Why Puerto Rico Continues To Top The List Of World Travel Destinations
When Puerto Rico started showing up on many acclaimed publications’ top lists of world travel destinations for 2019 we weren’t too surprised. The Island of Enchantment is a slice of paradise that’s easily accessible to visit for a weekend getaway and is bustling with Latino culture. The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Robb Report, and Fodor’s are directing their travel lusting readers to the Carribean Island in order to support the local economy–something we can totally get behind.
The Latino community can’t help but feel a bit burned as the media played such a major role in betraying the American people of Puerto Rico during the disastrous aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the deadliest natural disaster in modern U.S. history.
It’s astonishing how few U.S. citizens know about the colonization of Puerto Rico–amigas, you can’t say American without the ‘Rican.
If foreigners want to support the recovery of the destruction from the natural disaster in Puerto Rico through tourism they must be mindful of being conscious of the way they travel while exploring the Island. It’s crucial more now than ever to support local businesses by staying in locally-owned guesthouses, eating at roadside chinchorreo food stalls, and hiring local drivers and guides in order to put your tourism dollars directly into local hands which will reinvest into their community. There are countless reasons why Puerto Rico continues to top the list of world travel destinations.
Puerto Rico is one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean. The Island suffered from a major drop in tourism after the 2017 hurricane season which left major devastation. While parts of the island are still fragile and rebuilding, Puerto Rico is perfectly safe to visit. The Island boasts great weather year-round with winter and spring being the peak-seasons. The Atlantic hurricane season usually runs from June to November, but devastating natural phenomenons like Hurricane Maria are quite rare.
Discover Puerto Rico reports that the island has made a major comeback in terms of welcoming visitors.
Over 110 flights land on the island daily from 28 airlines. Locals are getting involved in tourism by offering unique cultural homestays and experiences on Airbnb to give visitors an authentic chance to experience the charms of the Island.
Listings on Airbnb initially dropped by 11% after Hurricane Maria but have grown exponentially since–there are now over 8,300 accommodation listings and 120 tourism experiences on the Island which has significantly surpassed pre-hurricane levels. According to Airbnb, Puerto Rico is trending as one of the top 5 destinations in the Caribbean.
The tourism industry accounts for 6.5% of Puerto Rico’s GDP and employs 77,000 people on the Island. Exploradoras can do their part by prioritizing responsible and impactful travel experiences that will support recovery efforts and local communities. Souvenir shopping can also make a positive impact if you purchase artisan handmade crafts from social enterprises such as Concalma which supports local craftswomen.
Locally owned tour company Local Guest curates unique tours that help visitors explore off-the-beaten-path areas of the Island including the spectacular cave system of Cabachuelas in Morovis.
Carmen N. Portela Martínez is the co-founder of Local Guest and prides herself on creating authentic tourism experiences by “working hand in hand with local communities and
entrepreneurs in order to build a more sustainable tourism ecosystem.” Martínez tells FIERCE that “Puerto Rico has been through a lot in the last two years but through the strength and hard work of our people we can be proud to celebrate our Island again and what we have to offer which has always been the beauty of our people and culture.”
“After a natural disaster, it’s important to make sure that we implement systems and practices that support the local economy for the benefit of host communities and for the conservation of our country and resources. Responsible travelers leave a lighter footprint in destinations and tend to support local business and explore beyond the traditional tourist attractions. Community-based tourism is a way of immersing yourself in a destination while interacting with host communities. The human and cultural exchange on both ends can be very meaningful and long-lasting,” says Martínez.
Traveling throughout the lush landscape of Puerto Rico may give a false pretense that the Island is fully recovered but there are still numerous people who are displaced and recovering from the extreme loss of homes and loved ones. Support those who are still facing the impacts of Hurricane Maria by donating to local nonprofits that are providing aid to those in need such as Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo which is bringing solar energy to the Island to combat ongoing power outages and Ayuda Legal Huracán María which is a collective of law professionals that aid local communities with disaster legal aid and assistance.
There are several reputable eco-tourism organizations that have crafted tourism experiences to allow guests to participate in reforestation of areas that were devastated by the storm. Travelers can join environmental conservation nonprofit Para La Naturaleza to aid in a variety of community projects such as planting native trees as a part of their Tree Nursing Maintenance program which aims to reforest Puerto Rico with 750,000 indigenous trees over the next seven years.
