Category: about cities
48 Hours in San Juan, Puerto Rico
01 of 04
The Perfect Itinerary for a Weekend in San Juan, PR
When you’re craving a quick tropical getaway in the US that boasts beautiful beaches, plenty of nightlife options, and adventure activities to boot, Puerto Rico’s capital of San Juan fits the bill. It’s a convenient destination since airlines such as American Airlines, Delta, United, and JetBlue all fly from most major US cities direct to San Juan; and American citizens don’t need a passport because it’s a US territory. Here is where to stay, eat, and go on this romantic Caribbean island.Continue to 2 of 4 below.
02 of 04
Friday Afternoon: Spa & Dine
Sleep in Style
Outside the historic district of Old San Juan and connected by a small bridge is the beach and resort area of Condado. Once known as the “Riviera of the Caribbean,” Condado was a popular winter retreat for the rich and famous in the 1920s, and again in the 1960s when it went through a revival. Today its a swanky neighborhood with upscale resorts, designer shops, and some of the best restaurants on the island.
Spend your two nights in San Juan sleeping first-class style at the Condado Vanderbilt, which recently underwent a $200 million renovation. Designed in Spanish Revival-style architecture, this hotel nestled on the Atlantic coast breathes spaciousness and class, thanks in part to the clean white walls, high ceilings, and elegant archways. The Condado Vanderbilt has pool and beach butlers for their private beach and pool cabanas; seven dining options; and is the only hotel in the area with an onsite spa. If you feel like a splurge, the Hammam Ritual is sure to ease any muscle aches from being on a plane. This traditional Turkish treatment involves lots of steam, laying on a slab of smooth heated marble and a body exfoliation using cleansing black soap.
Explore Old San Juan
After checking in to the hotel and hitting the spa, get a cab (or an Uber, which has only recently become available on the island) and spend the evening strolling around historic Old San Juan’s cobblestone streets. Tucked among the old churches and peaceful plazas are also plenty of shops, galleries, and bars. The stone wall built in the 16th century to protect the city still rises above the Atlantic Ocean. Just outside the city walls, you’ll find the Paseo de la Princesa, a walkway along the water that’s lined with artists, musicians, entertainers, and craft vendors on weekend nights.
For a romantic dinner that delivers both on ambiance and taste, don’t miss dining at Hotel El Convento’s Patio del Nispero. The ceiling of this open-air restaurant inside this former convent is a century-old nispero fruit tree. Opt for seafood dishes such as the pan-fried red snapper with mashed plantain and fresh papaya sauce; or try Puerto Rico’s traditional mofongo, a mashed mixture of fried green plantains and pork cracklings that forms a shell and is usually filled with chicken, skirt steak or shrimp. You might also ask the chef to customize your meal using herbs from their onsite garden.Continue to 3 of 4 below.
03 of 04
Saturday: Road Trip & Hike
Take a Scenic Hike
Grab breakfast to go and rent a Jeep for some road tripping to El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. (There’s a Budget rental across the street from the Condado Vanderbilt and Enterprise is only a few minutes' walk away). It’s about a 45-minute drive if you take the main toll highway 66 until it ends at 3 East and you take a right to the park at the third traffic light. Aim to get there early to beat the crowds and give yourself plenty of time to hike to the observation tower at El Yunque Peak for a breathtaking view of the lush green forests and brilliant blue ocean before the mist that usually creeps in around noon cloaks the landscape. You can actually drive through the park up to the Las Picachos Trailhead for a shorter climb that still has gorgeous views, or take the longer but more scenic El Yunque Trail for a five-mile, three-to-four-hour roundtrip hike along many different types of forest. Pack a lunch to eat at the peak, but know that there are also a few vendors inside the park selling snacks and drinks.
Take Scenic Drive
After you’ve gotten a view of eastern Puerto Rico from above, hop back in your Jeep to take the scenic route back to San Juan by driving along the two-lane Road 187 through Rio Grande and the Afro-Puerto Rican town of Loiza to the beachside town of Pinones. Vast stretches of beach melt into the gemstone-blue ocean and go on for miles. If you pull off the road, you’ll find tracks running through the sand dunes with parking spots carved out in between the tall grasses and overlooking the waves. Grab a cheap beer or coconut water from one of the many roadside kiosks that also serve up fried snacks made over fires, such as bacalaítos (fried codfish fritters). Enjoy the sunset, but be sure to head back to San Juan before dark as this road isn’t the safest at night.
Contrast a jam-packed day of hiking and sand with a swanky dinner back at the Condado Vanderbilt’s Wine Spectator award-winning 1919 restaurant. With more than 250 wines to choose from, you can toast your accomplishment of hiking to the peak with an unobstructed view of the Atlantic, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows. A Michelin-starred chef may be preparing you beautifully-presented dishes such as caviar with coconut-cucumber broth.Continue to 4 of 4 below.
04 of 04
Sunday Morning: Surf & Sun
Go for Brunch
Start your last morning in San Juan on a healthy note by grabbing breakfast at Tostado, one of the locals’ favorite brunch spots in Condado. Much of the ingredients are locally-sourced and the takeout containers are compost-friendly. There are vegan and organic options, fresh-squeezed juices, and deliciously smooth lattes. Try the vegan pumpkin coconut pancakes and any of the breads made with organic flour in-house.
Ride the Waves
Make the morning count before you fly out by signing up for surf lessons at the Courtyard by Marriott Isla Verde Beach Resort (about $50 per person per hour). The Isla Verde neighborhood is east of Condado en route to the airport, and, though not as glitzy as Condado, it boasts a clean, wide beach with gentle waves perfect for learning to surf—and one of the best stretches of beach on the island. If not you’re heading back to the hotel, you can rinse the saltwater off in the outdoor showers and change in the resort’s bathrooms. Just be sure to bring a plastic bag to pack your wet bathing suit for the plane. Return home with beach hair and the memory of a fun adventure as vacation souvenirs.
Trinidad – Sweetest Colonial City in Cuba
01 of 14
A Day in Trinidad – Cruise Excursion from Cienfuegos, Cuba
Cienfuegos – Cruise Ship Port of Call and Gateway to Trinidad
Cienfuegos is a port of call on Cuba cruises. The People to People Cuba cruise program on the Celestyal Crystal cruise ship includes a tour of Cienfuegos, but many cruisers take an optional full-day tour to Trinidad.
Cienfuegos is a city of 150,000 and more than just a gateway to the more famous tourist town of Trinidad. Those on the tour of Cienfuegos gave it good marks, and the city has a lovely tree-lined malecón and a historic colonial downtown area that has earned UNESCO World Heritage Site status for its 19th-century design. In addition to being younger than many Cuban cities, Cienfuegos has a different atmosphere because it was founded in 1819 by French immigrants from France and Louisiana. Many of the streets still have French names. The city is not named for the Cuban revolutionary hero Camilo Cienfuegos, but for a Captain General of an island with the same name.
Like Trinidad, Cienfuegos is a major agricultural city that flourished in the 19th century. Having one of Cuba's best harbors added to the city's wealth and importance. In its Punta Gorda district, Cienfuegos still has many palatial homes dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Trinidad – Cuba's Sweetest City
Trinidad is one of the best-preserved colonial cities in the Americas. Although the history of this Cuban city dates back to 1514, Trinidad's wealthiest period and most of its historic buildings are from the late 1700's to the late 1800's when sugar was king. Because of these many colonial structures, Trinidad has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988.
