It’s been almost a week since I blogged. I apologize for that, I was vacationing in Puerto Rico on a budget. One of the promises I made in 2014 was to dedicate time to work/life balance. I want to focus on growing the blog and ensure that I’m devoting an appropriate amount of time to the people and things that matter to me.

Our vacation was splendid. Disappointed by the chilly temperatures in the Bahamas back in November, we decided to take advantage of Presidents’ Day weekend and booked a mini vacation. Our options ranged from Turks & Caicos to Costa Rica. We knew we wanted to go somewhere warm and quick. After gushing over pics posted by my friend Belkis, and chatting with her about her December vacation to Puerto Rico we decided to travel to Puerto Rico. And we were not sorry.

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I admit, I always wrote Puerto Rico off as nothing special since it is an US Territory and you don’t need a passport to travel there. I was under the impression that an exotic vacation included different currencies and passport stamps. After spending a few hours in Puerto Rico, I learned that it remains very influenced by its Spanish roots and it’s a Spanish country with US amenities.

I have to admit that I fell in love with Puerto Rico. I can’t wait to return and I want to own a vacation property there. You don’t receive the benefits of a cheaper currency, but you have beautiful weather, warm people, and the amenities of more developed localities.

Flights and Accommodations
At this time of the year northern natives are in a frenzy to retreat from chilly temperatures. Our tickets weren’t the cheapest, priced at $377 each. You can find cheaper flights if your travel plans are more flexible, ours were not. We flew coach on JetBlue and the absence of checked bag fees is always a treat. As mentioned in a previous article we booked a studio apartment via AirBnB that cost us $370 total which was $185 per person for 4 nights and 5 days. Our grand total including lodging and flights was $562 each.

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Our Air BnB Apartment

We decided to rent a car because we wanted to explore what the island had to offer rather than being confined to Condado and Old San Juan.  This is not absolutely necessary but worked to our benefit. We ended up saving money in the long run. I booked the rental on Hotwire.com and after taxes the rental was $90. However we added the GPS package, full tank of gas, purchased additional insurance (after finding out what insurance my credit card excluded) and tolls we walked away spending $114 each, taking our trip total to $674.

We took advantage of the stove and pots that accompanied a private apartment, a benefit of renting a place on AirBnB. We ended up cooking breakfast every morning and ate sandwiches for dinner in Friday and lunch on Sunday. This drastically reduced our expenses.

Day One
We arrived fresh out of NYC. Our flight departed at 6:00am, amidst fleeing the blizzard. The landing in San Juan was that much sweeter. We met with the owner of our AirBnb place, took a nap and headed to the beach as soon as we woke up.  One of the things I noticed was that the beaches in San Juan were gritty. Beautiful, but I was digging the juxtaposition of the grafitti covered walls and the rolling seas.

San Juan Beach

After taking our mandatory dip in the water (yes it was mandatory after fleeing a blizzard). We ate at a spot in Condado-around the corner from our place-which had a free Flamenco show. I was captivated by the dancers passionate moves and the bands sultry tunes. What a special treat welcoming us to Puerto Rico. We hit Walgreens and snagged a few necessities, and returned for some much needed rest.

El Yunque National forest

Day Two
Renting our own car enabled us to see Puerto Rico our way. Rather than paying a tour guide $90 each to take us to El Yunque-the only rainforest in the National Park system-we drove there and toured absolutely free. El Yunque is about 1 hour and 20 minutes from San Juan. We stopped into the visitor center and paid $4 to use the restroom and obtain helpful information from the help desk. We checked La Cocoa Falls which is visible by the only road in and out of El Yunque and the lighthouse.

My favorite part of the trip was hiking to La Mina Falls. I had never seen a real waterfall in my life and I was taken back by its splendor. My boyfriend and I played around in the water which was extremely refreshing after the 30 minute hike to the fall. I do recommend wearing water shoes and a bathing suit so you can get in the water fall. The terrain is natural and untainted so it’s really rocky. We paid a total of $8 for this magnificent experience.

Waterfall

After leaving El Yunque we journeyed to the Luqillo Kiosks for dinner. It was a delicious and offers scenic views of the city. Hands down the best food and service I had while in Puerto Rico. We splurged a bit on lunch but it was worth every penny.

