St. Pete to San Juan: A Weekend in Puerto Rico

As much as we love the ‘Burg, everyone needs a vacation. A few weekends ago, iLovetheBurg went on a retreat to San Juan, Puerto Rico…no passports required! We ate, drank, hiked, kayaked and cabbed our way through the infinite lux of the island. We would be remiss if we did not share our experience and recommendations in case you ‘Burgers decide to make the trip to the commonwealth yourselves.

At 7 in the morning, Tampa International Airport, the only airport in the US which ranked among CNN’s best airports in the world, is buzzing with travelers ready to get off the ground. The security line moves with an empathetic rapidity that pushes customers along to their terminals without hassle or holdup.

The sun is still under the cover of navy clouds and Spring mist as we sit at the airport bar enjoying a pre-flight cocktail, a measure taken by those ill-equipped for flight, turbulence and the other irrational pitfalls of an aviation phobia. JetBlue calls us to the gate to begin boarding. Dewy-eyed travelers wipe the glaze from their eyes as we march toward the spacious leather seats of the Airbus 320. It’s a smooth puddle jump from St. Pete to San Juan and in fair conditions the flight takes under 3 hours which makes it even more convenient. Even for those apprehensive to go up in the air JetBlue offers friendly, inviting and courteous service and amenities that make you forget you’re on an airplane at all. From one sunny coast glazed in the infinite aura of Summer to another, landing in San Juan felt a lot like landing back at home.

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotels
: If free warm chocolate chip cookies and an attentive, accommodating bartender named Jorge sound like a good time to you then you’ll definitely want to check out the DoubleTree in San Juan. There’s a beautiful pool with a waterfall lagoon, a hot tub for the breezy Puerto Rican nights, whiskey-coconut mixes that would make an alchemist blush, expansive rooms and the hotel itself sits in the heart of downtown which means every restaruant and store you desire to visit is within reach as well as the beach. We’d make a longer list but as far as we’re concerned this is the place to stay. Oh, and business travelers need not worry about keeping connected, this hotel probably has one of the fastest free wifi we’ve ever experienced traveling!

*Photo via DoubleTree

To Eat:

Kamoli Kafe & Boutique: There’s no better way to pre-game for a hike through the rain forest than with fresh squeezed juice. From a Work-Out concotion consisting of mango, pear, ginger, apple and celery to a simple detox water of cucumber, mint, lemon and honey meant to revitalize the mind after a night spent with a hollowed out coconut full of love and rum, Kamoli offers the perfect organic blend to wake you up. However if you are feeling indulgent might we suggest nomming on some Banana-Zucchini Walnut French Toast? Kamoli, 1706 Calle Loiza

Tantra: On a brick laden ligament off of the main drag in Old San Juan is the sensational Indian cuisine of Tantra. Their garlic churrasco is inspired and mild, the naan pairs perfectly with with a generous serving of rack of lamb. If you’re so inclined their martini’s come out in illuminant tropical flavors that remind you why this restaurant is called Tantra. Tantra 356 Calle Fortaleza.

Bebos Cafe (aka Basilia’s Restaurant): Heaping portions of mofongo, rice, beans, thinly sliced beef make this spot a local and visitor favorite. Bebo’s offers a family friendly atmosphere with simple meals to help wind down and start the day. Bebo’s Calle Loiza esq. Del Parque 1600.

Cafe Del Loto: Get the Cafe Del Loto Con Leche, it will change your life. You’ve been warned.

To Do:

Castillo San Felipe del Morro: This 16th Century Citadel and present day World Heritage Site receives over 2 million visitors a year. It is a labyrinth of human ingenuity with stairwells, ramps, hidden vents and outlook posts and is defined by its unique defensive structure. We highly recommend, if you are in San Juan, embracing the history of the mammoth fort. The view from the top is indescribable and the view from the bottom is somehow more remarkable. There’s reading history then there’s touching it.

El Yunque National Forest: We won’t refrain from saying this is one hell of a hike. The forest is pregnant with the lush scents of jasmine, ginger and sweet wax. The waterfalls roar solely from the unending rainfall that occurs at its highest peak of this “cloud forest.” This is the only tropical forest in the U.S national forest system. There are points along the trail where you can saunter off course and take a nap in your own private eden as naturally forged stairs composed of root and rock guide you to shallow pools along the waterfall’s path.

Bioluminescent Bay: When the clouds cover the full formed fluorescent moon and you’re sitting under the navy tarp of night the delicate microorganisms known as dinoflagellates glow in the water. If you stick your arm elbow deep in the water and shake your hand, you’ll start a neon blue tornado and when you pull it out your skin will be covered in little diamond specks. You can experience this at the Bio Bay in Fajardo, Vieques or Lajas.

To Admire – The Graffiti:

What we also found in our adventure was the cultural ubiquity of the Sunshine City. Every corner offered a new mural, mosaic or portrait of pastoral side roads, well-woven pugilists and hyperbolic creatures reminiscent of the figures that come from Everglades folklore.

We happened across an abandoned cinema with milk crate seats and a showing schedule painted on concrete that seemed like a cruder, stripped down version of our movies in the park. The city was covered in very creative and unique murals much like the ‘Burg. Antique, hand-crafted furniture with Victorian stitching was laid by bus stops for idling passengers that seemed like archaic green benches and the cultural Easter Eggs scattered downtown on Free Art Friday. What we saw on our retreat was an intimate and distant vision of St. Pete.

We at iLovetheBurg hope this is just one in a series of adventures where we spread the love of St. Pete across the globe. We’re happy to be home so we can deliver the latest ‘Burg happenings from the heart of downtown but our minds and bodies will always be frantic and feverish with a desire for another trip. In this life, it’s hard to say anything that Kurt Vonnegut hasn’t already said and said better. So we leave you with this quote. “I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” Until the next adventure, adios.

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Written by Brian Bailey

Brian Bailey is the founder and editor of I Love the Burg and That's So Tampa. In addition to regular contributions to each blog, he's been featured as a commentator to Bay New 9, The Tampa Tribune, The Tampa Bay Times, The Tampa Bay Business Journal and The Business Observer as well as national outlets including The Huffington Post and The Wall Street Journal. Bailey also serves as the CEO of, a Tampa Bay-based digital agency.