It’s that time of the year again: school’s almost out, the cold weather is seemingly receding, and spring fever is giving us some major travel itch. But, where to go?! Is it safe? Fun? Expensive? No worries, readers: Puerto Rico is the place to go. Admittedly, Puerto Rico has some serious competition down in the Caribbean, fighting for real estate with the likes of the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba, and Barbados to name a few. However, this oft-overlooked US territory has a lot to offer for every kind of traveler, and if you’re an American, all without a passport or currency exchange!
Boasting the only tropical rainforest in the National Parks System, El Yunque has no shortage of visitors year round. Sure, you could grab your map at the visitor’s center and see some nice trees on a well-marked path, but you can also explore El Yunque like a local with one of the “Off the Beaten Path” tours offered. Precarious caves, rope swings, rocky waterslides, and near vertical hiking are to be expected, as are a few bumps and scrapes, but how many people can say they were Bear Grylls for a day?
The Nightlife: Skip Señor Frogs, Go to La Factoría
Puerto Rico is a well-known spring break destination, which is why many experienced travelers avoid the cruise ship-lined ports and bars altogether. But while the tourists are looking for neon colored drinks and loud music, the more savvy crowd hits up La Factoría, recently named as one of the 50 best bars in the world. But don’t be discouraged if you can’t get in – there’s supposedly a 23 and up age policy and given that this place is local, they’re trying to keep it that way by turning away the spring break crowd.
Mexico has tacos, Italy has pasta, and Puerto Rico has… what exactly? Many people don’t realize that Puerto Rican food has a flavor and culture all of it’s own. Any local will tell you that they eat rice and beans as a side with any meal and that you have to try mofongo (seriously, you have to). The flavors aren’t fussy or bizarre, and they remind you of good, old-fashioned comfort food, wherever you’re from. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to wash it down with some rum from the nearby Bacardi factory (and take a tour while you’re at it). Don’t skip out on a good, authentic restaurant or you’ll regret it. Not sure what you’ll like? Food tours take you around the beautiful city of Old San Juan where you can try all of the local delicacies, tapas style.
The Itinerary: Skip the Pool, Go on an Adventure
I’m not gonna lie; Puerto Rico has the best weather. You might as well delete your weather app because it can say “to expect thunderstorm” all week and you won’t get one drop of rain! That being said, enjoy the weather, lay out, and tan to your heart’s content, but don’t waste away the whole vacation when there is so much to do! Puerto Rico is home to the longest zip line in the world, El Monstruo, stretching 7,590 feet long at 1,200 feet above the ground. If that’s not your bag, there are still plenty of other ways to be active, including nighttime kayaking through bioluminescent bays and ATV riding through old plantations.
The PSA: Skip the Excessive Tan, DO NOT SKIP THE SUNBLOCK
As a personal note, the Puerto Rican sun by my calculations is about 50 bajillion times stronger than anywhere else in the world. Even if you are tan by nature, never burn, and where 50 SPF sunblock, you will burn to a crisp if you are left exposed all day and no amount of aloe vera will save you from peeling like a snake. Apologies for the graphic explanation, but do not spend the whole day in the sun unprotected! You’ll thank me later!