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Trip Report: Puerto Rico, Humacao, Club Cala de Palmas

rsnash

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We returned last night from our trip to Puerto Rico and I thought I'd share some of my favorite bits with you all. I have already posted an extensive review of the property in the Members Only review section, so I'll leave most of my comments from there out of this thread. From the descriptions in the old reviews versus the two most recent, the resort has obviously had extensive improvements, while at the same time, there are still a few issues they could improve. But it is a nice place to stay if you want to explore the eastern half of the island while not being in San Juan.

A note about images: There are many pictures below. My dh specializes in food photography, but there are many others as well. I've just posted representative pics here, feel free to click them for many more on our Flickr pages. Also, since we are limited on the amount of images per post, and it may take me more than a day to write this report, I'll divide this up into several posts. I'd love your comments and questions.

We only cooked breakfast in our unit, going out for lunch and dinner every day. We got in early and could not check in until 4 PM, so we did a little San Juan exploring on Saturday. We had lunch at Metropol [caution, music in link], a popular Cuban chain in the San Juan area, they have 4 locations. I recommend whatever the soup of the day is and sticking to the other daily specials as well. The lechon was rather dry. This was at the Isla Verde location. Later in the week, we also ate at the Fajardo location, and we thought it was much better.



The soups are a meal at Metropol


Then we stopped at the Plaza del Mercado de Santurce, which is a semi-indoors produce market. We picked up some fruits (including a massive mango) and vegetables to have with our breakfasts. There are 3-4 produce vendors, they all have similar stuff, but you have to inspect carefully for quality. This is a rather local place, so some Spanish is helpful. When dh, who is fluent, was not next to me, I was mostly able to communicate with hand gestures and my few spanish words, but another shopper helped translate for me when there was an item I was unfamiliar with (what to do with breadfruit). There is a batidas vendor, where we had a delicious multi-fruited milkshake. DH ordered 1 large one for $3.50. They handed him an almost full blender full of the drink, so he got two cups and we shared and left some over! There is also a meat vendor, but we skipped that, and one that seemed to specialize in Goya products. Oh, and we picked up some homemade, frozen, sofrito (a Puerto Rican mixture of onions, garlic and herbs added to most everything), to use to flavor our morning omelets.


Shopping for produce at a local market in San Juan


We then headed south and picked up some more supplies at the Costco in Caguas. I was curious to see if it was any different from my local Costco. The answer is, not really, it's just Costco en espaniol. So, I was able to get my Egg Starts (Kirkland brand of Egg Beaters), some whole grain bread, 2 cases of bottled water and a few other necessities. By then we headed straight to Humacao and we arrived just after check in had started.


Club Cala de Palmas, Palmas del Mar, Humacao, Puerto Rico


We headed to Punta Santiago for dinner (about 25 minutes from the TS). Intending to go to Trulio's Seafood, which was recommended in Frommer's and the New York Times, but it has closed. A local recommended we try Paradise Seafood, which was just up the road (Rt 3 on the right when heading north through "town"). We did and it was really great. I highly recommend it. I had a simple fillet of snapper in creole sauce (tomatoes, onions, peppers) and it was perfectly cooked. DH had some seafood asopao (soup with rice) which he loved. We also had side of mofongo (mashed plantains with garlic), and it was amazing. For dessert we had a flan topped with candied cocount and amaretto. The flan was delicious, but the candy made it too sweet. But all week I was comparing that mofongo and the flan to others and Paradise's was always judged the best. In fact, after a disappointing meal later in the week, we headed back to Paradise just to get dessert. The plain vanilla flan was perfection.


Paradise Seafood, Punta Santiago


A note here about food in Puerto Rico. For the most part, especially in restaurants that specialize in Puerto Rican food, it is very protein and starch heavy. Cooked vegetables, other than rice, beans, plantains, potatoes and the occasional stewed tomato and onion, are non-existent. Ensalada Verde is invariably shredded iceberg lettuce, with pink tomato slices, and the occasional bit of white onion, with Russian dressing. Get your vegetables in by making veggie omelets for breakfast or having a salad lunch at your TS.
 

rsnash

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On Sunday, for lunch we went to the Bahio Bar at the beach by the Sheraton in Palmas del Mar. Way overpriced fried seafood, but a very good conch salad. The beach is very short and it is a long walk from where the shuttle drops you off. Not worth it, IMO. We found a couple coconuts under the trees during our walk from the shuttle drop off point to the beach. One of the waiters was nice enough to open one up for us, so we enjoyed that while we waited (and waited a long while) for the food we ordered. That and watching the kids on the beach trying to crack open coconuts on a rock was the best part of that afternoon.


