10 Cheap Things to Do in Puerto Rico

1.Take a Bike Tour Around Old San Juan – Rocking your ADD Ankara of course 

Funny story. I never learned to ride a bike. For some reason, I thought I had miraculously learned it overnight. So when my best friend said let’s take a bike tour around the city, I said let’s do it. Then I failed pathetically. No really it was too sad. I fell off a couple of times and finally decided to walk around, while she completed the tour. She loved it so give it a thought when you are heading to Old San Juan, that is if you know how to ride a bike of course ; ). The bikes can be rented at the La Bodega del Viejo San Juan Cuban-Rican Bar and Restaurant.

For $35 USD, you would get a 1.5  hour guided video recorded tour. The guide will send the video to your email or phone. Don’t ask for my footage ; )

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2. Vist Casa Bacardí Rum Distillery & Do a Tour

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The Casa Bacardí Rum Distellery is a nice place to chill. It has an outdoor patio and bar, along with touring options for those who want to enjoy more than outdoor scenery. Depending on the option you choose, the tour can be really cheap or slightly pricey. There are three options: historical, rum tasting, and mixology (See price listing below).

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Historical Tour Includes: Bacardí Cup, Bacardí Special “Welcome” Cocktail for adults, Refreshments for children

Rum Tasting Tour Includes:  Bacardí Cup, Bacardí Special “Welcome” Cocktail and Honorary Certificate of Completion, Distillery Tour and access to the Cathedral of Rum with an assigned Brand Specialist.

Even though I am a history lover and the historical tour was the cheapest, I wanted to have the full experience and make cocktails. The rum tasting tour was not appealing since I like sweet and fruity drinks. The mixologist option was just perfect: For $60 USD per person, we got

“Welcome” pre-tour cocktail

Bacardi Rum glasses

Historical tour of the Bacardi Distillery

3 mixed drinks (Cuba Libre, Mojito, and Diaquiri) that we made ourselves in a class with others. The class was so much fun!

Certificate of Completion 

I should add here that my best friend is not the biggest fan of alcohol, and the mixology tour was all about me. However, she did the full experience except that she made virgin mix drinks instead. So don’t discount that option if you are traveling with someone who doesn’t drink alcohol.

 

 

3. Go Bar & Club Hopping Around Placita de Santurce

I don’t party often but when I do…! This was definitely my second favorite experience, after the rum tour. Placita de Santure has tons of little free entry bars and clubs that play variety of music – hip-hop, salsa, Jamaican dancehall, etc. We went jumping from one club/bar to the next literally every 15 minutes or so. In between clubs and bars, we cooled off on the sidewalks that were crowded with people. It was a great way to people watch and meet new folks.

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4. Experience Nature at El Yunque National Forest

The plan was to get to the forest and swim in the La Mina Waterfall. But we overslept and did not get there until about 5pm, which was after most of the places had closed. Since it was a four-day trip and we had other things on our list, we decided to make the best out of our short time at El Yunque. We met a Haitian couple who were also late, and together we explored the La CoCa Falls and bits of other parts of the forest.

The entry fee is $5 USD. However, because we got there after 5pm, we were able to get in for free. In addition to waterfalls, El Yunque has hiking trails and places to eat.

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La CoCa Falls
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Somewhere in the middle of El Yunque National Forest. The view was amazing! This picture does not do it any justice.

5.Go Sightseeing – Enjoy Outdoor Artwork

I was not the biggest fan of paintings, sculptures, statues, that type of stuff. But somehow I developed a strange fascination with artwork in Puerto Rico, Old San Juan specifically. It all started with me attempting to mimic the guy on the painting below. Then it became a game where I walked around looking for statues to imitate. I am a weirdo. I know. But the point is, you can have fun in the strangest ways if you just let yourself be, and that is totally why I love travel: make a fool out of yourself because no one knows who the hell you are! Well, at least it hasn’t caught up with me yet.

May I add that this was free?!

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6. Visit San Juan National Historic Site

If you want to go cheap, this is definitely a place to put on your list. For $5 USD entry fee and $2 USD per hour parking, you can enjoy some rich Puerto Rican history and get some amazing views of Old San Juan. It is also a great option for everyone else.

