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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 June 24, 2019

15 Easy-to-Make Crockpot Freezer Meals for Busy Nights

15 Easy-to-Make Crockpot Freezer Meals for Busy Nights

You work all day, and you come home exhausted and hungry. Naturally, the last thing you want to do is to spend hours in the kitchen cooking dinner. If you love cooking, but your busy schedule doesn’t allow you to cook every night, you can simplify your life by making crockpot freezer meals. These meals will allow you to still eat homemade, healthy, filling dinners without the countless hours and enormous effort spent in the kitchen. You can store the simple ingredients in freezer bags and put them in the crockpot when it is time for dinner, or you can cook over the weekend and stock your freezer with delicious ready meals that will make your life easier. Here are 15 easy-to-make recipes to make delicious dinners for busy nights!

1. Cheesy Tortellini With Ground Beef

Cheesy tortellini with ground beef

    This is a perfect crockpot freezer meal that even your kids will love. The best thing of all is that it’s incredibly easy to prepare. All you have to do is crumble some ground beef and combine all the recipe’s ingredients in your crockpot. The other ingredients needed for this super delicious meal include tomatoes, herbs, and onions. Tortellini is one of the most commonly ordered meals when eating out, but this way you will get to eat a homemade, healthier version of the popular dish. Find the recipe here.

    2. Cranberry Pork Roast

    Cranberry pork roast

      Cranberry pork roast is a gluten-free meal that everyone can make, regardless of their culinary skills. The dish requires only these few ingredients: onion, cranberry sauce, bone-in pork shoulder, and honey. To prepare this mouthwatering dish, simply combine all the ingredients together in the crockpot and let them cook. If you don’t like pork or if you prefer not to eat it, you can easily use beef as a substitute without impacting the flavor. Click here to see the recipe.

      3. Greens and Beans

      Greens and beans

        Greens and beans are the ideal dishes if you want a dish that is both delicious and nutrient-dense. Combine vegetable broth with beans, garlic, kale, escalore, and Parmesan, and let cook. The result will be a dish with a soup-like consistency that will fill you up and provide you with a lot of vitamins and minerals.

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        As a bonus, if you or someone else in your family suffer from rheumatoid arthritis or some other common types of arthritis, greens and beans can reduce the inflammation. That’s because kale and other veggies rich in Vitamin K are anti-inflammatory and are known for relieving arthritis. Click here and start cooking!

        4. Chicken Curry

        Chicken curry

          That is yet another gluten-free recipe that you’ll love to make. Chicken curry requires basic ingredients such as tomato paste, coconut milk, honey, onions, and garlic, in addition to chicken and curry of course.The result is a sweet and spicy dish where different flavors are perfectly balanced. Find the recipe here.

          5. Honey Sesame Chicken

          Honey sesame chicken

            Honey sesame chicken is a simple and effortless dish that delivers an amazing taste. To make this wonderful recipe, you have to combine all the ingredients except for the sesame seeds and green onions and let them cook. Use the sesame seeds and green onions for garnish when serving. Click here for the full recipe.

            6. Mushroom Spinach Stroganoff

            Mushroom spinach stroganoff

              In this warm weather, many people opt to eat lighter food that is easy on the stomach. Mushroom spinach stroganoff fits the bill being a vegetable version of a famous comfort food that you and your family will love. The dish requires simple ingredients such as sour cream, onion, garlic, ketchup, vegetables, and mushrooms. This dish is very simple to make, and thanks to your crockpot, you won’t have much work to do. Find the recipe here.

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              7. Stuffed Peppers

              Stuffed peppers

                If you’re looking for a healthy, simple, and delicious recipe, you’ll love this one! These crockpot stuffed peppers are easy to make, and they require only a few ingredients such as ground turkey or beef, onion, garlic, bell peppers, and pasta sauce. This meal will remind you of grandma’s kitchen. You can find the recipe here.

                8. Cilantro and Lime Chicken

                Cilantro and lime chicken

                  Summer is the perfect season to experiment with more exotic flavors, and this meal can help you do just that. To make cilantro and lime chicken, you will need to combine some simple ingredients such as lime, jalapeno peppers, fresh cilantro, and salsa. The result is chicken that is super tender and that you’ll want to make over and over again, so get the recipe here.

                  9. Beef Fajitas

                  Beef fajitas

                    This is an excellent meal for busy weeknights. The best thing about this recipe is that the required ingredients are probably already there in your kitchen. The recipe is also quite simple — combine all the items in a crockpot, cover, and let cook.

                    The result will be beef and peppers that melt in your mouth. You can easily pair this beef fajita with rice and tortillas and get a meal that the entire family will love. You can find the recipe for this delicious beef fajita here.

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                    10. Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

                    Asian chicken lettuce wraps

                      Asian chicken lettuce wraps are sweet, slightly salty and very easy to make. All you need to do is add the chicken, red bell pepper, carrots, soy sauce, honey, garlic and the other ingredients to your crockpot and let them cook. You can also replace the chicken with beef or turkey if you like. The presence of different flavors gives this meal a summer flavor you are sure to love. Learn how to make this meal here.

                      11. Hawaiian Chicken

                      Hawaiian chicken

                        This dish enjoys phenomenal exotic tones due to pineapple and lemon flavors. To make this yummy crockpot freezer meal, you need skinless chicken breasts, peppers, ginger and corn starch, in addition to the iconic pineapple and lemon. Learn how to make this perfect summer dinner here.

                        12. Beef and Barley Stew

                        Beef and barley stewd

                          Beef and barley stew is as healthy as it is delicious. Not to mention it’s incredibly easy to make. Besides the beef and barley, you’ll also need carrots, peppers, herbs and beef broth. The result will be a mouthwatering stew that you can serve alone or over white rice. Get the recipe here.

                          13. Meatball Soup

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                          Meatball soup

                            This soup is very delicious, easy to make and quite versatile. You will be able to swap ingredients and experiment to find your perfect combination. To make this meatball soup, you will need to combine meatballs with pasta sauce, chicken broth, carrots, beans, zucchini, and onion. You can view the recipe here.

                            14. Turkey Black Bean Chili

                            Turkey black bean chili

                              Everybody loves chili and for good reason — it’s very delicious, and it’s a perfect combination of different flavors that balance each other out. To make this chili, you’ll need ground turkey, tomato sauce, black beans, paprika, frozen corns, and a few other ingredients. You can get the full recipe here and have this delicious dish ready when you come back from work on those busy nights.

                              15. Ham and Pinto Bean Soup

                              Ham and pinto bean soup

                                What makes soups special is the fact they’re tasty, healthy and filling at the same time. This soup is no exception. The best quality of this ham and pinto bean soup, however, is its simplicity; it requires only five ingredients: ham, beans, ketchup, salt, and water. Learn how to make this soup here.

                                Conclusion

                                With a demanding work week and a busy schedule, it’s normal to have a low energy level by the time you get home. If you don’t feel like standing in the kitchen and cooking dinner due to this, you don’t have to resort to junk food. These freezer crockpot meals offer you the perfect solution for healthy meals that require minimal preparation. You can either combine each recipe’s ingredients in a freezer bag to be thawed and cooked in a few minutes, or you can cook your meal and freeze it to be used later, it’s up to you.

                                This article showed you 15 easy and simple recipes that you can make using your crockpot. All of these recipes contain anti-inflammatory foods whether it is in the form of vegetable, herbs or spices to improve your overall health and wellbeing.

                                Featured photo credit: Google via bettycrocker.com

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