Trinidad is located on the south-central coast of Cuba, less than 10 miles from the nearest beach and less than 15 miles from the Escambray Mountains. However, as noted above, cruise ships dock at the city of Cienfuegos, which has one of Cuba's best natural harbors and is about 50 miles (83 km) northwest of Trinidad. Driving time is about 1.5 hours each way, but the road is scenic, passing through many tobacco and sugar cane fields, with great mountain and sea views along the way. After visiting the two major metropolitan areas of Santiago de Cuba and Havana on a cruise ship, seeing some of the Cuban countryside is a pleasant alternative.Continue to 2 of 14 below.
02 of 14
Pottery Kiln in Trinidad, Cuba
The bus leaves the cruise ship docked in Cienfuegos about 8:30 am and arrives in Trinidad about 10:30 am. The drive is scenic and interesting. It's nice to see some of the Cuban countryside.
After about two hours on a bus, most shore excursion participants are ready for a break before beginning their walking tour. This one is no different, and the first stop at this pottery shop has a clean toilet and shopping opportunities.
Like many towns with tourism as a major industry, pottery making is a popular art in Trinidad. This potter made the lovely pottery shown in the next photo.Continue to 3 of 14 below.
03 of 14
Pottery for Sale in Trinidad, Cuba
This pottery shop in Trinidad had many different types of pots. These black and white, very modern ones are an interesting contrast to the old colonial city.
After about 30-45 minutes at the pottery shop, the guests reboard the bus for the short ride to old town. The rest of the tour is on foot.Continue to 4 of 14 below.
04 of 14
Traditional Street in Trinidad, Cuba
Old town Trinidad is filled with narrow streets, so cruise ship guests arriving by bus take a walking tour of the city. Most tours start in Plaza Mayor, the central square, and the walking tour shown in the next 10 photos takes about two to three hours.
One of the first things many visitors notice are the streets of Trinidad, which are narrow and lined with pastel colored retail buildings and homes. These streets are reminiscent of Antigua, Guatemala, which was also built by the Spanish in the early 1500's.Continue to 5 of 14 below.
05 of 14
Plaza Mayor in Trinidad, Cuba
Like most Spanish cities, Trinidad has a large central square named Plaza Mayor. The square is surrounded by colonial buildings in pastel colors, and the streets are topped with very uneven cobblestones. Wearing sensible walking shoes is a must for touring Trinidad since cars and buses are not allowed on most of the narrow streets.
The next three sides show buildings surrounding Plaza Mayor that were built in the 18th and 19th centuries when Trinidad was its wealthiest due to the sugar and slave trade.Guides provide information on all of these buildings when on a walking tour.
The tour group arrives at the central square about 11 am, walks around the old city for about 2.5 hours, and then has lunch at about 2 pm in an old historic building.Continue to 6 of 14 below.
06 of 14
Church of the Holy Trinity in Trinidad, Cuba
At the top of Plaza Mayor in Trinidad is the Church of the Holy Trinity (also called Iglesia Parroquial de la Santísima). Construction of this church was completed in 1892. One of the interesting features of the church is a wooden statue of Jesus called, “The Lord of the True Cross”. This statue was originally being carried from Spain, destined to be in a church in Veracruz, Mexico. The ship carrying the statue had to take safe haven during a storm and then had turn back to Trinidad three times because of sudden bad weather. It was only after it off-loaded the statue that the ship sailed safely on to Veracruz. Residents of Trinidad consider these storms divine intervention and proudly display the statue in their own church.Continue to 7 of 14 below.
07 of 14
Musico Romantico and Convento de San Francisco de Asís in Trinidad, Cuba
The Museo Romantico is housed in the building on the right side of the photo and is just off the Plaza Mayor. This building is also known as the Palacio Brunet, named for the wealthy sugar baron, Conde de Brunet, who lived in the palace from 1830 to 1860. Today, it is a museum houses a collection of glass and porcelain pieces, artwork, and antique furniture from the estates of Brunet and several other wealthy citizens of Trinidad.
The green and yellow bell tower of the Convento de San Francisco de Asís is one of the most-photographed buildings in Trinidad. Built in 1813, the building started as a Franciscan monastery, but also served as a parish church and a jail. Most of the original buildings were torn down in the 1920's. Today the buildings that remain house the National Museum of the Struggle against Bandits (isn't that a great name). This museum is dedicated to the revolutionary forces (“bandits”) of the late 1950's who hid out in the Escambray Mountains near Trinidad and caused many problems for the region in their attempts to destabilize the country.Continue to 8 of 14 below.
08 of 14
Museum of Colonial Architecture in Trinidad, Cuba
The Museum of Colonial Architecture is on the Plaza Mayor and features architectural and interior decorating details from the periods of the 18th and 19th centuries. The building was once the home of the Sanchez Iznaga family.Continue to 9 of 14 below.
09 of 14
Trinidad Street Market and Museo Histórico Municipal Tower
Trinidad has many shops selling local handicrafts, and it also has this street market next to the Municipal Historical Museum. This museum is interesting, but the best part was taking the narrow steps to the top of the tower in the photo above. This tower provided wonderful views of Trinidad, the sea, and the nearby mountains.Continue to 10 of 14 below.
10 of 14
Museo Histórico Municipal in Trinidad, Cuba
The Municipal Historical Museum is housed in the former mansion of the Burrell family, who owned the property from 1827 to 1830. It was later owned by German plantation owner Dr. Justo Cantero (originally Kanter), who may have obtained his plantations and wealth through nefarious means. It is thought that he poisoned a rich slave trader and plantation owner and then married his widow. Soon after their marriage, his new bride also died a mysterious death, leaving her groom a wealthy man.
The Municipal Historical Museum has many historical pieces, but the best part is taking the very narrow stairway to the top of the tower. The next two photos show the views from the tower.Continue to 11 of 14 below.
11 of 14
View of Trinidad From the Museo Histórico Municipal Tower
This photo taken from the tower of the Municipal Museum of Trinidad shows how compact the city is. None of the houses have yards, although the former mansions have courtyards. This view is out towards the Caribbean Sea, which is less than 10 miles away.Continue to 12 of 14 below.
12 of 14
Trinidad Streets and Surrounding Mountains
This photo taken from the tower of the Municipal Museum of Trinidad shows the narrow streets of the city, the pastel buildings, and the red-tiled roofs of the houses. The Escambray Mountains are in the distance.Continue to 13 of 14 below.
13 of 14
Iglesia de Santa Ana in Trinidad, Cuba
Not all the colonial buildings in Trinidad have been well maintained or preserved. This Church of Santa Ana was built in 1812 and may have been lovely at one time, but today it is just a shell. The walls of the church look very fragile, and it wasn't surprising to find the doors locked.Continue to 14 of 14 below.
14 of 14
Santa Ana Restaurant in Trinidad, Cuba
The Cuba cruise tour group enjoyed a late lunch buffet at the Santa Ana restaurant in Trinidad. Buffets are always good for large groups, and it is nice to sit down after walking on the cobblestones for a while. The building where the restaurant is housed was once a 19th-century prison.
Following the lunch, the guests board the buses for the ride back to Cienfuegos where their cruise ship awaits them. They are back on the Celestyal Crystal by 5:30 pm.
What I Spent: Five Nights in San Juan, Puerto Rico
01 of 07
The upfront costs of vacations are predictable. It’s the little things—airport snacks, cocktails before dinner, tipping a tour guide—that can throw even the most well-planned vacation budget off track. In this new series, we’ll look at the spending patterns of real travelers in popular destinations, so you can estimate what you’ll actually spend. (Thanks for the inspiration, Refinery29!)
