1) Morning Hike: El Yunque Rainforest
If you have any interest in hiking, waterfalls, sweeping views and wildlife, then El Yunque is not to be missed. Fajardo is an ideal base camp for a visit to the rainforest given its proximity. I recommend heading out early in the morning on a clear day. Be sure to wear sneakers or hiking shoes and a bathing suit under your clothing in case you want to cool off in one of the waterfalls! Follow one of the many trails to find waterfalls, a plethora of flora, sweeping views of the island and, if you are lucky, exotic birds. Visit Yokahu Tower for panoramic views of the island, followed by a dip in La Mina falls. You can also see El Yunque on horseback or via mountain bike.
After your hike, drive directly toward the coast and enjoy peaceful Luquillo Beach. Here you will find a large palm-dotted white sand beach with calm, clear water. They have a changing/shower facility and a bunch of little food shacks where you can get lunch.
Icacos island is not far from El Conquistador's private island (Palomino Island), however Icacos boasts a nice reef for snorkeling. Book a catamaran tour that leaves from Fajardo for a half day of snorkeling. While we didn't visit Icacos on our last trip, we have been several times either on a catamaran tour or on a friend's boat. The beach is pristine, the water is clear and I remember seeing a lot of colorful fish and coral here. One tip is to swim to the outer reef which is a bit further away from where all the boats stop. Here you can see much prettier coral and a larger variety of sea life like octopus and sting rays.
3) Outdoor Dining: El Estacion
This restaurant is a must if you are staying in Fajardo. A former executive chef from NYC partnered with a local and transformed an old gas station into a charming and eclectic indoor/outdoor dining experience. We didn't make reservations, but didn't mind waiting 45 minutes for our table at the bar where we enjoyed a couple of cocktails and the smell from the outdoor bbq. We'd read that they were famous for their lechon (roasted pig) but found out that they only make it on Sundays and we would only be in Fajardo mid-week. We quickly got over this miss once we looked at the menu. We had a delicious appetizer of chorizo pinchos with manchego cheese followed by a main course of seafood mofongo (me) and bbq pork spare ribs (Chris). Everything was delicious and I'd say this was the best mofongo I've had on the island. There was a high seafood to plantain ratio which ensured that the meal was not too dry (a common problem with mofongo). Some day we'll be back for their lechon on Sunday!
4) Night Kayak: Bioluminescent Bay
Puerto Rico has three bioluminescent bays, one of which is La Laguna Grande in Fajardo. These lagoons contain millions of micro-organisms that illuminate at night seconds after agitated. When your kayak or paddle glides through the water, the dark liquid illuminates for an instant. We visited years ago and they allowed us to swim in the lagoon which was frightening at first since you are basically swimming in a dark abyss. But fear changes to delight after seeing the water light up around your body! We also exchanged a lot of laughs trying to get back into our kayak from the water! Not easy, and definitely NOT graceful:) One tip - the darker the night, the better, so try to go when there is no moon out.
5) Discover a Hidden Beach: Playa Medio Mundo in Ceiba
We heard there was a hidden white sand beach in the nearby town of Ceiba so we went exploring one afternoon after a day on Palomino Island. Playa Medio Mundo is not the easiest beach to locate but we eventually managed to find it. First you have to drive to Playa Los Machos which might be the saddest little beach in Puerto Rico. Drive to the end of the abandoned beach parking lot and park. You'll see a forest of mangrove trees with a path. The path looks wicked sketchy and I was hesitant to go on, but Chris went without a care in the world. I followed him with a fallen tree branch in hand just in case there were any wild animals lurking in the woods (ie hungry, abandoned dogs). About a five minute walk down the path, we were at Playa Medio Mundo. Unfortunately for us, we arrived at the wrong time of day. The sun was setting behind the mangroves casting a huge shadow on the beach and the tide was high which meant little to no visible dry sand. It was dissapointing. We considering coming back in the morning when the sun would be shining on the white sand but opted to go back to beautiful Palomino! Honestly, this might not be worth the 20 minute drive out of the way if you're here at the wrong time, but if you aren't staying at El Conquistador or if you are passing by, it's probably worth checking out.