Kayaking in Puerto Rico

It is pitch black.

Slowly, and carefully we are kayaking through red mangroves, trying to dodge the roots.

We’re headed to the Bioluminescent Bay Laguana Grande at Las Croabas, Fajardo in Puerto Rico—one of three on the island, I learn from our guide Joel from GSI Adventures.

The bay is home to a large colony—more than a million—of dinoflagellates that light up and produce the glowing waters that make the water glow when we paddle. We let water slide through our hands and it glows. Crazy!

But I’m not sharing this adventure with my kids or husband. I’m here with old friends—a girlfriends’ getaway.  Instead of giving mom flowers or a scarf this year, send her off on an adventure!  

Our kayak guides told us to follow the glow sticks. The glow sticks, in case you’re wondering, are looped onto each kayak and the back of the life jackets should anyone fall  in the water—as one man did, laughing as he was pulled out.

“So cool!” says my kayak partner Kate , who is here from Syracuse, NY to celebrate her mom ‘s  60th Birthday and her sister ‘s 30th. “Girl’s trip,” Kate said happily, adding they wouldn’t let their dad come.

We also meet Julie from Philadelphia and Bettina from Seattle—two moms who have been friends for years and indulge in an annual girl’s getaway. They got a great deal on Hotwire, they tell us, for a room at the luxe Conquistador Resort where we are also spending part of the weekend.

I’m here with two old friends for a girlfriends’ getaway too and we decide Puerto Rico is a good bet—easy to reach, no passports required and plenty to do (even a big outlet mall, if you are so inclined.)

But the thing about Puerto Rico is that there is so much more than beach and pools. Earlier, we’d explored El Yunque Rain Forest, the only rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System and a World Biosphere Reserve. 

There are something like 1,000 species of plants and animals (no poisonous snakes, we’re glad to hear) and lots of the Coqui, the tiny tree frogs with voices as large as opera singers where you hear them, especially at night and when it rains. Trivia for the kids:  they don’t drink water but soak it up through their skin. Eleven of the 16 species unique to Puerto Rico can be found in this rain forest along with 1,000 year old trees, plants with rainbow colored flowers, tropical birds including the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot. (Take the Big Tree Trail to La Mina Falls!)

There is so much history here too—especially in Old San Juan. We stop in at El Convento  that today is a unique boutique hotel but was a Carmelite Convent dating back to 1651. We’re across the street from the historic Cathedra (dating to the 16th Century and the Western Hemisphere’s oldest), children’s museum and adjacent to the Plaza of the Nuns, the city’s second oldest park, as well as numerous restaurants and galleries.

We stroll over to “El Moro” fort where lots of families are outside flying kites, playing ball, picnicking. Spain built the fort over 250 years ago because Puerto Rico was the first major island with water, shelter and supplies that the ships came to en route to the Americas. The dee

After our kayak we are soaked and chilled but it was an adventure, though not for everyone.

After a  quick shower at our casita at the El Conquistador Resort which is right near where the kayak ended (The resort which is so big—700 rooms—that it can arrange all variety of activities right from here), we end our day  at a Puerto Rican restaurant Pasion por el Fogon which is well known for stellar local food.

We eat  Asopaito de Camarones – delicious delicate soup with rice, vegetables, cilantro and shrimp, fresh conch salad  Puerto Rican “caviar” which is fried plantain stuffed with Moreillas –blood sausage fresh snapper and Mofango which is green plantains fried and mashed, molded in a bowl and then stuffed with whatever you like- chicken, fish, seafood, in a  tomato based sauce. Delicious!

We drink their Sangria and toast old friends and new adventures.