Fully Immersed in Puerto Rico, Exploring from the East Tip to the West Tip of the Island; Part 3

San Juan and Carolina, Puerto Rico

Many people visiting Puerto Rico visit and stay in the capital and largest city on the island: San Juan, which is home to the infamous Condado and the Isla Verde. These are areas aside from Old San Juan where visitors can find: nightclubs, restaurants, bars, and hotels on the ocean strip. It is extremely popular, and for great reason; it’s marvelous! Being from Miami, this area feels the most like home to me. 

Old San Juan, is about 10 min away by car and is home to the beautiful: Castillo San Felipe del Morro (San Felipe del Morro Castle). This area is a great place to catch a vibe, a salsa dance, a bite, and amazing scenic views. Walking around the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan feels like romance.

San Juan is the most populated city in Puerto Rico, the most visited city in Puerto Rico, the city with the most vegan restaurants, and the city with the most popular tourist attractions. When I visit, I always stay on or near the oceanfront. This time I decided to stay in more residential areas: Santurce and Carolina. 

My Time in Santurce, a Neighborhood in San Juan Puerto Rico

This was my first time visiting this area; usually I visit San Juan and I stay in or around Condado and/or Isla Verde. Being fully immersed here without a car, I wanted to book in areas that had grocery stores within walking distance. Santurce was very accommodating in that regard. 

This is a very walkable area: grocery stores, vegan restaurants, gas stations, bars, bookstores, so much within walking distance. It isn’t quiet here like it was on the private island in Fajardo or like my experience in Caguas, but my location had everything I needed within a 10 minute walk. I could even get to Condado on foot within 35 minutes. 

The street I booked on was a busy one. Various businesses surrounded me: convenience stores, gas stations, retail chains, barber shops, beauty shops, restaurants, schools, and more. I enjoyed the neighborhood from the balcony mostly, where birds came to see me and where sunrise graced the morning.

This is where I saw a place that doesn’t rely on the city, like we do in the states. There was a huge pothole on the street that I was staying on. Daily, I noticed the front tires of cars harshly go into them, and drivers having one of those “ugh omg wtf” reactions. One evening I was on the balcony and noticed that the locals used rocks, cardboard, and cement mix to fill up the pothole themselves. 

I saw this same effort while I was eating vegan at a local vegan restaurant. The residents of a building were filling in a pothole that formed just at the entry of the property. It showed me strength and reliance on self. It also made me sad because the city should have handled this, not the people. 

This visit is when I noticed for the first time, the differences between stateside living and island living; outside of the obvious differences. 

My Time in Carolina, Puerto Rico

Carolina is a city immediately east of  San Juan. I stayed in a residential neighborhood, 8 minutes away from the mall, about 10 minutes away from the airport, 13 minutes from Isla Verde, and 3 blocks away from a shopping plaza that had just about everything I needed for a 2 week stay. I felt like I could reside in this area. 

While staying here, I enjoyed a visit to Isla Verde, lunch at the mall, and walks around the neighborhood where I saw a horse as a pet… maybe transportation. Many of the homes had chickens roaming the yard and on many days, the loudest sounds were nature. 

Walking the neighborhood, I noticed a variety of home types: 3 level homes, one level homes, condominiums, and apartment buildings. They say there is no middle class in Puerto Rico but to me, the area I was in felt middle class. Like many middle class neighborhoods, school and work routines in the morning, the sounds of everyone coming home in the afternoon, and families at dinner tables in the evenings. 

Now, I haven’t experienced these cities in full; I haven’t stayed in all neighborhoods of these cities. But in my opinion, I think Carolina makes for a better long term/ fully immersed stay, and San Juan is for the vacationer. 

Final Words

I worked and read a lot in January, therefore, I didn’t get out to explore and see a bunch. Part of the fully immersed experience was to slow down, sit down, and write; and I did a bunch of that. I got out when my body wanted it, and didn’t force anything. I flowed, didn’t push. My last day in the area, I went in to meet, experience, and review an Ethiopian restaurant in San Juan that was AMAZING!

My last day there was also the day that my tour of the full island of Puerto Rico started. More on this in my next one. Stay tuned. 

Written by and all photos by: Veronica Castillo; the Traveling Cannabis Writer

Sponsored by: Sky High PEO