Have you been dreaming of leaving it all behind and jetting off to the Caribbean but keep putting off that passport renewal? Luckily, Americans can experience the beauty and charm of the Caribbean without a passport!
In fact, Americans can experience the best of the Caribbean without a passport, without exchanging money, without a long-haul flight, and without dealing with the hassle of international cell service limitations.
Take It From Me, Puerto Rico Is The Most Accessible Caribbean Destination
When the opportunity to travel to Puerto Rico this fall presented itself, I jumped on it immediately. Having lived elsewhere in the Caribbean since July, I was interested to see how different things were in San Juan. As an American, I knew I could travel to Puerto Rico without a passport. However, it didn’t register how truly easy it was to visit until I flew to San Juan.
The flight was a breeze! A lovely 2.5 hours from Miami with gorgeous weather, so the view from above turned the world below into a painting.
Having never been to Puerto Rico, I still felt like I was traveling to another country outside of the States. With Puerto Rico being a U.S. territory however, flying into San Juan was like any other domestic flight. When I landed and took my phone off airplane mode, I had fantastic cell service. Once deplaned, a small part of me felt like I needed to go through customs.
Instead, I was outside the airport and waiting for my ground transport in about 5 minutes! The drive to my hotel, The Sheraton Hotel & Casino, was smooth and short, which felt out of the norm for the Caribbean. If you’ve frequented much of the Caribbean, you probably know how rough the roads can get!
Not The Puerto Rico I Was Expecting
As we all know, the media often tends to exaggerate. As my departure date inched closer, I watched two hurricanes make landfall in Puerto Rico. First Fiona, and then Ian. Friends and family kept asking me if I planned to cancel my trip. I never had any intention of doing so, but did wonder what things would be like when I arrived.
By no means am I discounting the impact Hurricane Fiona and Hurricane Ian had on residents of Puerto Rico, particularly those in the south. Still, while exploring San Juan, I saw no evidence of storm damage and no areas without power, save the occasional traffic light. Everything seemed to be operating business as usual.
Speaking with my driver on the way to the hotel, he recounted his experiences throughout various hurricanes. He told me how much his life changed during Hurricane Maria, one of the worst to ever hit the island. Fiona and Ian were no comparison, at least for him.
Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, later informed us at a press conference that Hurricane Fiona barely impacted travelers’ plans to come to the island for vacation. Less than 10% canceled their trip, and in Dean’s words, Hurricane Fiona was “a setback, not a reset.” Indeed, most of Puerto Rico was and still is completely open and safe for travel.
One Of The Best Ways To Give Back
It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to help the local economy of Puerto Rico, even after a hurricane, is through travel and tourism. Even something as simple as grabbing a quick bite at a local brewery adds up and supports the locals who work there.
During my stay, I had the pleasure of talking to numerous locals working in the tourism sector. Each of them echoed this sentiment, traveling to Puerto Rico and enjoying local activities is one of the best ways you can help.
An Immense Cultural Experience
Since it was my first time in Puerto Rico, I didn’t know what to expect. My typical go-to destinations are mostly European, and I have a deep-rooted love for the old. Marveling at the beauty of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, walking among ancient Viking burial mounds in Mølen, and exploring Blarney castle in Ireland are memories solidified in my brain. Not because of their visual appeal, but because of the connection I felt to the history and culture of those experiences.
Puerto Rico now has a place among this special set of memories, and I can’t wait to go back. Walking through the historic district of Old San Juan showed me that Americans don’t have to travel far to see a unique blend of history. Old San Juan is the oldest city in the U.S. and its territories. Visitors can see gorgeous buildings displaying Baroque, Neoclassical, Gothic, and Spanish Colonial architecture — all within walking distance of each other. On the western side of Old San Juan, some buildings date back to the 1500s — the history lover in me felt right at home.
