Tag: puerto rico

The Forgotten Caribbean: Visiting Culebra

Culebra is the smaller of the two populated islands off of the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, and it is a world of its own. The island itself is low-lying, meaning that much of its surface is relatively dry when compared to the tropical paradise that is the Island of Enchantment, and even compared to the forests of its partner, Vieques. Even so, Culebra is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, if not the world, and it has a tragic history that needs to be remembered. But is visiting Culebra worth it? Of course. It’s the perfect place for a weekend getaway or as part of an add-on to a trip to Puerto Rico.

EARLY HISTORY

Despite it small size, Culebra has a history that’s almost a perfect snap shot of all the complexity and struggles faced by the people of the Caribbean. Archeologists have found evidence of both Taino and Arawak peoples living on the island before the arrival of Europeans. By the 18th century, the native Caribbean people had either died in wars with invading Europeans, via slavery, or they had mixed with the new people moving into the Caribbean. Shortly after, Culebra had become a shelter for pirates.

visiting culebra

Coolest postal office ever with Caribbean flare (c) ABR 2018

The Spanish crown put a stop to this, due to the island’s proximity to its Caribbean jewel, and as of 1880 colonization efforts began on the island. In fact, there is still an old graveyard that has survived into modern times from those early days of European colonization (something you should totally include in your Culebra itinerary). Within a short period of time, the single village of Culebra had grown to five villages and the people that made the island home had a thriving agricultural society.

RECENT HISTORY

In 1901, the US military established a base on Culebra, and this had long-term negative impacts on the island’s people. The base’s construction forced the resettlement of many people and closed parts of the island of to its residents.

Local people protested this treatment and this eventually led to the US military leaving the island in 1975. However, there is still evidence of this period in the island’s history left scattered across the land, and which you will see when visiting Culebra. From rusting tanks on the beach to unexploded ordinance hidden in the sand and elsewhere, the memory of what the US did to Culebra will not disappear anytime soon.

visiting Culebra

Tank left on Flamenco Beach (c) ABR 2018

In 2017, Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean with intense force; it decimated Puerto Rico and Culebra with it. Many people with family ties to the island have been forced to leave due to the damage from the hurricane, or from lack of jobs. At the same time, wealthy people from the US and Puerto Rico’s main island have started buying up land on Culebra, with plans to turn this small Caribbean world into their own luxury tourism experience, against the will of the local people.

Bringing community-based tourism in Culebra now might just help local people take back their control of their home and provide jobs for residents as well. So, your Culebra itinerary could actually make a bit of a difference if you do it right.

GETTING THERE

There are two main ways to get to Culebra, and both of them have some complications.

There is a ferry that runs from Fajardo to Culebra multiple times a day, and it is very affordable. However, during busy times of the year the ferry can fill up, with preference being given to residents, and the schedule is not always kept to the standards the Americans or Western Europeans are used to. So, this can be a frustrating experience, although I had no issues with it at all when I went. I would suggest getting to the ferry terminal early in order to insure that you can get tickets and bring a book along in case you need some extra entertainment for scheduling hiccups.

visiting culebra

Getting off of the ferry onto Culebra (c) ABR 2018

Several small airlines can also facilitate visiting Culebra. They fly from San Juan or Ceiba Airport. In April 2017, we found these companies very hard to contact and were unable to buy tickets for a flight. However, many travelers have had better luck with this mode of transport than the ferries in the past. We did fly Vieques Air Link to Vieques successfully, however, and they do fly to Culebra as well.

WHERE TO STAY

Not a giant hotel.

Ok seriously though. There are some big players that are interested in Culebra and local people are struggling to maintain control of their home. If you stay in one of the small, locally owned hotels in the main village, you can make a difference. Give your money to the local community and get a taste of day-to-day life in your Culebra itinerary.