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7. Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

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Whole grilled snapper with mango salsa, plantain mofongo, and fruit salad
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(Up) Rice with bacon wrapped baked chicken & side of beans (Down) deep fried pork with rice & side of beans

One of my favorite things about traveling is trying new foods. When I go somewhere new, my mission is always to enjoy traditional, local foods. In Puerto Rico, I ate a lot of mofongo, a signature dish made mainly with fried plantains and sometimes cassava (yuca). I also ate lots of fried cassava, rice and beans, whole grilled/fried fish, and  empanadas (Puerto Rican version of meat pies or patties).

Food is generally a little on the pricey side, but the good news is the portion sizes are huge! Each of us spent about $35-40 per day on food and drinks. But one meal was enough to last us a day with some leftovers. Also, our hotel served free breakfast, so that helped us to save.

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Empanadas (Puerto Rican version of meat pies or patties)
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Fried Cassava (Yucca) filled with cheese

 8. Chill at a Beach

Enjoy the sand. Get wet in the blue/green Caribbean sea because life is dope but only if you allow it. Puerto Rico has loads of beautiful free entry beaches, so if you are into sands and seas, go for it.

We visited the Playa Mar Chiquita beach, not far away from the Hyatt hotel in Manati, where we stayed. Manati is a city with beautiful beaches outside of tourist areas like Old San Juan.  It is a nice place to visit if you want to experience more than just the hot spots.

9. Relax… Don’t Over Think Fun

Need I say more? Nothing ruins the fun like an overly planned trip. Go with the flow. Ask the locals what’s good. Seriously, people are always excited to show you the best of what their places of living have to offer. Asking people you meet along the way is your best resource to finding hidden gems and making the best out of your trip. That is how we found out about Placita de Santurce, which ended up being one of our best experiences!

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10. 9 not enough? Okay fine. Choose from lists of other activities via Puerto Rico Day Trips.

10 Things to Expect When Visiting Jamaica

Welcome to Montego Bay, a sign on the street read. It was real. We were finally in Jamaica. We had just made it past Customs, where my cousin took out her phone to take photos and was warned staunchly by a Jamaican native traveling from New York that she was in on a risky business. “Just like in the US. you don’t take pictures at Customs, you don’t do that here. Trust me honey, you do not want to experience Jamaican prison,” the lady said pointing at a no camera sign. My cousin quickly put it away and we thanked her. “You are welcome. Be very careful out here,” she said after learning we were traveling alone. “People here will act nice even when they are trying to rob you.” This was a warning we got several times. Fast forward at our resort, a security guard also warned us to be home no later than 10pm because he said it was dangerous for two young girls to be roaming the streets of Mobay (Montego Bay) late at night. In my opinion, this advice holds true most places – especially when relying on public transportation. As they say, it is always best to error on the side of caution and security.

Truth be told, though, my cousin and I did not take much of this advice. We were all in for the adventure and lets just say did some questionable things. How questionable? Well, imagine going to a local dark beach at 2am and jumping on a commercial motorcycle to head to the middle of nowhere. In 10 days, we visited two Jamaican cities – Mobay and Negril – and lived life on the tourist and local side. Based on our experience, here are 10 things to expect when visiting Jamaica:

1.Friendly & Free-Spirited Jamaicans

The favorite part about my Jamaican experience was walking around, striking conversations with random people. My cousin, a photographer, had a ton of fun taking photos of locals who were always excited to strike a pose. So, my word of advise when visiting is to leave the resort or hotel, walk the streets and interact with the locals. You would be amazed how much fun you would have learning about people’s daily lives.

 

 

 2. Tourist Price

Welcome to Jamaica – You will be duped. While Jamaicans are some of the warmest people, be careful not to get too carried away. Note that there is bad in every society. While we did not experience any extreme unpleasant event, we dealt with the dreaded tourist price – I’m talking $10 for one small coconut, $15 for piece of jerk chicken on the sidewalk, $200 quote for transportation from Mobay to Negril (we didn’t take this option after learning how ridiculous that was!). This may not sound like a big deal but it gets frustrating REALLY FAST when you are on a budget and realize that you are only being charged a certain way because of your accent. We were able to beat this sometimes by making friends and having them do the talking. A word of caution: take a bit more extra cash.

3. Dramatic Money

Jamaican money will throw you off – and make you feel rich. When we were there December 2016, the USD exchange rate was $1USD to $123 Jamaican dollars. This means that you could be spending thousands of dollars on items that would cost you two digits in the US.

