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Seven Budget-Friendly Things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Seven Budget-Friendly Things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico

There’s a reason Puerto Rico is known as the “enchanted island”. It offers peaceful beaches, a tropical rainforest, unique nature, diverse culture, and fascinating architecture. Traveling there sounds expensive, and so does tourism, but I recently took a trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and I can tell you that it doesn’t have to be expensive. I can also tell you that there might be a lot of confusion, but hopefully my recent experience can clarify some of it. If you’re trying to narrow down your list of things to do, let me help you out by sharing seven things I did that weren’t just totally awesome—they were also budget-friendly. (Yes, this includes free things!)

1. Las Cabezas Nature Reserve Tour

In Fajardo, about an hour’s drive from San Juan, Las Cabezas nature reserve offers multiple tours. Don’t worry, they tell you which ones are okay for kids and which ones require some experience; they also have the option to take the tour in English or in Spanish. When I was there I went on two separate tours, the first of which was the reserve and lighthouse tour. This tour is $12 per adult, and gets you a trolley ride through the reserve to three special locations. Our first stop was the mangrove swamp boardwalk. Our guide led us through the mangroves explaining the ecosystem, wildlife, and other facts about the reserve as we wound around back to the trolley. Our second stop was Rocky Beach, a mesmerizingly beautiful beach only accessible via the reserve, whose shore is strewn with various rocks, chunks of coral, seashells, and even dried seaweed, some of which were small and some of which were very large.

Finally, our last stop was the Fajardo lighthouse. It’s the oldest lighthouse in Puerto Rico, and you can only visit it if you’re on a Las Cabezas tour. It’s a white building with bright green shutters, and the tower itself isn’t actually that tall since it sits so high above sea level. Parts of the building are museum-like, and here we learned more about what the reservation does, as well as a little bit about bioluminescence. For that part we were taken into a room with all the lights turned off, and our guide took out special bags from a container that contained some bioluminescent organisms. When she shook the bag, it glowed a bright blue, almost like specks of glitter, and was really cool to see! We also spent some time checking out the view from the lighthouse deck before being driven back to the main entrance. The most common wildlife you’re likely to see will be different birds, and of course iguanas.

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Side note: The only way to see the reserve is through their tours, and you have to make a reservation. The gates don’t open until a half hour before each tour, and it is recommended that you arrive a half hour early. You can reserve spots by phone or through their website.

2. Laguna Grande Bioluminescent Bay Tour

Also in Fajardo, Laguna Grande is one of three bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico. (There are not a lot of places you can find this anymore.) You can see this through a kayaking tour. However the tour I went on was also through Las Cabezas nature reserve. This tour is a little more expensive at $24 per adult, but it’s also really, really cool (and cheaper than kayaking). This tour worked out perfectly for us because one of the keys to having a good bioluminescent viewing experience is darkness, and we were there during the new moon so there was no moonlight interference. On this tour there are two stops. This time we went to the lighthouse first. Back on the lighthouse deck, we took in incredible views of the night sky—completely unobstructed views of the stars save for a few clouds. Then we went back downstairs for a presentation about bioluminescence and light pollution. (I could share some totally awesome facts with you, but for now I’ll highly recommend that you spend some time researching these things.) I’m from Chicago, so on a map of the U.S. that showed light pollution levels, it was interesting to see that Chicago is one of the biggest light pollution sources in the country.

After this presentation, we headed back to the mangrove swamp, but instead of winding around it, we were taken down the boardwalk that veered off toward the lagoon. Along the way, we stopped to pick up some long plastic poles, then continued walking. When we reached the end of the boardwalk, we faced the lagoon and used the poles to stir the water around us. The darker the area, the more bioluminescence we saw. Sadly, I could not capture any of this on camera, but I can tell you that a soft white glow trailed the poles when we moved them. The theory is that these organisms glow in defense, so the water lights up when it is disturbed. Another interesting thing to see was that even though we were about an hour from San Juan, we could still see the light coming from the city in the distance. Overall, this tour was totally worth it.

