Now that hurricane season in Puerto Rico is winding down, I find it important to reflect back on what an honor it was to share the beautiful culture of the island with my yoga students - whom I prefer to call friends - last June. My husband is from Puerto Rico and he still has many, many family members living there today. The devastation of Hurricane Maria is just unfanthomable. Everyone in his family seems to be slowly getting back to "normal" life but I know this will take years.
This tragedy taught me many lessons but one, in regards to travel, is to remember that what is here today could be completely gone tomorrow. We must cherish every moment that we are blessed to experience the wonders of this planet.
I believe that Puerto Rico will only come out of this stronger than before and it won't be too long before they are ready to welcome visitors back to the "Island of Enchantment."
I would like to share what we did for my 4 nights / 5 days Summer Solstice Retreat in San Juan. If you are thinking about taking a trip to this fascinating island, this should provide you with some fun ideas for things to do on a short visit. Enjoy!
Day 1: Arrivals, Welcome Dinner, Beach Meditation
Nelson & I arrived in San Juan the night before everyone else to finalize arrangements with the hotel staff and assemble our pretty welcome bags. It was pouring rain that night which cooled things off - creating a perfect, sunny arrival day for our group!
We picked up 16 travelers from the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport . We hired a car service ahead of time ( 16 passenger Mercedez Benz van with bottled waters & luggage help ) but later learned that you can hire a van at the airport that is still pretty nice for much less. The driver told us that you just need to request a "nicer van " at the rental desk. Some taxi / van services can be lacking AC. I just always like being prepared. Only the best for my guests!
Once everyone had checked into their room ( and enjoyed a few coconut mojitos ) we had a tapas style welcome dinner, poolside, at the Solera Restaurant. We played a little ice breaker game so everyone could introduce themselves.
I love the La Concha Resort on Condado Beach! For an inside look at the rooms, you can watch the detailed room reviews on my YouTube channel . I did two reviews for this hotel.
Later that night, we went down to the beach, beers in hand, to learn what the Summer Solstice and La Noche de San Juan are all about. We gathered in a circle on the sand with some lanterns. As it got dark, I read to the group about the origin and traditions of these two holidays and why they are celebrated here in Puerto Rico. We even decided to walk into the ocean backwards ( one of the traditions ) to symbolize a fresh start in our lives.
Day 2 : Old San Juan Tasting Tour
Our first full day of the retreat started early! After some light yoga on the beach & a hearty breakfast, we gathered in the hotel lobby to await our driver from Spoon Food Tours. Old San Juan was a short 15 minute drive from our hotel. We joined the "Walk & Taste Tour." Our guide was Pablo and he was certainly a highlight of our entire trip. His enthusiasm was so genuine and his knowledge of the island's history was very impressive! ( If you ever decide to join this tour, I highly recommend requesting Pablo as your guide. ) I pre-booked this tour and Paulina in customer service was amazing. She helped me choose the itinerary that would be best for our group.
We saw the historical sites, visited El Morro, El Convento and many other important land marks in the area. We tasted ceviche, local fish, plantains, local coffee, chocolate martinis and a few other delicious bites. Our groups favorite were the stuffed avacados at Stuffed.
I hope they open a location in Florida some day!
Before going back to the hotel, we stopped for Pina Coladas at the "home of the original Pina Colada." It is a quaint restaurant called Barrachina ( though I hear that it is just a rumor and the real original place was closed that day. ) We said hello to the little parrots who I swear have been there for years, took some fun group photos and headed back to the beach.
Later that night, some our brave travelers went on the night time Bio Bay Kayak tour to see the bioluminescent waters. They said it was actually quite scary in the dark! The other half of us explored Asford Avenue just outside the hotel. There are lots of great restaurants, bars and shops all in walking distance. We had so much fun bar hopping! I'll spare you the incriminating photos.
Day 3: Ashtanga Yoga, Mermaids & Mermen
The first half of this day was left open for everyone to relax. ( Good thing since it was a late night the night before! ) Some people just decided to sleep in and then laze at the beach. Some of the ladies went out shopping while some of the others went next door to the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel to treat themselves to luxury spa treatments. There is not a spa at the La Concha hotel but this hotel next door is their sister property. It is a very quick walk. There are also some nice restaurants to try.
That afternoon, we took a group trip to Ocean Park which is a trendy neighborhood about 10 minutes from the La Concha Hotel. We had the honor of visiting Ashtanga Yoga Puerto Rico where David Kyle guided us through a fun yet challenging yoga practice. If you have never experienced a class with the Mula Bandha King, I highly recommend you making it happen. He teaches in many cities. As a yoga teacher who has studied with teachers all around the world, I can honestly say that David is still one of my favorites who I hold dear to my heart.
As soon as you step into the studio, you know you are somewhere special.
That evening was The Summer Solstice Party at the La Concha Resort!
It was so much fun. Everyone was dressed to party for the upscale cocktails inside the hotel lobby. DJ, mermaids and mermen drew us to the main pool and out by the beach, a full blown pool party was happening. It was the perfect place to witness hundreds of people walk backwards into the ocean at midnight in honor of La Noche de San Juan.
Definitely a night to remember!
Photo Courtesy of the La Concha Hotel.
Photo Courtesy of the La Concha Hotel.
Day 4: Rainforests, Henna & Relaxation
On our final day in Puerto Rico, I really needed to catch up on some rest. I got caught up on my emails while sipping pina coladas and eating lunch by the pool. Some of our travelers decided to take a day trip to the famous El Yunque Rainforest.
Later that night we had a casual cocktail party. I invited a henna artist to come and paint designs for our ladies as a souvenier of our adventure.
One of our travelers walked to the tattoo shop nearby and got a souvenier of her own!!
Day 5: Yoga , Parades & Airports
After breakfast, we did a mandala yoga practice in the park! It was another day of perfect weather. While packing up for the airport, there was a lot of chaos at the hotel. The check out area was crazy busy. We were told that a hug Pride Parade would be coming through the area soon and that traffic would be at a stand still for a couple of hours.
As a group leader, a situation that started out feeling very stressful ended up being one of the highlights of my trip! We actually made it through traffic and to the airport in plenty of time. As I was watching the parade go by our hotel entrance , it seemed like the parade was there just for us. A celebration of our time there, a beautiful send off with colorful floats, happy music, bubble machines and postive vibes!
Will this be my last visit to Puerto Rico?
I highly doubt it. I would love to do this trip all over again with another group when the time is right. To see where I am leading trips this year, be sure to check out my website & social media.
Where would you love to visit on a group trip? Let's make it happen!
xx Michelle Ruiz
Michelle is a full time RYT500 Yoga Instructor from Tampa, FL. She hosts high end events and International Retreats around the globe.