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4. Street Sellers

Whether on the beach or side walks, expect to be approached by multiple sellers who would try to pursue you to buy their goods. This amplifies when you enter a store to window shop. You may also encounter taxi and bus drivers as well as motorist who would honk at you, in attempts to book them.

5. Aggressive & Thirsty Men

Jamaican men are aggressive. They are chasers. When they want you, they will follow you – literally. Be prepared for some of the most dramatic “cat” calls – I’m talking about a driver putting his entire head outside a car window to whistle at you. This happened to us several times.

6. Party till the Sun Comes Out

While the clubs are shutting down at 3am in some parts of the world, in Jamaica, it is often just kicking. Local Jamaican clubs (such as Jungle), not the tourist ones like Margaritaville, start to explode around 2-3am. By this time, everyone is high enough and the craziness comes out. Be prepared to dance until the crack of dawn. I mean you can always leave of course. But what’s the fun it that?

7. Colors

Jamaica is a colorful country. From apartments to resorts to small and large businesses, expect to see loud bright colors most places.

 

 

 

8. Facade

Jamaicans know that foreigners are fascinated by their language, accent, music, and the good/fun stereotypes associated with them. Sometimes, they play into the fascination and create a facade. For instance, we were told by a few locals that “yeah Mon” is not something that they say to each other regularly. But they tend to do so when a foreigner is around. Sorry to ruin it for you.

9. Freedom of the Ganja

If there is one stereotype true about Jamaica it is the availability of weed (marijuana, Ganja – however you call it). Upon your visit, you will likely be approached a couple of times to buy a blunt and when you give the “I don’t smoke response,” be prepared for a shocking look and prepared to answer – “But why?”

10. Police Women in Skirts

Yep, the picture below says it all.

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Negril Vs Montego Bay

Margaritaville (Left: Negril | right: Montegobay). Margaritaville is located on the Hip Strip in Montegobay and on the Seven Mile beach in Negril.

Negril and Monetgo Bay are two of Jamaica’s most popular cities. Both beautiful and full of tourist attractions, they are perfect choices for relaxation and adventure. However, depending on what you like to do for fun, you may find one city more appealing than the other.

Negril

  • Laid back and relaxing vibe
  • Lots of breath-taking sceneries
  • Home of the famous Seven Mile beach, Rick’s Cafe, and Jungle Night Club
  • Nice places to eat: Rick’s Cafe, Seven Mile beach (7 mile has tons of restaurants, bars, and sellers, which gives several options in one location!)

 

 

Montego Bay

  • Home of Montego Bay International Airport, which means easier airport access!
  • Busy and city vibe
  • Home of the famous Hip Strip and Dr. Caves beach
  • Nice places to eat: Pier One, Pork Pit, Pelican Grill, Scothies, Margaritaville

 

 

My Pick: Montego Bay

Truth be told, a lot of people I spoke with said they prefer Negril to Montego Bay. I can easily see why. Negril is quite beautiful with lots of attractions and things to do – whether it is jumping off the cliff at Rick’s Cafe, walking the Seven Mile long beach, or enjoying authentic Jamaican music and nightlife at Jungle Night Club. However, there is something about Montego Bay that captivated me in ways that I felt Negril lacked. I loved walking the Hip Strip, meeting and chatting with new people every day. The busyness of the strip, the ease at which I could walk to a restaurant, local beach, or a bar to chill,  sold me into the city!

Whenever I visit Jamaica again, I will definitely stop by both places. Who knows – my preference may change in the future, but for now, Montego Bay has a special spot in my heart.

Dont Go Jamaica to Eat Burgers

Don’t go Jamaica to eat burgers. Or fries. And/or fries. I mean you can do whatever you want, but really – don’t. What is the fun in going all the way across the sea to stand in line at Burger King or order the same thing you always order at home? You probably have a good answer for that, but really I will insist that you be adventurous and indulge in local delicacies. It is part of what makes travel – travel.

