Destination Spotlight: Puerto Rico –“La Isla del Encanto”
I am very proud of my heritage and often feel tug of my Isla del Encanto (Island of Enchantment). As a child Puerto Rico I visited Puerto Rico with my family. The wonderful memories of playing on my Uncle Victor’s farm with my aunts and cousins, swimming in the nearby river—or rio as we called it, and playing dominos with my grandparents, are the highlight of my experiences as a child.
Puerto Rico has blossomed as a tourist destination ever since Fidel Castro scared American’s out of Havana in the early 1960s. The island is blessed with towering mountains, rainforests, white sandy beaches, and a vibrant culture forged from a mix of Caribbean, Hispanic, African, and U.S. influences.
The Puerto Rican soul is reflected in Puerto Rico’s national anthem, “La Borinqueña.” It induces a gentle, maternal image of the island. It tells you of “a flowering garden of exquisite magic . . . the daughter of the sea and the sun.” Take the time to get to know this garden and the people who call it home.
When to Go:
Puerto Rico has one of the most stable climates in the world. The year round temperatures range from 75°F to 85°F. The tourist season for Puerto Rico is mid-December to mid-April, when northerners flock to the islands; and the month of July. The islands “off season” goes from late spring to late fall.
While traveling off-season can save you as much as 20%, you should note many summer programs may be curtailed and many of the restaurants and bars are closed.
My favorite time to visit is late January when the humidity is low, and the temperatures are comfortable.
Consider renting a car for sightseeing around the island during your visit. Puerto Rican culture is forged from a mix of Caribbean, Hispanic, African, and U.S. influences. Puerto Rico is home to the most ancient buildings and monuments, with many dating back some 500 years to the Spanish conquistadors in the Caribbean. Add some of the best golf and tennis in the West Indies, beach resorts, and tranquil paradores.
What to do:
Get Rained on in El Yunque Rainforest: Enjoy a mountainous forty-five minute ride, east of San Juan in the Luquillo Mountains to visit the majestic El Yunque. It is Puerto Rico’s greatest natural attraction. About 100 billion gallons of rain fall every year on this home to four forest types containing over 240 species of tropical trees. Walk winding paths past waterfalls, vegetation, and flowers, while the island’s parrots fly overhead and the coqui’s serenade you.
Walk, shop, and eat through the Historic District of Old San Juan: Old San Juan is designated a U.S. National Historic Zone. Over 400 restored buildings are in this district, filled with tree-shaded squares, monuments, and open-air cafes, shops, restaurants, and bars. There is no better place to stroll in the West Indies.
Dive on Mona Island: Mona Island, 40 miles west of Mayagüez in western Puerto Rico, said to be the Caribbean version of the Galápagos Islands. The opulent environment attracts octopuses, lobster, queen conch, rays, barracuda, snapper, jack, grunt, angelfish, trunkfish, filefish, butterfly fish, dolphin, parrotfish, tuna, flying fish, and more. Five species of whales visit the island’s offshore waters.
Check out the view from the Castillo de San Felipe del Morro: In Old San Juan, the fort was originally built in 1540 to guard the bay from a rocky ridge on the northwestern tip of the old city. “El Morro” is rich in history and legend.
Tasting the Island’s Nosh Pits: No other island in the Caribbean offers such a delectable variety of organic road-side food. These road-side dives my look junky, even trashy, but the food is awesome and inexpensive. You’ll find succulent BBQ pig, pastry turnovers filled with meat, sea food, or cheese (“patelillos”), deep-fried cornmeal sticks (“surullitos”), a bundle of fish or meat in a deep-fried casing of finely grated green plantains and taro root (“alcapurrias”), deep-fried codfish fritters (“bacalaitos”), stuffed potatoes (“papas rellenas”), and deep-fried clusters of shredded green plantains (“aranitas” – little spiders).
Swim at Mosquito (Phosphorescent) Bay on Vieques Island: Swim in luminous waters lit by dinoflagellates called pyrodiniums (whirling fire). These creatures light up the waters like fireflies, and swimming among them is one of the most unusual things to do anywhere — truly an incredible experience.
Because I got by with a little help from my girlfriends, I want to help you get help from your girlfriends. As always, please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences.
Carmen M. Perez, Travel Planner
Your Florida Travel Expert and Girlfriends’ Getaway Specialist
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