An Evening in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

A few weeks ago we travelled to a place that we have been dying to explore – Puerto Rico!  It was every bit as sunny, vivacious, and dreamy as we had imagined.  We were lucky enough to catch up with a college friend and her sweet family.  Our evening with them was without a doubt the best part of our trip.

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The evening began with a drive through the very narrow, colorful streets of Old San Juan to reach “tio’s” (uncle’s) house.  Tio, the spry 93-year-old patriarch of their family and gracious host, lives in a picturesque Spanish style apartment which boasts the most enviable ocean views.  From the moment we arrived, it was clear that not only did Tio love to entertain, but that his enthusiasm for life is contagious attracting everyone -- young, old, family, friend, neighbor and passerby.  Our friend’s high school age brother and his friends regularly find an excuse to hang out with him at his home.  After enjoying the sunset, sampling all of the Puerto Rican rum, salsa lessons and conversation, we headed around the corner to El Jibarito restaurant for the best mofongo (mashed plantains stuffed with meaty or seafood goodness) we had the whole trip.  On our short jaunt to the restaurant, we received multiple friendly greetings from friends of Tio’s, of course.  We tried and shared all sorts of delicious Puerto Rican dishes, drank copious Medallas and pina coladas, and popped into the lively La Sombrilla Rosa (a bar that’s not to be missed if you want to enjoy local music and drinks). We were overwhelmed with the warmth, from not just the sunshine, but from the people of Old San Juan.  In Old San Juan, everyone is like family and the area radiates an inclusive enveloping warmth and pulses with life. It was the perfect Puerto Rican night!

andorra - why you should give it a chance

It all started with a discussion about traveling somewhere new for both of us, in the mountains, and off the beaten path.  One search led to another, and we had booked a week long stay in...Andorra!  A very small country sandwiched between Spain and France in the Pyrenees.  While not technically "off the beaten path," (the tiny nation attracts millions of tourist each year who come for skiing and tax free shopping) it happens to be very quiet once the snow has melted.  This was perfect for us!

The center of Canillo, Andorra - Our favorite parish.

The center of Canillo, Andorra - Our favorite parish.

A stream running through Canillo, Andorra.

A stream running through Canillo, Andorra.

Now don't get me wrong, you must be willing to look past the super sized shopping malls and gaudy perfumeries and venture away from the parish centers to appreciate to the hidden charm of this country.

Andorra is divided into seven parishes which seem to be small towns with restaurants, homes, hotels, lodges, and tons of shops.  We found a great hotel to base out of for the week, and explored all that the beautiful Pyrenees have to offer.  The Andorran government has done a stellar job maintaining trails that stretch from the center of the parishes (trailheads are walking distance from hotels) to the remote and rugged peaks.  The tourist offices will provide you with very detailed maps of the routes and can put you in touch with local companies that can take you horseback riding, biking, or on a guided tour of these trails.  Just a word of caution, the trails, while excellently maintained and marked, are not rated for the novice hiker -- you will find yourself scrambling boulders and hugging steep ledges on the more moderate hikes.

We recommend hiking up one of these beautiful trails and spending the night at the top of one of these mountains looking down at the beautiful valleys below.  Bring a tent or plan to stay in one of the 26 huts, "Refugis d'Andorra" provided, free of charge, by the Andorran government.  The huts are overall very minimal, but provide breathtaking views of the Pyrenees and more shelter than a tent affords you.  

We chose to bring our tent and backpack to a trout filled lake nestled between peaks just above the Refugi del Siscaró.  The hike was relatively easy and beautiful.  We passed by waterfalls and through a valley filled with cows.  The temperature dropped quickly as the sun went down, but nothing beats relaxing around a campfire at night, enjoying a sky illuminated by stars, and waking up to the crisp, cool mountain air.

You can't miss these fluffy mountain cows in Andorra.  They seem to roam from the highest mountain peaks down all the way to the city streets, and wear bells filling the valleys with music as they walk.

You can't miss these fluffy mountain cows in Andorra.  They seem to roam from the highest mountain peaks down all the way to the city streets, and wear bells filling the valleys with music as they walk.

There are also these adorable horses seemingly roaming free.

There are also these adorable horses seemingly roaming free.

waterfall along hike in Andorra
Refugi Guardat de Juclà. A hut that is an easy hike from Valle d'Incles.

Refugi Guardat de Juclà. A hut that is an easy hike from Valle d'Incles.

Our campsite with a herd of cows approaching.

Our campsite with a herd of cows approaching.

campsite, Andorra
sunsetting on the campsite, Andorra
View looking into the valley that is home to the Refugi del Siscaró.

View looking into the valley that is home to the Refugi del Siscaró.