By Mary Watley
After reading Kenneth Blaine’s article, Beachcombing in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, I was ready to head for Old San Juan with my best friend, Molly Vaughan. Our itinerary was strictly to visit Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, and search for sea glass, aside from a quick excursion to Casa Bacardi.
We flew into San Juan’s Lunoz Marin Airport and took a 20-minute van trip (about $30) which dropped us off right in front of Casa Sol Bed & Breakfast. Casa Sol has retained its history beautifully. There was a beautiful wooden door from our room that opened onto the breezeway, plus there is air conditioning and a ceiling fan. The B&B has a central courtyard, open to the sky, where we had breakfast each morning. We had never had Puerto Rican fare before—think frothy Puerto Rican coffee, fresh mango juice, waffles with guava sauce, mallorcas (soft sweet bread rolls), and fresh mango, papaya, and pineapple. The hosts were gracious and helpful, and if you’re missing your pet back home, you can get some “puppy love” from Oreo, a resident at the B&B.
The weather was perfect: no humidity, no rain, low 80s, nice breeze. I had heard that April was the best time to visit Puerto Rico, and it certainly was. So much so, that my friend and I plan on returning April of 2020!
The streets of Old San Juan are cobblestone, narrow, and one-way with sloping hills, but are still manageable for walking. We enjoyed every minute of it, though we are two middle-aged women not in the best shape. I do not recommend renting a car in Old San Juan because parking is limited and expensive.
There are two historical forts on opposite ends of Old San Juan, with magnificent waves lapping at their shores. San Cristobal Fort was built in the 18th century and San Felipe del Morro in the 16th century. Both are open for exploration. On the edge of San Felipe del Morro, down by the sea, is an 1863 cemetery. Such a beautiful final resting place for so many.
There are many shops and restaurants in town. Food is reasonably priced, featuring mofongo (a dish with fried plantain), rice, beans, corn sticks, and more. I recommend Pirilo for Puerto Rican pizza, Café Manolin, El Jibarito, Mojito’s, and Barrachina, who claims to have invented the Piña Colada. Warning: Be careful if you order a sangria. Some are made of just fruit juice and wine, while others carry a big punch, likely due to the addition of vodka
and/or rum that you may not be expecting!
Shopping is a blend of touristy souvenir shops and upscale galleries. You will see unique shops along with those we all know and love. While shopping, be sure and check out Fortaleza Street, or the “umbrella” street. Colorful and cool, the colors of the umbrellas are changed out depending on the season.
While in Old San Juan, docked down by the ferry dock and cruise ships, was A. What is A you ask? A is the largest sailing super yacht in the world, built in Germany and owned by a Russian billionaire. It is a massive “beast” at 468 feet in length with 300-foot mast. Just passin’ through!
At high tide, I recommend going down to the Ferry terminal and breezing (10 minutes) across the Bay of San Juan to tour the Bacardi Distillery in Catana, a.k.a. “Casa Bacardi.” The ferry is only 50 cents each way, and Casa Bacardi is a short taxi drive away. We took the $15 historical tour which includes your choice of drink—mojito, rum and coke, daiquiri, or rum sunrise—in a souvenir cup. At the end of the tour, you can sample a small shot of one of their most expensive rums to boot!
Now…..the sea glass is calling and I must report! The first beach we searched was Playa Peña/Capitolio which is across the street from the Capitol building. There are steps down to the sand and we found sea glass right away on the beach to the right. We visited this beach three times during our three-day stay. Each time, we found sea glass and sea pottery. I recommend wearing water shoes of some sort on the beaches, as they can be very rocky in places.
We had been told to avoid the La Perla district at night, however, two of the locals who worked at the B&B told us it was safe during the day and gave us detailed directions on how to get there. Molly and I looked at each other and said, “Let’s go!”
We checked on the low tide time and headed down to the cemetery by the fort, San Felipe del Morro. The shore here is rock (not pebbles—more like small boulders), so be prepared. There is some sand close to the embankments, but you must traverse rock the entire time, which can be difficult and dangerous. However, we found more sea glass and sea pottery in this area than anywhere we have ever been (Maine, Massachusetts, Florida, Lake Erie, etc.). La Perla is where I found a wonderful blue bottle stopper and sea marble. Be still my heart! Keep in mind, if you go to this area, you’ll encounter trash, construction debris, and roaming chickens and roosters.
When it came time to leave Old San Juan, we decided three full days certainly wasn’t enough time. We did have so much sea glass that we were afraid it would put our luggage over the weight limit, though. Thankfully, we were able to breathe a sigh of relief and return home with the greatest souvenirs that money cannot buy!
There are so many places to visit on future visits to Puerto Rico, including museums, towns, and even a rainforest. Plus, Vieques (an island off the main island of Puerto Rico) is on our radar.
I am 59 years old and have just discovered this passion in the last several years. My question is, “Where have you been all of my life?” I have been bitten and am smitten by the sea glass collecting bug.
One last note: Maybe the next time you are beachcombing, bring a trash bag with you on your free shoulder, no matter the shore in the world you are exploring, and pick up the trash along the way. Let’s all work together to keep our shores clean and our sea life safe!
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine November/December 2019 issue.