I had the opportunity to visit Puerto Rico with my husband in late November. I was a little wary – a large portion of the island was (and still is) without power after Hurricane Maria, and my Spanish is not very good – but we decided to go for it. I am so glad we did! Here are my top five reasons to visit Puerto Rico.
You don’t need a passport!
Puerto Rico is a U.S. Territory, which means the island’s residents are U.S. citizens and you do not need a passport to visit. Most residents speak English and Spanish, so don’t worry if you’re like me and haven’t practiced Spanish since high school. There were only a couple of times where we found a language barrier, but it wasn’t anything that we couldn’t work through. However, if this is something that worries you, consider using Hillbilly Tours like we did to travel around the island. The team is knowledgeable, friendly, and professional. They know all of the best spots, both popular and out of the way, and they are great translators. They also know everybody, so that is super helpful. There is no better way to experience Puerto Rico than with people who have lived there for 20+ years.
Old San Juan is truly unique.
My husband and I stayed at the Intercontinental in Carolina (highly recommend), but we heard Old San Juan is the place to stay if you’re cruising (since that is where the ports are). The old seaside town is absolutely worth the visit. There is so much history and culture packed into downtown. In just a couple of hours we visited old forts, historical buildings, beautiful churches, and quaint streets full of fun shops and restaurants. I highly recommend using a tour guide if you have time. Maria from Hillbilly Tours was amazing – she knew the history of every building, every statue, and every shop. There is no better way to experience Old San Juan.
The best pina coladas in the world!
If you’re a pina colada fan, Barrachina Restaurant in Old San Juan needs to be on your bucket list. If you’re like me and pina coladas aren’t your thing – GO ANYWAY! Barrachina is the birthplace of the pina colada, and it is the most delicious tropical drink you will ever taste. They make their specialty drink with Don Q rum, which is produced on the island. The rumor is they use a higher proof that is made just for the restaurant, so watch out – you won’t taste the rum but one or two drinks will have you up and dancing like a local in no time!
Beaches and mountains – Puerto Rico has it all!
When you think of Puerto Rico, you might think of the typical touristy island – palm trees, huge hotels sitting on sandy beaches, the sound of the ocean surf. That’s my kind of vacation, but my husband is more of a mountain vista kind of guy. Good news for us – Puerto Rico has both! If you’re feeling adventurous, rent a car and drive into the mountains. (We rented a jeep from Carlos but if you don’t want to worry about driving on tight mountain roads, Hillbilly Tours will take care of the driving for you.) The views along the way are beautiful! We cut through the middle of the island to the town of Cayey, home of El Rancho Original. They have amazing food, live music, great scenery, and shops lining the street so you can walk off all the food you eat before you jump back in the car. From there I recommend driving south to Salinas, and then heading west to the Caribbean beaches on the southwest coast of the island. The mountain views along this stretch are gorgeous – rolling green mountains with the Caribbean Sea in the background – it was picture-perfect! I was pleasantly surprised – it is a completely different feel than San Juan and Carolina. Make sure you stop for pinchos somewhere along the way for a true Puerto Rican experience.
Puerto Rico is alive and well!
Is it safe? Isn’t Puerto Rico still a disaster area? Does the entire island look like a war zone? These were the questions my family asked when I told them where I was going. (Here’s my Public Service Announcement: don’t believe everything you hear. I saw the island myself, and it is nothing like the images you see on the national news.) I assure you, I felt completely safe during my entire stay. Are there places without power and running water? Of course. And there are reminders of the hurricane – demolished buildings, missing roofs, uprooted trees, power lines hanging down.
What was more visible to me than any of the destruction was the way the community has come together to rebuild. Puerto Rico is full of character to begin with, but the unwavering optimism of everyone who lives there has made the island even more beautiful since Hurricane Maria.
Se levante Puerto Rico!
Did you know that Disney Cruise Line, as well as many other popular cruise lines, sail to Puerto Rico? Let me help you plan your next tropical vacation!
My name is Kate Oyer, and I love to make vacation dreams come true. As an experienced traveler myself, I am ready to help you and your family make magical memories that will last a lifetime. Looking for military-specific travel information? I can help with that, too. As an Army family, we have taken advantage of military discounts around the world. Contact me today to start planning your next unforgettable vacation!