On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria pummeled Puerto Rico, leaving behind a devastating trail of aftereffects. The deluge of rain coupled with 155-mile-per-hour winds destroyed homes, created mudslides that left roads impassable, and led to the longest and largest power outage in modern U.S. history. In the days, weeks, and months following the disaster, many lives were lost on the island of roughly 3.4 million U.S. citizens. Now, nearly a year after the Category 4 storm, the road to complete recovery remains long. Fly over the territory today, and you’ll still see blue tarps serving as temporary roofs. But once you touch down, you’ll be met with an entirely different message: resilience.
Puerto Rico’s pulse is beating -- and stronger this time: hotels have opened their doors, restaurants and bars buzz with locals and tourists, and beaches beckon with their white sandy shores and crystal-clear waters. For those who are looking for ways to help, the best way to contribute is to go. Go to hear the sounds of the coqui filling the streets. Go to eat mofongo and sip pina coladas. Go to get lost in the colorful labyrinth of Old San Juan. You may ask, ‘How could I possibly do all of that while others still struggle?’ Well, not going at all, especially to a place like Puerto Rico, where tourism makes up roughly 10 percent of the GDP, hurts even more. The more visitors that arrive, the faster the island will be able to rebuild. So, make the conscious choice to vacation here (and spend freely), as the Caribbean island needs visitors now more than ever. And trust us when we say, a warm welcome awaits. Here are seven more reasons to plan a trip to Puerto Rico now.
Plenty of hotels are open.
Puerto Rico is nothing if not resilient. We’ll let the numbers speak for themselves: More than 89 percent of hotels on the island (that’s 132 out of 147) are open and operational. That list includes the romantic Condado Vanderbilt, the kid-friendly San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, the buzzy La Concha Renaissance San Juan Resort, and the historic Hotel El Convento -- notoriously known for housing nuns during its days as a convent. And even more properties have already announced their openings -- Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, and the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort are slated to open this October, Melia Coco Beach is scheduled to welcome guests in November, and the Caribe Hilton will be back in action come January.
Airports are back up and running.
The picture was pretty bleak last year: hundreds of passengers stranded at San Juan Luis Munoz International Airport (SJU), sleeping on the floor. But today, it’s business as usual. Major airports, including SJU, Rafael Hernandez Airport (BQN) and Ponce (PSE), are fully functioning. In fact, more than 100 flights -- from major and budget airlines, like American, Allegiant, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, United, Delta, Air Canada, and more -- take off and touch down daily in SJU alone.
Cruises are setting sail again.
If you’d rather use your sea legs, hop aboard a cruise. Since October 2017, more than 200,000 homeport passengers have hit the high seas, and more than 120 cruise shore excursions, including historical walks around Old San Juan and coffee tastings, are being offered. According to The Points Guy, a single cruise can generate half a million dollars for the island -- another way your vacation is vital to the economic lifeblood of the island. Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas, Carnival Cruise Line’s Fascination and Horizon, and MSC Seaside are but a few of the lines offering sailings.
San Juan doesn’t show much evidence of Maria’s impact.
Even something as strong as a Category 4 hurricane could not darken the spirit of Puerto Rico. This is quite literally apparent in the vibrant streets of Old San Juan, where the buildings are awash in kaleidoscope of bright hues. Meander from block to block, and you’ll see crowds spilling out of bars thrumming with music, tourists and locals strolling along the waterfront, and stray cats holding court on street corners. You can easily spend your entire trip exploring the neighborhood without noticing anything is out of order.
Tourist attractions have reopened.
On your next trip to Puerto Rico, prepare to be well-fed, well-entertained, and well-rested. More than 1,885 restaurants have opened their kitchens since the hurricane. Check out Lote 23, an outdoor oasis in San Juan’s art district, Santurce. Here, you’ll find food stands and Airsteam trailers doling out tasty Caribbean and international fare. For something a bit more authentic, Barranchina in Old San Juan not only serves up mouthwatering mofongo (a mashed fried plantain dish), but it also happens to be the birthplace of the pina colada. Frijoles negros and refreshing popsicles from Señor Paleta are other specialties worth sampling.
Once you’ve fueled up, it’s time to explore. Nearly 200 tourist attractions -- Castillo San Cristobal, Toro Verde, Castillo San Felipe del Morro, and Old San Juan, among others -- are back in business. Multiple casinos and golf courses can also fill your spare time. Unfortunately, much of Puerto Rico’s 28,000-acre El Yunque National Forest -- the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. -- remains closed, with only a few trails and sites open. However, you can still get a taste of the rugged landscape by booking a horseback riding tour at Hacienda Carabali. The family-friendly ride takes travelers into the foothills of the national forest, providing photogenic views of the surrounding flora and fauna along the way. But of course, if you prefer to just laze on the idyll beaches, we won’t judge.
Americans can leave their passports at home.
Yes, Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, meaning travelers need not fly with a passport, go through customs, or even exchange currency. In other words, it’s just as easy to visit here as it would be to travel to the Florida Keys (airfare differences aside, of course).
The year-round beach weather is hard to beat.
We’d be remiss not to mention the fact that Puerto Rico is blessed with near-perfect weather all year round. The island’s temperature typically hovers around 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit -- a toasty refuge when the brutally cold winters hit up north. That said, it does rain regularly -- usually a quick burst that lasts a few minutes -- so pack smart.
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