WHAT TO DO

Flamenco Beach is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, and even if you end up disagreeing, it is certainly one of the most unique beaches in the region. Visit to enjoy the beautiful water and coast, and see the reclaimed tanks left behind on the beach.

visiting culebra

Flamenco Beach (c) ABR 2018

Playa Tamarindo is another beautiful beach, which is known to be a nesting beach for turtles. Due to this, if you visit, please be careful and keep your distance from any turtles or nests that you might notice.

If you are a hiker, visiting Culebra is right up your alley, because there are several trails that you can explore, and most take you to a beautiful beach. Puerto Rico Day Trips has a detailed post about your options.

visiting culebra

Driving around on Culebra (c) ABR 2018

Culebra is the perfect place to go for a bike ride. It’s not a huge island, so you can see just about everything from the back of your bicycle. If this isn’t an option for you, not to worry. You can rent a jeep in town and take a lovely drive across the island.

Visit the Museum of Culebra and learn more about the history of this little island. The museum is sure to lend some more nuance to what you’ve already learned. The museum hours are a little bit limited, so you might want to call ahead before visiting. (787.617.8517)

visiting culebra

Colorful buildings in Culebra (c) ABR 2018

TIPS FOR THE ISLAND

(1) Do not pick up or handle anything unidentified on the beach or elsewhere.  Culebra was once used for military exercises and unexploded ordinances are still found around the island to this day. Sometimes, people get hurt by what they find. If you find anything questionable, please stay away and report it to authorities so that they can assess the situation.

(2) Many people take a ferry to Culebra for the day and bring all of their own food. Sadly, this means that the only money they spend in the community is on the ferry. You can do a lot of good for the people of Culebra by eating out while visiting the island. There is some really good food here, and the prices are reasonable. If you are a budget traveler, consider going grocery shopping once you are on the island.

visiting culebra

Some very tasty food on Culebra (c) ABR 2018

If you are looking for more to do in Puerto Rico be sure to take a look at our guide.

visiting culebra

visiting culebra

Adventures in Paradise Part 2: A Puerto Rico Itinerary

PART TWO: WESTERN PUERTO RICO

So, we’ve already covered why you should visit the Island of Enchantment and what you can do on the eastern half of the island in a week, now, here is the second part of that Puerto Rico itinerary, which is going to bring you another five days of nature, hiking, beaches, and history around this beautiful country.

Day 8: Guanica

Puerto Rico itinerary

The dry coast of Puerto Rico (c) ABR 2015

Guanica is a unique and perfect place for hikers and coast-lovers alike. This historic town is in a dry area of Puerto Rico, and this gives it a very special, ecological character that just can’t be found in other parts of the island. The Bosque Estatal de Guanica has a variety of trails through the dry, coastal forest and it is also home to a small, historic fort. Hiker or not, it’s a great place for a picnic and walk. The beaches in this area are quite beautiful as well, and Guanica is the perfect place to enjoy some mangrove forests, which are essential to coastal health and flood mitigation.

Stay the night in Guanica; the historic Parador Guanica 1929 is a good option if you can afford it.

Day 9: Rojo Cabo

Puerto Rico itinerary

A viewing tower in Rojo Cabo (c) ABR 2018

Rojo Cabo is a really odd little peninsula in the southwestern corner of the island, and it’s a place that I just had to include in my Puerto Rico itinerary. This area has some kind of weird, shallow water environments, and a road that has a view of the ocean on two sides, as well as a very picturesque lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula. Once a salt mine, the area was slated to become a harbor, but was saved by local people who didn’t want to see its natural beauty destroyed. With their protection, it is now known that this area is absolutely essential for many bird species. If you are a bird watcher, Rojo Cabo is a must-visit location, but hikers and photographers will enjoy this varied landscape as well.

Stay the night in Mayaguez.

Day 10: Tamana River

The Tamana River weaves through the western interior of Puerto Rico, through the island’s mystical karst region. With a guide who knows the area and has the proper safety equipment, you can book river tours that take you through caves and tropical landscapes that will blow your mind. I highly suggest that, no matter your interests, you check out some of the tours you can take in this area, because they will be unlike anything else you have ever done.

