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!

House Democrats Are Demanding Answers About Why The Government Is Withholding Aid For Puerto Rico

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House Democrats Are Demanding Answers About Why The Government Is Withholding Aid For Puerto Rico

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The recovery process in Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria has been exponentially slowed down by a lack of adequate help from the Trump administration. If there was any more proof of that, it came last week as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Department held up $18 billion in aid that was designated for disaster relief in Puerto Rico.

The mandated deadline for those funds came back on Oct. 4 but no money was ever released. Ninety days later, Democratic lawmakers are looking for answers as to why Puerto Rico has been left in the dark here as recovery efforts continue more than two years after Maria hit the island. Even though HUD employees have testified that they know withholding this aid is illegal, they are continuing to withhold it. 

Recovery aid is needed in Puerto Rico now more than ever but as of now, it’s being withheld due to the Trump administration’s fears that it will be put in corrupt hands. 

Back in September, Congress had asked the agency to publish funding notices to 18 disaster-stricken states and territories. Seventeen were published with Puerto Rico being the lone exception. The funding notice was supposed to be $10.2 billion in aid to help build much-needed infrastructure reinforcement in anticipation of future storms.  

“This is not meant to be a suggestion, it’s mandated,” Chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. David Price, D-N.C. told NBC News. “It’s time to release this notice and the longer this goes on, the more one has to wonder about the political influences that might be taking place at the top.”

In total, the agency is holding up $18.5 billion, the largest single amount of disaster aid awarded in the agency’s history. The reasoning behind the delay stems from fears that the money could be in corrupt hands, something that the agency’s secretary Ben Carson and President Trump have previously said

 According to NBC News, Price said the “Trump administration is exaggerating the corruption allegations since the Office of Inspector General didn’t find widespread corruption within Puerto Rico’s housing agency, which would be managing the federal housing aid at stake.”

In a statement to Newsweek, an unnamed HUD spokesperson reiterated Carson and Trump’s belief in the withheld funds being misused. The statement also notes that Puerto Rico has only used a fraction of the already allocated funds available to it already.  

“The Administration has taken historic action to help the people of Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria. Given the Puerto Rican government’s history of financial mismanagement, corruption, and other abuses; we must ensure that any HUD assistance provided helps those on the island who need it the most. This process must be handled in a prudent manner with strong financial controls to mitigate the risk to Federal taxpayers. In addition, it is worth noting that Puerto Rico already has access to $1.5 billion and has so far only spent $5.8 million—less than one percent of those funds.”

Now Congress has a problem on its hands that has many Democrats calling for answers about when this disaster aid will be released, if ever.  

One of the members of Congress leading the charge is chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas who told reporters last week that “the Trump administration knowingly broke the law by failing to comply with the deadline to issue a federal notice for over $10 billion in aid to Puerto Rico.”

According to John Hudak, a senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution told NBC News these types of congressional deadlines do at times get missed but there is also a level of transparency from agencies.  

“When these conversations do not happen, it means that something else is going on and it raises concerns that something improper might be happening,” Hudak said. “Instead, they silently missed the deadline.”

Hudak said that there are a few options that Congress can take to make HUD begin dispersing the disaster aid. The first option being halting the funding that the agency uses every day to operate but there is resistance from some Democrats in going that far right now. There is also the possibility that Congress and the Puerto Rican government could take legal action and sue the agency for basically not doing its job. 

Over 850 organizations as of Saturday had joined members of Congress in calling out the agency for not complying with the law. Many of them have stressed the importance of the aid and how critical that it gets released in a timely manner.

There is increased urgency coming from over 850 various organizations that have joined together with members of Congress in denouncing HUD for its actions. At stake is Puerto Rico, which still has ways to go in terms of full recovery from Hurricane Maria.

“It is outrageous that Secretary Carson continues to withhold critical mitigation funding for Puerto Rico approved by Congress nearly two years ago,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of National Low Income Housing Coalition, one of the 850 organizations that have denounced HUD. “Secretary Carson’s decision to ignore Congress and refuse to release these funds makes it nearly impossible for Puerto Ricans to prepare for future disasters. Congress must hold him accountable – every day of inaction puts American lives at risk.”