In this installment, a couple travels to San Juan, Puerto Rico for six days of sun.
Flight: $685, round-trip from DEN to SJU (bought two months in advance)
Accommodations: Free—we stayed with my brother’s colleague and his wife in their beachside condo. We had an overnight layover on the way home, though: $99 for a room at the Wingate by Wyndham Charlotte Airport South/I-77 Tyvola, which offers a free shuttle service to and from the airport.
Baggage fees: My boyfriend and I shared a large duffel to save some money (plus I’m a serial overpacker). Cost: $50 ($25 each way)
Size of Group: 4Continue to 2 of 7 below.
02 of 07
Wednesday to Thursday
4:15 p.m. Our Uber arrives. We all have TSA Pre-Check, but we’re heading to the airport early to squeeze in dinner before our 7 p.m. flight. My brother picks up the ride. Cost: $100 for Global Entry, which includes TSA Pre-Check (valid for five years)
4:40 p.m. The drive is quick, but the line to drop off checked bags is snaking through the concourse. We head outside to check it curbside, which saves us a lot of time. Cost: $2 tip
5:15 p.m. What’s a vacation without a little indulgence? We grab a table at Elway’s, a Colorado steak house, and cheers to forgetting about work for a week (a vodka-Sprite for me). I order the steak tacos, which are in the appetizer section but entrée-sized. Cost: $33
7:07 p.m. We’re finally on our way—to Houston, where we have a layover.
12:25 a.m. (next day) Our one-hour layover has turned into two, and almost nothing is open in the airport so my boyfriend and I wander bleary-eyed around the terminal until we’re finally able to board.
7 a.m. We grab our duffel from baggage claim and head outside to meet my brother’s colleague. He arranged for a van to pick us up and take us to his home. Cost: $0
8:01 a.m. We unpack our bags and then beeline to the patio to take in the views of Condado Beach. We’re anxious to feel the sand under our feet, but our hosts have graciously cooked breakfast for us so we fuel up with scrambled eggs and ham, fresh fruit (some of the juiciest mango, papaya, and pineapple I’ve ever tasted), and apple-filled pastries from a nearby bakery.
10:30 a.m. You always forget something when you go on a trip, and this vacation was no exception. We walk two blocks to CVS for a couple bottles of sunscreen. I pay. Cost: $19.26
11:18 a.m. We nab four lounge chairs on the sand in front of the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. (Our hosts are members of the hotel’s Ocean Club Wellness Center Spa, which gives us access to the venue’s amenities as well.) A server from the resort’s La Isla Beach Bar and Grill walks over and takes our order for Miami Vices. My brother’s girlfriend picks up the tab. Cost: $0
2:09 p.m. In need of a break from the sun, we wander to Ashford Avenue, the main drag in the Condado area. After peeking into a number of fairly empty restaurants, we end up at Pannes. Here we get our first taste of local (read: the Coors of Puerto Rico) lagers—Magna and Medalla Light—and cuisine. Mofongo is a dense ball of mashed green plantains, typically stuffed with a protein. I order mine with chicken in tomato sauce; it’s dense and comforting—and definitely not the first choice when you’re wearing a bikini. Cost: $17
3 p.m. We walk the few blocks back to our condo to take a nap, shower, and get ready for dinner.
6:20 p.m. The four of us hop in an already-paid-for shuttle with our hosts. Our destination: Old San Juan, one of the oldest cities in the United States. Cost: $0
6:48 p.m. The cabbie drops us near the entrance to El Morro, which the Spanish built in the 16th century to protect the San Juan Bay from attacks (including by pirates). We take in the sight and then wander down the area’s sloping, blue-cobblestone streets, passing colorful buildings and fellow tourists seeking cocktails and dinner.
7:07 p.m. Carli’s Fine Bistro & Piano is packed when we enter, but thankfully we already have reservations. The restaurant is owned by pianist Carli Muñoz, who spent 11 years touring with the Beach Boys. He treats us to a short stint at the piano as we sip our drinks (a Mojito for me). I order the night’s special: churrasco (skirt steak) with roasted potatoes and sautéed vegetables. Cost: $40
9:45 p.m. The shuttle picks us back up and takes us home. After sleeping fitfully on the plane and today’s short nap, I’m excited to get to bed early. Cost: $0Continue to 3 of 7 below.
03 of 07
9:45 a.m. We awake to the smell of pancakes. Eager to get in the water, we eat quickly. My brother and his girlfriend, up before my boyfriend and I, decide to take a walk down Ashford Avenue. They meet us at the beach an hour later with a six-pack of Medalla beer—and a tip. The liquor store is way overpriced; in the future, we should buy our alcohol at CVS. We manage to hold off popping open a can until about 11:30 a.m. Cost: $0
1 p.m. The current at Condado Beach is strong, the breaking waves pretty relentless. Between the sun and the workout we get from diving beneath them, we’re starving. Our hosts want to give us a taste of traditional Puerto Rican cuisine, so they treat us to a homemade lunch of fried plantains, roasted chicken, rice, and red beans. Cost: $0
4:30 p.m. After a couple more hours of beach lounging, we pack up for our evening excursion. We know we won’t really have a chance to eat dinner, so we head across the street to the small natural grocer to pick up some snacks—protein bars and plantain chips—for the bus ride. We spot the largest avocados any of us has ever seen; they’re the size of cantaloupes! Cost: $12.50
5:15 p.m. Our meeting point is the tour desk at the Marriott. From here, we load onto a small bus for the hourlong drive east to Fajardo (with a short stop to pick up more passengers), where we’ll set off on the Glowing Bay Adventure to Laguna Grande with Island Kayaking Adventures. Cost: $100 per person, including transportation
7 p.m. We arrive in Fajardo with 30 minutes to use the public bathroom (which costs 50 cents), apply bug spray, and grab a small bite to eat from one of the nearby food stalls. We opt for hot-out-of-the-fryer carne empanadas from Delicias Criollas Dorcas. Cost: $4.50
7:30 p.m. After a brief safety presentation, my boyfriend and I load into our shared kayak and our group sets off into the lagoon. The new moon is barely visible, which makes our journey through the mangrove channel all the more thrilling. Twenty-or-so minutes later, the landscape opens up and we are officially in the bay. We sweep our hands through the water and watch the dinoflagellates sparkle in response. Too soon, we direct our kayaks back toward the mangroves and our ride home.
11:15 p.m. The bus drops us at the Marriott. I’m too tired to eat, but my boyfriend and brother grab burgers to-go from Buns Burger Shop. Cost: $0Continue to 4 of 7 below.
04 of 07
7:40 a.m. After a late night, this early wake-up call is rough. My boyfriend and I head to the small café inside the Marriott for a grab-and-go breakfast. I pay. Cost: $12.52
8 a.m. We load onto the bus that will take us to El Yunque National Forest, the only rainforest in the U.S. national forest system. Cost: $69 per person, plus a $20 tip for our guide (we split the tip by couple)
9:20 a.m. Short pit stop to watch the park’s welcome video (narrated by native Puerto Rican Benicio del Toro) and hit the bathrooms.
11 a.m. A one-mile “hike” along a stone path through the forest leads us to La Mina Falls. We strip off our sneakers and step delicately into the frigid water, clambering over rocks to reach the rushing water. I stay under the falls just long enough for a photo-op (thank you, waterproof camera).
11:56 a.m. On the walk back to the bus, we stop to pose for pictures in front of a towering, moss-covered tree.
