Puerto Rico Travel Guide
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- 98%Adventure Travelers
- 79%Outdoor Enthusiasts
- 64%Local Culture
- 62%Family Travelers
- 61%Green Travelers
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- Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico: The Real Fountain of Youth?
When Christopher Columbus made landfall in Puerto Rico during his second trans-Atlantic voyage, in 1493, a young Spanish nobleman, Ponce de León, some scholars believe, was on board.
Rumors of hefty quantities of gold brought Ponce de Leon back, in 1508, where he found an islet with an excellent harbor he named Puerto Rico, or Rich Port. This would become the name of the island, while the town was renamed San Juan. He didn’t find gold, but was named first governor of the new territory, and when he heard stories from Taino Indians about a magical fountain whose waters would rejuvenate those who drank from it, he decided he would seek immortality. Can we fault him?
Today, locals claim the mineral-rich waters at Coamo, about 10 miles east of Ponce in the south of Puerto Rico, are in fact the Fountain of Youth Ponce de Leon sought, though perhaps he didn’t soak long enough, as an arrow squelched his eternity in 1521. But that the belief of the fountain’s powers still exist is evident in its current pricing. Anyone over 65 is free, the theory being, I suppose, that if the wayback waters work, the free-soaking seniors will soon be back as paying customers.
There is something persistently youthful about Puerto Rico. It’s not just that 30% of the population is under 25, but rather its potion of nutrient-rich volcanic soil, crisp, clean water, its perpetual June, its healthy outdoor activities, its food, art, and its spirit of dance and celebration that make almost everyone who comes here feel happy and young.
Recovering from a surgery a few weeks back, I find myself feeling a bit broken by time’s wheel, a little superannuated in a sharp winter, when I speak with my friend John Jessey, who offers up an antidote. “Go to Puerto Rico. You’ll feel ten years younger.”
Rather than slouching towards oblivion, or doing a deal with the devil, John’s recommendation seems the enchanting choice, so I book a ticket from Los Angeles for a week-long soak, with my family, including 6-year-old Jasper, and our friends Didrik Johnck and Lisa Niver. We leave passports behind, because Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, a sort of grey-area status where it is not officially a State, but Puerto Ricans enjoy all the benefits of citizenship, save one: Puerto Ricans who live in Puerto Rico cannot vote for the U.S. President in the general elections. And, the currency is the U.S. dollar, which saves all those calculations, and exchange fees that usually end up on post-trip credit card statements. And you can drink the water.
I’m a sucker for touching history, and sought to book the Caribe Hilton Hotel, for its storied past, but it was full, so instead we make way to its sister, the Condado Plaza Hilton, just seven miles from the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. I take a room overlooking the aquamarine Atlantic, and with a view of the Caribe Hilton Hotel. It was Hilton's first hotel outside the continental United States and made Hilton the first international hotel company. It was the first in Puerto Rico to offer radios in every room and individually controlled air conditioners, and claims to be the birthplace of the Piña Colada. In 1954, bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero spent three months creating a medley of rum, coconut cream, and pineapple juice, which launched a Noah’s flood of tropical refreshment, and at least one catchy song. To celebrate, I order one up in the lobby bar. Maybe two. Or four. To be honest, I can’t remember, except that they were yummy.
The next day, in the first blush of pink light, we translate to the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort, to the east, to play a little golf. Golf here dates to 1958, when Laurance Rockefeller, a pioneer in barefoot elegance, built a resort in Dorado and hired Robert Trent Jones to design its fabled East Course. Now Puerto Rico has 23 courses designed by legendary golf pros, and Rio Mar has two, the Ocean Course, by Tom and George Fazio, and the River course, by Greg Norman, both 18 holes. It’s on the 16th hole of the Ocean Course I meet Jesus Rodriguez, younger brother to Chi-Chi, who is the groundskeeper and resident merry prankster. He shows us how to putt a coconut, and mimics the famous victory dance of his legendary brother. And he offers to arrange a meeting with his brother, over at the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort & Golf Club, with its 18 holes by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., set along two miles of private beach, a former coconut plantation.
I meet Chi Chi on the lushly manicured lawn beyond the lobby, and he looks dashing in a fierce blue jacket, yellow tie and signature Panama hat. His eyes are quiet as a pond; his grin electric. He’s 78-years-old, but has the spark and energy of someone half his age, yet another testament to the youthful stylings of Puerto Rico.
Chi Chi says he was born into a dirt poor family, one of six siblings. They struggled to put food on the table. When he was seven, he worked as a water carrier on a sugar plantation. One day he wandered onto a golf course. When he learned the caddies were earning more money than he, he decided to switch careers.
Chi Chi would take a branch from a guava tree and turn it into a golf club. Using a metal can as a "golf ball" he would practice what he had seen "real" golfers do. By the time he was 12 he scored a 67. He went on to trophy scores of tournaments, including 22 wins on Senior PGA Tours, and became the first Puerto Rican inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
After mahi mahi tacos with Chi Chi at Seagrapes it’s time to undo time, so we head back to the Wyndham, where we take a jungle walk on the grounds, and end up at the estuary of the Mameyes River, where paddle boards and kayaks await. We scull about, among the mangroves for a sweet hour or so, and then walk the beach back to the pools for a mojito (this island is, after all, the largest producer of rum in the world) before thinking about dinner.
