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Travel Log: Eating Plant-Based in Puerto Rico


By Judi Bushala | July 17, 2022


This trip came about because my daughter Hadley and I have been wanting to take a trip together for the past couple of years to celebrate her 2019 high school graduation. My mom and I have had a few special trips together throughout my life and I have really great memories of those trips. We went to the Bahamas when I was 23, Rome when I was 29, and took a two week cruise around the Mediterranean when I was 42 (this time, my daughter was with us as well!). 


Because the trips with my mom were so special to me, I’ve always planned on doing this with my daughter as well. So, when she was 10 years old, we took our first trip together, just the two of us. We talked about all of the different places that we could go to, and picked Los Angeles. She had never been there before and was really excited to go to Hollywood! 


So, we rented a small convertible and drove all over Santa Monica, Hollywood, and everything in between. We did all of the typical touristy things and she still says that it was one of her favorite trips. I would like to continue creating these special memories with her, and her graduation from high school meant it was time for another trip!



But, life gets in the way of plans sometimes and that is just the way it goes. We moved into a new house, I started a new business, and Covid hit so we had to postpone our trip. But, this year it was finally time to start planning a trip. Initially, it was going to be just the two 2 of us, but after thinking about it, we thought it would be fun to include our very close friends Beth and Katherine!


We have all been great friends since the girls were about 5 years old and met in kindergarten (they are now 21). We decided that since we are all vaccinated and boosted, it was time to take off! Beth and Katherine have been to Puerto Rico a handful of times and knew it would be safe and fun for us, so that’s where we decided to go. I took notes along the way of my plant-based eating adventures so I could share them with you! I always try to make the best choices possible when I’m on vacation, but I made peace with the fact that I would most likely be eating some refined grains, processed food and oil on the trip. 


Saturday, June 11, 2022

Day 1—San Juan, Puerto Rico—here we come! ✈️


Our plan was to stay at a hotel in San Juan for 2 nights and then rent a car and drive to Rincón, which is on the west coast of Puerto Rico, where we had rented an Airbnb for the next 5 days. 


We had an 11am flight out of Chicago and decided to leave the house at 8am. I’m never hungry first thing in the morning, but I had a piece of avocado toast before we left so I wasn’t hungry at the airport. 



San Juan is a 4 ½ hour flight from Chicago, so for the flight I packed a big bag of grapes and roasted edamame to snack on. 



Typically I would pack more of a meal for a longer flight, but United Airlines had sent me two passes to the United lounge (nice!) for being a member. So, I knew there would be some food there to eat as we waited for our flight. 



There was cereal, fruit, bagels, egg and cheese breakfast biscuits, juice, and coffee.  



My daughter had a biscuit and some fruit and I skipped eating because the food wasn’t all that appealing to me and I wasn’t really hungry. But, we each had a mimosa to kick off our trip!



After a few hours in the air, Hadley was hungry, so she ordered the in-flight boxed snack of hummus, pita chips, olives, breadsticks, almonds and dark chocolate. She couldn’t eat the almonds because of her nut allergy, so I ate those and picked at the rest of it. We also ate the grapes and edamame that we brought. It was plenty.



Hello, San Juan!


San Juan, or “Saint John”, is the capital of Puerto Rico, which is an unincorporated territory of the US. About 76% of the population of Puerto Rico lives and works in the San Juan area!



By the time we arrived at our hotel, we were all pretty hungry. We quickly changed our clothes, freshened up, and headed over to the fancy hotel next door for a mojito at their gorgeous outdoor bar. 




Then, we walked to La Placita de Santurce, which is a must stop for anyone visiting San Juan! It’s filled with outdoor restaurants, music, drinks and salsa dancing. It was literally a giant street party! We had so much fun.



We sat down at an outdoor BBQ restaurant that Beth had been to before, and I was thrilled to discover that they had an entire vegan menu. At a BBQ place!




It was such a welcoming moment for me. I ordered the vegan brisket tacos with vegan beans and rice and it was all absolutely delicious.



We had a great night salsa dancing in the streets with everyone else out for a fun Saturday night!