12:11 p.m. The final stop on our rainforest tour is the Yokahú Tower, which was built in 1962 as an observation tower. We climb the 98 steps and breathe in the fresh air and views of the cloud forest and northeast coastline.
12:45 p.m. Our guide pulls over on the side of the road at a small fritter stand run by two locals who speak zero English. Puerto Ricans call almost anything fried “fritters,” mostly to make it easy for us non-Spanish speakers. In this case, “fritters” translates to empanadas, taquitos, and papas rellenas—and nothing cost more than $2.50. Everyone chips in a few dollars. Cost: $3
5:55 p.m. After some down time at our condo, we head down Ashford Avenue to grab a drink and watch the sun set. At the Piña Loka food truck, I go full tourist and treat myself to a carved-out pineapple filled with piña colada that I then have to lug to the beach. We enjoy the view for all of 10 minutes before it starts pouring rain and we run for cover. Cost: $12
7:45 p.m. The rain forced us inside just in time to get ready for dinner. It’s New Year’s Eve and our hosts have booked us a table at one of their favorite fine dining spots: Pikayo Restaurant, inside the Condado Plaza Hilton. They pay for the short cab ride. The three-course prix fixe menu is modern but rooted in local favorites. A tequila cocktails starts the evening off, followed by salad, Alaskan king salmon in a spicy mango sauce, and a Nutella-rich dessert. Cost: $95
11:35 p.m. Shortly before midnight, the staff hands out noisemakers and NYE hats. The salsa band gets started, and much of the restaurant—including our group—gets up to dance.
1 a.m. Our hosts once again pay for our ride home. We have one more drink on the patio before calling it a night. Cost: $0Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
11:32 a.m. With an early lunch planned, we enjoy a lazy morning before hopping in the car to Ocean Park Beach. We have a date with the beachfront Pamela’s Caribbean Cuisine. I slip my flip-flops off and dig my toes into the sand while perusing the menu of Caribbean-fusion eats. The group shares some superfresh grouper ceviche and calamari, and I get the churrasco wrap with chipotle-pineapple salsa for my meal. My brother treats. Cost: $0
1:05 p.m. Pamela’s guests have access to the restaurant’s beach chairs and umbrellas. Our server sets four up for us closer to the water after our hosts head home, and we let our lunch settle as we soak in the sun.
2:34 p.m. A man selling beers from a cooler wanders by. My boyfriend orders a Corona. Cost: $0 ($3 for him)
3:18 p.m. My boyfriend and I wander down to the end of the beach—past dozens of kitesurfers getting their gear ready—and meet my brother and his girlfriend at the outdoor bar connected to Hostería del Mar. It’s happy hour from 1 to 5 p.m., so my house-made sangria tastes especially sweet. Cost: $7
4:37 p.m. We’d planned to walk along the beach the entire way back to our condo, but an unpassable section forces us onto Ashford for the final few blocks.
6:40 p.m. We grab a cab at the Marriott to take us to Old San Juan for dinner. Unfortunately, many of the roads are closed due to preparation for some government events taking place the next day. And with so many people in town for the holidays, many restaurants are already booked. We detour to a nearby Ruth’s Chris Steak House (a favorite of our hosts’) instead. I order a Caesar salad and lamb chops. They pay. Cost: $0Continue to 6 of 7 below.
06 of 07
7:50 a.m. Another early wake-up for our final excursion of the trip. But first, a quick breakfast to-go. Cost: $0 (cheers to Starbucks gift cards)
8:05 a.m. We hop on the bus to meet our catamaran, the Spread Eagle II (yes, really) for a day of snorkeling off the coast of Fajardo. Cost: $116 per person, plus a $20 tip for the crew (which I cover)
10 a.m. All aboard! We set sail for Icacos Island. Due to the time of year and choppy water, there’s not much to see while snorkeling (snorkels are provided by the tour company), so we hop back on the boat and enjoy our included buffet lunch before grabbing some beers (my brother’s treat), heading to shore, and wading in the shallows before taking off for our second stop. Cost: $0
2 p.m. The crew anchors off the shore of Palominos Island, the private island of El Conquistador, A Waldorf Astoria Resort. We jump into the water and swim around for 45 minutes, spotting some small, colorful fish and plenty of coral. The sail back takes about a half hour, and I nap on the bus on the ride home.
7:35 p.m. Pre-dinner drinks are a vacation necessity—especially when it’s our last night in San Juan. We pop across the street to Bar Gitano for a quick tipple before dinner. Cost: $10
8:04 p.m. Dinner is just down the block. We have reservations for Big Band Mondays at Yerba Buena Restaurant. As we sip not-too-sweet Mojitos and dig into shrimps in coconut sauce and fried whole red snapper, a dozen musicians play Puerto Rican classics. It’s the best food—and music—we’ve enjoyed the entire trip. A perfect way to wrap up our first visit to this lively city. Cost: $0 (our hosts paid)Continue to 7 of 7 below.
07 of 07
Tuesday to Wednesday
8:38 a.m. We catch a cab at the Marriott to squeeze in a few hours exploring Old San Juan before our flight home. I pay. Cost: $18
8:59 a.m. The neighborhood is quiet and many shops are closed. We start to worry we won’t find anywhere for breakfast. Then we stumble upon La Bombonera, a historic bakery that lures us in with a drool-inducing pastry window. We decide to keep it on the healthier side with cafe con leche and omelettes. We split the bill by couple, and my boyfriend covers our half. Cost: $0
9:51 a.m. We wander the narrow streets, popping into shops and stopping to look at the fort walls, ocean views, and government buildings. At the Haitian Gallery, my boyfriend and I are drawn to paintings by a local artist. We buy three small ones depicting city and nature scenes from the surrounding area. Cost: $145
12:37 p.m. We grab a cab back to the condo, which my brother pays for. Lunch is waiting for us: a tomato-y chickpea stew that our host’s wife says is her favorite local dish. We pack our suitcases and head to the beach for the final time. Cost: $0
4:30 p.m. The prepaid van taking us to the airport arrives. Cost: $20 (tip)
5:43 p.m. After having to lighten our duffel to avoid extra fees (my boyfriend and I wind up carrying all of our shoes in plastic bags), we grab an early, not-so-great dinner before our flight. Cost: $15
6:40 p.m. The airline staff give my brother and his girlfriend grief about the size of their carry-ons, so they’re forced to check them through to Denver. And then we’re finally airborne to Charlotte.
9:40 p.m. We get a ride to our accommodations from the hotel’s free shuttle.
6:29 a.m. (next day) The airport is pretty vacant. We sit down for breakfast at 1897 Market—hot tea and Greek yogurt with granola for me. My boyfriend covers our half of the tab. Cost: $0
9:21 a.m. We land in Denver. After picking up our bags, we hail an Uber. My boyfriend pays. Cost: $0
Food & Drinks: $261.02
Activities & Entertainment: $285
What I Spent: Four Days in Guadeloupe
01 of 07
The upfront costs of vacations are predictable. It’s the little things—airport snacks, cocktails before dinner, tipping a tour guide—that can throw even the most well-planned vacation budget off track. In this new series, we’ll look at the spending patterns of real travelers in popular destinations, so you can estimate what you’ll actually spend. (Thanks for the inspiration, Refinery29!)
For this installment, a couple heads to Guadeloupe for creole food, stunning beaches and a lot of hiking in the rainforest.
Flight: JFK – PTP, $499 for two flights on Norwegian. I originally had no intention of going to Guadeloupe, a Caribbean island in the French Antilles, but a great deal popped up during a stressful week and I decided to take the plunge!
