in the El Yunque National Forest and kayaking in Fajardo Bay in the Northeast quarter of Puerto Rico. El Yunque is the only tropical rain forest in the US Forest Service system. You can choose to make your trip to El Yunque as short and easy as you want or go further up the hill and do some real hiking in the back part of the forest. Remember to bring a poncho or raincoat, it can be raining in El Yunque and nowhere else on the island. Cape San Juan Nature Reserve includes Laguna Grande in Fajardo. Laguna Grande, also called the Bio Bay is one of about 15 bioluminescent bays in the world. The water is full of micro-organisms that when agitated, at night, have a blue glow to them. You can go on a kayak tour of the biobay. You have two choices, to go on a tour that starts as its getting dark or a tour that starts once its already dark. We took the tour that started as it was getting dark and we were extremely happy we did. We got to see the surrounding areas and the flora and fauna as it was getting dark and then saw the glowing when it was completely dark. We felt we would have missed a lot if we went on the one that started after dark. The highlight for me was going swimming after it was dark and see the water glow around me. Las Tortugas Adventures (http://kayak-pr.com/biobaytour.html) came highly recommended and we were very happy with them.
Of course you can’t forget to just relax and lay on the beach.
The Chabad shul in Carolina on Calle Rosa has daily minyan, as well as Shabbat minyan. There is usually sit-down kiddush on Shabbat morning that people make into lunch as well. Chabad of Puerto Rico is a very useful website for contacting Chabad, tourist info and ordering food.