Puerto Rico is a bountifully beautiful tropical island, with modern cities, rich history, and enough adventure to last a lifetime. We scribbled about for a fulfilling week, but barely etched the surface. Joining me was my friend and fellow thrill seeker Lisa Niver, and here below is a bit of what we found.
REGIONS OF PUERTO RICO
The North Region: Porta Atlantico
There is an elegance of sufficiency and style in the activities here in the North. From riding the equestrian trials to golfing the world-class fairways; the sophisticated dining, to the thrills of spelunking. There is a harmony of the land and sea here, the karst that looks sculptured; the links that are, and the cliffs that need no adornment. Here you can take your sports gently, never hurrying or worrying a muscle, but moving with grace, finesse and beauty. Simple and grand; timeless and radiant—this is the North of Puerto Rico.
Highlights of the North Region:
The South Region / Porta Caribe
Ponce, Puerto Rico’s second-largest city, was founded in the late 17th century. The city experienced a commercial boom in the 19th, then declined so quickly that no one had time to tear anything down. The center of town is crowded with wedding-cake colonial mansions, arrayed in a procession of balconies, balustrades, and bas-relief.
Highlights of the South Region:
- Museo Castillo Serralles
The East Region: Porta Antillas
There are so many wonderful characteristics to the East of Puerto Rico, but one is certainly its friendliness to families. Families here find a freshness and candor in their clan. They strengthen bonds, like the ever-thickening vines of El Yunque. They welcome novelty, and sate curiosities. They find a fluency of fun; a symphony of kindred souls, good temper and open hearts. Here families are like unrhymed poetry, stanzas of sand, sun, sea and rainforest. You can’t undo the rainbow here, but you can slide it down into a fragment of paradise.
Puerto Rico is a kid’s paradise. The weather is perfect; it’s safe; it’s healthy, and there are so many wonderful things for kids and families to do. We check-out 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. At the spectacular beaches kids can swim, body surf, snorkel, and play to heart’s content. There are hikes in all sorts of terrain, and many resorts that cater to families.
Highlights of the East Region:
The West Region: Porta del Sol
We interview Tomas Ramirez, owner of Combate Beach Hotel, a former pharmaceutical executive who fell in love with the West and bought this boutique hotel on the beach. He speaks to the laid-back, chill nature of the region.
Highlights of the West Region:
- Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge
- Guánica Dry Forest
- Joyuda Fishing Village
- Pastillo Beach
The Central Region: Porta Cordillera
The Cordillera Central is a land of innocence, of new beginnings, of fertility, of pure, clean water and abundance. This is a place unfit for civilization, but the fruit of the tree of adventure is plucked here. From its lodges, to its caves, it ziplines to its trails, adventure is the vitalizing element here. Adventure is everywhere.
Highlights of the Central Region:
- Casa Grande Mountain Retreat
- Cordillera Central
WHERE TO STAY
Puerto Rico has an easy sophistication about it, a tropic elegance that is reflected in its fine dining, its exceptional shopping, and in its many luxury resorts.
Condado Plaza Hilton
We stayed here on the water and just seven miles from the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport.
Best Western Condado Palm
A value hotel with huge rooms and just one block from the beach.
Combate Beach Hotel
Boutique hotel conveniently located next to the beach and the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge.
Water Beach Hotel
Zen-like eco lodge right on the beach.
Hotel El Convento
A restored colonial convent in Old San Juan.
Dorado Beach a Ritz Carlton Reserve
Just west of San Juan, an elegant and well-established hotel awaits.
In the Central Region
Casa Grande Mountain Retreat
A former coffee plantation, this place is set in the heart of Puerto Rico, amidst the lush landscapes of a tropical paradise and protected by surrounding mountains. Great for those looking for tranquility and relaxation.
On the East Coast
Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort
Renowned for its world class golf courses, this place blew us away. We tried out the Ocean Course at the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort with Chi Chi Rodriguez, the first Puerto Rican inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. We also tooled around the Royal Isabela, “the Pebble Beach of the Caribbean,” which sprawls at the edge of a 300′-high bluff overlooking the crashing Atlantic, looking more like a link course at the edge of Ireland than a tropical fairway. The easy access to incredible rainforests and breathtaking beaches was an added bonus.
On the West Coast
The Royal Isabella
Lush landscapes, exceptional views, and cliff top overlooks make for a tantalizing trio.
Copamarina Beach Resort
A friendly, laid-back vibe with some of the best diving in the Caribbean. At the Copamarina Resort on the South Side of Puerto Rico you can dive The Wall, a cliff of coral some 22-miles-long dropping down to a depth of over 1,500 feet. It is among the best dives in the world, featuring brain coral, caves, green moray eels, angel fish, porcupine fish, lobster, reef sharks, and sea turtles.