Sunday, June 12, 2022

Day 2, San Juan


The next morning we went out in search of coffee, and we immediately spotted a Starbucks in the fancy hotel next door. Beth and I were thinking more along the lines of a quaint, local coffee shop with Puerto Rican coffee, but the girls really wanted Starbucks, so that’s where we went.


After getting our coffee, we stumbled upon a farmer's market a block away. And, look at what the sign said:



Vegan treats! I was so excited to read that.



Barb’s stand had vegan sliders, so of course I had to try one. It was a black bean and quinoa burger topped with arugula, tomato, pickled onions and mustard on a vegan sourdough bun. What a delicious breakfast! 



We stopped and chatted with this sweet woman who makes all of the vegan bread for the market, including sourdough bread, sourdough rolls and vegan cinnamon rolls. Yay! 



We loaded up on all of these goodies, and brought them back to our hotel. There were also fruit smoothies! San Jaun was amazing so far and it was feeling very easy for me to eat plant-based.



We decided to spend the day in Old San Juan, which is another must when visiting Puerto Rico. During the Spanish colonial times most of the population lived in what is now known as Old San Juan. 



We decided to hike there from our hotel. We knew it was going to be a long, hot hike, but we all felt like we needed some exercise and we planned to make stops along the way to rest and cool off.



Sections of the old city are surrounded by massive walls and forts. We hiked around Fort San Felipe del Morro and the 17th-century Fort San Cristóbal, which are now historic sites. So cool! 



It was definitely time for cold, refreshing drinks, and we found a cute little smoothie shop right when we needed one!




A few blocks away was Old San Juan. The main central part of the city is filled with narrow streets made of cobblestone and colorful colonial buildings, some dating back to the 16th and 17th century. So charming!



By this time we were really hungry and we found this cute little place to eat lunch. La Taberna Lupulo.





I was really happy to see that they had a hummus platter and falafel sliders on the menu. I ordered both. I asked for the falafel sliders without the feta and without the tzatziki which was made from sour cream (I asked).



The hummus and pita were really good and we all ate it up immediately. The falafel sliders on the other hand……basically without the feta and the tzatziki, they were just bean burgers on Hawaiian rolls. Very odd, but they were actually quite tasty and I was happy to have something to eat.



After wandering around this cute town for another hour or so, we were ready to head back to our hotel. But, we were too tired to walk back because we already did a lot of walking, and it would be another hour back. I am not kidding when I say we did a lot of walking that day! 


We decided to take these fun little scooters back to our hotel. You can find them all over San Juan and rent them from an app that you download, and then just leave them parked pretty much anywhere you want to. So, we had a fun ride back to the hotel, and parked them right in front. So nice! 



We decided to go for a swim in the pool before going to dinner, and that turned out to be so much fun that we stayed way longer than we planned. Night swimming with the pool lights on is great!



After all of that pool fun, it was almost 10pm and we were really hungry by this time, so we quickly changed into dry clothes and stumbled into a local outdoor pizza place. 



I ordered a veggie pizza without the cheese and it was not great. Not even average. It had a white, chewy crust with a ketchup-y tomato sauce and undercooked green peppers, but I ate it anyway. Oh well, it hit the spot. We went back to the hotel and crashed! 


Monday, June 13, 20222

Day 3—Off to Rincón!


The next day it was time to rent a car and hit the road for our 3 hour drive to Rincón. We ate the vegan cinnamon rolls and sourdough bread (stuffed with garlic and onions!) that we bought at the farmer’s market for breakfast and everything was really yummy.


I drove, Beth navigated, and the girls played their playlists off of their phones the entire time, so we were singing and being silly and it was a really fun drive along the coast.



On the way to Rincón, and about 2 hours into our trip, we stopped at Crash Boat Beach, which Beth had been to before.



It was a bit hard to find because it’s pretty hidden and supposedly where the locals go, but we found it after driving in circles for a while. It was gorgeous and we spent a few hours there swimming and soaking up the sun. It was such a gorgeous day! And, there was a super cute little snack bar to get drinks and snacks. 






