When Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico last year, news outlets told us of the extreme power outages, food scarcity, and devastation. We read the articles, watched horrifying video, and donated to relief organizations. Slowly, different disasters took our attention, news outlets found other stories to report, and Americans moved on.
But Puerto Rico still needs help. Updated death toll reports show Hurricane Maria killed more than 1,400 people, and many Americans living on the island still suffer from extreme hardship.
Despite the island’s struggles, tourism is on the uptick. Many of the popular hotels and restaurants are open and ready for visitors. Given that tourism plays a huge part in Puerto Rico’s economy, travelers can help simply by visiting and bringing tourist dollars to the island.
Are you wondering if you should go to Puerto Rico right now? Has the island recovered enough for travelers to visit?
Laura Degen, travel advisor for Carefree Vacations, a FROSCH company, recently returned from Puerto Rico and can answer those questions in one word: absolutely!
As Laura puts it, “Go enjoy a tropical vacation. It’s the best way to help Puerto Rico, and you won’t be sorry you took the trip.”
Laura shares a few of her favorite experiences from her recent trip to the island below. Enjoy!
Tour Casa Bacardí
This interesting tour of the largest rum distillery in the world takes you through the cellars to show you how Bacardí ages its rum. Along the way, you’ll delight in the entertaining stories and learn fun trivia like the fact that Bacardí’s senior master blender personally taste-tests every bottle of rum produced in the distillery. Yep, every single one.
Laura’s Tip – If you’re waffling on signing up for the Mojito Mixology class, take it! It’s worth it. Also, take the ferry from Old San Juan to get to Casa Bacardí. It’s the best way to get there.
Conquer the Monster
During Laura’s recent trip, she ‘conquered the monster’, and recommends her adrenaline-junkie clients do the same. At the Toroverde Nature Adventure Park, ‘El Monstruo’ or The Monster, is the longest zipline cable in the Americas. Strap into the harness Superman style and torpedo head first across the canyon for two miles. The park is only a short drive from San Juan and worth adding to your itinerary, especially for thrill seekers.
Laura’s Tip – Bring closed-toed shoes with you from home. Otherwise, you end up wasting precious vacation time shoe shopping because you can’t zip in sandals.
Snorkel the Bio Bay
Laura encourages her clients to discover all of Puerto Rico and not limit themselves only to the confines of San Juan. A favorite recommendation of hers is a visit to the colorful, seaside town of La Parguera, with its vibrant town square of restaurants and bars. (Salsa lessons are a possibility too!)
By day, enjoy some fun in the sun. Listen to music in waist deep sand bars, kayak the crystal-clear waters, or take a catamaran sail.
But the main attraction occurs at night with a swim or snorkel in the bioluminescent bay. Only seven bio bays exist in the world and three are right in Puerto Rico. La Parguera Bay is the only one that allows swimming. With a few splashes, the bioluminescent organisms activate and start to glimmer. Watch the water shimmer and illuminate all around you as you experience this natural phenomenon.
Laura’s Tip – Bring a Rash Guard or long-sleeved shirt for snorkeling. Jelly fish may be present. But don’t let a few jellyfish scare you away from getting in the water – that’s a regret you don’t want to have.
Adventure in the Rain Forest
Witness Mother Nature’s wrath (and glory) with an ATV ride through the rain forest. El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rain forest in the US, took the brunt of Hurricane Maria, causing the loss of thirty percent of its trees. Laura cautions, “If you’ve been here before, it will look different. Trees look a bit spindly, but new growth is all around.”
As you ride your ATV, you’ll be amazed by how quickly mother nature works. The hurricane hit this area hard, but everything is green again! Also, be on the lookout for the bat boxes. Eleven of the thirteen Puerto Rican bat species reside in El Yunque Natural Forest. Bats are hugely important to the natural reforestation process and play a major role in pollination and insect control. Visiting El Yunque National Forest might look different than before, but you’ll witness the rainforest being rebuilt from the ground up.
Embrace the Hospitality of the Puerto Rican People
No discussion about Puerto Rico is complete without mentioning the genuine kindness and warmth of the Puerto Rican people. Laura and all FROSCH travel advisors can arrange taxi tour guides, and Laura suggests this to her clients as one way for visitors to gain great insight into the local culture. Johnny, Laura’s taxi tour guide from her last trip, not only did an amazing job showing her the sights of San Juan, but he also told wonderful stories of the Puerto Rican people. He shared his gratitude for the US electrical companies that donated both time and materials to help rebuild the island. He talked about the cruise companies opening their cabins as living quarters for people who lost their homes and about the airlines that offered flight services to Miami, enabling many people to reconnect with their families.
During Laura’s trip, she also learned about events we didn’t see on the news. She was told stories about the Puerto Rican people coming together to help each other during the power outages. In the mountains, in an area hit particularly hard, only one neighbor in the entire village owned a propane stove. Neighbors gathered at her house bringing food with them, and she cooked for the entire community. Before the hurricane, she didn’t know her neighbors, but her home became a social hub for news updates, solace, and camaraderie. Today, her home remains a gathering place for the community, and she continues to cook breakfast once a month for her neighbors.
As you can see, Puerto Rico is ready for visitors and will welcome you with open arms. With its perfect blend of fun and culture, this Caribbean island is a wonderful option for your next tropical vacation.
Thank you, Laura Degen for sharing your travels with us!
Who’s ready for Pina Coladas and adventure in Puerto Rico now?
Contact your FROSCH Travel Consultant to get started on your trip planning!
Other Ways to Help Puerto Rico
There are many ways we can provide aid and contribute to the resurgence of the island. Besides visiting Puerto Rico, here are three more ways you can help one of our favorite no-passport-needed islands in the Caribbean.
Donate to Cash Relief Funds
Monetary donations can go a long way to support rebuilding and relief efforts. In addition to offering a tax deduction in certain situations, many legitimate non-profit organizations accept donations via credit card or PayPal for added convenience. Plus, you can earn travel points and miles with credit cards while helping others who are in dire need.
United for Puerto Rico, set up by the First Lady of the territory, is one of many groups organizing relief for those living in the commonwealth. Other esteemed charities collecting for disaster relief include the American Red Cross, Save the Children, and UNICEF.
Donate Supplies to Relief Organizations
While cash can help with immediate needs, physical supplies are also in great demand as residents put their lives back together. The most needed supplies include bottled water, diapers, canned foods, garbage bags, towels, pet food, and over-the-counter medicine.
As supplies shipped by individuals to the islands may be delayed, the easiest way to contribute is through local and national organizations. Groups like The Salvation Army not only accept donations of physical goods, but also have the infrastructure to distribute items to those in need.
Donate Frequent Flyer Miles to Support Charity Work
Although cash and supplies are the preferred donations of relief organizations, frequent flyer miles can help transport skilled workers and volunteers for the much-needed rebuilding process. All four major American carriers — American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines — allow frequent flyers to donate their miles direct to non-profit organizations in increments of 1,000 miles at a time. Those who have extra frequent flyer miles to spare can use them to bring needed help to the affected areas at no monetary cost.
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