Sierra palms on the slopes of the Caribbean National Forest
Q: I'm heading to Puerto Rico soon and want to learn more about the bioluminescent bays/lagoons there. Can I visit any of them from San Juan in one night? Or would it require a sleepover nearby? I will only be in the area for five days and hope to also explore the El Yunque rainforest, go diving, and squeeze in some kayaking. Any other suggestions of not-to-be-missed sights or attractions would be greatly appreciated!
Jason Young, Bettendorf, Iowa
A: Do you also plan to bring along a few freshly filled bottles of Ritalin? In five days you are going to be hard pressed to do all you want to doand enjoy itwithout witnessing your attention span crumble. And, of course, when you are on that tight of a schedule, things rarely work out exactly the way you'd like them to. Our advice: pick two things you really want to do, and do them well.
Of the "must-sees" you're hitting it right on the nose with the bioluminescent bays. Puerto Rico has one of the best in the world, simply called "Bio Bay," but you'll have to head to Vieques, a small island about six miles off the south-east coast of Puerto Rico proper and about a 30-minute flight from San Juan. It's a shallow body of water fringed by mangrove trees and filled with an enormous amount of microscopic organisms called dinoflagellates, that release light when disturbed. These critters are responsible for the sparkles that radiate like pixie dust when fish dart through the water, a kayak paddle breaks the surface, or you tread water. La Parguera (a.k.a. Phosphorescent Bay) is another bioluminescent bay on the south side of Puerto Rico that's closer to San Juan, but it isn't as spectacular as Bio Bay.
Your best bet to visit Bio Bay would be to sign on for a $23 night kayaking trip with Blue Caribe Dive Center (www.divevieques.com; 787-741-2522), which also runs diving and snorkeling trips around the area, though not in the bay as it really is too shallow. You'll tour around the sheltered bay for about two hours with plenty of time to swim and watch your entire body turn into a human Glowstick.
Vieques Air Link (www.vieques-island.com/val; 888-901-9247) has three flights a day from San Juan International to Vieques; cost is $126 round-trip. For accommodations on Vieques, try Ted's Guest House (787-741-2225; www.vieques-island.com/rentals/ted/) in Esperanza where a one-bedroom apartment a minute walk from the beach will set you back $65 a night.
El Yunque, the Caribbean National Forest (787-888-1810; www.southernregion.fs.fed.us/caribbean/) is one of the oldest preserved areas managed by the U.S. Forest Service. You could pull off a pretty quick mission here as it's close to San Juan and it should take you only a half-day to scramble to the top of 3,500-foot Sierra de Luquillo.
And if the glowing and diving and hiking really don't fill up your five days with enough adventure, there's Culebra, a forgotten, ultra-laid back island nine miles north of Vieques with mountain biking, sailing, and climbing options (see the current issue of Outside Traveler for more on Culebra). And don't forget about surfing and...well, by then, you might just have to come back with a new prescription.