A Sailor’s Guide to Fajardo

While docked for several weeks at SunBay Marina in Fajardo, Puerto Rico for repairs – http://www.sunbaymarina.com/ (787-863-0313) – I quickly realized that there were limited resources available for visiting boaters regarding local amenities. I found my local guidebook (“A Crusing Guide to Puerto Rico by Stephen Pavlidis”, 2003) lacking in up-to-date information and also found myself either spending hours online doing research to find what I needed or having to ask multiple locals. And, having purchased cruising guides for almost all of the Caribbean, I have honestly found that these guides provide limited detailed information on the local amenities as well as lack candid views on these same amenities (as they derive advertising revenues from the local businesses). Thus my inspiration to write an easy, all-in-one place summary guide to Fajardo for visiting boaters – based on my first hand experiences. Please note that this is by no means an exhaustive list of all of the local amenities in Fajardo but it will provide an overview of what you need while you are sailing through ! (As a disclaimer, these notes are up to date as of March 20th, 2010).

A) Provisioning

Walmart – Puerto Rico has a number of Walmart branches but the closest in Fajardo is located at 150 Carr 940, Suite 180 (787-860-1020). This is on Route (Carretera) 3, in Plaza Fajardo. Please note that the fresh food selection here is very limited/not great quality so I would recommend vernturing to the grocery store located in the same mall. There is a Walmart SuperCenter to the northwest of Fajardo, at WM SC Plaza Canovans, just off Route 3 (towards San Juan) – this Walmart carries a much larger fresh food selection, including fish/seafood.

Grocery Store – Econo Supermarket is also located in Plaza Fajardo and has a great selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, a liquor section, a bakery as well as a decent meat section. Unfortunately, fresh fish is not available here although they have salted as well as frozen fish. This is a great place to re-stock your spices (although I couldn’t find any indian spices for my curries). Bags of ice are available at the front of the store. If you wish to use your credit card here for payment you will need to have ID with you.

Grande Supermarket is very similar in nature to Econo (although with slightly higher prices) and is located in Plaza del Este Fajardo, near Sears, on Route 3.

[Author's addition on 05/17/10] Also try Ralph’s Food Warehouse on Route 3 (heading West), about 20 minutes drive from Fajardo. Excellent selection, everything you will need and good prices. Fruit, veggie and meat selections are very good – however, no fresh fish is available.

Fresh Fish – There are local fresh fish stands on Highway 987, driving from Fajardo towards the Hotel El Conquistador. Venture there in the early morning or late afternoon.

Fresh Fruit/Vegetables – In season, on Route 3 (between Fajardo and San Juan), there are locals selling fresh fruit (especially bananas) and vegetables from their stands/trucks during the day, every day of the week.

Pharmacy – There is a pharmacy in the local Walmart or you can go to Walgreens, which is located next to Plaza Fajardo. There is a 1-hour photo center at Walgreens if you need to develop your film although the development quality is only ok. There is also a large CVS located at Fajardo Market Square on Route 3.

B) ATM:

At Plaza Fajardo there is a Scotiabank and a Banco Popular, each with an ATM. Be prepared to pay $3.00-$4.00 for transactions on local ATMs. There is also an ATM at Doral, at the top of Avenida Baralt (where this road meets Route 3). Your other option is to use the cashback options at various local stores. There is also a MoneyGram near the top of Avenida Baralt if you need to send or receive money.

C) Post Office:

US Post Office, Fajardo is located right behind Banco Popular at 113 Calle Garrido Morales W., towards Fajardo’s town square. This post office branch has longer opening hours than that of Puerta Real: M-F 10-7PM, Sat: 8-4PM (closed Sunday).

US Post Office, Puerta Real (787-863-1827). Hours: M-F 8-4.30PM (except closed on Thursday), Sat: 8-12PM.

There is a FedEx Authorized Ship Center located at Correo Privado Caribe, 52 Calle Celis Aguilera N (787-863-8185).

D) Customs:

US Customs is located next to the Ferry Terminal on Avenida Pescador (787-729-6840). If you have your US Customs Decal/are a member of the Local Boat Option program, you can call in by phone to clear through customs when you arrive in Puerto Rico.

