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Last Updated on May 25, 2018

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 February 21, 2019

Top 9 Foods for Incredible Brian Health And Brain Power

Top 9 Foods for Incredible Brian Health And Brain Power

Your brain is the most intricate and powerful organ in your entire body. It’s essentially a super-computer with brain power like a Ferrari.

If you have a Ferrari, would you put cheap gasoline in it? Of course not. You want to put in high-octane performance fuel to get the most out of your investment.

When it comes to the brain, many people are looking for the top foods that will supercharge the brainpower to help focus better, think more clearly and have better brain health.

In this article, we’ll look at the top 9 brain foods that will help create supercharge your brain with energy and health:

1. Salmon

Salmon has long been held as a healthy brain food, but what makes this fish so valuable for your brain health?

It’s important to understand that your brain is primarily made up of fat. Roughly 60% of your brain is fat. One of the most important fats that the brain uses as a building block for healthy brain cells is omega-3’s.

Omega-3’s are essential for building a healthy brain but one of the most important omega-3’s for your brain is DHA. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) forms nearly two-thirds of the omega-3’s found in your brain.[1]

Omega-3’s and DHA in particular help form the protective coating around our neurons. The better quality this coating is, the more efficient and effective our brain cells can work, allowing our brain power to work at full capacity.

Studies have shown that being deficient in DHA can affect normal brain development in children, which is why so many infant formulas and children’s supplements are beginning to include DHA.

Being deficient in DHA as an adult can cause focus and attention problems, mood swings, irritability, fatigue and poor sleep.

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2. Blueberries

Blueberries top the list as one of the most beneficial fruits to maximize your brain health and performance.

Blueberries have some of the highest content of antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins, than any other fruit, which helps protect the brain from stress and promote healthy brain aging.

Blueberries antioxidant content also help reduce inflammation, which allows the brain to maintain healthy energy levels.

Blueberries have begun to receive attention for their connection to brain performance.[2] Studies have demonstrated that eating blueberries on a regular basis can not only improve brain health but also brain performance as well including working memory.[3]

Blueberries not only taste great but are low in calories, high in Vitamin C, Vitamin K and Manganese.

3. Turmeric

Turmeric is a very impressive spice that has well-researched and proven to have tremendous benefits for your brain. Turmeric’s main compound that benefits the brain is called curcumin, which is responsible for turmerics bright yellow appearance.

Curcumin has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-cancer properties.[4]

Curcumin increases the production and availability of two important neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, two important neurotransmitters involved with happiness, motivation, pleasure, and reward.

Curcumin has been well documented to have powerful anti-depressive effects. In one study, it was found to be as effective for depression as popular medications such as SSRI’s like Prozac.[5]

Curcumin has also been shown to:

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  • Increase blood flow to the brain.[6]
  • Increase BDNF production, a powerful stimulator of neuroplasticity.[7]
  • Increase DHA availability and synthesis in the brain.[8]
  • Increase antioxidant levels in the brain to prevent brain aging and inflammation.[9]

4. Coffee

Coffee is the wonderful elixir of energy that many people cherish every single morning. The biggest reason people drink coffee is to get a dose of caffeine.

Caffeine is a natural neurological stimulant that not only gives you energy but also prevents adenosine, a neurotransmitter involved with feeling tired, from binding in the brain.

Many people are surprised to find that coffee actually contains a large quantity of antioxidants called polyphenols, which are important for reducing inflammation in the brain and keep your brain energized. The antioxidants in coffee also provide a neuroprotective effect, protecting the brain from stress and damage. [R]

Coffee can also:

  • Improve alertness and concentration.[10]
  • Help with neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease.[11]
  • Reduce your risk of depression.[12]
  • Improve your memory.
  • Provide short-term boost in athletic performance.[13]

5. Broccoli

What was your least favorite food as a kid growing up?

Most likely, broccoli was your answer.

Broccoli may not have been your top choice, but it might be the top choice for your brain.

Broccoli contains a compound called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane has been shown to promote the proliferation and survival of brain cells by reducing inflammation and boosting production of BDNF. It has also been shown to boost neurogenesis, the production of new brain cells.[14]

Broccoli is also loaded with important nutrients Vitamin K and Folate. Vitamin K plays a vital role in protecting brain cells.[15] Folate plays a crucial role in detoxification and reducing inflammation in the brain.

6. Bone broth

Bone broth wasn’t just created to combine with soups, you can actually drink bone broth by itself.