Accommodation: $791 through HomeAway.com
Car Rental: $320, a premium we had to pay for an automatic. Note to self: Learn how to drive manual.
Size of Group: 2
*Note: Prices have been converted from Euro to USDContinue to 2 of 7 below.
02 of 07
11 a.m. We worked from home so we could head out early for our 3 pm flight. Traffic to JFK is nonexistent, so we get to our parking lot in record time. Score!
11:30 a.m. We pre-booked (but did not pre-pay for) a space with a local lot that we’d used before. Charles, the owner, doesn't have a website, but his Yelp reviews were stellar enough that we didn’t care. We drop the car off, pay and hitch a ride to Terminal One. Cost: $76 for the entire 5 nights
1 p.m. Since we get to the airport embarrassingly early, we check in and make it through security with two hours to spare. Unfortunately, JFK doesn’t have free WiFi (boo!) and I’m a little too cheap to pay for just a couple of hours. Instead, I whip out my book and grab a coffee and pastry at Starbucks (since Norwegian Air is notorious about making customers pay for food onboard). Cost: $7.75
2:45 p.m. Boarding goes smoothly, and we’re pleasantly surprised by the plane. It’s clean, spacious—and best of all, we have a whole row to ourselves. Score again!
7:00 p.m. We land in Guadeloupe at 7 p.m. AST, an hour behind New York. The warm, thick Caribbean air is a welcome reprieve from the chilly Brooklyn wind. We had primo seats, so we’re among the first ones off the plane and able to speed through customs. We still hustle over to our car rental booth because they close up shop at 8 p.m.
7:45 p.m. Our car rental is already paid for, so we grab the keys, check for dents (a must!) and off we go.
10 p.m. We finally arrive at our cottage. We’re staying in a town called Mare Gaillard, very close to the popular resort town of Le Gosier on Grande-Terre, one of the two main islands that make up Guadeloupe. The cottage, Villa Carpe Diem, is beautiful. And with a private pool and a hammock, I decide I’d be happy dying here.
10:30 p.m. We’re famished, so we head out to search for food. The only thing we can find open is a pizza restaurant called L’Americano Cafe, and despite its cringe-worthy name, it’s actually quite good. We both order simple sausage-and-cheese pizzas and a beer. Before coming, we’d heard Guadeloupe is pricey, so we’re pleasantly surprised to find that dinner doesn’t cost us an arm and a leg. Cost: $37.76
11:45 p.m. Exhaustion is creeping over us, and I pass out as soon as I tuck in beneath our bed’s gauzy mosquito net.Continue to 3 of 7 below.
03 of 07
8:30 a.m. We wake up to our incredibly kind host delivering us a tray of baked goods. The house was already supplied with coffee, juice, water and a lovely assortment of island fruits, but who can say no to croissants? Cost: Free!
10 a.m. After a morning lounging in the hammock and eating French baguettes, we decide to check out the neighboring town of Sainte-Anne, known for its beaches and streets flooded with stalls offering spices and fruits. We have a kayak tour tonight, so we figure a day of eating and lounging on the beach is best.
11:25 a.m. The streets of Sainte-Anne are bustling with vendors, and we decide to grab some fresh melon juice to take to the beach. Cost: $2.25
1:45 p.m. After a few hours of lounging on the beach, my skin is begging for shelter (gotta love that Caribbean sun!) and we decide to head back to the cottage for a nap. We didn’t sleep well the night before, and figure a rest before going ocean kayaking is probably a good idea.
3:30 p.m. Kayaking is about 40 minutes north, also on the Grande-Terre side of Guadeloupe. We napped a little too long and find ourselves hustling out the door to make it to the docking location.
4 p.m. Here’s hoping Guadeloupe doesn’t have speed cameras, because we make it to the address in record time. We park and rush over to the small group already forming. The owner of Yalode Kayak Company hails from a town near Bordeaux, France and found his home here on the water in Guadeloupe. We pay the fee for two, toss our phones and keys in a sealed bucket and climb in. Cost: $74.45
7 p.m. Paddling through mangrove trees is a lot more difficult than I ever imagined. I narrowly avoid a few whacks in the head and we get stuck in the brambles a few too many times, but we make it out alive! The wind is stronger than usual, so kayaking on the open water tosses us around a bit too much, and our bucket filled with our belongings falls into the water. No worries, though—the instructor told us it was waterproof, so we just pull it back into the kayak and watch the sun go down while we sit in the middle of the ocean.
8 p.m. A couple of very strong rums later (courtesy of our guide), we kayak back to the dock. Unfortunately, when we open the buckets we get an unpleasant surprise: Both of our iPhones are floating in a pool of ocean water. Looks like those buckets weren’t waterproof after all, and we can immediately tell that we’ve sacrificed our phones to the Atlantic. Getting home without directions is going to be fun. Cost: $1,500 or the cost of two new iPhones
9 p.m. Back at the cottage we’re preoccupied with Googling “how to dry out an iPhone,” so we just eat some cheese and meat from a local grocery store. A rum-based cocktail and a glass of wine (thankfully supplied by our host) is much-needed. Cost: $25.70
11 p.m. While our waterlogged phones rest silently in a bowl of rice, we head to bed and hope tomorrow is a little better.Continue to 4 of 7 below.
04 of 07
9 a.m. It’s a new day, and while we’re still reeling from the loss of our phones, I find that I actually have a work phone with me, which saves the day. We decide to lounge in our private pool for a few hours before we head out.
12 p.m. Guadeloupe is shaped like a butterfly, with each “wing” offering a much different experience. We decide to drive over to Basse-Terre, the western island of Guadeloupe. Basse-Terre is home to Guadeloupe National Park, a beautiful rainforest featuring waterfalls, hikes, a zoo and hot springs.
1 p.m. Before we hit the rainforest, we check out some of the beaches in the northern part of Basse-Terre.We’d read that the town of Deshaies offered beautiful beaches and a quaint setting, so we head there first. We grab lunch at an outdoor restaurant called Le Madras. I get a stuffed crab salad and my boyfriend orders a salad with Creole sausage. Full disclosure: Neither of us speak French, which makes ordering food difficult, but both dishes are great. Cost: $32.65
3 p.m. We drive to a few beaches in the area, including Plage de Grande-Anse. It’s great for Instagrams, but not so great to swim in due to the extreme tide.
3:30 p.m. Cascade aux Ecrevisses, a popular waterfall, is just a short hike from a parking lot right off the main road. Given the stressful night we had Thursday, we decide that this is about as much hiking as we’re willing to do today. My boyfriend climbs into the pool of water, but since it’s incredibly cold I decide to stick to my role of photographer. Cost: Free
5 p.m. One important fact about Guadeloupe is that the traffic can be pretty terrible at times. We take a sluggish drive back to Grande-Terre and decide to stop at a night market that’s going on in Le Gosier.
6 p.m. After we find parking, a short rainstorm forces us under the awning of a local food truck in the night market. We order some accras, a type of Caribbean fritter, and decide right then and there that fried bread plus shrimp equals heaven. Cost: $4.15 for 8 pieces
7 p.m. Before we head back, we grab a drink on the beach at a small outdoor bar called Casa Datcha. I order a mojito, my boyfriend orders a beer. The mojito wins. Cost: $12.00
8:30 p.m. Tonight we have reservations at a top-rated restaurant near our cottage, Koté Sud. I order a shrimp ravioli dish and my boyfriend orders the lobster prix fixe so we can share the appetizer and dessert (pro saving tip!). Add a bottle of rosé, and the bill comes out to $75.00. Not bad for an entire lobster and a wine buzz. Cost: $75.00
10 p.m. That half-bottle is catching up with me, so I pass out after downing a few tablets of Advil.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
8 a.m. I wake up early to enjoy the hammock before we head out for the day. Note to self: I really need to buy a hammock one day.