With that being said, here are some Jamaican delicacies to ditch your burger for (okay okay, you can have the fries after):

Rice & Beans (sometimes called rice & peas) with curried goat

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Unless beans makes you gassy, rice makes you itchy (yep, no kidding – some folks really do get itchy from eating rice), and goat makes you (well, lets stop there – you get the idea), you should indulge in this meal at least once. Literally almost all restaurants that I visited had rice and beans and curried goats on their menu, so you would have no excuse not to. I am not really great at describing good food other than saying it’s delicious so here you go – it was delicious! (Place: eatery at Dr. Cave’s Beach in Montego Bay)

Rice & Beans (sometimes called rice & peas) with  steamed fish

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Another rice and beans again, you say? Well, if Jamaica had a national meal, I want to bet it would be rice and beans. It is everywhere – in every place.  And as you can see, they are creative with pairing it with different protein. The Pork Pit in Montego Bay makes some really yummy grilled pork that goes along with it and the Pelican Grill in Montego Bay also makes good oxtail. Honestly, this particular fish was not seasoned to my standards – that’s right, I have high seasoning standards. But, hey, at least I can say I had fish in Jamaica! I know – super important. (Place: eatery at Dr. Cave’s Beach in Montego Bay)

Jamaican Patties

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I bet you are thinking there is more than just patties – I know I know. The spread was so beautiful, so I had to take a picture of them all, but ignore the rest and focus on the star here. The beef stuffing was tender and nice and the pastry was light with just the right amount of crisp. Look at me -using other words than delicious !

I must say, while on the pricey side, the food at Rick’s Cafe, where this meal was produced and devoured,  were my favorite !

Breakfast: Yam, plantain, acheke, banana, collard greens & cabbage

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If I should be honest, this breakfast meal was my least favorite. I was not a fan of anything other than the collard greens and fish which was nicely seasoned. There is not much to say about it other than I gave it a try. If you were to stay at El Greco Resort in Montego Bay on your next trip, give it a shot also. You  just may call me crazy.

Fried plantain and scrambled eggs

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Plantains are part of Jamaican cuisine but this combo is not necessarily Jamaican. I love fried plantains and scrambled eggs, didn’t like the Jamaican breakfast, so why not? I bet the chef at The Westernder Inn, Negril will never forget how annoying I was with my special requests. I was really kind and smiled when I made my orders – I promise.

Red Stripe beer

DSC_3602.jpgWell, I dont drink beer so here we go-  along with rum punch, Red stripe is quite popular there.

Jamaica Travel Budget: How Much is It?

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It is 15,000. I’m joking! Of course, there is no magic number! But if you are considering a trip to Jamaica and wondering how much you should budget, you have come to the right spot. First, let’s cover the fact that the amount a person spends on a trip is contingent on a number of factors. I would argue preference is number one. If you prefer to fly first class, for instance, you can imagine that you would spend more on airfare than someone who would rather economy. Your preference of fun is also a big determinant of your budget. A person who thrives in excursions will spend more than someone who would rather spend every day of their vacation on a sunny beach with a book. I don’t know why anyone would, but we don’t judge ; )

In my case, I spent a lot on food and drinks – hey, foodie here!  I did not care so much about excursions. Fun for me was making friends and interacting with the locals, trying new foods, and just “going with the flow.” Truth be told, though, I did wish I had a lot more cash to travel to other parts of the country like Kingston and Orcho Rios. And every now and then, I wished I knew how to swim so that I could do cool stuff like snorkeling or scuba diving. Yep, you heard me right – I really do not know how to swim.

Anyway, as I was saying, the amount of money you spend in Jamaica will also depend on how “street smart” you are. Here’s why. Jamaicans will charge you ridiculously as soon as they realize you are a tourist or foreigner. To beat this, you have to bargain and not settle. One strategy is to make friends with the locals and have them do the talking for you! [Check out 10 Things to Expect When Visiting Jamaica]. Honestly, I wasn’t always the smartest with bargaining. Sometimes I was just lazy to do so and just gave them whatever they asked for. Stay strong! For this reason, I did spend a lot more here and there.

Based on my activities and such, here is the estimated cost of my trip:

Estimated Cost Breakdown (For my cousin & I)

Flight -direct from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Mobay, Jamaica: $1,132.00

Sun Country baggage fee – $100, $25 each way per person

Hotel (El Greco Resort) 4 nights  breakfast included- $392.64 + $100 mandatory deposit -$492.62

Transportation from Airport to El Greco using random bus at airport – $30

Transportation from Mobay to Negril – $100 ($80 + tip)

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Westender Inn 6 nights no breakfast – $740.25

Food, drinks, gifts, transportation around Negril etc no excursions – approximately $1000

Transportation from Negril to Mobay Airport – $80

Approximate Total for Two persons – $3,674.89 USD