A Unique Take On History
I explored Old San Juan in a unique way that I highly recommend to anyone visiting the area. Rather than simply walking around and exploring independently, I went on the Old San Juan Walk & Taste Tour with The Spoon Experience. This tour wasn’t just a guided walk among beautiful buildings and experiencing local food and drinks. While that was certainly part of it, what made the tour unforgettable was the vast amount of history eloquently expressed by our incredible guide.
In just a few hours, I sampled the most authentic local foods available while learning each meal’s historical and cultural significance. In between our food stops, our guide talked about Old San Juan’s rich history. From the obvious details like its strategically defensible position, to the not-so-obvious fact that the endless shade offered by San Juan’s architecture only exists due to a poor compass reading during the city’s planning. There was so much incredible history shared, and I can’t wait to go back and do it again to learn more!
Top 6 Reasons I’ll Be Going Back To Puerto Rico
- It’s So Easy – Visiting Puerto Rico was like taking everything great about the Caribbean and packaging it with easy domestic flying. My flight from Miami was only 2.5 hours, and getting through the airport and to my hotel was a breeze. If I lived in Miami, I’d visit Puerto Rico on every available long weekend.
- For More Of Old San Juan – I fell in love with Old San Juan the moment I saw it. The architecture, the charming little shops, and the immense cultural experience have cemented this beautiful city in my mind.
- For The Adventure – My trip was spent in San Juan, but next time I head to Puerto Rico, I plan to check out more off-the-beaten-path sights. Some that I have in mind include El Yunque National Forest and Laguna Grande, a bio bay where visitors can experience the beauty of bioluminescence in the water.
- For More Beach Time – I didn’t spend much time at the beaches, but definitely will in the future! From the gorgeous El Escambrón in San Juan to the stunning Pelícano Beach in Ponce, I’ll be scoping out Puerto Rico’s beaches during my future trips.
- For The Art – I had the pleasure of taking part in a walking art tour in Santurce, a neighborhood in San Juan known for its vibrant art scene and exciting nightlife. Just like the culinary tour, it was a history lesson in disguise. I learned more about Puerto Rico and its people during the tour than I ever had in school. This was entirely due to our incredible guide from theartwalkpr.
- For The Food – The food, I miss it so much! Aside from the Old San Juan Walk & Taste tour, I had the pleasure of taking a cooking class with Mesa Redonda at the lovely Cocina Abierta. My group was responsible for making the Sofrito, a staple base for many Puerto Rican dishes. Everything was incredible, and I left convinced that every meal should start with Alcapurrias and end with Tembleque.
Best Times To Visit Puerto Rico
I’m of the opinion that anytime is the best time to visit. However, depending on your preferences, there are months of the year that may best suit your needs.
- To avoid crowds, stick to the shoulder seasons of September to mid-December and mid-April to May.
- To save money, June through September is generally more affordable, as it is hurricane season. Just keep an eye on the weather and be sure to purchase suitable travel insurance, and you’ll be all set.
- To avoid rainy days, shoot for February, as it is one of the driest months of the year.
How To Get There
While you may stop and see Old San Juan for a day during a cruise, if you want to stay in Puerto Rico for a while, you’ll have to fly. This is where Puerto Rico shines when compared to many other Caribbean destinations. San Juan has over 25 direct routes from the U.S. mainland, and flying in is incredibly easy.
Americans will not need a passport, and there is no lengthy customs line waiting for you upon landing. Not only that, it’s typically quite affordable. For instance, a direct flight from New York City to San Juan can be found for around $300 with JetBlue this November, carry-on included. Puerto Rico is undoubtedly one of the most accessible destinations in the Caribbean.
The Number One Reason I’ll Be Back
I arrived in Puerto Rico not knowing what to expect. I left with a newfound love and respect for the culture and people that made this island come alive. While the experiences themselves were incredible, the people behind them were the true magic. And they, more than anything else, are the reason I’ll be coming back.
**Travel Off Path was a guest of Discover Puerto Rico who helped with the creation of this itinerary by hosting some of our accommodations and attractions. Our opinions, recommendations, and suggestions remain our own.**
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com