Nature is a major draw for visitors in Puerto Rico.
Tierra Madre seriously blessed the Island with stunning natural feats. Many of these fragile ecosystems suffered during the storm but through the dedication of the gente of Puerto Rico who care for their land–they’re once again thriving. Endless eco-tourism experiences await around the Island. Visit the mangrove forest in Cataño with local nonprofit CARAS de las Americas to support reforestation and learn about the unique ecosystem. If you seek an adrenaline rush, strap into a harness and go for a zip-lining adventure at Toro Verde.
Waterfall lovers will be in paradise in Puerto Rico. Some of the best cascades to witness include La Soplaera Waterfall in Peñuelas, Charco Piazza waterfall in Yauco, and El Roble Waterfall in San Sebastian. Puerto Rico even has its own Salt Flats located in Cabo Rojo which are a sight to behold. The natural treasure appears to have pink sand and is very delicate so swimming is not allowed. Nearby is the stunning Los Morillos Lighthouse which looms over the ocean near the Natural Arch Beach.
For an unforgettable evening, swim in one of the Islands bioluminescent-bays in Mosquito Bay and La Parguera. Hire a local fisherman to take you out to explore the coastline between Luquillo and Fajardo and you might get blessed with a sighting of the vulnerable leatherback sea turtles. If you seek sand and sun you’ll find picture-perfect beaches all around the Island such as Playa Caña Gorda, Cayo Aurora (Gilligan’s Island), and Punta Ballena Beach in Guánica. The western coastline in Cabo Rojo has many gorgeous stretches of sea including Playa Combate, Playa Buyé, and Playa Sucia.
Cultural buffs will love to visit the 16th-century citadel of Castillo San Felipe del Morro in San Juan. But, to really explore the rich history of Puerto Rico rent a car and head outside of the capital city to visit lesser-known areas such as the southwest region of the Island which is only a 2-hour drive from San Juan. As Martínez says, if you only visited San Juan you don’t know Puerto Rico. If you love architecture stop in Ponce to visit the historic eye-catching firehouse of Parque de Bombas which established in 1882 then take a stroll along the picturesque La Guancha Boardwalk.
Head to San Germán to take in the beauty of Porta Coeli which dates back to 1609 making it one of the oldest churches in the western hemisphere. The surrounding town reflects a similar old-timey ambiance. If you’re drawn to the colonial style of Spanish buildings pay a visit to San Germán, La Ciudad de las Lomas, which was the original capital city of Puerto Rico and the second oldest city on the Island.
Foodies won’t want to miss the chance to taste all the Puertorriqueño delicacies.
And by that, we mean rum, of course! Bacardí was founded in Cuba and be headquartered in Bermuda, but the rum distillery in Cataño is a highlight for many travelers who’ve tried their hand at mixology. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting during the winter holidays don’t miss out on a special seasonal treat that’s unique to the Island–coquito! The sweet coconutty drink is best enjoyed with a splash of rum, of course.
Puerto Rican native Jessica van Dop DeJesús of Dining Traveler encourages those who seek genuine Boricua comida to head to the center of the Island and consume local foods in order to make a positive impact. “There are so many great restaurants in the mountains of Puerto Rico. Roasted pork, music, and a gorgeous island view… What else can you ask for?” she told FIERCE. Her favorite spots include Casa Vieja in Ciales, Casa Bavaria in Morovis, and Lechonera El Cuñao in Cayey. If you’re not too full after your feast, go explore the surrounding mountainous scenery which boasts many gorgeous waterfalls.
In order to have the best experience in Puerto Rico van Dop DeJesús has a simple suggestion-talk to locals wherever you go. As she says, Boricuas love to talk! “What makes Puerto Rico truly special are its people. Let’s be honest, you can find gorgeous beaches and mountains across the Caribbean. However, Puerto Rico has a very unique and diverse culture. We have a unique sense of openness that makes visitors feel right at home,” she says. Have you booked your flight yet? Nos vemos en la Isla del Encantamiento!
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