There are so many fabulous hotels and resorts throughout Puerto Rico, and you can find and book them at www.orbitz.com
WHERE & WHAT TO EAT
At Jose Enrique, we enjoyed the most sumptuous yellowtail snapper on the island.
Las Palmas Café
At this al fresco café in the Copamarina Beach Resort we had the mouth-watering grouper mofongo.
On the West Coast
The Restaurant at La Casa in the Royal Isabela Resort
Here, we had one of the most outstanding dinners ever, sitting on a breezy patio and sipping fine red wine. Order the “airline” chicken and be pleasantly surprised, as we were, to find it does not come from United or American. The popular dish gets its name from its shape–the delicious drumette looks like the tail of an airplane.
The fishing village of Joyuda
Quiet atmosphere and seafood galore! You can also find some really great authentic Puerto Rican food here.
WHERE & WHAT TO DRINK
Piña Coladas at the Caribe Hilton Hotel
Come on, if you’re in Puerto Rico you have to imbibe a Piña Colada at the Caribe Hilton Hotel. It was invented here. 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. But any rum drink is fair game, as Puerto Rico is the largest producer of rum in the world.
A Cup of Joe at Hacienda Pomarrosa
And of course, Puerto Rico has the finest specialty coffee in the world. Take the tour, as we did, at the Hacienda Pomarrosa in the Cordillera Central, in the shade of the highest mountain on the island.Once you’ve tasted it, all other coffee drips with envy.
WHAT TO DO
There are too many to list…it would break the internet. But, we went zip lining, snorkeling, surfing, caving, hiking, diving, kayaking, soaking in the “Fountain of Youth”, paddle boarding, mountain biking, coffee sampling, clubbing, water parking, and so much more, all in a jam-packed week.
Go on an Adventure.
Puerto Rico does not suffer from a shortage of adventure. On the contrary, it overflows with options for the action junkie. If there is an adventure capital of the Caribbean, it is Puerto Rico.
- Exploring caves like La Cueva del Indio (Cave of the Indian) and Cueva Ventana.
- Splitting the wind at the highest and second-longest zip-line on earth at Toro Verde Nature Adventure Park.
- Visiting a Taino Indian Site.
- Hiking the Cordillera Central.
- Taking a trip to Boquerón to visit the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge.
- Exploring the diverse aquatic life at Salinas.
- Hiking and birding at El Yunque National Rainforest, known for its rare trees and birds.
- Tubing down Rio Mamayes.
- Taking the family to Coqui Water Park.
- Exploring the eco-adventures at Utuado.
- Discovering Guánica Dry Forest.
- Visiting the quiet fishing village of Joyuda for seafood and snorkeling.
- Catching a wave at Rincón, Puerto Rico’s surf capital.
- Trying any of these amazing watersports (surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding, diving, snorkeling, windsurfing).
- Mountain biking and exploring rainforests and deserts.
- And relaxing, after all of these adventures, at Culebra, one of Puerto Rico’s tranquil offshore islands.
Dive into the heart of the island’s history and culture.
- Get a history lesson at Museo Castillo Serralles.
- Check out the delightful town of Yauco (even better if you can make it for Coffee Festival in February!)
- Take a stroll through historic Ponce, Puerto Rico’s second-largest city, which was founded in the late 17th century. The city experienced a commercial boom in the 19th, then declined so quickly that no one had time to tear anything down. The center of town is crowded with wedding-cake colonial mansions, arrayed in a procession of balconies, balustrades, and bas-relief.
Hit the Green.
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.
Fall in Love.
It’s easy to fall in love here. An even easier place to get married. Puerto Rico is the perfect place for a destination wedding. If you’re an American, you’d don’t need a passport; it’s easy to get to, with direct flights from all over the country. It’s inexpensive; the currency is the US dollar, so no need to worry about exchange rates and fees. It’s under US law, so no concerns about strange rules or unknown laws. There are tons of activities, of all stripes, for guests to enjoy. And, it’s paradisiacal, so everyone it’s easy to fall in love with the island as well. There are scores of resorts all over the island that cater to destination weddings, from beachfront to historic cathedral. And there are even more wedding planners.
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 its vibrant LGBT scene.
HOW TO GET THERE
Delta, American, United, JetBlue and most major airlines fly directly to San Juan from major cities throughout the U.S. Ponce, the second largest city in Puerto Rico, also has direct flight from New York on JetBlue.
You can research and book all your air to Puerto Rico at www.orbitz.com