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A lovely island with its own unique culture and vibe, Puerto Rico was my destination this Thanksgiving break.
Last year, I visited Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, but this year, I sought something warmer. While perusing expensive Florida flight tickets, Puerto Rico caught my attention - a place I’d never considered but was recommended by a friend. It proved to be an excellent choice, offering a unique and different experience far from the US mainland.
Old San Juan
It was about a 3-hour nonstop flight from Durham, and we arrived at 2 am. After my friends complained that I was always a dictator, I made it easy for our group - getting up at noon was all we needed for the day. After a short 5-minute drive, we arrived at Old San Juan, the historical downtown area of the island’s capital.
The city definitely has a vacation vibe by the ocean, with many visitors wandering the small, beautiful streets just like we did. For some reason, there are many small animals here, especially cats and pigeons. I couldn’t take my eyes off the cute cats lying on car roofs and the pigeons standing close by, hoping for food. It turned out that $2 pigeon food was enough for me to become their king for 5 minutes. I had never seen so many pigeons flocking to me as if I were their ruler.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro
This US historical site features 16th-century Spanish fortifications atop a promontory, with cannons pointing seaward. It was pretty cool to see and explore. Entering the historical site, we were offered the best view of the ocean. The many layers of blue hues in the sea were truly impressive. It felt almost unreal.
On the large lawn outside of the site, it was the perfect place to relax and admire the seashores. I attempted to carry each one of my friends to take a picture, which turned out to be quite a funny sight.
I loved the colorful houses in the town, and it was quite interesting to see areas called Los Angeles and San Francisco, making me curious about the naming behind it. Additionally, the city is incredibly cat-friendly, with cats everywhere, unafraid of people. One theory is that during the Spanish era, businessmen brought cats onto cargo ships to catch mice, and then they began to reproduce on the island. Thanks to the great tropical weather, you can basically see cats everywhere.
EI Yunque National Forest
I’m not the typical resort type, which everyone assumed we’d indulge in here. Instead, I love adventuring and hiking. So, we drove an hour from San Juan to El Yunque National Forest the next day, the only tropical rainforest on US soil. I enjoy driving because the scenery along the way is just as captivating as the attractions themselves. The density of the jungle was something I had never experienced before; it felt like entering the Amazon or a no-man’s zone with nature completely preserved. Since it’s a rainforest and drizzles constantly, I didn’t want my only shirt to get wet, so I took it off. It was perfect for experiencing the air and nature directly.
I also, of course, dived into a natural waterfall in the forest. The water wasn’t the cleanest I’ve seen, but it was definitely one of the freshest.
This is crazy, probably the most thrilling sport, surpassing even roller coasters for me, because I have control over how wild the ride gets. For me, that means never hitting the brake and always on the gas pedal. We reached speeds of up to 70 miles per hour, and we were thrown out of the jet twice, with my friend even losing his glasses. We went so fast that it gave me the sensation of falling from the sea as we bounced on the waves. I would highly recommend this activity to anyone who loves a good adrenaline rush, just like me.
This is honestly the most amazing thing I have ever seen on Earth. It reminded me of a scene in the movie “Life of Pi,” where the sea was shining in the Cannibal Island. It was exactly as portrayed in the movie. The bay literally shone whenever there was movement, whether from paddling or just putting your hands in the water. I would pay for a flight ticket just to see this again; it’s a place I must revisit.
Mar Chiquita Beach
This is a fan-shaped area enclosed by jagged rocks, where the waves rise and fall in a fan shape almost simultaneously. It was very cool to see.
Merendero de Guajataca
This is the most beautiful coastal reef I’ve seen. The unique layers of blue hues in the sea, combined with the giant jagged rocks and reef, make everything so spectacular. I was in awe of the power of nature. The wind was strong, the waves were powerful, and in that moment, my heart was fully immersed in the natural world. When the waves hit the reef, it feels like the ocean is roaring.
Fortunately, we arrived at the most northwestern corner just before sunset. The sunset wasn’t spectacular, but it was still worth seeing. What stands out most in my memory is a small local town called Isabela, where small households coexist with cats. The people there were incredibly nice, and little kids played ball on the streets, just like I used to when I was young. Everything embodied 民风淳朴, a phrase that captures the essence of a simpler, more genuine way of life. I guess living by the sea instills a more peaceful mindset and brings greater happiness, right?