First off I must apologize for my long absence. My last post was over three weeks ago, by far the longest I have ever gone without writing a single word on the Traveling Island Girl Blog. If it is at all a consolation, I have been very active on social media, posting about everything and anything but especially about my recent girls weekend in San Juan. Don’t believe me? Just check our hashtag #ROCKtreatPR on both Facebook and Instagram.
It has been exactly two weeks since I returned from my first ever Island Writer’s Retreat in Puerto Rico. An experience that has left me well inspired and empowered. Perhaps it is this experience that has left me wordless, or maybe I am still basking in the afterglow of female camaraderie and sisterhood, not quite ready yet to share the amazing experience with the world.
Our fearless leader, the talented Chrissann from the website we all write for Women Who Live on Rocks, put on quite a retreat. Ten women who have only read each others words before this trip, partied together, danced together, drank (a lot) together and empowered as well as inspired one another at our daily round table sessions. We learned from one another’s experiences, we got to know what life on other Caribbean islands are like, I got to know how expats experience the Caribbean. All that while I got to make 9 new friends in the process. Not bad for a five day trip.
I struggled for a while with what angle my story on the retreat should cover and then it hit me at three in the morning. The Traveling Island Girl is here to inspire YOU to travel more, experience more and live more. What better way to inspire you to take an all girls trip then by sharing with you the must-do’s for a successful girlfriends getaway in San Juan?
Numero Uno – Location Location Location
Where to hold the retreat was a head-scratcher in the beginning. It needed to be a Caribbean island, it needed to be easily reachable for most of us and it needed to have a lot of fun activities. We chose Puerto Rico as our home base for the 5-day retreat. San Juan Luis Muñoz Marín Airport is the busiest in the Caribbean and has arrivals from pretty much everywhere in the world. Even our rock sister in Cyprus would be able to find an easy connection. Old San Juan with its cobblestoned streets and colorful buildings is a photographer’s wet dream and would make for the perfect backdrop for us bloggers. Puerto Rico is also the location of choice in the Caribbean for islanders near and far in need of some serious shopping. So, good old San Juan it was.
We found a darling and colorful house big enough to comfortably hold 10 very loud and boisterous island women in the middle of Old San Juan. Our location could not be any more perfect. We were a stone throw away from El Morro and just a couple of flip flop clasped feet away from Old San Juan’s best bars and restaurants.
Numero Dos – Bonding Activities
How do you get ten women to bond fast? Let them loose in a mall. The Mall of San Juan was the scene of pure female happiness. Living on an island often means that you get deprived of necessary female rituals like shopping. The Mall of San Juan was the perfect place to catch up with the latest fashion, purchase those beauty products not available on our individual islands and just hang out at the Prosecco Bar upstairs to compare shopping scores afterwards. With stores like Nordstrom, Lush, H&M, Urban Outfitters and so much more, the Mall of San Juan has become my own personal favorite mall in the Caribbean area. Safe to say, I will be back very soon.
It is just impossible to keep a bunch of island women away from the water for too long. We crave it and we need it. A bonding activity on the water was of utter importance to us all. We chose paddle boarding in the Condado Lagoon with the guys of VIP Adventures Puerto Rico. On a side note: this was my very first time paddle boarding. Some of us, yours truly included, were not trusting our legs after the copious amounts of alcohol we had the night before, and so we paddled sitting down or on our knees, while the more active amongst us paddled standing up.
The highlight of the day was when we got surrounded by two friendly manatees, curious to see what all the commotion was about. These creatures are known to be super friendly and we had an amazing time petting them and playing with them. It was a moment none of us would ever be able to forget. Such a great memory to have shared together. Shout out to our two VIP Adventures guides Bacon and Carlos.
How we still had time for dancing and clubbing is still beyond me. Our very fun yet very full itinerary couldn’t possibly leave us with enough stamina for anything else, or could it? Somehow, after paddling and shopping we found a renewed energy to put on our heels and cute dresses and head out to Club Brava, a fancy night club located inside of the even fancier El San Juan Hotel. From the moment we stepped foot into the lobby we were blown away by the beautiful decor and large chandelier hanging over the bar. A full band was playing in the cocktail lounge as well-dressed patrons swayed by, smelling of perfume. The very posh but inviting hotel lobby along with the friendly staff, great restaurants and of course the nightlife has convinced me that El San Juan Hotel perhaps should be my stay of choice on my next visit to Puerto Rico.
We were escorted to Club Brava, just off to the left of the impressive lobby. There, we were ushered through the red velvet ropes like island queens that we are and seated in our very own VIP box. We were a bit worried. Would we be the oldest gals in the club? Would we be able to stay awake? Would we possibly survive dancing in heels? But as our first bottle of champagne arrived and we each took that first sip of the magical golden juice, we let loose and hit the dance floor. We were ten over-35 island women having the time of our lives. Nothing could stop us, except for heels. Heels definitely stopped us.
Numero Tres – The Girls who Eat together, Stay together
Now we have come to my favorite part: Food! What are we without finger-licking, sinfully delicious, out of this world food? San Juan did not lack in this department at all and we island gals certainly ate our belly full during those 5 days. We pretended that calories had been wiped clean off of the face of the earth and happily consumed all the delicious food and drinks we could get our little hands on.
Our foodie adventure on the island started with dinner at Greengos, a Mexican restaurant just steps away from our little “casa” in Old San Juan. I was so happy upon hearing that we were going to have Mexican for our first outing together that I must have melted into a puddle of glittery mush or was it salsa?