Kids trying to crack open coconuts


We went back to the TS and relaxed by the pool (TS guests are not allowed to use the pool at the Sheraton) for a couple hours then went to the Tapas restaurant next to Chez Daniel. We heard good reviews for both from other guests poolside, but we were more into trying the Spanish Tapas over the French. All the food comes out of the same kitchen, but there are two separate dining rooms. The tapas were excellent. Especially recommended are the Garlic Shrimp, the fish soup, the skewered pork, and the Flank Steak Ajillo. They had a good flan too (a very large portion as well), but a little more gelatinous than the one at Paradise, I prefer flan to be creamy. I'm sure Chez Daniel is also very good, since it is the same kitchen, but we never ate the French food.


Camarones Ajillo at Chez Daniel's Tapas Bar, Palmas del Mar


On Monday we decided to do some more extensive exploring of the south-eastern coast. Beware of driving on Route 3 south through the mountains. It has many switchbacks and blind turns and I would not want to do it at night. We returned by sticking to the longer, coastal road (Rt 901), but it didn't have as much mountainous terrain to cover, so definitely do that. We stopped at a little beach just west of Maunabo. It was in a residential neighborhood and a public park. It was a very pleasant beach and we were the only ones on it! (Not surprising for a residential area on a Monday morning.) FYI, most of the public beaches have bathroom and outdoor shower facilities. But beware of aquavivos! (more on that later)

We then headed to Guavate to try the lechoneras. Just off of Route 52, along both sides of the highway on Route 184, are numerous restaurants specializing in lechon and pave chon, roast pork and turkey, respectively. We sampled both at two places, our favorite was Lechonera El Rey, less than 1/2 a mile off east of 52. It had more of a family atmosphere than the others we passed and some very nice views of the surrounding valleys. You should definitely sample the pavechon, where they roll a deboned turkey into a roast with many seasonings. The meat is moist and flavorful. I'm going to try to make it for Thanksgiving this year. Since it is right off the highway, it is actually very easy to get to. We went a very round-about way from the south, but it is less than 45 minutes from San Juan, so even if you are staying in San Juan, it is worth the trip, if you have a car.


Lechon Asado y Pavochon


We wanted to go to Coamo to the hot springs, but arrived to find the hotel is undergoing renovations and even access to the public hot springs is closed. So we detoured to Ponce and walked around the square for a while. Looked at the famous firehouse museum, but not much else.


The Firehouse Museum in Ponce


We then headed to Salinas for dinner. The restaurants in Salinas are famous for seafood, and apparently people drive across the island from San Juan just to go there, which would take just over an hour. It was Monday night, and many of the restaurants were not open. But we had dinner at Restaurante El Roble and sampled their specialty, Siete Potencias which is a Seafood Chowder, heavy on the conch, but also includes shrimp, crab and lobster. Each restaurant has a specialty, there is a sign as you enter the Salinas area which lists each restaurant and their specialty. We also sampled the Salmorejo de Jueyes (Crab Stew) and it was really excellent.


Siete Potencias at Restaurante El Roble in Salinas
 
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rsnash

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Trip Report, continued


Restaurants and their Especialidads, Salinas - the phone numbers are listed as well, area code 787



The smaller pool at Club Cala de Palmas


On Tuesday, we relaxed by the pool in the morning, then headed north towards Fajardo. We had lunch at a little bakery/cafeteria, nothing special, just their lunch special and a good lechon sandwich. This was before heading to Marina Del Ray to East Island Excursions night time trip to the bioluminescent bay at Vieques. We figured we'd check out Fajardo after lunch, but there really didn't seem to be much to see. So, we went to the marina early. Fortunately, there was a parrot aviary there and we spent an hour or so entertaining ourselves with them, we love parrots, but know they are not for us to keep as pets.


Parrot Aviary at Marina del Ray, just south of Fajardo


I highly recommend doing some boat trips with East Island Excursions. On Tuesday night we went to Vieques. It was an amazing experience and worth the cost. It was more than twice the price of the kayaking trips others offer, but you get to go swimming in the water, which is a surreal experience, and includes dinner in addition to the high speed catamaran and the knowledgeable guides. There are some very good descriptions of the trip on TripAdvisor. Unfortunately, we don't have any pictures of this trip. As it took place at night and the glow is hard to capture on camera. Let's just say that the glowing pictures on their website (page down) are not an exaggeration.

On Wednesday, we ate lunch at La Pesquera, just around the corner from Chez Daniel in Palmas del Mar. This is little more than a beach shack with a very limited menu of fried fish, shrimp and octopus salad, and tostones. However, it was the best fried fish, seafood salad and tostones of the trip, despite eating on picnic tables on a windy beach while swatting flies away from your food (they obviously know where the best food is too!).