Beth and the girls ordered Queso Frito and I ordered Veggie Bites with Buffalo Sauce. The Veggie Bites were breaded and deep fried veggies—zucchini, potatoes and green beans. Since they were deep fried, they were very oily which I wasn’t thrilled about, but they were tasty so I ate most of them. I skipped the Buffalo Sauce since it had mayo in it. 



Then, it was a short and gorgeous drive along the beautiful coastline to our cute little air bnb. On our way, we made a stop at Econo Market. We were still about 30 minutes from our place, but Beth said it was the only place to stock up with food for the week, so that’s what we did! 


ECONO RINCON - Restaurant Reviews, Photos & Phone Number - Tripadvisor


We bought bananas, grapes, strawberries, avocados for avocado toast and lettuce for salads. I was so excited to find Ezekiel English muffins and an entire plant-based section! So, we also picked up veggie burgers and “chicken” patties, veggie lunch meat, veggie meatballs, pasta, and some veggie breakfast sausage. I found almond milk and ground coffee, wine, popcorn, hummus and whole wheat crackers. I felt like we were all set for the week for breakfast, snacks, a few lunches and even dinner! 


We arrived at our cute little air bnb and settled in.



Check out the view from our deck!



We met our cute little outdoor housemate…..



And, our next door neighbor. We named her “Pinky”. 


We decided to walk down to the beach to watch the sunset. Ahhh……heavenly. 



Since we were all pretty tired and hungry, we decided to go right next door for dinner, to Casa Isleña, which is a restaurant attached to a cute little hotel where Beth has stayed before. 



We sat outside by the pool where there was a live band playing. Nice! I ordered the Kale Salad without the grana padano cheese, which came with a lemon-thyme vinaigrette. The dressing was made with olive oil but I expected that. The salad was huge, and delicious, and I ate the entire thing. I was very happy!



Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Day 4—First full day in Rincón


It was a beautiful morning, so we got up and went right to the beach. It was just gorgeous, and the water was really warm so we jumped waves all morning. 



After jumping waves and working up an appetite, we went back to our place to make breakfast. 


Hadley and I planned to have veggie breakfast sausage and avocado on toasted English muffins. Yum! To our dismay, there wasn’t a toaster or a microwave in the kitchen. Isn’t that strange?

We didn’t notice this when we arrived. But, that didn’t stop us. 


After 10 minutes of trying to figure out how to turn on the oven, we finally fired it up and toasted our English muffins that way. I cooked the veggie breakfast sausage in a pan on the stovetop and Hadley made us all fruit smoothies (there was a blender). It took a whole half hour of all 4 of us trying to figure out how to properly close the thing so it would turn on, but we did it. 


There was a very small coffee pot, so I made exactly 4 cups of coffee and we had that with almond milk. After an hour, breakfast turned out great!



I think it was at this point that we discoverd that a few of the plant-based items that we had bought—the deli slices and the sliced cheese, were actually labeled plant-forward. I'm not sure what forward means exactly, but after reading the ingredients, we discoverd they had milk and eggs in them. My bad for not reading the ingredients at the store, but I think I was so excited to see this section of the grocery store that I wasn't thinking clearly. So much for sandwiches for lunch!


So, Beth likes to get moving in the morning and get some exercise in—isn’t that what we did at the beach earlier with all of that wave jumping? 🤣 I’m more of a read-my-book in a shady hammock by the beach type of a vacationer.


But, the girls wanted to get moving too so off we went on a hike up the hills of Rincon! Yes, I’m trailing behind those two power walkers.



It was an uphill walk the entire time and the hills were steep. I mean steep! Up, up and up! 



And, in the hot sun….but we had our water bottles with us.




Along the way we saw so many gorgeous flowers and plants……




And, fun yard art!



We finally made it to the top of the mountain for some gorgeous views!





We passed a few dogs that were wandering around that were not on leashes, which was a bit concerning at first—some of them were quite large—but they all turned out to be very friendly. There were also stray cats, horses, roosters and pigs!



On our way down the mountain we wandered into the rainforest. At first, it was a gorgeous and peaceful walk……



Pretty plants, fresh air and cute little critters running around. 





But, after walking for about 30 minutes deep into the rainforest, we wound up getting lost. 



