Puerto Rico was a welcome surprise, surpassing all my expectations and sliding past even Hawaii as my favorite warm water island get away. There are many reasons for you to take this southern island to heart, but five crucial ones.
1. TRANSPORTATION – Flights from the upper 48 to Puerto Rico are dizzyingly inexpensive. From an east coast hub, like Newark, non-stop flights are less than $400 round trip, albeit in December. Even from the far west, Seattle, the one-stop round trip was less than $500. I paid that much just trying to get from Seattle to a small city in Colorado. Yet, dozens of airports around the US will take you to San Juan Luiz Munoz Marin airport for less than $400 round trip.
2.CULTURE – In spite of its close ties to the US (The island commonwealth has been tied to the US since 1898), Puerto Rico has retained much of its historic culture as evidenced by
everything from the delicious menu offerings on food trucks and in fancy restaurants to the sight of dozens of young ladies in line to have a discounted photo shoot in their breathtaking Quinceañera gowns. The Quinceañera is a celebration of a girl’s transition to womanhood, a day in which she is feted, admired, and respected for the woman she will become. Its roots extend back far enough that they incorporate indigenous customs and others of European origin. Culturally, Puerto Rican vivaciousness, accent, and sense of drama has been exported in human form by the actors and artists who have done their nation proud, including: Benecio del Toro, whose chilling “Collector” character in
Guardians of the Galaxy sent shivers through audiences around the world, Jose Feliciano, global troubadour whose tune “I want to wish you a Merry Christmas” sets a holiday mood every year, Ricky Martin, singer and promoter of “La Vida Loca” takes his Puerto Rican heritage to heart as he promotes Latin culture and Spanish language entertainment. Finally, we can’t forget Jennifer Lopez and Rita Moreno. Ms. Moreno made an indelible impression on the American psyche over 40 years ago when she starred in West Side Story, a movie musical in which her character of “Anita” high kicked her way into our hearts.
3. ACCOMMODATIONS – There are such a wide variety of hotels, hostels, and rental alternatives that any visitor to San Juan can literally choose a lifestyle. Hip, young, with a healthy bank account? The Ritz-Carlton or Sheraton Hotel and Casino should fit the bill at $200 to $300 per night in December. At the other end of the market, modest but comfortable rooms in guest houses and private homes are safe and central.For less than $90 per night, a friend and I stayed at the Andalucia Guest House in Ocean Park, near the famed Kasalta Bakery where we enjoyed more than one scrumptious meal. The Andalucia sits on a street two blocks from a clean, surf swept beach and a short bus ride to Old San Juan. Thus, we had the best of the hustle and bustle and the calm of a neighborhood.
4. WANDERING – In spite of presenting like an American territory, which Puerto Rico is, the feeling throughout this island nation is distinctly foreign or international. The sound of the Spanish language coming from television, radio, and people you pass on the streets is one reason, but another is the architecture that echoes southern Europe and the eras of kings and dominions with plaster and carved details. Puerto Rico’s past is marked by armies, conflicts, changes in power, exploration, and princely treasure. San Juan and the
other cities are replete with examples, but the forests and highlands, too are worth your time. One way to see more than any tour would show you is to venture out on a jeep tour with which you can ford rivers and climb mountains.