The morning we were due to leave Carnival was a sad one. Our bags had been placed out the night before by midnight for collection, so we only had one bag to carry off the ship ourselves.
We headed to breakfast and bumped into our friends. We shared one last meal together before bidding each other good luck and farewell.
After breakfast there wasn’t much left to do so we grabbed our bag and headed off the boat. A porter wanted to help us and we were happy with that. He also picked the faster queue for getting through customs.
There weren’t many questions as we stepped back on US soil and suddenly we were out on the street with nowhere to go.
We considered a few Puerto Rico Tours with a company we had heard of, Go Tours Puerto Rico Guides. However after so much movement on the ship we decided to head straight to our next home and leave the touring for later on in the month.
Booking a rental car
Josh decided to plant himself on a bench outside the port while I went searching for a rental car with our 4 year old. Our first stop was the Sheraton where I was told Avis or Hertz or one of those was. After a long wait for someone to even be at the desk I was told for 15 days it would cost me over $900. I said no thanks.
As I was walking back I found an information booth. The guy was extremely helpful and called two companies for me who gave me prices around $850 & $870.
I headed back to my husband and said we needed to get online. We decided to walk to Starbucks for some free internet. However once we crossed the road there was a bar/café with free internet (as long as there is a drink/food purchase of at least $5). We planted ourselves there out of the hot sun, grabbed drinks for everyone (total $5 exactly) and hopped on the wifi.
Within minutes I had used one of my favourite sites hotwire.com, which also compares with carrentals.com and I found a car including insurance for less than $350!
I booked it online; we all jumped in a taxi and headed to the rental place near the airport. Trip was $25 to get there. Plus $5 for the drinks = $30… Still much less then $400+
Tip: Never walk into a car rental shop, always book online!
Picking up the rental car
Payless Cars was nothing special. An ugly shop in an ugly district. The lady was super nice though and very helpful with maps and explained child car seat laws. Kids over 40 pounds or 4 years old do not need a car seat. So Mia was fine and we decided just to put Caius in her inflatable Bubble Bum we had purchased in New York – for just a time as this!
They didn’t try to upsell me and although it seemed a really long process eventually they brought us out a rather new looking Kia with lots of room. We were very happy with it.
So we were on our way. We had booked a house in Rincon through VRBO. The car rental place allowed us to use their phone to call the property manager to let him know we were on our way and we started to drive.
The roads in Puerto Rico are narrow. You can get great freeways with no issues at all (although we did pass through nearly $15 worth of tolls in the 3 hour drive), but when you are off the freeway the roads are tight - especially for a right hand driver. They also tend to flood very easily.
The Owner gave us directions, which is about as good as it gets in Puerto Rico since the signage and street names are not all that visible or reliable.
We had a lovely drive, stopping once at a Wal-Mart for groceries and a little retail therapy for me.
As we started off again it started to rain. Then it started to pour. Then it was a torrential downpour. It was getting dark and the roads were very narrow. It was hard to see and not at all what I imagined Puerto Rico to be.
It took awhile to find the house and I was slightly disappointed with the location and having to get out. We rushed two sleeping babes in the rain up to the house as well as all our bags and groceries.
The next morning things looked better immediately. Out the window I could see the ocean, hear the frogs, and smell the coconuts.
The house in Rincon was an upscale beach shack. Perfect for a family wanting to bum around on the beach all day.
It featured 2 bedrooms, living, dining, kitchen, cable, wifi. My favourite part of the house was the childrens items. There were toys and plastic cups and plates, cots, chairs, stroller, everything. It’s a great family home.
Downstairs was a below-ground jacuzzi, which the kids loved. It was the perfect size for them to play in and the perfect temperature to wind down in the evening with a cold drink and watch the sunset.
The wifi was pretty iffy out there. There were some days it was off for hours and then other days it worked perfectly.
Restaurants and shops were a bit of a drive and you certainly wouldn’t want to be stuck out in Rincon without a car, but a short drive away is a American style mall and many restaurants, including a cinema, which we were very happy to see.