Learn more about tours at Tamana River Adventures and Batey Zipline Tours (they do much more than ziplining).

Day 11: Rincon

Puerto Rico itinerary

The Rincon lighthouse (c) Wikimedia commons

Rincon is home to a thriving expat community, which has stolen some of the Puerto Rican charm from the town, however, that doesn’t mean this isn’t a gem deserving of a spot in this Puerto Rico itinerary. If you are a fan of surfing, Rincon is the prime location on the Island of Enchantment for your sport! Thanks to the hard-working members of the Surfrider Foundation, you can enjoy Tres Palmas Marine Reserve, which protects some of the last healthy elk horn coral in the world. It’s great for surfers, divers, and beach lovers alike.

The town itself, particularly the downtown square in front of the church is also a great place to check out, particularly during the weekly farmers market or during the many cultural activities that are hosted in Rincon throughout the year.

Stay in a small hotel in Rincon.

Day 12: Arecibo

Puerto Rico itinerary

Arecibo Observatory (c ABR 2018

The Arecibo area is a great place to bridge the divide between the coastal and mountainous worlds of Puerto Rico. There are two interior caves that you can access from this city (Cueva Ventana and Rio Camuy Caves ) as well as a coastal cave (Cueva del Indio, which is technically free if you reach it from the beach- it’s access point has been bought by a wealthy urbanite in what I would consider to be a legal grey-area. He charges for access to the cave, even though people are meant to have free access to the coast; he is also potentially trying to buy local people out in the area in order to consolidate his power- so I might hesitate to give him my money myself.)

The Arecibo Lighthouse and Historic Park is also in the area, as well as a several natural reserves which are home to trails and places for kayaking.

Stay in Arecibo.

Day 13: Rio de Abajo

Puerto Rico itinerary

Lago de Dos Bocas (c) ABR 2018

Venture up into the mountains one last time. Make your first stop the Arecibo Observatory, which is one of the largest telescopes in the world. This is a feat of human engineering and is also a figure in astronomy and cinematic history. After this, I would suggest visiting the Rio Abajo Forest for some hiking in the forest. Then, you can top off your day by watching the sun set over Lago Dos Bocas.

Stay in Arecibo or one of the mountain communities near the lake.

Day 14: San Juan

Puerto Rico itinerary

Beautiful fort in San Juan (c) ABR 2015

Now’s your day to visit the famous San Juan. See the national park fortresses and Old San Juan for a day of Caribbean history, architecture, shopping, and unmatched food. San Juan is the perfect place to decompress after your long journey and prepare for your flight home.

Stay in San Juan.

Hope you enjoyed this Puerto Rico itinerary. If you enjoy your time in Puerto Rico, please do the island a favor and help let the world know how amazing the Island of Enchantment is!

Adventures in Paradise Part 1: A Puerto Rico Itinerary

You should devote an entire trip to Puerto Rico (here’s why)! If you are wondering what you would do while you are there, I’ve put together this quick and dirty two week Puerto Rico itinerary (this is part one). This is perfect for high energy travelers that enjoy the outdoors as well as history and culture. It has a little of everything (but lots of nature). If you aren’t so high energy, you can use this as a list of ideas of things that you might be interested in seeing. There is so much! Even getting this down to 14 days was hard.

Day 0: Arrive in San Juan
puerto rico itinerary

San Juan! (c) ABR 2015

Get in at the main airport, pick your car, and take some time to rest. Eat some delicious food in Old San Juan and sleep!

A quick note on driving in Puerto Rico: You will need to be very defensive. Take your time and expect the unexpected. Remember that your safety is your responsibility.

Day 1: Loiza and the Corredor Ecologico del Noreste
puerto rico itinerary

A Northeasten Corredor beach (c) ABR 2018

Take the 187 out of town to the east. This will follow the coast, and just outside of town there are some very beautiful (and popular, on the weekend) beaches that you can stop at. This area also has a lot of kiosks that serve wonderful street food.