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Our lunch at the Luqillo Kisosk in Puerto Rico

Day Three
On Saturday we explored Old San Juan. Parking was cheap, $5.95 for the entire day. We were there from 10:30 am- 8pm. We were on a mission and took the Ferry to the Bacardi factory for the free tour. The ferry was $2 per person round trip and it was $6 per person once you got off for the taxi. From my understanding we could have driven there, but I wanted to take the ferry since I knew I’d be drinking once we got to the Bacardi distillery. The tour is free and you receive complimentary drink tickets. I noticed some people paid for the tour because they went through their hotel. Please save yourself the $20-30 and do it yourself. I promise you can. We enjoyed the tour throughly and especially enjoyed the opportunity to try two new types of Bacardi Rum absolutely free. Thanks to their master bartender I also learned to make my own daiquiris at home and I am looking forward to that 🙂

Bacardi tasting at the Free Bacardi Tour in Puerto Rico

Mari and I after the Bacardi Mixology lesson.

After returning from the Bacardi factory we explored the streets of old San Juan and visited Castillo San Cristobal.  It was Presidents Day weekend so admission was free.

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It also included a FREE 15 minute info session with one of the park rangers. We learned a lot about the history of the structure and the history of Puerto Rico. It offers you beautiful view of the city.

Old San Juan is vibrant and offers a little something for everyone. I purchased a few pieces of street art, as one of my favorite things is purchasing street art in every country that I visit. We enjoyed a lovely cost-effective dinner at a quaint restaurant tucked in Old San Juan, called Monditos. I ordered the Chillo fish with Criolla sauce which was to die for. Our dinner totaled $30 for two, which isn’t bad at all compared to other options. We headed home and rested for our trip the next day.

Beach

Day Four
The next day we woke up at 5am to drive to Ponce which is in the south of the country. There was something so relaxing and uniting about driving through the mountains of Puerto Rico with Mari.  Our reason for heading to Ponce was to go to the private island, Isla Caja de Muertos. It’s a locals spot, we were 2 of 10 Americans on the 125 passenger boat chartered by Island Ventures.  I purchased the tickets ahead of time which cost us $25 per person. We also rented beach chairs and an umbrella once on the island bringing our total to an additional $13 per person. The island was breathtaking. The water was still, the sand felt like butter. We slept, swam, and ate sandwiches that we packed.  We ended up purchasing two beers and 2 pinches (amazing Puerto Rican style chicken shish kabobs). We spent the entire day on the island, arriving at 10am and departing to Ponce at 3:30pm. Our only paid excursion cost us $38 dollars each.

We enjoyed every moment including a drive through the mountains and an opportunity to view a rainbow stretching over the hills of the Puerto rican countryside.

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Our last night we kept it simple and visited a restaurant that was close to our hotel for traditional Puerto Rican cuisine.

Our trip in total including souvenirs,  car rental, food, flights, and accommodations cost us about $850 total, $377 to get there, $185 on accommodations and $288 spent on the rental, food, and activities once there. Some may say thats not budget, but a trip to Puerto Rico could easily run you $1,300 after excursions and fine dining. Remember, it’s a vacation destintation that uses American currency. I’d say that the bulk of our spending went into food. We spent about an additional $150 per person on food, because we remained close to tourist areas to eat since English is very limited in the country. We also consumed alcohol with every meal, which can be expensive. Next time we will venture even further off the beaten path and try local spots to save cost. I will also aim to cut this number down to $500 on my next trip which is easily accomplished for the informed traveler. I’m also going to look into the necessity of car rental insurance when traveling abroad.

I didn’t do well on budgeting for this vacation, but I’m creating a trip budget template that will help me arrange and organize my spending. A co-worker of mine did Mexico for $10 a day including lodging. That’s a little ambitious for me but I’m going to aim for a relatively low daily expenditure on our next few trips.

If you are going to Puerto Rico feel free to reach out to me for advice on how you can have a memorable budget vacation on the “Five Star Island”.

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I’d also love to hear or read about your budget vacation ideas. We love traveling and are anxious to begin planning our next tour.

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Created by nationally recognized millennial money expert Tonya Rapley, My Fab Finance is a leading financial education and lifestyle blog for millennials who want to become financially free and do more of what they love.