Just imagine, if you will, a vibrant decor (colorful “Dia de los Muertos” skulls everywhere), fun ambience, great service, amazing margaritas and Mexican cuisine out of this world. This is Greengos Caribbean Cantina, a little Mexican restaurant boasting a big reputation that can also be found on the island of St. Thomas. We were extremely happy campers at Greengos. We made friends with the servers and the owner, we happily munched on chips and guacamole, empanadas and other Mexican deliciousness and threw back one delicious margarita after the other. Needless to say, we were a very happy bunch.
The next day we were treated to a day of shopping at the Mall of San Juan but before indulging ourselves, credit card in hand in the different retail stores, we fueled our system with a superb lunch at Il Mercato, located on the top floor. We were after all preparing for battle and needed all the energy we could muster. Imagine your favorite food court. Now take that food court and remove all the brands, change the seating to something more rustic, increase the quality by tenfold and add prosecco. Welcome to Il Mercato. Originating from Florence, Italy, Il Mercato is an upscale food court concept with local, fresh ingredients. You have your salad bar, your fish station, meat station, pasta station, pizza bar and more. It is difficult to explain Il Mercato with just words and pictures. It is a combination of smells, visuals and the feel of it all that makes this place great. Best is to just visit for yourself.
And then we died and went to culinary heaven, or at least that is what it felt like after our dinner at Mario Pagan’s Restaurant in the Condado area owned by Iron Chef contestant, Mario Pagán. Wow! Food is not supposed to be so orgasmic, but Mario knew just what buttons to push with us. It is not my intention to make this overly sexual but really, it was just that. At first glance the restaurant seems quite posh and I was a tad worried that our little lively group would not fit in but then we were served our first lavender infused drink and all our worries went out the window. We were welcomed with the “Magdalena”, an out of this world concoction made with lemon juice, St. Germain, Gin, Vodka and fresh lavender.
Just when we got settled in, a plate of different hors d’oeuvres arrived to tantalize our palates. A fabulous meal followed. First, a salad to open our appetite and then a black Chilean sea bass on cassava and truffle puree with a foie gras and port wine reduction. This was followed by an eggplant cannelloni with Burrata cheese, a vegetarian option to the Angus beef filet with local yuca gnocchi and caramelized onions. The evening was finished with a coconut cake with “bienmesabe” sauce and cocoa cream. Delicious just doesn’t do the food justice. I can safely say that my meal at Mario Pagan’s Restaurant was the best meal I’ve had in a while. Mario, darling, keep doing that magic that you do. As for Rafael our Maître D’ for the evening, thank you for your incredible service
Lunch the next day was at an Old San Juan classic. Named after a fictitious character with quite a travel story, Pirilo Pizza Rustica is well known with visitors from all over the world. Just check their over 1,000 reviews on Tripadvisor. Their list of different pizzas is even more attractive. Pairing the more traditional Italian flavors with more of a worldly experience. At Pirilo you can have everyone’s favorite pizza toppings or you can go wild with pizza variations such as hamburger and fries pizza, a humus pizza for the vegans (which is amazingly delicious by the way) and the mushroom and truffle oil pizza, another crowd pleaser. The list is endless and I am only naming a few here.
The decor of the restaurant is another reason why you should visit the Old San Juan location of Pirilo (Pirilo can also be found in Ocean Park), located in a very old building full of history, evident when you first enter the restaurant. The owner is a traveler and that can be seen not only in the great combos of ingredients on his pizzas but also in the different pictures and memorabilia he has collected over the years. If you are planning to visit make sure to try their sangria, a delicious variation to the traditional version with shaved almonds on top.
Caña Puerto Rico located inside El San Juan Hotel is yet another must-do when you visit this vibrant island. I’m always the first one to root for another female and love to see when a woman, especially an island woman makes a mark in the world. Chef Juliana Gonzalez is definitely one to admire. Caña‘s cuisine is based on memories of her mom’s kitchen. She takes the traditional puerto rican cuisine to a different level with creations like Cod Sashimi, watermelon with avocado salad and the ever so popular Mofongo. Even the cocktail list includes Caribbean ingredients. I fell in lust with the tamarind margarita while some of the other girls enjoyed sipping on their watermelon mojito. The restaurant is situated by the pool of the hotel and its layout reminds me of a more family style dining experience with long tables and a cosy atmosphere.
Sunday is brunch day and we did exactly that at the San Juan Water Beach Club Hotel. Ten exciting women all clad in their swimsuits took the elevator to the rooftop restaurant and pool, Mist. The weather was not really cooperative but we made the best of it. The brunch menu is not exactly big but I guess Mist is going for quality over quantity. Mission accomplished. The food was amazing with very filling combinations like avocado, eggs and bacon toast, chicken and waffles and a mac and cheese with shrimp platter amongst others.
If you don’t visit Mist for the food, make sure you visit for the view and champagne cocktails. The rooftop gives a fabulous view of the beach below. Pair that with a delicious Moët Ice cocktail and you’re officially in heaven.
The pool makes for a refreshing option on a hot day but make sure to go early to secure your spot on the small deck.
It was five incredible days on one amazing island with ten fabulous island women. If anything, this trip strengthened my believe in girl power and the necessity of once in a while getting some girls together for a weekend of fun and learning. There was no place for jealousy or silly competition. We all complimented each other, learned from one another and lifted each other up. I have found my people, my sorority, my sisterhood. Forever tied together in one single fantabulous experience. To my nine girls I say: “Kah-Kaah and see you again soon”.
Are you convinced that you too should participate in a girls retreat? Email me. Let’s make it happen.
A huge THANK YOU goes out to the owner and staff of Mario Pagan Restaurant, the staff at Caña Puerto Rico, staff at Pirilo Pizza Rustica, staff at Il Mercato, staff at Mist, our guides at VIP Adventures, all the wonderful people at The Mall of San Juan, Nordstrom, Oil & Vinegar and Lush and last but not least to Chrissann for organizign this writers retreat.