Follow the 187 over the river and enter into the town of Loiza. Look for the Parque Historico Cueva Maria de la Cruz. In this little park, you can pay to take a tour of a cave and learn about music and dance in Puerto Rico. The central part of Loiza is also a great place during the weekend for shopping.

If you aren’t one for beaches and small towns, keep on working your way east to the Corredor Ecologico del Noreste. There is hiking and wild beaches here that have been protected by the communities of this area.

Stay the night in the Luquillo area.

Day 2: North El Yunque
puerto rico itinerary

A waterfall in El Yunque (c) ABR 2015

Today is the day for the famous north El Yunque. Strap on your hiking boots, and start early to avoid the crowds. Many of the trails are being repaired post-Maria but you can find updated information here.

If you have the energy, you might consider staying in Fajardo for the night, and doing the bio bay in the evening. 

Day 3: The Old 191 and Humacao
puerto rico itinerary

The closed 191 in South El Yunque (c) ABR 2018

Take the 53 down past Naguabo, get off on the 31 to Rio Blanco, and take the 191 up into the southern part of El Yunque. Local guides in the area can take you on some amazing trips in the rainforest here, or you can drive down to where the road is closed and hike/bike up from there to the landslide that closed the highway.

If you have time afterwards, visit the Reserva Natural de Humacao. If you drive into the reserve a little bit you can see some of the damage that the hurricane did to natural coastal areas. It is very sobering, but there is also a lot of new growth that should remind us all that nature recovers. There are also some neat historic things in the reserve from the sugar plantation days, as well as some coastal bunkers.

Monkey island is also in this general area, if you are interested in doing a tour.

Stay in Humacao.

Day 4: Lechones and Charco Azul
puerto rico itinerary

Along the path to Charco Azul (c) ABR 2015

Continue on the 53/3 to Palmas and then head north to the 184. This will take you up to Bosque Carite, where you should take some time to hike and swim at Charco Azul. If there is no one at the parking lot for this area, make sure that you take all of your valuables with you.

When you are done with a morning at the swimming hole, continue on the 184 through the forest. Along the way, as you get back into civilization, you will notice many restaurants along the side of the road serving lechones. If you eat pork, please stop at one of these. They are famously delicious and should not be missed.

Take the 52 down to Salinas and stay the night in the historic town.

Day 5: Salinas and Jobos Bay National Estuary
puerto rico itinerary

The view of Jobos Bay landscape from the old hotel (c) ABR 2018

Head over to the small town of Aguirre to enjoy the old central part of this historic area, and to access the Jobos Bay Visitor Center, which you will see along the main 705 road. You may want to try to schedule a tour ahead of time in this area as there is amazing kayaking in the National Estuary, as well as wildlife viewing opportunities. You can also hike and go horseback riding in the area.

Drive to Ponce and stay the night there.

Day 6: Ponce
puerto rico itinerary

Architecture in Ponce (c) ABR 2015

Enjoy a day in this historic city. There is beautiful architecture, museums, and plenty of food to enjoy in Ponce.

Stay in Ponce for second night.

Day 7: Casa Pueblo and the Central Mountains (Toro Negro)
puerto rico itinerary

Casa Pueblo (c) ABR 2018

Get an early start and take the 10 north from Ponce to the mountain town of Adjuntas. Here you can see some absolutely beautiful mining architecture and most importantly, visit the AMAZING Casa Pueblo. Be sure to support their organization by getting a souvenir and/or some coffee here.

Then you have a lot of different options (which all require some mountain driving).

There is a lot of agricultural tourism in the area, and if you are a coffee fan this is a great place to learn more.

You can also some cultural sites in Jayuya including museums about the Taino people and the revolutionary history of the area.

Toro Negro forest is here as well and there are some spectacular hikes here.

PART TWO COMING SOON!

