No passport needed, the US dollar is the currency, and English is widely spoken. For someone thinking about traveling to the far corners of the world but with just a bit of jitters when it comes to venturing off to another country, Puerto Rico is the perfect place to test the waters of international travel. It can be the destination to whet an appetite for travel and to encourage trips to even more exotic places in the future.
Puerto Rico is a US territory, so there you can find all the comforts of home but still feel like you’re in a far-off, exciting place, surrounded by lush rainforests, secluded beaches, and Spanish colonial architecture. There are no all-inclusive resorts in Puerto Rico, so you’ll really have the opportunity to get out of your hotel and experience the culture and all the makes this country unique and special.
To top it off, most cell phone providers give you cell service in Puerto Rico at no extra charge, so feel free to surf Urbanspoon for the best local restaurants, call home, and check e-mail using your data or wifi connection.
Renting a car there is super easy—just like driving at home. The road signs are easy to follow, you can use GPS from your phone, and the cars are no different than what we’re used to (mostly Kias, for some odd reason). You can drive completely across the island in about 2-2 ½ hours, traffic allowing.
Also due to the fact that it’s a US territory, there are no all-inclusive resorts, which usually comes as a surprise to many customers I talk with. The cost of labor there is similar to that in the States, so it’s simply not possible there like in some of the more poverty-stricken and less-developed countries to run an all-inclusive resort, and in my opinion, this makes it that much more fun! It encourages people to get out and explore the island and the local culture, and the fact that it’s so easy to do so helps as well.
Drive to El Yunque National Forest and take a hike through the beautiful rainforest past waterfalls and rare wildlife. From the city hub of San Juan, the drive to El Yunque is about 30 minutes—simply buy an inexpensive ticket into the park, grab a map, and explore. You don’t need a guide or a tour group. The ease of getting around the country and seeing it should be such a draw and I don’t think many people are aware of it.
Drive to the east coast to the area of Fajardo and take a ferry from there to Vieques or Culebra. The ride to Vieques is only about an hour and 15 minutes and costs only $2–and what a cute island it is to visit. It’s home to a bioluminescent bay, a black sand beach, a giant old tree reminiscent of that of the Disney classic Pocahontas, wild roaming horses, and so much more charm than any other place I’ve ever been.
Culebra is the less-visited of the two islands, boasting arguably the world’s most beautiful beach—Flamenco Beach, and some amazing reefs for snorkeling and scuba diving.
On the west coast, you can find the cute little surf town of Rincón and stay in a unique treehouse made of bamboo. Fall asleep to the sounds of the coquí frogs chirping and enjoy a mofongo (the Puerto Rican signature dish and oh so delicious! It’s fried and mashed plantains made into a sort of bowl filled with meat and sauce). This may seem like an over-the-top ad for a destination, but these are truly the memories I have of this wonderful place. I honestly feel I could spend months there and still not have enough time to see all that the islands have to offer!
If you want an adventure, but don’t quite feel comfortable enough to do it somewhere that requires a passport and a different language to travel to—give Puerto Rico a try. It is a home away from home, a gorgeous island that stole my heart, and I’m confident it could steal yours as well!
CAITLYN WITHOUT A COMPASS
PS- If you ever find yourself headed off to the All-Star Island of PR, please give me a shout. I’d love nothing more than to share with you my favorite restaurants and accommodations from my time there!