E) Boating Supplies:

West Marine – There is a rather decently sized West Marine on Route 3, located at 4186 Carr 3 (787-801 -2700). Two side notes: Firstly, you will notice that prices for certain items at this West Marine (i.e. pumps) can be higher than stores in the U.S. or on-line. (And, no, you cannot order items online for free delivery to the Puerto Rican stores). Secondly, we found out the hard way that this branch does not supply or service Mercury outboard engines. Also, if there is a specific item/part that you need, call ahead to see if it is available and, if not, have the parts delivered here. I found that their inventory was rather low for many items although they did carry a good selection and you can be pleasantly surprised by the range of marine goods here.

The Skipper Shop – Located on Domingo Rivero Nevado, the same street as Villa Real (787-863-5530). This shop is geared more towards motor boats but does have a pretty good selection of marine sundries. Their prices for certain goods, such as Marine 5200 and lines, are lower than the local West Marine.

The Marine Store @ Industrial & Marine Service – Located in the Village Marina Shopping Center, which is across the street from the Skipper Shop (787-725-5946). This store has a decent selection of marine products, although what they supply is largely mechanical in nature.

Overall, we found that we had to visit all of the above mentioned stores to find what we needed for boating supplies (parts, hardware, paints, maps) as no one store was outstanding in terms of its readily available inventory. Saying this, however, you are unlikely to find marine stores as well stocked as these as you head down the island chain.

F) Hardware:

National Lumber and Hardware is a local hardware store located on Avenida Baralt which carries a wide variety of tools, painting supplies, cleaning and general hardware supplies at attractive prices. (Their prices per foot for stainless steel cable were the cheapest we found in Fajardo, for example).

Painting supplies and selective hardware are available at the local Walmart. I picked up painting supplies (brushes, tape, silicone) as well as various boating supplies (jerry jugs for fuel, tools, engine oil, antifreeze) at much cheaper prices versus what you would pay at West Marine.

Sears – Located at Plaza del Este Fajardo on Route 3 (787-863-0342). I found the inventory for smaller items here lacking and store assistance was only ok – if you are looking for a much better hardware selection I would go to National Lumber and Hardware OR there is a Home Depot on Route 3. However, please be warned the Home Depot is a one-half hour drive from Fajardo (towards San Juan) and Route 3 can get rather jammed during rush hour.

G) Laundry/Dry Cleaning

Quality Cleaners is located on Avenida Baralt (787-863-3625) and will take care of your dry cleaning or laundry.

H) Repairs:

Marine Mechanical Services (787-655-3702), located at Lote #7, Zona Industrial (next to Villa Real). This team specialises in Volvo Penta engines but also services Westerbeke, Yanmar, Phasor, Kohler, Onon (http://www.marinemechanicalservice.com). We used Danny and his team to service our Weterbeke generator – the team really knows their stuff, Danny is an expert on Westerbekes.  However, honestly, we found them unreliable. They overpromised regarding when the repairs could be completed and really underdelivered. For instance, we were told our repair would take one week only and the repair actually took four weeks, keeping us at the marina longer than we wanted. In the end, we also had to find the parts they needed and order them ourselves. His charge per hour (although for 2 mechanics) is $95.

Industrial & Marine Service (787-725-5946) located at the Village Marina Shopping Center. This team services Suzuki (Marine), Mercury and Mariner as well as Raymarine. If you own a Mercury outboard engine still under warranty, you will need to take it to Marine World in San Juan for service to be honoured by the warranty. http://www.industrialmarinepr.net/

North Sails – Give Chuck a call at 787-863-3761, located at the Villa Marina Shopping Center on the 2nd Floor. On-site or drop-off service is available. We had our mainsail repaired here – the quality of their work is very good, the per hour rate is reasonable and the repair turnaround time is impressive.

Almacenes 100 Inc. (Fabric Store), located at Calle Iglesia #100 (787-863-5045) – this store carries Sunbrella material (a wide variety of colours) as well as all the fabric related supplies you can imagine. Call ahead if you have a specific need as their inventory can run low for certain items.

I) Towing Services:  SeaTow

We had first hand experience of needing a tow outside of San Juan, after our centerboard broke and our engine well and truly died. It is disappointing to say but there is a lack of towing services in this area – we used SeaTow, which is based out of Fajardo. Hail them on your VHF (Channel 16) or call them at 787-636-4900. Be warned – their towing rates are far higher than the highest rates in the U.S., at $375 per hour (from the time the boat leaves the dock) and an additional $25 per hour is charged if there is a “small craft advisory”. If you are a BoatUS member, the office administration will tell you that you are covered in Puerto Rico as if you are a SeaTow member but THIS IS NOT THE CASE. Please check with BoatUS first before you accept the tow from SeaTow and re-read your insurance agreement.