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3. El Yunque

Only a 40-minute drive from San Juan, El Yunque National Rainforest was my favorite part of the trip, and to top it off, it’s absolutely free! If you want to stop at the visitors center and watch a movie about the rainforest, it costs $4, but my family and I opted to skip that. Just keep on driving up the road until you reach Cascada La Coca, El Yunque’s first waterfall. You can climb on the rocks here, but be careful. There’s a clear sign and parking by every site and trail, so you can get out of your car to enjoy the view and take pictures. Keep in mind that there are thirteen trails, so you can’t do it all in one day. After La Coca, we drove until we reached the first tower. Here we used the restrooms, and at the top of the tower we took in the expansive views of mountains and forest. Needless to say, it was picture perfect. (See above: The article image of the rainforest with the orange flowers is a picture I took from the top of the tower!) We decided that we only had time to do one of the trails, and chose to hike Big Tree Trail to Cascada La Mina, El Yunque’s most popular waterfall. As mentioned, there’s parking near the start of each trail; Big Tree itself goes on farther than the falls, but getting to La Mina takes about a half hour, and it’s awesome! The path is clear, laid out in stone, and not slippery. (Trust me, it will likely rain while you’re in the rainforest, so bring a raincoat.) It winds up and down, and curves slightly and sharply.

There’s nothing in Puerto Rico that’s poisonous or that will chase you. In fact, I hardly saw any wild life except stray cats. What you will see are trees bigger than any tree you’ve seen in your life, and colorful flowers and other tropical plants. (Fun fact: Because they’re about the size of your thumbnail, some of the wildlife you won’t see are the coquí frogs, native to Puerto Rico—but you will hear them, even in the city. They make a very loud, high-pitched noise that sounds sort of like a whistle, or even a cricket. That’s what gives them their name. It sounds like they are saying, “Coqui! Coqui!”) You hear the falls before you see them, and then they come into view. There’s a bridge going over the rocks that continues the path, but there are also some stairs that go down to the falls, because this one has a bit of a pool before all the rocks, and you can swim in it! Again, be careful because these rocks are super slippery. After chilling there for a little bit, we went back the way we came. At the end there was a guy selling really good, fresh lemonade in the parking lot, and that was extra refreshing. In a nutshell, I could go on about El Yunque for a while!

4. Old San Juan

There’s so much to see here. It’s easy to navigate and walk around, and the different-colored buildings and architecture are endlessly unique and fascinating. Just taking a walk around and visiting different shops and cafes is well worth your time, and as a bonus there are trolleys that take you around town for free! Just in case you’re interested in some more free tourism, there are some popular sights in downtown Old San Juan you can explore free of charge.

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  • Plaza de Armas One of the main hubs of Old San Juan, this plaza has a beautiful fountain, lots of benches to chill on, and pigeons that will fearlessly walk around your feet. A lot of popular cafes and shops are within a block or two of this plaza.
  • Catedral de San Juan Bautista Only a couple blocks from the Plaza de Armas, this historical cathedral leaves its door open for people to wander through. The high ceilings are intricately painted, and there are a few open spaces on either side of the pews, most of which contain tidbits of history of San Juan Bautista and the cathedral itself. There is also beautifully colored stained glass and several ornate statues. It is recommended that you put a dollar in the donation box if you visit.
  • San Juan Gate This is also only a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas, just down the street from the Cathedral of San Juan. The gate isn’t an actual gate; you go through a big doorway (to clarify, this is outdoors), and then on either side is a blacktop walkway along the stone wall that goes up and down that side of the town. It’s right along the ocean, so if you’re looking for something chill to do, take a walk along the San Juan Gate and take in the ocean view and the architecture.
  • Colón Plaza This plaza is down the street from either entrance to the Castillo San Cristóbal; it’s smaller than the Plaza de Armas, but it has a large statue and fountain, and is surrounded by many popular shops and places to eat. At the time I was in this plaza, there were artisans set up in the square and some of the side streets due to the fact that the cruise ships were docked.

Side note: Since there aren’t trolleys through the rest of San Juan, I recommend taking a bus instead of a taxi. It costs 75 cents a person and the bus station is on the same street as trolley stops 1 and 2.

5. Local beaches

Going to the beach is free. There are a couple of public beaches in San Juan: Condado and Isla Verde. I never got to Isla Verde, but I spent a lovely afternoon relaxing on the sandy shores of Condado watching rolling crystal waves and wading in the water. If you go to the beach, especially more than once, bring a towel or a folding chair from the local Walmart to sit on because any recliners that are there probably belong to a hotel and they’ll charge you to use them.

