Things That Matter

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

A Warehouse Full Of Forgotten Supplies From 2017 Was Just Found In Puerto Rico After More Than 1000 Earthquakes Hit The Island

Things That Matter

A Warehouse Full Of Forgotten Supplies From 2017 Was Just Found In Puerto Rico After More Than 1000 Earthquakes Hit The Island

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Over the past two and a half weeks, Puerto Rico has experienced more than 1000 earthquakes. This number may seem unbelievable, but it’s true: after a 6.7 magnitude earthquake hit the island on January 7—the largest earthquake to hit Puerto Rico in more than a century—aftershocks have continued to jolt the island, leaving hundreds of people homeless, lacking supplies and electricity. Among the aftershocks was January 11’s 5.9 magnitude quake, which caused even further devastation, particularly to the southern part of the island. So far, the earthquakes have cost an estimated $200 million in damages, including the destruction of more than 800 homes.

But the damage hasn’t only been structural—several people are experiencing extreme anxiety as tremors continue to strike the island.

Credit: Facebook / ASSMCA Online

Officials from ASSMCA, Puerto Rico’s  Office of Mental Health Services and Addiction Prevention, have been making their rounds at outdoor shelters where displaced individuals and families have taken refuge, offering mental health support to those most affected by the quakes.

“These aftershocks are triggers for people,” Abdiel Dumeng, an ASSMCA employee, said in Spanish in an interview.”But I have to admit that we’ve seen a decrease in these kinds of crises, because we’ve been working together for a while, teaching people how to stay calm.”

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), aftershocks will continue to decrease in frequency over the next month and will be exponentially “lower in magnitude”. But in the meantime, Puerto Rico’s Office of Emergency Management estimates that more than 8,000 people are staying in these outdoor shelters—fewer than half are in government-run shelters, while the rest are taking refuge in either informal spaces or shelters run by non-government organizations.

What exactly constitutes an “informal” shelter? Well, some folks have simply taken their beds outside, staying close to home while avoiding the potential dangers of being indoors. Others are crashing with relatives in towns that have experienced less damage than other areas.

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In response to the 5.9 earthquake on January 11, Governor Wanda Vázquez said that she had declared a major state emergency following an initial assessment of the damages incurred. Vázquez also announced the immediate disbursement of $2 million for the towns of Guánica, Utuado, Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Ponce and Yauco, which experienced the most damage due to their proximity to the earthquakes’ epicenter. This $2 million was defined as a way to meet the towns’ most urgent needs—but now, ten days later, la gente está harta, because these needs still haven’t been met.

Just a few days ago, Vázquez fired two high-ranking officials in her administration: Housing Secretary Fernando Gil and Department of Family Secretary Glorimar Andújar. She also fired former Emergency Management Director Carlos Acevedo. The Governor’s reason for the dismissals was an alleged lack of information regarding aid collection and distribution centers.

This lack of information had to do with the discovery of a warehouse in Ponce that was filled with seemingly forgotten disaster supplies. But these supplies were not sent in response to the current crisis—they date back to when Hurricane Maria (a Category 4 storm) hit the island in September 2017.

Credit: Carlos Giusti / Associated Press

And people are understandably angry. On January 20, scores of demonstrators gathered in front of the Governor’s mansion in San Juan to demand her resignation. While the Governor seems to have tried addressing the issue with the dismissals mentioned above, several people are accusing her of not taking accountability for this appalling error, urging her to step down. And with demonstrators vowing to stay in the streets until Vázquez steps down, the current situation looks a lot like last summer’s demonstrations, which ultimately caused Governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign.

When asked by NBC News what the “human impact” of this mistake is, Rafael Gonzalez—President of PROFESA, a Puerto Rican Professional Association that delivered aid during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria—said, “We saw it on [sic] Maria. We saw what happens when you don’t deliver the supplies that people need. People die.”

Indeed, more than 3,000 people died as a result of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria (not to mention highly insufficient disaster response on the part of the United States government). At this point, the recent series of earthquakes has resulted in one death and nine injuries. In an attempt to keep that number from rising, Jennifer Gonzales, Puerto Rico’s Commissioner to Congress, joined forces with five other members of Congress to send a letter to Donald Trump, asking him to sign a major disaster declaration that would bring federal funding to the recovery effort.

