Tropical Puerto Rico beckons

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Lush, tropical, colorful rain forests; contemplative, bold, fiery volcanoes; dark, eerie, cool caves; gorgeous sandy beaches; colorful, busy, exhilarating cities: Puerto Rico is the land of many terrains, a vacation spot that promises something for just about anyone.

You can’t beat the weather in the tropical climate zone of Puerto Rico, with an average temperature of 80 degrees in lower elevations and 70 degrees in the mountains. January through April is a popular time of year for U.S. tourists to visit, mostly because the climate here is less than desirable throughout much of the country. Puerto Rico does experience a rainy season, from April through November.

Since it’s a United States territory, shopping is easy on this Caribbean Island, as the U.S. dollar is king and U.S. citizens aren’t required to pay duty on their purchases. Credit cards are widely accepted. San Juan offers the best shopping, whether it be traditional papier maché masks, wood carvings of patron saints, handmade lace, rum and rolled cigars of Old San Juan, or the typical American chain stores such as Banana Republic, Macy’s and Hugo Boss of Modern San Juan. Tipping is the same as it is in the United States, from 15 to 20 percent.

Most Puerto Ricans speak English, though Spanish is the primary language. For this reason, you would be best to have access to a Spanish-English dictionary. As in most foreign countries, any attempt at speaking in the native tongue is appreciated.

Isla Verde is the most popular area for vacationers to Puerto Rico. The airport is located here and it is a short cab ride to San Juan. There are plenty of large American hotels, such as the Courtyard Marriott, the Ritz Carlton and the Hampton Inn, for those who want a luxurious stay. Other alternatives are quaint boutique hotels in Old San Juan, or vacation homes that may be rented for vacationers who would like to experience beach life and home-like amenities. The out islands of Culebra and Vieques also offer lodging and beautiful beaches. Culebra, where the famous Flamenco Beach is located, is ranked among the top ten beaches of the world. Many off-the-beaten-path locations and villages provide safety, convenience, and the opportunity to exchange the hustle and bustle of resort life for beachcombing and stargazing while floating in your private pool.

When you visit, there are a variety of popular attractions you should be sure to hit. El Yunque National Forest is a cool, mountainous, subtropical rain forest on the eastern end of Puerto Rico. Several short hikes lead you through the forest, where you will experience pristine beauty and serenity and view a number of unique plant and animal species. A particularly interesting observation is the reported absence of dangerous snakes in Puerto Rico.

White sandy beaches and picturesque offshore islands are part of the reason Puerto Rico is such a popular vacation destination. If you are traveling with the family, visit Luquillo Beach, 30 miles east of San Juan. Here you’ll find cleaner waters and better sands than most in San Juan. Coral reefs protect the lagoon from often-rough Atlantic waters, making this an ideal spot for children to swim. Pine Grove Beach, which stretches between the Ritz Carlton and the Marriott Courtyard near the airport, is also protected from the Atlantic by an offshore reef and is a crescent, white sand beach with tranquil blue waters perfect for swimming. The waves aren’t too big and the water is warm.

When darkness falls, head to the bioluminescent Mosquito Bay, where the half-plant, half- animal microorganisms that live here cause the sky and waters to emit a blue glow. Other travelers advise that you arrive quietly, with a group and perhaps with kayaks as opposed to motor boats.

The nightlife in Puerto Rico is particularly exciting, especially in the city of San Juan. Plan to dress up if you would prefer not to stand out as a tourist, as locals are rarely seen in casual clothes when visiting night clubs and better restaurants.
When in Puerto Rico, be sure to sample the cuisine. Plantains, a variety of banana that cannot be eaten raw and that is typically fried, is the most popular side dish. Chicken and fish are also popular, and are often prepared in one of a variety of native sauces.

If you are an American and are traveling directly from the United States to Puerto Rico, you do not need a passport, though you will want to bring government-issued ID. As always, travel safely by staying with a group; remaining within the known tourist areas and being aware of late-night dangers are good travel practices not only in the Caribbean but in other unfamiliar areas.

Enjoy this lovely tropical island easily and vacation in comfort! HLM

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