9 a.m. We wake up early to drive 20 minutes to Pointe-à-Pitre. Pointe-à-Pitre is the capital of Guadeloupe and boasts the country’s largest outdoor market. We browse the shops and pick up some creole spices to take home. I also splurge on a couple of bracelets. Cost: $4 for the spices, $26 for two brass bracelets
11 a.m. We decide to drive back out to Basse-Terre, since we didn’t really get our rainforest fix yesterday. Our first stop is Phare du Vieux-Fort, a lighthouse that offers great views of the ocean and nearby cliffs. We spot a family diving into the water far below, and my boyfriend decides that now is a great time to test out our new GoPro by jumping off the cliff after them.
12:30 p.m. Before we head into the rainforest, we decide to grab some bokit sandwiches from a nearby food truck. Bokit is a Guadeloupe staple involving massive quantities of meat or seafood stuffed between two pieces of fried bread. Needless to say, it’s incredibly bad for you—and, not surprisingly, incredibly delicious. Cost: $4.50 for two bokits
2 p.m. Having calmed our hunger pangs, we finally drive into the rainforest. Without cell phone data, getting around is not easy—but that also means that we end up driving through roads we otherwise wouldn’t have seen! They’re windy and often narrow, and spiral to such incredible heights that looking over your shoulder could give you vertigo. But the views are amazing.
3:30 p.m. A few (okay, many) wrong turns later, we end up at a hot spring called Les Bains Jaunes (yellow baths), at the base of La Soufrière, a massive active volcano. The hike up the volcano summit takes a few hours and is fairly difficult, so we decide that a dip in the springs and a truncated hike through the rainforest is enough for us. The water is naturally warm and, although the sides are covered with algae, it’s very spa-like (save for a few loud children). Cost: Free! Can’t get that in NYC
5 p.m. I always wish I could be someone who can “just enjoy the moment,” but in reality I’m always chasing down a great photo. During our drive home I make it a mission to get a killer shot of the banana trees scattered across the hills. The scenery is amazing — a mix of gray storm clouds and bright banana leaves. We sneak into a private banana farm (sorry!) and I snap some photos before anyone catches me.
7 p.m. Dinner tonight is at Le Te Maki, a Creole restaurant in Le Gosier with a casual hipster vibe. I order a guava daiquiri to start. My boyfriend gets Ti’ Punch, another Guadeloupean staple involving cane syrup, lime juice, and rum—mostly just rum, it turns out. We both order spicy, meat-based stews for our mains. They’re excellent. Cost: $61.85
10 p.m. It’s time to crash, so we head back to the apartment and hit the mosquito net (no bites so far—thanks, Deet) after a quick dip in the pool.Continue to 6 of 7 below.
06 of 07
10:30 a.m. We’ve gotten our fill of rainforests, so today we decide to explore more of Grande-Terre, which is beachier than Basse-Terre and slightly more developed. To start, we head to Pointe des Châteaux, an incredible scenic overlook on the eastern coast. My Instagram is happy.
11:45 a.m. It’s a little early for lunch, but there’s a bokit stand at the base of the cliff that smells delicious, and the short (but steep) hike has my stomach growling. One is enough for us to split—it’s even more gigantic than yesterday’s, with perfect crispy-soft fried bread. Cost: $3.50
12:15 p.m. We explore the area a little more and stumble upon another beach, Anse a la Gourde. It’s nearly private, with a few beachgoers scattered here and there. Unfortunately, the tide is too rough to swim, so we head out.
2 p.m. While sipping cocktails on the beach in Le Gosier a couple days ago, we noticed a small island about a mile out. TripAdvisor informs us that it’s called Ilet du Gosier and it’s open to the public, so we decide to take a small boat out to explore. Cost: $10.82 for two tickets, round trip
2:15 p.m. Ilet du Gosier is not quite what we expected. It’s basically a small party island surrounded by docked boats blasting music and young couples dancing in the ocean. We manage to find a quiet spot away from the main beach and go for a swim before heading back to the mainland.
4 p.m. We’re not quite ready to go back to the cottage, so we return to Sainte-Anne to check out the street market we saw the first day. We stumble upon a man making fresh coconut sorbet, which turns out to be the best sorbet on the entire planet. Incredibly creamy and fresh, it’s so good that right after we finish it I go back and buy another. Cost: $4.50 (for both)
5 p.m. Since it’s our last night, we head back to the cottage to get in some quality hammock and pool time.
7 p.m. Dinner tonight is at a restaurant called Le Lucullus in Sainte-Anne. We read that it has some of the best creole food on the island, but it can get busy during peak hours. We score a table with only an hour wait. To kill time, we walk around the nearby beach.
8:10 p.m. Back at Le Lucullus, we order piña coladas to start and decide to split a creole platter for dinner. The platter includes basically every Guadeloupe staple, from fresh lobster to accras to stuffed conch. It’s a great way to sample all of the creole food we hadn’t had a chance to try yet. Delicious (and cheap!). Cost: $45
10 p.m. Our flight leaves early in the morning, so we head to bed even if it means our trip is over.Continue to 7 of 7 below.
07 of 07
5 a.m. We swing by a gas station to fill up before dropping the car off. Cost: $57.50
5:40 a.m. We drop our car off at Jumbo Car near the airport and head to the gate. Despite losing our phones to the Atlantic, we leave Guadeloupe with a heavy hearts and the hope to come back one day.
Food & Drinks: $316.61
Miscellaneous: $106 (+$1,500 for lost iPhones!)
Transportation: $68.32 (+$320 pre-paid car rental)
Top Things to Do in Montego Bay, Jamaica
Enjoy Good Times at the Good Hope Estate
Good Hope Estate, Falmouth, Jamaica
Jamaican tour company Chukka Caribbean Adventures has converted the grounds of historic Good Hope Estate (founded in 1774) into a playground for thrillseekers while preserving the stately home for tours. Ziplining, ATV tours, river tubing, and a challenge course are part of the tour package, which also includes a house tour, rum tasting, and a chance to dip into the estate pool. Carriage rides are offered to the less thrill-inclined. It's a fun and relaxing day trip that's well worth the 45-minute drive from Montego Bay.
9 Things You Must Do in Guadeloupe
01 of 10
The French Caribbean
Between crystal clear beaches, a rich and vibrant rainforest and unique French-Creole cuisine, Guadeloupe offers a striking alternative to its better-known Caribbean neighbors.
A department of France located in the eastern Caribbean Sea, Guadeloupe was once nearly inaccessible for Americans. But in 2015, Norwegian Airlines added direct flights from three U.S. cities, causing tourism in the area to boom. Centering on the two butterfly-shaped main islands of Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre (but also including several other, smaller islands), Guadeloupe offers a diverse terrain and appeals to both the lazy-beach-days traveler as well as the adventure-seeker. Whether you’ve been to Guadeloupe in the past or you’re a first-time visitor, here are the best things to do while you’re there.Continue to 2 of 10 below.
