At the end of August 2013, my boyfriend and I had the absolute pleasure of visiting Puerto Rico. He had been searching the internet for somewhere tropical we could vacation that offered vegan food. I thought I knew of all the vegan B&Bs and resorts, but I was wrong! He discovered Maravilla Mountain - two properties near the west coast of Puerto Rico. Margo and Mark own a beachfront property, as well as a cottage and cabin in the mountains. We studied the website and emailed Margo (who is so kind and helpful) and decided we wanted to split our time between the beach and the mountains. This worked out great! We planned 4 nights at each and one night in San Juan where we flew into.
I apologize in advance for the length of the post--I didn't want to leave out any of the good stuff!
Let's start with San Juan! We stayed at a Hotel Cervantes in Old San Juan, which is the older part of the city and very walkable. I would recommend staying in this area if you don't plan on renting a car. We were really happy with the hotel, the service and the location. There are lots of historical sites, as well as several vegan-friendly restaurants and bars nearby. Here are just a few photo highlights of that area.
Before I talk about the food we enjoyed our first few days, I need to add a story about the best restaurant at which I never ate. After dinner on our first night, we found a place called Marmalade that looked really modern and colorful (and fancy!). We stopped in and took a seat at the bar and ordered a few expensive mixed drinks. We asked to see the menu just out of curiosity since my boyfriend had heard they have vegetarian options. The woman behind the bar perked up and began sharing her story about being vegan and vegetarian over many years and how challenging it can be anywhere in Puerto Rico outside of the big cities. She was excited to discuss how the vegan food options (at Marmalade) were fantastic. We looked at the menu and she pointed out some options that could be made vegan (or already were) and discussed how they use only fresh ingredients. Then, to my surprise, she said, "Let me introduce you to the chef!" I have to admit I was nervous...not only because I'm normally shy by nature, but I thought most chefs must be unapproachable (based only on what I've seen on TV). That stereotype couldn't have been more wrong for Peter Schintler. He was such a down-to-earth and kind person, but also very excited to discuss his restaurant and approach to cooking. He is raising his daughter on a vegan diet, and both she and his wife are his main inspiration in cooking. He is so intent on keeping only fresh ingredients that they don't even keep a can opener in their kitchen! Chef Peter's interests also include raw foods, non-GMOs, sustainable farming and managing alkaline levels in food. We spoke for what seemed like nearly an hour about so many aspects of food - it was such a pleasure. It was with deep regret that we were only in San Juan that one night and never got to enjoy dinner at his restaurant. I guess this is a reason for us to visit again!
Below you can see our meals starting at Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport. Concourse C has a French Meadow Bakery with vegan chili and several bakery options. While in San Juan, we had a very limited time to accomplish all our touristy goals, so we ended up eating twice at Cafe Berlin. We were really pleased with the food and service we got there--the waiters absolutely understood what vegan meant and were happy to point out our options. See the individual images below for details on our food.
You will also find that you don't need to know Spanish to get around Old San Juan. Most everyone there speaks English. The only time I needed to use my mediocre Spanish skills was on the cab ride from the airport, but I'm sure that's something that could have been worked out in English, depending on the driver.
After a day in San Juan, Margo (from Maravilla Mountain) arranged to have us picked up from San Juan and driven to the beach house near Rincon on the west coast. Ben, a traveling volunteer was our driver as we set out on our 3+ hour drive. We met up with Margo and another volunteer, Laine, at the beach house and got the tour. It was literally 20 feet from the Caribbean Sea and right on the beach--stunning! We had rented the upper level Penthouse, which is like a large studio apartment with a really big balcony facing the sea. No one was staying on the first floor, so we got to use their huge porch as well, complete with hammock, table and chairs. On the beach level floor, there were two kayaks and all kinds of snorkeling and swimming accessories. We got a ton of use out of those kayaks--the water was completely still and no one was around. It was easy paddling to get a great view of the sunset or check out all the other properties and parks on the coast.
Since Margo's place was about 30 minutes away, she prepared all our meals for the next several days ahead of time and stocked the fridge for us. The penthouse had a full-size oven/stove, microwave, sink and refrigerator as well as dishes, pots/pans and utensils. In addition to each of the meals you see below (note each photo has a meal number on it since each of them were several courses), Margo gave us lots of fresh fruit, soy milk and orange juice. Everything was outstanding and easy to prepare. It was a great variety of foods and flavors.
We planned to have one full day and two half-day excursions that Margo arranged, along with her awesome volunteers Ben and Laine. I don't want to make this post too long, so I only included the highlights in the photos below. On our full day excursion, we traveled to Arecibo, where we saw the Camuy Caves, Arecibo Observatory and La Cueva Del Indio (some caves on a private property). Then, on one of our half-day excursions we explored the city of San German. This is the second oldest city in Puerto Rico and has some beautiful churches, buildings and museums. Finally, on our last excursion, we visited Gozalandia waterfall in San Sebastian, also referred to as La Cascada del Guama--beautiful views, great swimming and my boyfriend was daring enough to jump off the waterfall a few times!
When we arrived in the mountains, we were excited to have Margo prepare the food for us. I knew it would be beautiful and delicious, plus we wouldn't have to do the prep work or dishes :) Every meal was a work of art. With appetizers, soups, salads, entrees and desserts, I don't think I've ever eaten better in my life. With so many fresh fruits and veggies incorporated into the meals, I really felt good too! Take a look at the details of our meals below--you'll see the meals are numbered again so you can see what all goes together. All of our dinners were served in the dining room by Margo, plus one breakfast buffet. Our other small breakfasts and lunches were prepared ahead of time by Margo and heated up in our mini-kitchen in our cottage which had a full-size refrigerator, microwave and sink.
Here are some photos of the cottage where we stayed, and also the cabin, which is on the same property and offers more rustic lodging.
We really had an amazing time! Margo and Mark were great hosts and their assistants were so much fun and excellent at driving those winding roads! I highly recommend Maravilla Mountain--we really got to enjoy a variety of activities all packed into one great vacation with amazing vegan food! Plus, I felt the rates were very reasonable considering so much was included. If you're interested in possibly vacationing there, take a look at the website and contact them for more information and pricing. It's a trip of a lifetime! :)