Here's me with the TUG banner on the beach by La Pesquera


During the afternoon, we headed to Punta Santiago to check out the beautiful public beach we had noticed there. Unfortunately, I got stung by a jellyfish, known locally as aquavivos. I literally had to have dh pee on my leg! It took the edge off the sting. We washed up at the outdoor showers, then headed to the local Walgreens. The pharmacist there said that we are now real Puertoricanos! We got some first aid spray that helped tremendously and learned that the beaches on the east side of PR are notorious for having many jellyfish. Wish we knew that before!

For dinner that evening, we stayed local to Palmas del Mar and tried Caracoles Restaurant, which is right near the tennis club. Everything was a delicious, contemporary approach to Caribbean food. Of particular note are their Salmorejo de Jueyes en Tostones de Panfruta (Crab Stew in fried Breadfruit tostones cups) and the Seafood Cazuela. At this point, we got excited by the fact that there were vegetables on the entree plates! This restaurant is highly recommended, it was our favorite of those we tried in Palmas del Mar.


Stuffed Piquillo Pepper appetizer at Caracoles
 
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rsnash

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On Thursday, we went to El Yunque after breakfast. We drove up to Coco Cascades and then climbed the Observation Tower. El Yunque is the only national forest that is a rain forest in the US. It started raining while we were up in the observation tower so we didn't continue on the switch backing roads up the mountain, but apparently there is another waterfall that you can get into the water closer to the top of the mountain.


Standing in front of Coco Cascades, El Yunque, Puerto Rico


We headed to Fajardo after coming down the mountain and had lunch at the Metropol there. It's getting kind of hard to find authentic local Puerto Rican places. At every highway intersection there is a McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, Taco Bell and Church's Fried Chicken. And I'm not exagerating, usually all of them were at every majoy intersection. It's ridiculous. That's why we ended up at Metropol, because there wasn't anything more local open for lunch on a Thursday! I was glad we did though, because the Fajardo location was much better than the one in Isla Verde we stopped in after getting off the plane. I especially enjoyed the Arroz Manposteao which came as a side dish to my Salmorejo de Jueyes. Mmm, I love crab stew! The rice dish is yellow rice with red beans and roast pork.


Arroz Manposteao con Maduros at Metropol in Fajardo


We then went to the Seven Seas beach in north Fajardo, its near the El Conquistador resort. We chatted with a local family and spent a pleasant afternoon there. We then went to Rosa's Seafood, on the southern end of Fajardo, closer to the Ferry marina. It was OK, but really nothing special, I don't particularly recommend it. I got lobster stew, instead of crab stew and it was overcooked. DH got a mixed seafood soup, which wasn't memorable. We didn't stay for dessert, instead we headed back south, stopping back at Paradise Seafood in Punta Santiago for some more of their flan, mmm.


Candied Coconut topped Flan with Amaretto at Paradise Seafood. Delicious, but I preferred their plain version.


If you've been wondering why I start each day with lunch, it's because most of our mornings consisted of getting up when we woke up, 8-9 AM, making breakfast in the TS (egg white & veggie omelets with whole grain toast and fruit), then lounging by the pool for an hour or two. Then we'd head out to have lunch and an afternoon activity.


A typical breakfast in our TS


On Friday, however, we had to get up a little earlier to drive back up to Marina Del Ray, just south of Farjardo, to go on a snorkeling trip with East Island Excursions. We wanted to do their power catamaran full day trip to Culebra island. Unfortunately, the water was too choppy so the Coast Guard did not allow the trip. So, we had to "settle" for their sail boat snorkel tour to two small local islands. First you stop at a small island with a calm beach, it was very beginner snorkeling. Then you get back on the boat for lunch (salads, fruit, cold cuts) and the sail to another private island. This one has more reef to explore. It was a very nice trip and a pleasant way to spend our last full day in Puerto Rico.


The East Wind, sailing catamaran
 
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rsnash

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Trip Report, conclusion

We enjoyed the snorkeling, even if we did get a little sunburned in the process. Always wear a t-shirt and use plenty of sun screen when laying head down in the water for an hour or more! Oh, here's another recommendation for you, AquaGoggles.com. For about $30 each, with shipping, we got prescription swim goggles. It was a much better experience snorkeling when I could more easily see what I was looking at. I also picked up my own snorkel at a local dive shop. I preferred to use my own rather than the ones provided by the tour operators. I'm sure they clean them, I just prefer to use my own. If you are heading to PR and want to go on one of the East Island Excursions, there is a dive shop located in the shopping area of Marina Del Ray. I didn't go in there, but I'm sure they'd have what you need.

