So, you want to do a Caribbean vacation, but you don’t want to deal with getting a passport, adding an international plan to your cell phone, exchanging currency or the lines and hassles of customs and immigration. Do you forgo that Caribbean experience? Heck no! You travel to Puerto Rico!
Puerto Rico is the best of both worlds for Americans – it’s US Territory (and has been for the past 120 years) that also happens to be a Caribbean island! So, all of those deal breakers I listed above are not applicable to this destination!
I recently invited Francisco Blanch the Director of Leisure Sales of Discover Puerto Rico back to share more about Puerto Rico with us (you may remember we talked to him at the height of COVID-19 as well) and he was all too happy to share his passion for it once again!
So – pack your bags and your dancing shoes (you’ll see why later) - but leave your passport at home because you don’t need it here! You’re coming with me to a place that will mirror an experience of an international destination – but is actually a US territory and close to home. Let’s get started!
Getting There: Puerto Rico has what Francisco calls a privileged location in the Caribbean - meaning thanks to where it lies it is an average three and a half to four-hour flight depending on where you are coming from. And bonus - New York and most of the east coast have access to direct flights but don’t worry my Texas friends – it’s just one easy connection for us! There is also plenty of lift to get you there with a wide choice of airlines available for you to choose from. Once you arrive at the San Juan International Airport, you’ll find a modern facility that isn’t too big making it easy to navigate!
Transportation and Getting Around: Puerto Rico measures 100 miles long and just 35 miles wide so everything is within reach in a matter of just a two to three hour driving distance. And drive it you can – and should! First – all you need is your US driver’s license to rent a car then all the rest is the same as driving in your hometown – as it is a US Territory. Same signs, rules, road rage (ha – kidding!) – but you get the idea. Second – they have invested a lot of money into the entire island since Hurricane Maria hit three years ago causing extensive damage - and therefore the island is in top shape and – per Francisco - has one of the most amazing and modern network of roads you will ever drive on. His words? “The roads are impeccable”! (Now that sounds even better than driving on some of the roads in the continental US!)
What’s New: Speaking of Hurricane Maria – here are some stats Francisco shared with us regarding recovery efforts which he credits to being a US territory. They actually already had a great infrastructure of roads so that helped hasten their recovery. The other infrastructure improvements were thanks to over 20 billion in government funds that were spent on response and recovery efforts. IN addition:
Language, Climate and More: First – Puerto Rico is the most advanced and up to date island in the Caribbean according to Francisco. As for language - both English and Spanish are widely spoken across the island. And the climate? It is tropical but thanks to the El Yunque Rainforest in the east and the Central Mountains region - Puerto Rico is a unique climate - temperatures stay at a range between 70- and 80-degrees Fahrenheit making it always feel like spring or summer.
Francisco told us he refers to Puerto Rico as a Continental Island – so - is it an island or is it continental? It’s both. Of course, it’s an Island but its offerings are very continental. It is not just all not just nature and recreation. it’s great for families too with plenty of museums including interactive ones for kids.
Breaking It Down Into Categories: This is certainly one of those “there’s something for everyone” destinations – and then some - just see below!
Destinations: Just like the categories I broke it down into, so too can we break down each destination.
Also close by is the infamous Bacardi Rum Distillery which you can reach via a ferry that leaves from old San Juan and travels across Old San Juan Bay to the distillery. Here you can tour the factory and sample some of their wares. There are other distilleries to tour across Puerto Rico as well and another fun fact - 70% of all of the rum consumed in the US is produced in Puerto Rico. I’ll drink to that!
Culture: For a small island Puerto Rico has a wide array of culture to offer its visitors. And you all know what that means – say it with me – travel as a living classroom!