On January 16, Donald Trump responded by designating six hard-hit towns in the southern part of the island as major disaster areas. Hopefully this will result in an appropriate disaster response—one that will not negligently result in more forgotten aid.

A Girl In Puerto Rico Died From An Illness Because The Only Hospital In Her Area Was Destroyed During Hurricane Maria

Things That Matter

A Girl In Puerto Rico Died From An Illness Because The Only Hospital In Her Area Was Destroyed During Hurricane Maria

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There is sad news out of Vieques, Puerto Rico where a young teenage girl has passed away after suffering flu-like symptoms. Jaideliz Moreno Ventura, 13, died on Sunday after her condition worsened she began convulsing. Now, her family is pointing the blame on the island’s inadequate medical facilities. 

Vieques, a Caribbean island off of Puerto Rico’s eastern coast, hasn’t had a working hospital in over two years. That’s because its old primary hospital, Family Health Center Susana Centeno, was closed due to damage from Hurricane Maria, which hit the island more than two years ago.

What started out as just flu-like symptoms turned into a tragedy within the span of three days. 

It all started last Friday when Jaideliz told family members that she was experiencing flu-like symptoms. According to local media, her uncle, Carlos “Prieto” Ventura, said that she had “a fever, a sore throat, and a headache.” She was then taken to a hospital in Puerto Rico for a checkup and to be tested for influenza. While the results of the test came back negative and she returned back home to Vieques, things got worse over the weekend. 

By Sunday, Jaideliz’s symptoms only got worse as she began to have spasms and severe head pain. After the family took notice of her increasingly worse conditions, she was taken to the only health facility on the island, the Center for Diagnostics and Treatment, which was due to Hurricane Maria destroying its old hospital. According to NBC News, the clinic lacked proper medical equipment to help Jaideliz. Her cousin, José Ventura, told the news outlet that the facility didn’t have a working mechanical ventilator for oxygen, only an older manual air pump. 

By 11:30 a.m. local time Jaideliz was pronounced dead as she was being transported to Puerto Rico on an air ambulance. 

For those living on Vieques, receiving medical attention isn’t easy. Many have to take a boat to receive medical attention in Puerto Rico where trip times vary from 30 minutes to multiple hours. 

There is growing anger and blame about the teen’s death with many people pointing blame at the inadequate assistance that Puerto Rico and nearby islands have received since Hurricane Maria hit in 2017. The situation in Vieques is a perfect example of that as residents lack nearby health services and aid. 

“If we had more resources, she would be with us right now,” her cousin told NBC News. “They have forgotten about us.”

Puerto Rico’s Health Secretary, Rafael Rodríguez Mercado, says that he has ordered an immediate investigation into the death of Jaideliz and which circumstances could have caused this tragedy. Back in December, Democratic lawmakers requested an investigation into why FEMA hadn’t done anything to help rebuild Vieques’ only hospital. But lawmakers alerted FEMA about this issue in May but there was never any response. 

“In Puerto Rico, we talk a lot about how we are treated as second class citizens, but the people of Vieques and Culebra [another island off the coast of Puerto Rico] are being treated as third-class citizens,” Edgardo Román Espada, president of Puerto Rico’s Bar Association, told NBC News last May. 

Jaideliz’s family is using this tragedy as a wakeup call for health officials to do something about the deteriorating situation on the island. They are hoping for more medical supplies and equipment so this situation doesn’t happen again.

On Wednesday, a vigil was held in the girl’s honor as her family called for help. They say that they “don’t want Jai’s death to be in vain” and made the plea for more medical assistance. Her mother says the island needs to “have a dignified hospital, with medical equipment and supplies —so that no other mother will have to go through what I am dealing with now.” 

“Up to a point, the people feel abandoned, that politicians come and go, and there are no bonds of affection and our feelings are obvious. We live this problem and that is why our pain here. All this adds more regret and anguish to our people,” her uncle told local media. “This is what you live every moment on our island. We need more sensitivity. ”

This tragedy followed what has already been a tough start of the year for Puerto Rico as a 6.4 magnitude quake shook the island back on Jan.7, killing at least one person, destroying homes and leaving most utility customers in the dark. There has been an estimated $110 million in damages caused by the quake. 

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