6. Castillo San Cristóbal and El Morro

Located in Old San Juan, these National Historic Sites come two-for-one. By that I mean you get admission to both for $5. (Fun fact: These sites, along with El Yunque, are run by the U.S. Park Service.) I recommend going to San Cristóbal first. You can watch a short historical video before heading out to explore the fort. Give yourself plenty of time because it is huge. There are multiple levels. You can explore underground tunnels, the main courtyard, soldiers quarters, the gunpowder magazine, guard towers (very photogenic), an expansive battlefield, etc. I love history so I especially enjoyed this, but the architecture is also unique and very similar to that of its sister fort, El Morro. El Morro is about a 15-minute walk away if you’re up for walking, and to be admitted you just show your receipt from San Cristóbal. (Obviously, this would be vice versa if you go to El Morro first.) It is the older of the two forts, and holds Puerto Rico’s oldest lighthouse. (It burned down at some point and was rebuilt, which is why I said the Fajardo lighthouse is technically the oldest.) El Morro is also significantly smaller but no less magnificent. It’s easier to explore, and though you can’t go into the lighthouse, the outside is gorgeous. Visiting these forts should be at the top of your list.

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7. Bacardí Distillery tour

Side note (especially for parents): The legal drinking age in Puerto Rico is eighteen.

Sadly this tour is no longer free, but is definitely still worth doing. They offer three different tours, all of which come with a complimentary glass and a token for a free drink, which you can enjoy on their outdoor pavilion before or after the tour. The cheapest tour—the Historical Tour—is $15 a person. The other two tours—the Mixology and Rum Tasting tours—are both $45 a person, but I highly recommend splurging. The tour that I went on was the Mixology tour. Our guide took us to each building on a trolley, and our first stop was the visitor center museum. We watched a short video, and then our guide explained more of the history and special facts about each of the rums, including what each is best mixed with. In the distillery, he explained the process of making rum. (Fun fact: Bacardí reuses barrels from Jack Daniels to minimize waste.)

In the last building, we were taken to a room set up with all the supplies we’d need to make our own drinks (and yes, you get to drink them). You get to make three drinks on this tour: a rum and coke with lime, a mojito with mint leaves, and a daiquiri. I won’t give away the recipes; however, I can tell you a trade secret: Always use fresh ingredients such as mint leaves, or slices of lime instead of lime juice. You should finish drinking the rum and coke by the time you’re done making the mojito, and you should finish drinking the mojito by the time you’re done making the daiquiri in your complimentary glass. The daiquiri you can take with you as you browse the gift shop and/or relax at the pavilion—and don’t forget you’ve got a free drink token. Last but not least, you get a personalized certificate in mixology! For $45 you get a tour, four drinks, you get to keep a glass, and you’re declared an official Bacardí mixologist! It was the most expensive thing we did the whole trip, and it was totally worth it.

Well, that’s all the room I’ve got to share for now, so I’ll just say that overall, Puerto Rico is a very unique place to visit, and I hope I’ll get to go again someday. It may be a small island, but there’s so much of it I haven’t seen. If you’re looking to go somewhere a little off the beaten path, somewhere easy to get to (I say this because you don’t need a passport to go there), or somewhere budget-friendly, it’s a place I highly recommend visiting. I don’t doubt you’ll come back with as many interesting stories to tell as I have.

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality.)

I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

1. The Inner Critic

This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

  • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
  • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
  • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
  • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

2. The Worrier

This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

The Worrier is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

This is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

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This person can be set off by words or feelings, and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

4. The Sleep Depriver

This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

  • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
  • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
  • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
  • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

How can you control these squatters?

How to Master Your Mind

You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

There are two ways to control your thoughts:

  • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
  • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier; and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

For the Inner Critic

When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

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“Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

  • They rile up the Worrier.
  • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
  • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
  • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
  • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

For the Worrier

Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tense

Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

“Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

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For example:

If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

“I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

“Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tension

I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

Breathe in through your nose:

  • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
  • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
  • Focus on your belly rising.

Breathe out through your nose:

  • Feel your lungs emptying.
  • Focus on your belly falling.
  • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

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Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

For the Sleep Depriver

(They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

  1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
  2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

You can also use this technique any time you want to:

  • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
  • Shut down your thinking.
  • Calm your feelings.
  • Simply focus on the present moment. 

The Bottom Line

Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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