02 of 10
Sip Piña Coladas on a Pristine Beach
The two interlocking islands of Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre comprise the bulk of Guadeloupe. If you’re looking for calm, clean water, Grande-Terre is the place to be. Two popular resort towns of Sainte-Anne and Le Gosier offer clean sandy beaches with gentle tides and space to stretch out. The coast of Le Gosier also features a handful of small bars and cafes situated directly on the sand (Casa Datcha is a popular spot and sometimes features live music), giving you the opportunity to shift between minty, rum-based drinks and dips in the warm water.Continue to 3 of 10 below.
03 of 10
Drive Through Guadeloupe National Park
Though Guadeloupe is only a 3-hour flight from New York City, its rainforest will make you feel as though you’re on the other side of the world. While there are ample opportunities to get out and tromp around in the country's namesake park (located on Basse-Terre), there’s also a highway (D23, known as Route de la Traversee) that cuts through some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. Since a rental car is a necessity on the island, this drive is a great way to see the heart of the country when you’re short on time.Continue to 4 of 10 below.
04 of 10
Kayak Through a Mangrove Forrest
Mangrove trees grow in saltwater and are remarkable for their exposed root system and shaded, maze-like waterways. You can find paths of mangroves along Guadeloupe’s coastlines, and one of the best ways to get up-close and personal is to take a kayak through the winding paths. One company, Yalode, takes visitors straight through the mangroves – though less experienced kayakers should note that sea kayaking can be a lot more difficult than river kayaking. Reward yourself with platter upon platter of delicious seafood after burning all of those calories.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Eat as Much French Creole Food as You Can
Guadeloupe is gaining recognition for its cuisine. A medley of French, African and Asian influences, the island's menu takes advantage of local specialties like tropical fruit and Caribbean lobster, along with intricate French cooking techniques learned from its colonizers. When hunger hits at lunch, grab a bokit — a calorie-laden, deep-fried sandwich filled with meat, cheese, and spicy sauce. One popular spot on Grande-Terre, Les Delices Saintannais, offers eight to ten daily options. For dinner, variety abounds, but you can’t visit the island without ordering a grilled lobster plate. Head to Colombo in Saint Francois and expect to indulge in fish fritters, plantains, and perfectly grilled lobster.Continue to 6 of 10 below.
06 of 10
Explore the Island’s Daily Markets
If souvenirs are your jam, avoid the tourist shops and make your way to one of Guadeloupe’s colorful markets. Pointe-à-Pitre, the largest city, boasts a massive one and offers visitors a chance to sample an array of tropical fruits, like starfruit, and fresh-baked breads, and pastries. Expect a barrage of haggling and “hey, you!” as you walk past the stalls and get lost in the cacophony of island commerce. Sainte-Anne and Le Gosier also offer smaller but equally delicious markets. Take home a basket of spices to cook like a true Guadalupian.Continue to 7 of 10 below.
07 of 10
There’s more to Pointe-à-Pitre than the bustling market alone, but few tourists venture away from the pier and into the heart of the city. Pointe-à-Pitre has a reputation for being gritty, but it’s a can’t-miss destination for those that want to truly experience local life. A mix of derelict buildings, striking French-colonial structures and colorful murals, the city’s streets offer visitors a glimpse into Guadeloupe’s rich history. An hour is enough to take in the sights and capture a few photos for your Instagram feed.Continue to 8 of 10 below.
08 of 10
Bathe in a Hot Spring
La Grande Soufrière, a huge (and active) volcano on Basse-Terre gives birth to the many hot springs scattered throughout Guadeloupe National Park. Les bains jaunes, in the southern part of the park, is one of the most popular, but you’ll forget about the crowds once you sink into the bath-temperature water and gaze at the tropical flora all around. Other baths include Le Bain des Amours and the hot springs of Dolé, both of which offer smaller but less crowded retreats.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Visit the Îles des Saintes
The Îles des Saintes are an eight-island archipelago scattered across Guadeloupe’s southern coast. If your trip is longer than five days, a couple days on one of these remote, romantic islands is a must. Terre-de-Haut is the largest of them and offers the most to do. Ditch the rental car (vehicles aren’t allowed!) and board an hour-long ferry from Basse-Terre. On the island, most visitors get around by scooter or bike and spend the day winding through the small village streets or snorkeling off Pain de Sucre beach. Take in dinner at Ti-bo Doudou, one of the island’s most popular restaurants.Continue to 10 of 10 below.
10 of 10
Hike Around Pointe des Châteaux
You may never tire of beautiful beaches and rainforest hikes, but for a change of scenery, drive east toward Saint-François to take in the stunning, jagged peninsula known as Pointe des Châteaux. A short, easy hike leads you to one of the best views on the island—on a cloudless day you can see the distant islands of la Desirade, Marie-Galante and Terre-de-Bas. The beach below, les Grandes Salines, is too dangerous to swim in, but stands as one of the most visually stunning beaches on the island. Before you leave grab a bokit or some accras—delicious fish or vegetable fritters – at the small cafe at the base of the hill.
Best Topless and Nude Beaches in the Caribbean
Grand Saline and Gouverneur Beach, St. Barths
You'll find nude and topless sunbathing and swimming common throughout the French West Indies, including St. Barths, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and St. Martin.
The attitude there is very laid-back—nude or not, it's your choice. St. Barths is a great destination for baring it all on the beach because some of its best strands, Grand Saline and Anse du Gouverneur, are clothing-optional. Not to mention that St. Barths is known for attracting the “beautiful people” to its upscale resorts and beaches.
7 Foods and Drinks You Must Try in Guadeloupe
You can’t go more than a few blocks in Guadeloupe without stumbling upon a bokit stand. Inspired by the johnny-cake, a cornmeal flatbread, this street food favorite was created in the mid-19th century after the abolishment of slavery when low-wage workers sought out a cheaper alternative to the typical sandwich.
A popular lunch and late-night option, you’ll find two pieces of deep-fried “bread” stuffed with meats, cheeses and drizzled with a vinegar-based sauce. Many stands offer their own special twist, from spicy mayo made with curry powder to local fresh fish. Despite the low price, expect very large portions.
Visiting the Caribbean Without a Passport
01 of 05
There Are Still a Few Ways for Americans to Visit the Caribbean With No Passport
U.S. travelers to the Caribbean really should get a passport as soon as possible; it's the best way to avoid hassles when reentering the U.S. But if you want to travel soon and don't have a passport, don't worry: It's still possible to have a fabulous Caribbean vacation even if you don't yet have a valid passport. Here are your options for traveling to the Caribbean with just a birth certificate and driver's license or another form of primary ID.Continue to 2 of 5 below.
02 of 05
No Passport Needed to Visit Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth of the United States, making travel here just like crossing a state border: no passport is required for U.S. citizens. Plus, you don't have to clear Customs, either! Puerto Rico has the best air service in the Caribbean, with international flights into San Juan, Aguadilla, and Ponce, and can provide a wide range of experiences from the urban sophistication and history of San Juan to the wilds of the El Yunque rainforest. Add in a side trip to Vieques and/or Culebra, and you'll get to experience three Caribbean islands without ever leaving the U.S.
Book Travel to Puerto Rico on TripAdvisorContinue to 3 of 5 below.
03 of 05
Visit the U.S. Virgin Islands With Just a Driver’s License as ID
The U.S. Virgin Islands — St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix — are U.S. territories that are passport-free for U.S. citizens. St. Croix, the largest of the islands, has two major towns (Christiansted and Frederiksted), a rainforest, and preserved historic plantation homes. Bustling Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas is the most popular cruise port and shopping destination in the Caribbean, while two-thirds of St. John is preserved as a tropical national park.
