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Travelogue – Puerto Rico

We were last in Puerto Rico in 2009 and was enchanted by the Isla del Encanto, and one afternoon in August sat in our kitchen in Sarasota we decided on a very last minute trip back there.

The last time we were there, 13 years ago, my unknowingly-pregnant-other-half and me spent a large chunk of our time sampling the charms of Old San Juan. We danced to very loud music, drunk piña colada’s and tumbled late out of bars onto its shiny blue cobblestones.

This time we were with our daughter on her first official trip to Puerto Rico and we stayed a good hour away from the capital in a resort nestled on a large coconut plantation between El Yunque National Forest and the sparkling Atlantic Ocean.

Last time around we were far more adventurous. We toured El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in North America with mountainous peaks reaching 4,000 feet that can be seen from the whole island. We also zip-lined at the Toro Verde Adventure Park — honestly we did not know my other half was pregnant!

My daughter, who has no fear and will try anything once decided that she just wanted to sit by the pool, especially after being told by hotel staff that there were ‘little’ sharks in the water. Paddle boarding was soon cancelled.

The hotel was sat on 483 acres and minding our own business one afternoon what turned out to be the general manager took us on a private tour of the resort which included a Robert Trent Jones golf course, tennis club, wellness centre and spa, lake, farm, vegetable garden, dog home, bird sanctuary and beautiful walking and biking trails.

That was a nice treat, but the vote was to do nothing but swim, chill, eat, play cards, drink and more eating. It was a lovely do-nothing break.

Puerto Rico is almost a 3 hour flight from Tampa (similarly from Miami) and is just west of the Virgin Islands. With a population of roughly three million, Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917 and can move freely between the mainland and the island. It is officially an unincorporated American Territory (read Commonwealth country)

As many as 60,000 Taíno Amerindians had made home on island before Columbus arrived in 1493. He named the island San Juan Bautista, but over the next couple of centuries traders and maritime visitors would use the nickname of Puerto Rico (rich port), and the countries name was eventually changed by the United States after the Treaty of Paris in 1898.

The island has suffered major trauma in recent years. In 2017, Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that claimed almost 3,000 lives and caused $90 billion in damages. Then, in December 2019 and again a month later a series of earthquakes shook the southwest of the island disabling power continuously and damaged many homes and tourist attractions.

As we explored the capital there were many signs that San Juan and it’s historic district Viejo San Juan was still waiting for the reconstruction process to begin. Constant power outages are a reminder to Puerto Ricans that essential work to modernize the antiquated electric grid decimated by Maria has yet to start five years after the storm. The hotel we stayed in on our last visit has not re-opened.

The relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico is confusing and testy not helped if you remember by President Trump lobbing kitchen rolls into the crowd after Hurricane Maria.

We were told that if Puerto Rico got hit by another hurricane, even a Category 1, the power grid would not survive.

With that in mind it may be best to avoid this time of year but Puerto Rico does have year-round sunshine and is blessed with vast stretches of sugary sand beaches.

Travelling deep beyond the large cities there is a rich fusion of cultures – African, European and Taíno, plus an exuberant array of festivals, tantalizing criollo food, gracious colonial towns and world-class rum and coffee. The local beer is good as well, particularly this selection.

Puerto Rico also gave birth to both the piña colada and salsa — to be experienced at the same time!

Old San Juan is fabulous though. A real Spanish colonial gem. A walled city with 16th and 17th century citadels, castles, palaces and a myriad of atmospheric plaza’s and square’s filled with music and charisma. The street’s blue cobblestones literally do glisten and sing in the sunlight.

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