It’s been seven years since my family and I went back to Puerto Rico. This year we decided to once again visit the island and reconnect with our family and friends. I was excited and nervous at the same time. So much has happened since my last visit –a deadly hurricane, an uprising against the government in Puerto Rico forcing the governor to step down, a COVID-19 pandemic, an endless lockdown, lost loved ones– that I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve shared more about this subject on my blog post Puerto Rico Before the Pandemic – Part I.
As opposed to previous visits, when my husband and I spent most of the time traveling throughout the island and exploring new cities and towns, this time we decided to spend more quality time with friends and family. Hurricane Maria and the recent COVID-19 pandemic kept us from traveling to the island and in a way distanced us even more from family and friends in Puerto Rico. While it is true that technology has allowed us to connect more easily, there is nothing like face-to-face interactions.
We did manage to travel to some places I haven’t visited before. I will share more about this on my future blog posts.
Traveling to Puerto Rico after the pandemic has been quite a different experience. The pandemic changed the way we travel and do business. Right when we were getting ready to leave for Puerto Rico, the Governor announced travelers to the island no longer needed a COVID-19 test 48 hours prior to boarding a plane. Masks were still mandatory though; however, proof of COVID-19 vaccination was no longer mandatory, though many places still required one. This was at the end of March and beginning of April.
When we arrived there, I was really surprised to see that compared to the U.S., Puerto Ricans were more compliant towards wearing their face masks at the airport and in public spaces. In the U.S. wearing face masks has been a topic of debate and for this reason a number of people refused to wear one, even during high peaks of the COVID-19 transmission in their communities.
There were other changes in Puerto Rico that I couldn’t help noticing; particularly in the tourism industry. Tourist attractions that once were very accessible before the pandemic, now have restrictions and limit the number of visitors per day. For example, El Yunque National Forest, a very popular place amongst tourists, used to be very accessible. In the past, you just drove there, parked your car and walked the trails. Now, a reservation is required to visit and tour the main recreations areas of El Yunque. This is mainly due to COVID-19 restrictions.
When we visited Puerto Rico this past spring, El Yunque had just opened its doors to the public. It was closed after Hurricane Maria due to damages. Additionally, the recent pandemic made matters worse. We tried visiting, but found out we needed reservations and there was a two-day wait to get one. There are some popular areas in El Yunque that require reservations like La Mina Recreational Area, which has a beautiful waterfall as well as adjacent hiking trails. We decided to just visit the areas that were accessible without a reservation.
El Yunque has undergone major renovations and new additions to the site, there is now a new Visitor Center with interactive games for kids and a new cafeteria, so visitors can purchase lunch and take a break from hiking and walking through the forest.
There was another place I wanted to visit in Puerto Rico, Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes; an indigenous ceremonial site with a museum that highlights the history of Taíno culture. The Taínos were the indigenous people from Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, at the time we visited Puerto Rico, the entire site remained closed for renovations due to damages by Hurricane Maria.
Even though I was a bit disappointed about El Yunque and Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes, I did get to see La Cara del Indio or the face of the Indian located in Isabela, Puerto Rico. La Cara del Indio honors the Taíno chief who fought bravely against the Spanish invasion of Puerto Rico. I’ve been wanting to visit this place for a while, but we would always run out of days during our trip and never got the chance go see it. This time I’ve made it a priority to go see La Cara del Indio, and I wasn’t disappointed at all. I will share more about this trip in another blog post.
I was very excited to visit the western part of Puerto Rico. It is one of my favorite regions to visit in the island because of its beautiful beaches, great seafood, and laid-back atmosphere, this part of Puerto Rico is my kind of place!
And of course, we couldn’t leave Puerto Rico without visiting the famous Old San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. This time we visited Old San Juan after sunset. In the past we’ve visited this area early in the day, but this time we wanted to try something different. The atmosphere in Old San Juan changes at night; there’s music everywhere. Energy coming from crowded restaurants, bars, and clubs, liven up the streets and plazas, Old San Juan at night is worth a visit!
Beaches in Puerto Rico are breath-taking! My favorite ones are located in the western part of the island. Mayagüez, Rincón, Cabo Rojo are some of the places that have the most beautiful beaches. The beaches are popular for surfing, diving, sunbathing, and they’re very family friendly.
Being the foodie that I am, the number one reason why I wanted to visit Puerto Rico was because of its delicious food. I’ve shared a special post about the history of Puerto Rican food on my previous blog post Puerto Rico Before the Pandemic – Part II.
I did get to try all the delicious Puerto Rican dishes I love: alcapurrias, mofongo, arroz con gandules, bistec encebollado, tostones, mojitos, and of course, a good cup of Puerto Rican coffee. I also got to celebrate my birthday in Puerto Rico in one of my favorite cities, Mayagüez. I will share more about Mayagüez in another blog post.
Visiting Puerto Rico after seven years has been quite an experience. Overall, I would say that the island has changed. All the recent major events have taken a toll on this beautiful place. After visiting friends and family and hearing their stories, I realized that people in this island weren’t given a break to grieve after the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. They had to wipe away their tears right away and keep going because a sudden world pandemic was taking place.
There are places in the island that serve as reminders of what Hurricane Maria destroyed, but only if you ask a local, will you find out how Hurricane Maria affected the island overall. At first glance, the more popular areas located around the tourist area of San Juan, Puerto Rico, don’t seem to be affected by Hurricane Maria or they might give the impression that Puerto Rico has already recovered. But once again, if you ask a local, they will be willing to share with you what it was like to endure a deadly hurricane and its aftermath.
Since visiting this island quite often and by being part of their family, (my husband is Puerto Rican), I would say that what I admire most about Puerto Ricans is their attitude towards life. They could be the happiest people in the world and you would never know what storms they might have gone through the day before. Their love for their island, God, and a brighter hope in the future is what keeps them going.
This is the reason why I always encourage people to visit Puerto Rico, no matter how much I describe the warmth of this island, you can only experience it by interacting with them.
I love their food, culture, and eagerness to continue moving forward no matter what comes their way!
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