There were so many forks on the path that we lost all sense of direction. There seemed to be no way out! I think we must have been walking in circles. Then, my daughter thought she heard a growl! We were all getting a little jumpy and were holding onto each other as we walked, which was pretty hilarious, but I really started to wonder if we were ever going to find our way out.


I was never happier to finally see the water! 



We found our way out of the rainforest and stumbled upon a lighthouse with a gorgeous view of the beach and a snack bar. Whew.




They also had the biggest mojitos I’ve ever seen in my life!



We all ordered a mojito and some snacks. The only thing on the menu that wasn’t animal-based was fried plantains. I ordered them, which was probably a mistake, because they were deep fried in oil and were very greasy. But, I wanted to try them since they were on every menu, and a local delicacy, and I was hungry.



I skipped the creamy sauce since it most likely was mayo-based. The plantains were tasty, but I could only have two of them before my stomach had enough oil. I was starting to feel like I was overdoing it with the oil a bit on the trip in general already.



We made our way down to the beach from the lighthouse, and planned on taking the beach back to our place. Now it was time for either the funniest part of our trip, or the scariest, I’m still not quite sure…..



Parts of this beach are very rocky and as we walked, it came to a point where the beach was entirely gone and was just giant rocks. 



At this point, we could either turn back and walk the entire half hour in the hot sun that we just walked, climb back up to the lighthouse and take the street home, or we could attempt to climb over these giant, slippery rocks with a crashing tide hitting them. 


Beth and the girls were up for a rock climbing adventure. I was the only scaredy-cat in the group, and really did not want to do that at all. All I could envision was one of us slipping, breaking a bone, and then a trip to the ER. 


Let’s not forget that we also each had just consumed a giant mojito—actually still consuming them because they were so large that we hadn’t finished them yet and were holding them.


But, we forged ahead, slipping, getting soaked and laughing the entire time—for me it was sheer terror as you can see here in the video that my daughter took of me. You can actually hear me yelling out, “This is how people die!”


Click here to watch the walk of death!


Somehow we made it across the rocks to the safety of the sandy beach. Thank goodness!


After a day in the sun, hiking up a mountain, getting lost in a rainforest and climbing the rocks of death, we were exhausted and were not up for any more adventures. We took showers and went back to Casa Isleña—right next door—for dinner. I had the same large kale salad and also a side of beans and rice, which was huge. It was so delicious that I ate the entire thing. 


Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Day 5—Rincón


The next morning, I woke up with a stomach ache and wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was the death defying walk over the rocks and my nerves! But, I think it may have been the beans and rice from dinner the previous night. I made the mistake of not asking our waiter if they were vegan. 


I think that is because my vegan beans and rice on Day 1 in San Juan were so good, I forgot that they are typically made with pork. Oops. I certainly hope they did not contain pork, but that could be why I wasn’t feeling very well.


It rained all morning so we hung around our place reading. Yay for relaxing and reading in a hammock!



It cleared up around 11am and it turned out to be another beautiful day. Beth wanted to take us to a place called The English Rose for brunch for their delicious food and gorgeous views. It was a very steep drive up and up and up the mountain (with no guard rails) and very narrow roads to get to the restaurant at the tippy top. 



The views were spectacular! The photo does not quite capture it, but the ocean is in the distance.



I was feeling better and now I was hungry, so I ordered the Greek Salad without the feta and it was delicious! It came with a vinaigrette dressing and pickled red onions.



Yes, I had a few fries, as well. 😅


After brunch, we went back to our place, changed into our bathing suits, and spent the afternoon snorkeling at beautiful Steps Beach. 





Yep, those are the steps.



We only had 2 pairs of goggles with us, so not the best equipment for snorkeling, but it was still really fun. Hadley and I saw a huge school of blue fish—they looked like Dory from Finding Nemo and we followed them for a bit watching them feed off of the coral reef. So much fun!



We decided to make dinner at our place that night and made pasta with veggie meatballs, garlic bread and salad. It was really yummy! Too bad I didn’t get a pic of our feast.


Thursday, June 16, 2022

Day 6—Rincón


We got up bright and early and went to yoga on the beach, which was right next to our place. It was really nice and relaxing, but again my stomach was not feeling all that great.