Aha – I just found another local towing company that is cheaper – Sea Rescue. Also hail them on Channel 16 or call Jose (the owner) at 787-801-2557.  His rate for recreational towing is a more affordable $275 per hour AND he noted that this is negotiable, depending on the job.

J) Getting Around:

I would highly recommend renting a car, at least for a few days. You can find economy rental cars for $35 per day (or less) and public transport is either non-existent or hard to use for certain areas. We used our U.S. hand-held GPS (Tom-Tom and Garmin brands) when driving around although you will find either model can be inaccurate for this area – for example, we were taken down streets the wrong way, and certain street names are not recognized. Driving can be a bit of an art in PR – please watch out for extra slow drivers, road works and iguanas crossing the street (seriously!)

Rental car – Enterprise (787-860-6868), located at 4227 Calle Marginal 3 (Route 3). Please note that SunBay boaters receive a discount at the Fajardo branch. The office is open 8AM-5PM during the week, closed on the weekend, but if you rent a car for the weekend there are 50% off deals. There is also an Enterprise located at El Conquistador but you will pay higher rates if you rent at that location. If you do not have collision insurance through your existing insurance company or credit card, and do not want to pay Enterprise’s high insurance rates ($20 per day), try using this company: http://www.tripinsurancestore.com/. Please note that Enterprise will kindly pick you up/drop you off at your marina if you need a ride.

Aside from Enterprise, Avis, Thrifty, World Car Rental also provide car rentals in the area.

Private taxi – Diaz Transportation (24-hr service, 787-885-4064). Mr Diaz will pick you up at your marina, take you into Fajardo and then pick you up when you are finished shopping. He provides a reasonably priced private taxi service to San Juan aiport for $75 (one way). This compares to $100 via EcoTours or other local taxi services we checked out. His prices to get around Fajardo are reasonable but not cheap versus the cost to rent a car.

Publicos – Rather than taking a personal taxi, it is much less expensive to take one of the publicos (basically a shared passenger van) which have set, marked stops. (The stops look like covered bus stops along the main roads). The fare is $3 per person. Públicos can be identified by yellow license plates ending in P or PD. Please note: you will need to ask locally to figure out the route you need and you will need patience regarding your timetable. It can take up to 4 times as long to get to your desired location versus driving or taking a personal taxi.

Fajardo Ferry Terminal to CULEBRA & VIEQUES (787-863-3360), located on Avenida Pescador. Cost is $4.50 per person (adult) per way – a discount is available for senior citizens (please bring ID). A side note for residents of SunBay Marina – this is about a 20-minute walk from the marina but includes 2 rather large hills to climb and I wouldn’t recommend doing this walk at night. I heard making reservations is a waste of time so you will need to get to the ferry terminal over one hour before the departure of the ferry to purchase your ticket- especially if you are heading to Culebra over Vieques. Be prepared to wait in a rather long line for the morning ferry (9AM), even during the week. I ventured to Culebra on a Thursday and heard from the locals that getting the ferry on the weekend in high season produces very long lines.

Caribe Cay Ferry to ST THOMAS & ST JOHN (787-863-0582), located just off Avenida Pescador. Please note that reservations are required – the cost is $90 per person (adult) round trip or $70 one-way.

K) Local Attractions:

Restaurants – Metropol (Cuban) (787-801-2870), located on Route 3. While I enjoyed my authentic cuban dinner here, I would describe the food as only ok and not as cheap as I would have expected. Was not particularly impressed with the ambience as this is a chain restaurant. Lunch is a better deal, with meat and fish specials at $8-$9 (until 2PM). http://www.metropolpr.com/

On Highway 987, the road leading to the Hotel El Conquistador, there are a few local restaurants, including The Skipper’s Inn. A much better choice, La Estacion, is known for its mouth watering BBQ and is located on Carr 984, near Hotel El Conquistador. This restaurant is ranked #1 in Fajardo, based on TripAdvisor.com (787-863-4481, http://www.laestacionpr.com/home.shtml).

For those wishing to spend a little more, there is a host of restaurants and bars at the El Conquistador Hotel, located on 1000 El Conquistador Avenue. Just tell the front gate that you have reservations at one of their restaurants to gain access to the hotel grounds. We ate at the Stingray Cafe, at the hotel’s marina, which is known as one of the best restaurants in the resort. You will need to take the cable car down from the main part of the hotel to get there. The food is good, not excellent, and overpriced, although the ambience and service were superb. Next to the Stingray restaurant is a large bar on the water called Ballyhoo Bar & Grill worth visiting. http://www.elconresort.com/

[Author's addition on 05/17/2010] – A few sailor’s have also tried and recommended the local seafood restaurant, Rosa’s. Yet stick to the fish…….