In the mean time, please check out this amazing blog for more information on everything Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico Itinerary

puerto rico itinerary

Why Visit Puerto Rico: 4 Reasons This Island Is Calling Your Name

Why Visit Puerto Rico: More Than San Juan and the Beach

It’s a common theme in all of my Caribbean posts… countries in this region get constantly pigeon-holed by all-inclusive and cruise trips. If these companies had their way, there would be one thing that the Caribbean would be known for, its white sand beaches… because most Caribbean countries have them! This is good for mass tourism business, particularly in the case of cruise ships, because that means that different Caribbean countries won’t be able to negotiate for things like higher entrance fees. You can’t negotiate when you are interchangeable, and tourism can’t help local people if they can’t look out for their own interests. What does this have to do with the question: why visit Puerto Rico?

why visit Puerto Rico

A stream through the mountains near Toro Negro (c) ABR 2018

Because, it’s hardly any different for Puerto Rico. When most people visit they want to see 1-2 of three main things that get marketed for this island over and over again, Old Town San Juan, the beaches, and El Yunque. Now, don’t get me wrong, these are all absolutely worth seeing. San Juan is the most beautiful Caribbean colonial city that I have ever seen. The beaches are sublime, and El Yunque is a tropical, mountainous area that I would dare call magical. But Puerto Rico has SO MUCH more! If you want to experience a good chunk of things to do in Puerto Rico, this is a country deserving of a week or two (or more) of devoted exploration, not just a couple nights tacked on before a cruise ride.

why visit Puerto Rico

The mysterious 191, cut off by a landslide long ago (c) ABR 2018

But instead of listing a bunch of places for you to visit, I’m going to do this, I’m going to give you a bunch of reasons why you need to stay in Puerto Rico (and places like it) for longer than a few hours, or one day, if you have the means to visit the Caribbean. And if you are doing an all-inclusive, go out and meet the locals, experience the real country.

THE LIST

(1) Most people have a lot of misconceptions about Puerto Rico or just don’t know anything about the island and its people at all. Getting out and exploring will give you the opportunity to learn more about this beautiful country and its amazingly strong people.

why visit Puerto Rico

Agricultural tourism has huge potential on Puerto Rico (c) ABR 2018

(2) Every Caribbean island has things on it that you can see nowhere else in the world; things that belong in travel magazines along side of pictures of Thailand, India, and Peru. Puerto Rico has kaarst formations covered in tropical forests that will make you feel like you’re on another planet. Puerto Rico has rivers that run through caves big enough for you to float through. It has verdant mountains that touch the sky. Deserts, places to surf, rare birds, and beaches with tanks left abandoned. I could list a million things that make this island a special place. It’s a shame to not see at least one of these unique things. From the travel perspective, these are the many reasons why visiting Puerto Rico is perfect.

why visit Puerto Rico

Mangroves on the east (c) ABR 2018

(3) You exponentially lessen the good that you can do for communities by traveling when you just stay in high tourist areas, cruise-owned ports, and resorts. There are so many good people in Puerto Rico that are just dying to have the chance to make tourism work for their community. You can make a huge difference in a small community looking to host visitors and share the special things that their home has to offer.

why visit Puerto Rico

Hurricane damage on the coast (c) ABR 2018

(4) Puerto Rican culture is rich and unique and you won’t get a real taste of it from San Juan or an all-inclusive. There is an insane amount of delicious food all over the island. There are little restaurants and kiosks that specialize in succulent tastes that will blow your mind. Dance and music are big in Puerto Rico as well, like the rest of the Caribbean; eat good food and find a place to learn some moves or listen to the beats of the island. There is honestly an endless list of things to do in Puerto Rico.

why visit Puerto Rico

Lechones from the central region of Puerto Rico (c) ABR 2018

If you want to learn more about things to do in Puerto Rico be sure to visit our Guide to Puerto Rico.

El Yunque Y San Juan!