The British Virgin Islands are a mere stone's throw away from St. Thomas and St. John, and accessible by ferry or private boat. However, you will need a valid U.S. passport to visit the BVI.
Explore Your U.S. Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands Travel Options on TripAdvisorContinue to 4 of 5 below.
04 of 05
Take a “Closed Loop” Cruise
You can still cruise to the Caribbean without a U.S. passport if you are a U.S. citizen, but only if you take what is known as a “closed loop” cruise. That means that your cruise ship needs to start and end at the same U.S. port. The good news is that most cruises originating in the U.S. operate as closed loops (the exception would be something like a Panama Canal cruise that starts in Miami, for example, and ends in San Diego).
However, there are a couple of caveats. Some Caribbean countries — Barbados, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, St. Barts, St. Martin (but not Dutch St. Maarten), and Trinidad & Tobago — will require you to have a passport to enter or exit. Always check with your cruise line first to see if this applies to any of your ports of call unless you want to be stuck on the ship. Also, if something goes wrong with your cruise and you have to fly home, not having a passport will be a problem.
If you're taking a closed-loop cruise without a passport you'll need proof of citizenship and, if you are over age 16, a government-issued photo ID. But again, your best and safest route is to spend the money to get a passport before you travel.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05
Get a U.S. Passport Card
Think of a U.S. Passport Card as something falling between a Passport and a government-issued photo ID. It costs half the price of a passport, but can only be used for land and sea entry into the U.S. from Canada, Bermuda, the Caribbean, and Mexico. It cannot be used for air travel.
Practically speaking, that makes it not much more useful than a driver's license for Caribbean travel. Technically, you could use it to cross the Mexican border and drive to the Riviera Maya. But that's 1,400 miles each way, so we're pretty sure you'd rather get the passport and book a flight, instead.
The 10 Best Things to Do in Nassau, Bahamas
01 of 10
Climb the Queen’s Staircase
Climb the 66 steps connecting Fort Fincastle to downtown Nassau, and you'll be moved by the sweat and labor it took slaves to carve the 600-foot-tall Queen's Staircase out of solid limestone. Built between 1793 and 1794, the stairs were later named in honor of Queen Victoria.
The stairs make a great photo op and of course provide access to historic Fort Fincastle, which sits on the highest point of New Providence Island, Bennett's Hill. The fort is open daily for guided tours, but tip your guides, please!
02 of 10
Go to Graycliff for Chocolate, Cigars, and More
Don't let the Graycliff Hotel and Restaurant's name fool you. There's a heck of a lot more going on here than just rooms and food. Sure, the hotel, with rooms in and around a historic colonial mansion with lush and lovely grounds, is great, and it's a real step back in time when you enter the hotel and settle in for a semi-formal lunch or dinner.
But the Garzaroli family has transformed this hillside location in downtown Nassau into a virtual entertainment complex, complete with a chocolatier where you can sample and even make fine chocolate treats and a cigar company where stogies are rolled by hand on site and can be paired with rum tastings. There's also a pizzeria and a Bahamian heritage museum on site, and don't forget to ask for a tour of the Graycliff's amazing wine cellar, stuffed with more than 200,000 bottles.
03 of 10
Sample Rum at John Watling’s Distillery
Just steps away from Graycliff and the Bahamas' beautiful pink Government House, the John Watling's Distillery is set on the spacious Buena Vista Estate. Built in 1789, it's a taste of the old Bahamas in the heart of Nassau. Speaking of tasting, you can sample Watling's small-batch, barrel-aged rums, which come in “pale” (white), amber, and “Buena Vista” five-year aged varieties. The distillery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
04 of 10
Take a Dive Trip at Stuart’s Cove
The Stuart's Cove dive operation is located on the less-visited southwest side of New Providence Island, in a cozy cove that continually bustles with activity. Beginners get diving lessons while experienced divers suit up for open-water adventures—the latter including the opportunity to dive with wild sharks. Other options include snorkeling, SNUBA (a cross between snorkeling and SCUBA), a wall dive using underwater scooters, and the opportunity to pilot your own mini-sub.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Get Your Fish On at Arawak Cay
This collection of eclectic beachside restaurants, huts, and bars can be a little touristy as far as Caribbean fish fries go, but locals still turn out for fresh fish and conch fritters, cold Kalik beer, and music and dancing every night of the week. For fresh fish off the boat with an even more authentic local vibe, try Potter's Cay under the Paradise Island bridge.
06 of 10
Browse the Straw Market for the Perfect Souvenir
Bahamians have been selling local handicrafts to Nassau visitors for hundreds of years since slaves would gather in a “straw market” to peddle weaved bowls using skills brought over from their native Africa. The tradition continues to this day at the Nassau Straw Market, relocated from its historic home a few years ago following a fire to a new building on Bay Street. These days, it's much more than baskets for sale—you'll also find t-shirts, wood carvings, beaded necklaces, and every type of island-themed souvenir imaginable.
07 of 10
Take a Day Trip to Rose Island
The laid-back Bahamas Out Islands (also know as the Family Islands) are a whole different experience than urban Nassau, and instant serenity can be found via a quick speedboat trip to Rose Island. This near neighbor isn't much more than a glorified sandbar, but there's just enough seclusion, beach, and shade to make for a perfect day-trip. Sandy Toes will get you there, serve you lunch and a welcome drink, and provide snorkeling gear. If you fall in love with Rose Island, ask about an overnight stay!
08 of 10
Shiver Your Timbers at the Pirates of Nassau Museum
It may look like a tourist trap from the outside, but the Pirates of Nassau Museum does an excellent job of telling the swashbuckling, sordid, and seductive tale of pirate history in the Caribbean. Nassau was a notorious pirate haven in the early 18th century, and the interactive exhibits at the museum transport you back to the year 1716, the heyday of the “Republic of Pirates.”
Expect interactive exhibits, dioramas, displays of authentic pirate booty, and of course an exit through the gift shop. You'll also get a chance to lock your kids in the stocks—that alone could be worth the $13 admission, as of 2018. Kids are half-price.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Play at the Aquaventure Waterpark at the Atlantis Resort
There may be newer waterparks in the Caribbean, but we still love Atlantis' Aquaventure for its cool Lost World theming and incredible aquariums, some of which you jet through on the park's waterslides. The easiest way to play is to stay at any of the Atlantis resort properties; the second easiest (and cheapest) is to get a room at the Comfort Suites Paradise Island, right across the street, which also gives you access to all Atlantis amenities. A limited number of day passes to the waterpark also are available.
10 of 10
Go to the Beach, of Course!
Nassau has so many distractions you can sometimes forget that you came down here to relax on the beach. Cabbage Beach on Paradise Island and Cable Beach on New Providence Island are the best known, but you can also check out Junkanoo Beach in downtown Nassau for a lively beach scene that's close to the cruise port.
Love Beach has a true beach-bar vibe at Nirvana, and Saunders Beach, just to the west of downtown Nassau, is where to go for some local flavor: check out the food stands on weekends, set up as fundraisers for local charities.
Want a side of history with your beach drinks? Fort Montagu, built in 1741, sits at the end of Montagu Beach; it's the oldest fortification on the island. For supreme privacy, consider Yamacraw Hill Beach on the east end of New Providence Island: few tourists ever find this secluded spot. Jaws: The Revenge was a stinker of a movie, but the one good thing about it was that it included scenes shot on Jaws Beach, a quiet stretch of sand next to Nassau's Clifton Heritage Park.