READ: ‘We’re The Ones Making Wigs Modern’: These Female Entrepreneurs Want You To Support Black-Owned Hair Businesses

A New Report Finds That Puerto Rico Is The Most Vulnerable Country When It Comes To Climate Change

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A New Report Finds That Puerto Rico Is The Most Vulnerable Country When It Comes To Climate Change

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According to a new report released on Tuesday, Puerto Rico was the most vulnerable country to extreme weather events over the last 20 years. The grim news comes from the Global Climate Risk Index 2020 by environmental and development organization Germanwatch. The report analyzed various countries and the impacts of weather-related events have had on these areas which include how often the extreme weather events occur and their impact, including death tolls. The study looked specifically at the 20-year period from 1999 to 2018 and the climate change effects that have struck all over the globe. 

In the case of Puerto Rico, the Caribbean island was ranked the highest in terms of being most affected by climate change in those 20 years, followed it was Myanmar and Haiti. Puerto Rico and Haiti were the sole Latin American representatives on the list.  

“The Climate Risk Index may serve as a red flag for already existing vulnerabilities that may further increase as extreme events will become more frequent or more severe due to climate change,” the report reads.

The report makes it clear that countries should look at its findings to serve as a warning sign in order to foresee more frequent or more severe natural disasters in the future.

There is no denying that the earth is getting warmer as record temperatures have struck across the globe over the past five years. This has led many researchers to believe it may be connected to extreme weather events becoming more frequent as a result of this changing climate. Another startling finding in the study shows the number of lives that been lost due to extreme weather events, 526,000, while economic losses have amounted close to $3.47 trillion. 

“In many cases (e.g. Puerto Rico), single exceptional disasters have such a strong impact that the countries and territories concerned also have a high ranking in the long-term index,” the report reads. This relates to the natural disasters that have hit Puerto Rico, most notably Hurricane Maria which struck in the fall of 2017. The Category 4 storm hit the small island and destroyed a majority of it’s electrical grid, homes and killed 2,975, a number that is still being disputed.

The report makes the argument that poorer developing countries have been a frequent target of these natural disasters and the death toll numbers highlight their vulnerability to future weather events. These countries at times rely on loans to deal with the consequences of these climate changes, meaning they will be threatened by excessive indebtedness, which undermines already vulnerable economies. During the 20-year period, Myanmar, 70th in GDP rank, leads all countries when it comes to fatalities per year on average with 7,000 deaths. In relation to financial losses related to the climate crisis, they are significantly greater in wealthier countries. 

Japan was the most weather-affected country in 2018, most notably by rising heat, which has been a relatively frequent effect of this climate change. The country last year was affected by extreme summer heat, killing 138 people, and the most powerful typhoon in 25 years. 

“Recent science has confirmed the long-established link between climate change and the frequency and severity of extreme heat,” the report reads. 

The report has got a lot of people talking about what it means about climate change, particularly how to use this information to prepare for future events. 

Climate change is an issue that should be discussed more frequently and has seen its share of critics. Many have taken to social media to express their frustrations with the report findings and what actions should be taken. 

“For older adults, the changing climate brings heightened vulnerability to environmental risks, temperature changes, and increased susceptibility of disease. However, in #PuertoRico, these vulnerabilities are exacerbated with the health care crisis. We need to talk about this,” one Twitter user wrote. 

The issue has even reached the attention of Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren who took to Twitter to discuss the importance of listening to the report. She has made climate change one of her key platform issues for her campaign and has vowed to invest money to help curtail this crisis. 

“The devastating impacts of climate change in Puerto Rico have been made worse by decades of neglect and racism. Justice must be at the center of our response to the climate crisis and that’s why I will invest $1 trillion in vulnerable communities,” 

READ: Activists Interrupt Harvard-Yale Football Game To Protest Climate Change And Cancel Puerto Rico Debt Holdings