There are two big attractions in Puerto Rico that I knew about long before I got there- Old San Juan, and El Yunque, representing the rich history and natural beauty that La Isla del Encanto has in spades. For anyone staying in San Juan, they are both very accessible as well, since El Yunque is only about an hour away and there are plenty of tours to get you there if you don’t have a car. Both are expansive enough to spend an entire day, depending on what you like doing, so research both and plan accordingly.

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Castillo del San Felipe del Morro (c) AB Raschke

Old San Juan is home to two major forts that are part of the US National Park system- Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristobal (as well as Fort San Juan de Cruz across the bay). These were our first stops during our visit to the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States. It can be a little tricky to find parking in this area, so I would highly suggest trying to get there a little early in the day. Also, if you park in a parking garage and happen to come out and find a car parked behind yours, just look for a parking attendant. They really make good use of all the space they have in those parking structures, but from what I saw, I don’t think they will leave you penned in by other parked cars. Both of the main forts are covered by a single ticket, and have a tram that runs between them and into the city for anyone who needs a lift.

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Casa Blanca (c) AB Raschke

While I am not a huge history buff myself, both Castillos were so well maintained, expansive, and all-encompassing that I really found myself feeling like I had been teleported back in time. This is a truly inspiring place, and it is just amazing to see what was built to protect Puerto Rico’s main port in the days of European powers scrambling for footholds in the New World. The views of the city, the ocean, and the island itself are also just breathtaking from the National Park. It was more spectacular than I could have guessed, even though this was something that I have been looking forward to seeing for a long time.

Outside of the national park, Old San Juan has a variety of museums, historic buildings, shopping, and delicious dinning opportunities. Like I said, it is the kind of place where you could spend all day. We stopped at a little Jamaican restaurant on a side street for lunch, and enjoyed a large, Caribbean lunch in a cramped, but welcoming little building who’s age I could only guess at. Afterwards, we wandered

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Old San Juan (c) AB Raschke

around, enjoying the architecture of this part of the city. The buildings here are not only beautiful in a way that only historic buildings can achieve, but they were all the colors of the rainbow, and a clear inspiration for the setting of Pirates of the Caribbean. During our time exploring, we happened upon Casa Blanca, the first fortification on the San Juan islet according to Wikipedia, and one of the oldest, still-standing buildings in the Americas. Entry was free, and the area was tucked away enough that most of the crowds appeared to be elsewhere. We took our time exploring the rooms, and looking at the colonial furniture and technology… imagining life in another time. Despite its age, it would still be an enviable house today, as it has remained lovely and airy, and has some fantastic views of the bay.

Besides Old San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital has other great places to visit, including beautiful beaches, modern shopping and dinning areas (including Plaza Las Americas the 13th largest mall in the US), and some great cultural experiences like bomba dancing in Loiza. To top it all off, the public transit in the city is fairly expansive and easy to use, and San Juan even has a very nice train that runs through the center of the city. While it doesn’t currently connect to Old San Juan, it does have an extensive bus network that it can get visitors to.

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La Coca (c) AB Raschke

Finally, last but certainly not least, one of the most beautiful places to visit in Puerto Rico is El Yunque, the great rainforest of the eastern side of the island. The visitor center here, as a gateway into the park, made me feel like I was entering Jurassic Park (can you tell I am a nerd yet from this entry?). The forest is dense and feels like the setting of a movie, rather than reality. It is just that beautiful. The buildings of the visitor center kind of play into the whole Jurassic Park feel as well, but that is neither here nor there. The main attractions of El Yunque are up from the visitor center in the mountains. There is enough hiking here to spend the whole day exploring, and trails for all different skill levels. There are also two main waterfalls – La Coca and La Mina, and a historic observation tower to explore. There are also restaurants and little places to buy snacks and refreshments along the road, that shouldn’t serve as your primary source of water while exploring, but are wonderful places and recharge and cool down after hiking in the heat and humidity.