After yoga, I made the oven-toasted English muffins with avocado to see if that would settle my stomach and some of our delicious Puerto Rican coffee with almond milk. It didn’t really help, but I went to the beach with everyone else and tried to ignore it.


We stopped for lunch at a cute place called The Beach House and I ordered a vegetable and rice dish (this time I asked if it was vegan) which was really tasty but I couldn't eat much of it because it seemed as if my stomach was getting worse as the day went on.



We drove around town, trying to find a snorkel trip for the next day, but to no avail. We stopped at a fancy hotel for a drink at their bar (just water for me) and then it was back to the Beach House to watch the sunset. As you can see, I’m still not feeling great.



After sunset, we grabbed a light dinner here. I didn’t eat anything because of the way I was feeling, but they all had tacos, guacamole and chips.


We went back to our place and played Salad Bowl which is a charades game which was fun (Hadley and I beat them by a landslide victory!) and went to bed early that night.


Friday, June 17, 2022

Day 7—Rincón


The next day I woke up feeling so much better! My stomach was back to normal. I really think all of the oil and processed foods I had been eating was the culprit. My body didn’t like that! 


I thought I’d tread lightly so for breakfast it was a dry English muffin and a banana.


Then, it was off to the waterfalls!



They were gorgeous and we had one all to ourselves! 



We stopped for lunch at another cute beachside place and they had a veggie burger on the menu so I ordered that without the bun and a salad. 



I also asked for some grilled bread with my salad, thinking it would be dry, but it came coated in butter. I forgot to ask. I didn’t want to wait for dry grilled bread at this point, so I just ate the salad and the girls ate the bread.



We were leaving early the next day for the airport in San Juan, so we spent the afternoon packing up our stuff, taking showers and relaxing.  We wanted to watch our last sunset, so we raced up to The Beach House again for sunset and to listen to some live music before dinner. 


Beth wanted to take us to one of her favorite restaurants for dinner, so we drove 20 minutes to the restaurant. Again, great views! But, after checking out the menu, I saw that it was entirely meat and fish. I was pretty surprised to see that there were no pasta dishes, rice and beans, salad or anything else that I could make work.


I asked the waitress if there was anything they could make for me without meat or dairy. She said that they could make me a vegetable curry dish. I was not really up for a vegetable curry dish, but I was willing to give it a try. My daughter, who also does not eat meat, was not willing to give that a try because she is not a curry fan.


There was a breaded and deep-fried cauliflower appetizer dish, so we ordered that (I only had one bite because I didn’t want my stomach to start up again) and a drink and decided to go elsewhere for dinner.


We found a cute place nearby and they had a pasta dish that was loaded with veggies and light on the oil, so I ordered that and was very happy with it! I ate the entire thing and hoped for the best.


Saturday, June 18, 2022

Day 8—Leaving Rincón for San Juan and our flight Chicago


We had a 3 hour drive back to San Juan, our flight was at 2pm and we had to return the rental car by 12pm, so we left at 8am to be on the safe side.


I was feeling great, so for breakfast, I had an English muffin, avocado and also the breakfast sausage, fruit and coffee. So yummy and filling. 


We said goodbye to our cute little place, the cat, the beach and Pinky and hit the road.



I knew we were going to need to eat at the airport because the flight was even longer on the way back—5 hours, and we weren’t going to want the hummus snack box again.


At the airport, our only option was a $16 salad! So that’s what Hadley and I ate. We left out the protein choice of turkey, tuna salad or chicken, and it was still $16 each. Wowza.



I have to say it was quite tasty and I thoroughly enjoyed it as we sat at the gate waiting to board our flight.


So, that wraps up my eating adventures on the trip.


We had a great time and I absolutely fell in love with Puerto Rico! The people are so warm and friendly, the food was great, and I had lots of options for the most part. 


It’s definitely easier to eat plant-based in bigger cities, like San Juan. When you venture out a bit to more remote places like Rincón, it gets trickier. But, with a few snags along the way which I expected, I made it work and was mostly happy with the food the entire time.


And, best of all, my daughter and I had a week of quality time and made lots of great memories together. ❤️