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Drinking bone broth has become one of the biggest trends in the health and wellness industry and for good reason. Bone broth isn’t actually a new thing. Bone broth has been used for centuries as a healing tonic to promote health and longevity.

Much of the nutritional benefits and value of bone broth comes from its substantial vitamin and mineral content. Primarily calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium.

Your gut is called your second brain for a reason. Research continually shows that there is a direct and indirect connection between your gut and your brain. Your gut also houses and stores many important brain compounds involved with optimal brain performance. Therefore the health of your gut is vitally important for your brain health and performance.

Bone broth has become a go-to tool for helping heal the gut and provide the gut with the vital nutrient and resources it needs to heal and perform optimally.

With the vast amounts of nutrients that bone broth contains, it makes the list as a go-to food for your brain health.

Look for high quality, organic bone broth for the best results.

7. Walnuts

Walnuts are one of the top choices of nuts for brain health. Walnuts also look similar to a brain.

Amongst the wide variety of nuts available, walnuts contain the highest amounts of the important omega-3 DHA. DHA, as seen above, is a critical building block for a healthy brain.

Walnuts also contain high amounts of antioxidants, folate, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus, which help to lower inflammation.

Melatonin in walnuts is an important nutrient for regulating your sleep. Having low amounts of melatonin can make it challenging to get good quality sleep and getting poor quality sleep can dramatically impair brain health and performance.

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8. Eggs

For years, eggs were put on the nutritional naughty list; but now, eggs are finally getting the credit they deserve. Eggs can provide a tremendous boost to your brain health and longevity.

Eggs, particularly the yolks, contain a compound called choline. Choline is essential for building the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine plays an important role in mood, memory, and intelligence.

Egg yolks contain some of the highest quantities of choline. This is very important because low levels of choline can lead to low levels of acetylcholine, which in turn can cause increased inflammation, brain fog, difficulty concentrating and fatigue.

9. Dark chocolate

You’re about to love chocolate even more because chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, is great for your brain.

Chocolate boosts levels of endorphins, your brains “feel good” chemicals. This is why you feel so good eating chocolate.[16]

Chocolate also increases blood flow to the brain which can help improve memory, attention, focus, and reaction time.[17]

Dark chocolate contains high levels of magnesium, which has been coined “natures valium” for its ability to calm and relax the brain.

Lastly, dark chocolate has one of the highest antioxidant profiles out of any other food, including popular superfoods like acai berries, blueberries, or pomegranates.[18]

Conclusion

Your brain is a high performing organ and it uses quite a lot of energy, roughly 20% of the bodies energy demands.

In order to maintain a healthy brain, you need the right fuel to ensure that your brain has all the nutrients it needs to perform as well as adapt to the stress of life.

If you want to keep your brain performing well for a lifetime, then you want to make sure you are including as many of these brain health foods as possible.

More Resources About Boosting Brain Power

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: DHA Effects in Brain Development and Function
[2] Canadian Science Publishing: Enhanced task-related brain activation and resting perfusion in healthy older adults after chronic blueberry supplementation
[3] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Cognitive effects following acute wild blueberry supplementation in 7- to 10-year-old children.
[4] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Curcumin: the Indian solid gold.
[5] Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition.: Turmeric, the Golden Spice
[6] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Effect of combined treatment with curcumin and candesartan on ischemic brain damage in mice.
[7] Science Direct: Curcumin reverses the effects of chronic stress on behavior, the HPA axis, BDNF expression and phosphorylation of CREB
[8] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Curcumin boosts DHA in the brain: Implications for the prevention of anxiety disorders.
[9] PLOS: A Chemical Analog of Curcumin as an Improved Inhibitor of Amyloid Abeta Oligomerization
[10] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Effects of Caffeine on Cognitive Performance, Mood, and Alertness in Sleep-Deprived Humans
[11] American Academy of Neurology: A Cup of Joe May Help Some Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms
[12] American Academy of Neurology: AAN 65th Annual Meeting Abstract
[13] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Effects of caffeine on the metabolic and catecholamine responses to exercise in 5 and 28 degrees C.
[14] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Hyperammonemia induces glial activation, neuroinflammation and alters neurotransmitter receptors in hippocampus, impairing spatial learning: reversal by sulforaphane
[15] Oxford Academic: Vitamin K and the Nervous System: An Overview of its Actions
[16] Diana L. Walcutt, Ph.D: Chocolate and Mood Disorders
[17] Health Magazine: Chocolate can do good things for your heart, skin and brain
[18] Chemistry Central Journal: Cacao seeds are a “Super Fruit”: A comparative analysis of various fruit powders and products

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