My sole complaint about El Yunque is its popularity. It

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La Mina (c) AB Raschke

is out of this world, so as soon as you get there, you can understand why it is so crowded, but some of the more popular areas can be a drag to negotiate. First, parking can be a real problem. In order to hike to La Mina, we had to park about 0.5 miles away and walk up the road to the trailhead. The trail itself was so busy that sometimes it felt like we were waiting in line, and once we got to the waterfall, we didn’t even bother staying because it was swarming with people. I was happy to be there, and it is definitely a place that I would suggest to anyone who likes hiking and natural beauty, but it is good to go with some expectation for how crowded it can be there. If you would like to avoid the crowds, come during Puerto Rico’s slow season, arrive at the park early, or drive up to the very top of the road and explore one of the more difficult and remote trails.

Isla del Encanto Roadtrip: Puerto Rico Oeste

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Ponce (c) AB Raschke

I have to say, the Western side of Puerto Rico was my favorite, even though I loved El Yunque. There is SO much on this side of the island, and I thought that the Karst formations here were fascinating and endlessly beautiful.

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Ponce (c) AB Raschke

First, I’m going to include Ponce in my discussion of the Western side of the island. This was the first city that we stayed at in Puerto Rico (driving for ~1.5-2 hours after a full day of airplane travel was not pleasant), and it was our introduction to real Puerto Rico, rather than the place that I had built up in my head. It was my awakening to the fact that Puerto Rico is its own country, with its own, unique culture (which I discuss in my previous Puerto Rico post- link), The architecture here is unlike anything I have ever seen in the US, and it is really a testament to the age of the city (founded in 1692- which is pretty old for the “new” world). Just taking some time to walk around and appreciate the buildings downtown is a great use of any traveler’s time. However, on top of the lovely buildings like the Cathedral of Our Lady Guadelupe and the Parque de Bombas, there are also a bunch of nice museums in Ponce. I have heard that the art

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Ponce (c) AB Raschke

museum here is well wroth the trip, but I was only able to visit the Ponce Museum of History, which I enjoyed as it gave me a chance to both practice my Spanish reading abilities and learn more about Puerto Rico. This museum is also free, but be sure to sign the guest book when you visit. Finally, keep in mind that a lot of museums may be closed on Monday or Tuesday in Ponce, so try to do a little research when deciding what days you will be there and what you want to see. Also, I would suggest doing a little reading on safety in Ponce, because there have been some issues with crime against tourists in this area- link .

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Toro Negro (c) AB Raschke

While in Ponce, I also visited Toro Negro  for some hiking in the rainforest. Trying to use a phone GPS to find this place proved to be quite difficult, so I would suggest following the directions on the site I have linked to above if you want to give it a visit. The site says that the ranger station here may no longer be manned, but when we went it was open and we were able to get maps and suggestions for what trails to see in the time we had. Not having a lot of time, because we decided to visit last minute and had some trouble finding it, we just hiked to Charco La Confesora, which was a nice swimming spot, and wasn’t too busy (especially compared to El Yunque!). There is enough here to spend the whole day exploring, however, as there are some architectural points of interest (an old observation tower and a swimming pool- no consensus as to whether this is open now or not) as well as some waterfalls- Dona Petra and Dona Juana Falls. I would have loved to spend more time there exploring, and it was so much quieter than El Yunque. I would highly suggest spending some time here if you are looking to experience the rainforest of Puerto Rico at all.

Finally, to my favorite part of western Puerto Rico- the north where

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Rio Camuy Cave Park (c) AB Raschke

the Karst is. The place that I read about most for this area was Rio Camuy Cave Park , and since I love caves, I absolutely had to visit. First, here’s what is great about this place: the ride and hike into the cave are mind-blowingly beautiful; I just love descending through the forest into the shady caves, and it was wonderful to see how the life of the forest really invades these caves and adapts to life here. The formations in the main part of the cave are massive, and finale of the tour is an overlook down to a river that gives the cave its name, and in my mind, makes it s unique spot worth checking