For junkfood addicts, Fajardo is littered with fast-food restaurants, including Baskin Robbins, Burger King, Church’s Chicken, Dunkin’ Donuts, KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Ponderosa, Pollo Tropical, Quiznos, Wendy’s – all mainly located on or just off Route 3. Sizzler’s – off Route 3 – offers an all you can eat buffet for $8.49 before 4PM – the food is ok and the price is right yet the quality is not what you would get back in Canada or the United States.

Beaches:

Puerto Rico has such beauty that I hadn’t expected.

The closest local beach that I discovered was Luquillo, a public beach which is an approximate 20 minute drive from the marina area on Route 3. It is well marked, with roadside signs off the highway. If you head for the 2 main apartment towers (Sandy Hills Tower) and take the exit “Luquillo, Sabana” at the lights you will find free parking right on the street. If you head for the third exit for Luquillo Beach off Route 3, to the north of these buildings (and just before the line of kioks/restaurants if you are heading towards San Juan on Route 3), you will pay $4 for parking. Near the paid parking lot there is the infamous strip of food kiosks and souvenir shacks which provide an entertaining look-around.

El Yunque Rainforest:

A must-see while sightseeing in Puerto Rico. You will need to take Route 191 into the park – and make sure you take the Northern Route on 191 to see the Visitor’s Center and Coca Falls. At kilometer 11.6 on the Northern Route, there is a cute restaurant in the rainforest, complete with drinks, a grill and dessert. There is a portion of 191 that has been closed for many years, which disconnects the north and south of El Yunque. You can enter the park from the Southern Route but this side is not as pretty and does not have any park amenities. http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/caribbean/recreation/recreation_hiking.shtml

Day Trip Into Old San Juan:

This trip is highly recommended and worth the drive ! The drive is about 45-60 minutes from Fajardo, depending upon your starting point, taking Route 3 to Highway 26. If you have a rental car, you can park in a covered garage near the Sheraton on Recento Sur Street. There are numerous walking tours available but we had alot of fun equipped with a map from the Tourist Information Center (including a free rum welcome drink) and jumping on and off the free trolley which tours Old San Juan. Ostra Cosa is a lovely bar/restaurant on 154 Cristo Street – prices are a little expensive but the ambience is lovely and has an “old” feel to it, with the restaurant area outside in a courtyard. If you need to pick up a few groceries while in town, there is a SuperMax grocery store located on San Francisco Street, near Starbucks.

Ferry Ride to Culebra:

We toyed with the idea of going to Viaques over Culebra but our research led us to take the ferry to Culebra (see my comment above on the ferry service). If you are going to Culebra for the day only, I would definately include a visit to Flamingo Beach, on the northern shore. There will be a host of buses/taxis that will surround you as you get off the ferry so don’t worry about transportation here. And the fare is cheap, at $3 per person per way. You can bring food/drinks on the ferry but there is a host of kiosks at Flamingo Beach that sell food and drinks (at typical beach prices) – you can also rent chairs and umbrellas from the local guides on the beach if it is a particularly hot and sunny day. I found Melones Beach (a 15 minute walk north from the Ferry terminal) good for snokelling as it is right on a large coral reef but it is not the kind of white, sandy beach you would want to spend the day at. Also, if there is a Northern Swell, the waters here get rough and sandy such that visibility for snorkelling is very limited.

There are a host of other activities in the Fajardo area including: Pure Adventure (787-202-6551), Erin Go Bragh Charters, Sailing & Snorkelling (787-860-4401), Kayaking Puerto Rico (http://www.kayakingpuertorico.com/), Enchanted Island Eco Tours (http://www.eietecotourspr.com/EIET_Web-Site_08/Welcome.html), Captain Marcos Fishing Charters (787-347-4464), Bioluminiscent Bay (http://www.biobay.com/). I cannot provide any commentary on these services as, unfortunately, I didnt personally try them but there is alot of good information available on the internet.

In order to capture the feeling and beauty of Puerto Rico, you can view a few pictures from our sightseeing tour on my sailing blog: http://www.sailblogs.com/member/luckyescape/

Welcome to Fajardo, Puerto Rico !