From music to festivals to celebrations - 400 years of Spanish culture that lived there and developed traditions that are continued in present day. For instance - every town has their own patron saint and they each also have a festival honoring that saint. Did I mention there are a lot of festivals? And then there is the dancing – from the salsa to the bomba to the plena – which is African rooted – all of these dances along with the music and sounds make it an incredibly fun experience. Now do you see why I said to pack your dancing shoes? Whatever you do - don’t forget your dancing shoes!
Then there is it’s Pre-Columbian Culture. Being that Puerto Rico was so fertile and rich in resources the Taíno people – an indigenous tribe - chose to settle here. The Taíno Indians were actually still there when Columbus arrived. Not only can you find artifacts and engravings from them – but you can also find a lot of things that pre-date them – thus there are plenty of archeological sites and museums that are worth visiting to learn more about pre-Taíno and the Taíno native Puerto Ricans.
Gastronomy: There are more than 4000 restaurants in Puerto Rico so it’s safe to say you won’t go hungry! In fact - you’ll find all kinds of delicacies - and they want you to. That’s why you won’t find All-Inclusive properties here – they want you to get out and explore what they have to offer.
In fact - Culinary Adventures are plentiful here! There are even special roads – such as the
Pork Highway – where you will find one after another pork specialty restaurant lined up and people sampling each of them along the way! And just tasting all of the flavorful, marvelous foods is an adventure in itself – from churros to surullitos to empanadillas to arepas to alcapurrias and pionones there is a huge variety, and it is all so very delicious! Oh, and I can’t forget the pasteles which are made with a dough that is created from plantains then wrapped in banana leaves and filled with all kinds of meats and spices – yummy! And one more – mofongo. Mofongo is a staple in Puerto Rico and has become a major delicacy as now they’ll mix it with seafood or chicken or pork – your choice – making it right at your table and seasoning it however you want! If you haven’t had mofongo you are missing you!
The fertility of the island has paved the way for the farm to table concept to take root in Puerto Rico. So much so that as per Francisco - eating organic is a way of life – it’s there, it’s what they expect and they know nothing else. Some of the history of the food available includes the Taíno people bringing the Yuca Root which is a staple for many dishes to this day. In addition, when the Spaniards arrived they brought crops they gathered from other areas the visited including plantains, bananas and banana leaves - all of which play a strong part in the combinations of what existed before mixed with what the Spaniards brought.
Puerto Rico also boasts of its many celebrity chefs. As Francisco explained many of their chefs left the island and travelled to Europe and the US where they worked in fantastic restaurants – many of them Michelin-starred restaurants. When they returned to Puerto Rico, they would open up their own restaurants – taking the original food that is there and giving it their own signature taste – resulting in an abundance of new varieties and recreations of original dishes.
Accommodations: Puerto Rico offers all of the hotel brands you are accustomed to, but they also have Paradores. Paradores are small bed and breakfasts or small inns – think mom and pop type hotels. I always recommend that you stay at one of these properties in order to have a complete cultural immersion and experience the amazing local culture. Francisco also gave us the background on Paradores. The concept was brought to Puerto Rico by a tourism company about fifty years ago and the rule is they must be family run and those families must be Puerto Rican families as the idea was to develop the island AND allow the locals to deliver their hospitality to visitors.
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing travel the CDC recommends travelers avoid all nonessential travel to Puerto Rico.
For the CDC’s most up to date information on COVID-19 click here. And for the most up to date entry requirements Puerto Rico click here.
In case you thought it might be – I have to point out now that Puerto Rico is NOT just a pre or post cruise destination. It is so, so much more and if I am being honest, I recommend one and a half to two weeks to drive around this amazing island and see all of its nooks and crannies.
For more details on things to see and do, where to stay in Puerto Rico, it’s price and more - contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!
During the shutdown of Covid19, Loulu Lima began interviewing many tourism boards, destination management companies and suppliers whom BHGH works with in the curation of your itineraries.
Here you will find the videos as well as written summary of each. Summaries are transcribed by Carole A. Peck.
Video post production managed by MotionDash.Media
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