After the sailing, we decided to head to San Juan to do a bit of sightseeing and have dinner.


Here I am in front of El Morro, San Juan

We went to Ajili Mojili for dinner. The food was very good, if the service was a bit spotty. The garlic shrimp appetizer and coconut pudding for dessert were especially memorable.




Camarones Ajillo con Tostones de Yuca at Ajili Mojili

Our flight home on Saturday was late enough to do a little more exploring in San Juan after checking out of Club Cala. We drove around Old San Juan, but it was raining and it mostly appeared to have become all about jewelry stores and t-shirt/souvenir shops. We had lunch at a Chinese place, it was OK, but nothing memorable. DH enjoyed the flight home, he got upgraded to First! All in all, we had a very pleasant vacation in Puerto Rico. I don't know if we'll return to Club Cala, as we've seen most of what we wanted to of the eastern part of the island. We'd been to San Juan before as well. So if we return in a few years, it will most likely be to explore the western half.

I hope you all enjoyed this trip report. Please feel free to ask me questions anytime.

Rachel
 

mpizza

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Rachel, thank you for your detailed trip report and pictures!

Maria
 

tashamen

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I take pictures of food too wherever we go - glad to see I'm not the only one! Looks delicious!
 

lscott

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Thanks for the memories!

Oh what a beautiful report! Our first trip to PR was to Club Cala when we were very new to timesharing and it was enchanting. I remember Route 3 through the mountains very well! We turned around eventually and went to Ponce another day by the highway. Many of your photos and places you visited are familiar, including the fish restaurant at the picnic tables by the water.
Luckily, we are leaving in a week for our third trip to PR, this time our second at ESJ Towers, Isla Verda near the airport. there is so much to do and see and so much variety of scenery, plus the wonderful history and lovely people.
 

vettebuf

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Thanks for the write up and pictures, Rachel. Do you have any pictures of the rooms? I heard that they've made improvements in the Royal Holiday units. I'd love to see them.

We're RH weeks members and we're thinking about Club Cala for our 2010 week. DH spent six years in Aguadilla in the Air Force many years ago and the only time he gets back is on cruises (with me!)

Thanks again.
 

rsnash

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No bedroom pics, sorry. By the time I realized that we should do that, the rooms were messy and I didn't want to have photos of that. :eek: The living room and dining room is very much like the picture on the TUG resort database images. The bedrooms were of adequate size. Not too small for the king sized (MB) and 2 twin (2 BR), but not overly large. The lighting in the bedrooms was bad. 1 lamp in the 2nd br, 2 in the master, but all operated with switch on the lamp itself, not with a wall switch. And there were wall switches, but I couldn't figure out what they did. Ample closet & drawer space. The kitchen is small, functional, not glamorous, but it has full sized appliances, which is a plus if you plan to do a lot of cooking.

Like I said above, it is a good base for exploring the eastern half of the island, but I wouldn't plan on driving to Aguadilla from there. We didn't even make it to Aracebo. It's not a luxurious resort, but it has 2 nice unfancy pools and plenty of good restaurants within Palmas del Mar or just outside.

I submitted additional photos for the database images, including a map layout of Club Cala, that should be updated within a few days. There was a lot of construction/renovation going on with the units to the left of mine (1033) and along the harbor (across from mine), I would think that work might be done by spring, but you could call direct to inquire. Are those the units to which you refer as "Royal Holiday units"?
 
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rsnash

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Thanksgiving Feast inspired by Puerto Rico

Our Thanksgiving Feast yesterday was inspired by our recent trip to Puerto Rico. Especially the roast turkey, or pavo chon, prepared as they do in Guavate:



Read all about it on Daisy Martinez' Boriqua Blog.

Happy Thanksgiving!
 
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pianodinosaur

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rnash:

These are fantastic photographs. I am so glad you had such a wonderful vacation with your family.
 

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Awesome report, it brought back memories of our trip 3 yrs. ago...we're going again this May, staying at Club Cala....we loved Paradise seafood as well. I wish I could read your report on Club Cala, but I'm not a member =(
 

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You do the best trip reports!! I am so envious. I want to go to San Juan right now!!! Also I appreciated you pm me about your trip report to the Bahamas. Hugs, Shaggy
 

lscott

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We love Puerto Rico

One of our first timeshare visits was to Club Cala. We went to many of the same places you did. Have been back to PR twice. One of our fav places. Thanks for bringing back the memories.
 

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Headed back to Club Cala this January - will use your trip report as a perosnal guide - thanks!
 
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