Just 16 months after the devastating Hurricane Maria that decimated the island in September of 2017, Puerto Rico is up and running for tourism. There are still remnants of the destruction that the category four storm left in its wake but much of it has been cleaned up and it shouldn’t get in the way of visiting the many attractions that the island has to offer.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) workers are still on the island and one reported that there is still a lot of work to be done recovering some of the infrastructures on the island. Another FEMA worker stated that the major thruways are all intact and repaired, it is in remote locations where you may run into trouble. That proved true while taking the scenic route from Dorado to Ponce through the mountains rather than the highway. But don’t be timid, the beautiful mountain landscapes are worth the inconvenience and it only took about 15 minutes to get back on another course to successfully get us to our destination.   

Dorado is a resort town on the Atlantic coast about a 45-minute drive east of San Juan that has multiple golf courses including the famous TPC Dorado, restaurants and a quaint square worth visiting. Then there are the beaches, Dorado has a number of public beaches including Playa Dorado. Playa Dorado has a spacious beach with plenty of restaurants to grab your lunch while taking a break from the sun or for dinner at the end of the day with some drinks. One dish that is commonly found and will cure your appetite is one of the islands signature dishes, Mofongo. Mofongo can be served alone or stuffed with (rellenos) beef, chicken, pork, shrimp and even lobster.  

Food is as good as any way to experience the culture on your visit. Some of the best food on the island is not served in restaurants but from roadside stands and food trucks. Pinchos are marinated pork served on a skewer with sweet bread and Tripletas are a burrito style dish stuffed with pork, beef, and ham. Both are great to grab and eat on the go but, there are also stands that have seating with tables that serve anything from fried chicken to hamburgers.

Piles of colorful seashells litter the beaches of Ponce. Photo by Roberta Hoffman-Frenette

While Old San Juan is a great place to experience with the fort that the city was built around, don’t forget to make room in your schedule to get to the south side of the island.

Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Caribbean Sea on the south shores, the beach life is easily found. The Atlantic waters are a bit cooler and the sea rougher which makes for some great surfing. The Caribbean waters to the south are a bit calmer and warmer so whichever beach life you prefer, be it relaxing and tanning on the beach or some extreme sports, Puerto Rico has it to offer.

In the south on the Caribbean Sea, Ponce, the second largest city in Puerto Rico, offers multiple public beaches and walking on the beach can take a colorful turn. There are brilliantly colored shells of many shapes and sizes in piles littering the shoreline. Additionally, if you are in Ponce at the right time, Carnival is an event held in Parque de Bombas that coincides with Mardi Gras and features food, beer, rides and live entertainment as costumed people wander the streets and dance at the foot of the stage.  

Costumes hang on a wall for the Carnival celebration at El Parque de Bombas. Photo  byChip Frenette

There are also many activities that are well worth your time in the mountains. One such excursion into the mountains for the brave is Toro Verde Adventure Park with the largest zip line found in the Americas, “The Monster.” The Monster is nearly a mile long and carries you “Superman style” over 800 feet above the ground at speeds up to 60 miles per hour. There is also an eight-line course that carries riders over 600 feet above the ground of the forest below offering impressive views of valleys and mountains at a much slower pace.

The El Yunque National Forest is a popular attraction with waterfalls and towers to climb that offer a view from the mountains to the sea and it’s free. If you are a serious hiker, check the current conditions at the entrance to the park. Major portions of the El Yunque trail, the largest on the mountain and in the rainforest was closed and is expected to be for some time after the trail was washed out by Maria. But that still leaves two towers to visit and plenty of other trails to explore. The highest tower, Mount Britton tower near El Yunque Peak is a steep hike uphill but the lower tower, Yokahú Tower is very easily accessed by car.

There are also many other experiences to be had on the island of enchantment from fine dining in San Juan to parasailing, jet skis to rent and kite surfing. You can even try flyboarding, the water sport that uses jets of water to push you up to heights of 30 feet. With something to do for everyone, Puerto Rico is a destination for the entire family, a golf trip with your buddies or a romantic getaway.   

Chip Frenette
Author

Chip Frenette is a photographer, journalist and avid traveler. Based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Chip has traveled the U.S. extensively from coast to coast, through the Caribbean, Europe, and South America, always checking out the popular but making time for the uncharted hidden gems. Chip believes that food, language, and leisure along with knowing where to go are sure-fire ways to experience a culture, be it a day trip across states, across the country or around the globe.

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