One day we decided to visit the Las Cascades waterpark in Aguadilla. There is no website or anything so we drove out there all ready to go only to find it was closed. We were told it was only open Saturday and Sunday, and that day was Friday. From the looks of it we decided it wouldn’t be worth coming back to anyhow with tickets over $25 per adult and children $22.
So we decided to go to Columbus Park nearby where a great playground should be. Well, it didn’t exist. It had all been pulled down and some construction was going on.
Finally we thought let’s just go to the beach. We started driving and both kids fell asleep. We gave up.
Josh and I just drove around checking out Puerto Rico until we hit a cinema. The kids were finally awake and The Croods was playing in English so we all tumbled out of the car ecstatic to be back at the cinema for the first time since El Capitan in LA.
The cinema was $6.50 each, kids $4. Even cheaper if you are a member. They sold nachos, churros, popcorn, etc. at very reasonable prices also.
The only problem was the way the cinema was operated. There was a massive queue on arrival cause the box office wasn’t open. Apparently all the staff were at lunch.
When we came back and got our tickets for the 4:30pm show we were told that the previous show was running over time and we would need to wait 10-15 minutes.
How does a cinema run over time… unless the staff are late from lunch? It was slightly annoying with 2 kids eagerly waiting to go into the cinema.
Finally we were in. It was a smallish cinema, but the movie was funny and we had a great family fun time.
About half hour from our house in Rincon is a mall with Applebee’s and plenty of fast food, plus the Cinema and Kmart. Before this about 15 minutes from the house is an Econo supermarket, on the small side, but sufficient.
Farther South as you approach Mayaguez, the shops get bigger and the restaurants more frequent.
Rincon itself has very few places to eat. A few scattered surfer joints and bakeries. It reminds me of Dunsborough or Margaret River in Western Australia – our old “holiday” spot.
We had to remind ourselves that we are back in the US. We visited a Chinese restaurant and brought 3 dishes – honey chicken, chicken chop suey and fried pork, all came with fried rice and egg roll for total $18. The servings were massive we only ate one of the dishes, it lasted 3 nights – could have fed at least 12 people!
The Puerto Ricans have different fruits and I was very fond of the little lady at the market on the side of the road that allowed me to try several different bananas including an orange one.
They also love this dish called Mofongo. I was not a fan, sorry.
We did find the Lazy Parrot right near our house on the 413 to be an absolute delight. Pool side dining, great food and good price.
Rincon is famous for it’s surfing beaches, which means choppy waves and not so great for kids. However off road 413, opposite Sole restaurant, is a side road which leads you to a lighthouse and an amazing beach vista. The view is magnificent and a sunset from there is unbelievable.
Add to this a nearby playground and some very “happening” restaurants and this is a lovely area to spend the day.
However one of our favourite finds was La Playuela. This is a remote beach. To get there, you need drive to the end of Route 301 (approx. 1.5 hours from Rincon all the way South). The road goes past salt flats and eventually turns into a dirt road, keep driving. You will eventually come to the parking lot for the lighthouse — at that point you want to take the road to the left. The road has pot holes, but is fairly easy to drive across. You will come to the end of the road and, hopefully, not too many cars parked on the side.
A quick walk past the salt flats and all of a sudden you are in the most beautiful, secluded spot.
Some people and travel guides incorrectly refer to this beach as Playa Sucia, but that is further inland. There are no services (restrooms, showers, food, etc.) at this beach. But there is a beautiful stretch of sand for playing on, trees for lying under and saving the sunburn and the most crystal blue ocean. It’s a horseshoe shape with cliffs on either side of the mouth of the bay.
Depending where you enter the water, the sandy floor can get rocky and there were plenty of snorklers out there, but right at the entrance is the bluest part of all and it is rock-free, not too deep, perfect for the little ones.
We are looking forward to seeing more of Puerto Rico and reporting back.