The sky lightens slowly the next morning, and time pours like treacle as we linger through breakfast. Afterwards, we travel just a short ways to the earthy embrace of El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the US National Forest System. The air seems to be made of a different and more fragrant substance than at home. Everything is pungent and moist. This is where the wrinkles wash away, with over 200 inches of rain a year. We set off on a short hike through a tangle of trees that look as though they awoke in the middle of the night and didn’t have time to fix their hair. We pass orchids, giant tree ferns, oversized snails, gushing waterfalls, all the while cupping ears to the two-note chanting of coquí tree frogs, and the squawks of unseen parrots.
We next head over to the small town of Fajardo and the mega resort El Conquistador (a Waldorf Astoria property), which mostly sprawls atop a 300-foot-high cliff overlooking the Atlantic. It takes a tall pile of words to convey this 500-acre retreat. A tram trundles down to a marina and the 2.4-acre Coqui Water Park, a font of wading pools, slides and water rides, a jungle-type rope bridge, and a lazy river where Jasper and I grab a tube and float and splash and cachinnate for an hour. If ever a kid’s paradise, this seems it, for children from two to a hundred and two.
As the evening tips over into darkness we leave Jasper, exhausted and sound asleep in the Wyndham, and head into the city, which puffs up like a sail with its nightlife. We hit a few bars, boîtes and clubs, where the reggaetón and salsa swirl around us in a fluid ribbon. The outfits on parade are meant to make eyeballs explode, tropical tornados of cadmium and cobalt, magenta and marigold…the full rainbow of humanity struts here.
Puerto Rico is a kind of crossroads of the Caribbean. Its forts, castles, walls and batteries were originally designed to protect the island from invaders, but when the residents felt secure, it became a way station for seafarers bringing new ideas, art, lifestyles and food. It was a place to share experiences, and embrace diversity. And tolerance was the mortar that held it together. Today it is an island of hospitality, safety and open-mindedness. And one vivid indicator of this is the vibrant LGBT scene.
We meet Mr. Gay World Puerto Rico, Juan Ortiz, visiting from New York, who shares how Puerto Rico has such open arms and opportunities for all lifestyles. We meet a few lesbians who agree, and even a gay couple from New York on the eve of nuptials, which have been elaborately designed by one of the top wedding planners in one of the best hotels.
In the bath of morning sunlight, before pointing the needle of curiosity to the west, I step through the heavy wooden door of one the many specialty coffee shops, and order up a cup of arabigo Pomarrosa. What a brew! All other coffees drip with envy. I ask its origin, and am told it is from a small farm in the middle mountains of Puerto Rico, in the shadow of the island’s highest peak, Cerro de Punta, some 4,357 feet above sea level. I vow to find this place.
But first we set out for the far coast, the surfing, kite-boarding and watersports capital of the island. It’s a stunning drive through the folded complexities of the island, through tropical parklands and by wild seascapes, through towns humming with optimism, past the dance of life that is Puerto Rico. Come late afternoon we pull into the Royal Isabela, a sprawling resort and golf course at the edge of a 300’-high bluff overseeing the crashing Atlantic, looking more like a link course at the edge of Ireland than a tropical fairway.
Here we meet Charlito Pasarell, co-founder of the resort along with brother Stanley, who bounds over to meets us by the clay tennis courts. Charlito was the No. 1 ranked men's singles tennis player in the United States in 1967, and was last year inducted into the Interna
- Puerto RicoMember ofOutdoor EnthusiastsBudget TravelersWellness+ 3
Just a quick hop from much of the United States, Puerto Rico is a great travel destination. There is something for everyone - beach, sports, adventure, and culture. Families, couples, and single travelers will be happily entertained here for any length of vacation. Do your research and make bookings, though - this popular destination fills up for holidays and school breaks. Enjoy!Recommended for:
- Puerto RicoFirst to Review
ideal for history lovers because it is walking distance to historic Old San Juan, a small jewel for architecture, art and history lovers because most of its buildings are restored 18th century structures. There are several art galleries, two forts built by the Spaniards and several small beautiful churches. The Condado area has some of the best restaurants on the island and many shops and boutiques.
- Puerto RicoMember ofLocal CultureBusiness TravelersFoodies+ 3
I have always thought of Puerto Rico as the gateway to someplace else. I will say that there is an excellent nightlife (especially if you like to gamble) great hotels and even better shopping.Recommended for:
- Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is the perfect destination for a relaxing trip. The warm sunshine and breeze will take out all the negative energy of you. And Bio Bay is amazing!!! I can hardly describe the excitement when I saw the water sparkling in my fingers. Surrounding by the stars, listening to the whisper of the ocean, this experience is marvelous.
- Puerto RicoMember ofLocal CultureOutdoor EnthusiastsBusiness Travelers+ 10
Its a lovely country which stands beyond its expectations everywhere..
Some of the very islands within the island country makes it a loved place for tourists. The pollution free, nature full and warm atmosphere makes the country very specific to be liked by all. Food, fashion and nature what I can say the country stands for! Loved it very much !!
- Puerto RicoMember ofLocal CultureOutdoor EnthusiastsFamily Travelers+ 4
We traveled for Spring Break to the North East portion of the island. I was very impressed with the variety of activities and the landscape. The country is beautiful, although the poverty is apparent. Be sure to visit Old San Juan and El Yunque National Forest, two highlights on our trip.
- Puerto RicoMember ofLocal CultureOutdoor EnthusiastsBusiness Travelers+ 5
Beautiful sights, Colorful history, wonderful beaches, friendly people, delicious local cuisine (and drinks) pretty much sums up my memorable experience visit Puerto Rico. I will return for more!
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