With the advent of vaccines many of us are looking forward to the easing of some restrictions as we try to normalize our lives. Getting back to exploring the world is high on our list. COVID lock-down fatigue has set in and to battle it, we’re planning quick getaways and long vacations. For a quick getaway, Puerto Rico tops the list. Puerto Rico is a tropical haven filled with history, culture, art, music and some of the most luscious Caribbean cuisine. Visiting Puerto Rico from the U.S. mainland requires no passport, no transatlantic flight, no currency exchange, and the vast majority of the population speaks English.
The world-famous capital city of San Juan is located on the north coast and is home to Castillo San Felipe del Morro, more commonly known as El Morro. Arriving by sea will give you a spectacular view of this historic site. Built between the 16th and 18th centuries during Spanish colonial rule, the fortress was designed to guard the entrance to the San Juan Bay and defend the port city of San Juan from seaborne enemies. It survived 3 attacks by the British and one by the Dutch, and in 1983 was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today El Morro’s esplanade is a place where friends and families gather and visitors have majestic views of the Caribbean Sea. The visitor’s center is a draw for history buffs with exhibits displaying different time periods. Video presentations, authentic documents and photographs offer details of the fort’s history. Visitors can explore the fortress on their own or take a tour guided by a park ranger.
Just beyond the walls of the fortress is Old San Juan, a cultural and historic treasure chest with a number of excellent walking tours and food tours, and there’s no better way to get a feel for a new place. Just outside Old San Juan is the Bacardi Distillery and the famed Condado area filled with hotels, restaurants, shops and casinos. Two of the most iconic places in Puerto Rico, El Yunque Rain Forest and Luquillo Beach, are just outside of San Juan. We recommend planning a few days so you can catch the best this city has to offer.
On the eastern tip of the island is Fajardo, a mecca for lovers of water sports. Sailing, parasailing, catamaran charters and exploring nearby island cays are some of the options available from this town. Fajardo is home to one of the three bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico where kayaking and exploration of marine life top the list of must-have experiences. Take a ferry to one of the neighboring islands of Culebra and Vieques. Culebra is home to Flamenco Beach, one of the most famous and breathtaking beaches in the world. Vieques is renowned for Mosquito Bay, a bioluminescent bay where microorganisms give the water a blue-green glow. Nighttime boat tours to the bay are bucket list items. Secluded beaches and snorkeling should be added to your Vieques “To Do” list. A significant part of the island is dedicated to the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge where you might see wild horses roaming the countryside.
On the southern coast is Ponce, a well-preserved old town with grand mansions built in the unique Ponce Creole architectural style. The Museo de Arte de Ponce is recognized for its huge European and Puerto Rican art collections. The seafront boardwalk of Paseo Tablado La Guancha is lined with restaurants and bars. West of the city visitors can take a ferry to Cayo Aurora, also called Gilligan’s Island. A tiny island that’s part of the Biosphere Reserve of Guánica, it’s a popular spot for swimming, snorkeling, beach-bumming, and kayaking.
Inland, about an hour north of Ponce, is Estatal de Toro Negro, a lush forest filled with water falls and hiking trails. There are 18km of trails for hiking or swimming in the cold ponds of the falls. Climb to the observation tower at the top of Cerro Doña Juan for some of the most spectacular views in Puerto Rico. Campers can pitch a tent and spend the weekend in the woods.
Keep traveling west along the coast and you’ll find Boqueron Beach, one of Puerto Rico’s seven Blue Flag beaches. Just inland is the city of Cabo Rojo, offering vibrant night life filled with restaurants and bars, excellent food and live music.
Just off the west coast is Isla de Mona, or Mona Island, commonly referred to as the Galapagos of the Caribbean. It’s protected by the Puerto Rican government and is uninhabited, so only the experienced and adventurous need apply. The lineup includes hiking, camping, caving, snorkeling and diving the island’s colorful coral reefs, fishing and hunting non-indigenous animals such as pigs and goats. Its remote location and lack of invasive light pollution make it ideal for star gazing. If you’re planning a visit, bring your own supplies, food, water and accommodations. There are no island facilities so be prepared.
On the west coast is the city of Mayagüez, home to one of the most elegant plazas on the island. Plaza de Colón is a cultural hub and Christmas is one of the best times to visit. Regular activities are planned for the weeks leading up to Christmas, where the Plaza is filled with festive lights and celebrations that include live music, food and crafts. Mayagüez is also where you’ll find Teatro Yagüez, a beautifully restored theatre and active performing arts center, listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. We hear that PR-102 from Cabo Rojo to Mayagüez is a foodie paradise.
Planning a trip to Puerto Rico will be an exercise in compromise. You might not get to see and do it all so choose wisely. Check on COVID restrictions and closures before you go and if you miss anything, at least it’s close to home so you can go back again and again.
This post was written by cruise expert, Shannon McKee, founder of Access Cruise Inc. Access Cruise Inc is a Miami based cruise marketing and sales consulting group, specializing in product and business development within the cruise industry.