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Rio Camuy Cave Park (c) AB Raschke

out. All that being said, this is not the best cave tour I have been on. For the size of the cave, the tour was far too long, and this was due to several things: the tour guide had to say everything in Spanish and English (probably my fault- let’s be honest), the trails were very slippery and some people had to take them slowly for safety’s sake, and the tour groups were huge, so everything took longer than it would have otherwise. It really felt like they were just trying to get as many people through the cave as they could, but even so, if you aren’t careful, you might not be able to visit, because the park wisely caps how many people can come per day. So, if you do decide to stop by (the views are worth the downfalls of the tour, as long as you get there early enough), come early! If you don’t, you may need to wait for a long time for your tour (some reviews I read said 3 hours- not sure if they are exaggerating or not, but I got there by 10a and I had to wait an hour) or you may not get to go at all. Once you get there, you will get a number as you drive in (your place in line), then you pay for parking, park, pay for your ticket, and wait for your number to be called. Keep the process in mind, and I think the visit will be much more enjoyable; I didn’t have problems because I read up on it beforehand.

An alternative spot to visit (or a great addition) is Cueva Ventana

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Cueva Ventana (c) AB Raschke

or the Window Cave (aptly named). On this tour, you will climb through two caves. The first is quite lovely in that there are tree roots and even little plants growing in the cave, surviving on the bare minimum of light. The second cave has a room full of bats, which was amazing to see, especially at such close distance. It then leads to the cave’s namesake, a large opening that looks out onto the countryside and a curving river. The view alone is worth the price, honestly, but the wildlife that we saw in these caves was exceptional. I saw my first amblypygi here! I liked this tour a little better than Rio Camuy, but there were a few things that concerned me. First, I thought we were disturbing the bats, and while some of the visitors were just shining lights on the animals or screaming a little because they were afraid, I know from my PhD work that this can add up to some serious problems for the animals. Also, the tour groups here were also very large, which made it hard for the guides to make sure that people were following their directions. Overall, it was a great place, however, and both caves really gave me the opportunity to get to know this beautiful area.

 

Puerto Rico: Quick Introduction to the Isla del Encanto

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(c) Red Cross

I just got back from my two week excursion to Puerto Rico- part Spanish immersion, part exploration- and I have a few things that I wanted to write about before I started working on more specific entries for my experience here. First off, I want to briefly address something that surprised me about Puerto Rico, most likely just because I was naïve. Puerto Rico is a US territory, and it has been since 1898, but the social relations between the island and the mainland US have been strained at times, to say the least. Despite this, and the fact that Spanish, not English, is the primary language here, I fully expected this place to be like the US. Like I said, I was naïve, please don’t judge me too harshly. On the off chance there are other people with this misconception, I would like to begin my entry by saying that Puerto Rico is most certainly NOT the Caribbean US. This island has an entirely unique culture, it’s own government, different architecture, and is basically its own country. Yes, Puerto Ricans are legally US citizens, and I think that the island is fairly welcoming to US visitors, but it isn’t a place that one should visit if they are expecting all the cultural comforts of the mainland US… well, unless you are the kind of traveler who prefers all-inclusive resorts. That being said, it has all the appeal of an international location, without the need for a passport. It also has some very real Latin-Caribbean culture, with more development than most other Caribbean nations.

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Besides the cultural aspects of the country, there are practical considerations for travelers as well.

(1) Don’t drink the water. Again, I was naïve, and I went in thinking that since Puerto Rico is part of the US, the water would be fine to drink. Technically, it is safe, but after a week of saving pocket change by drinking out of the tap, I got sick and so did my travel partner and one of my fellow immersion students. Just don’t risk it.

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(2) Road tripping is very feasible, but be ready to be very defensive. Puerto Rican drivers can be very aggressive, and they will make lane changes even when there is very little room between cars. However, they can also be very patient and sit behind slow drivers for a long time. So, you have to balance your desire to get somewhere with making sure that you don’t get hit and you don’t hit anyone else. It is basically like driving anywhere else, but I do think you will be a little surprised at just how small of a space local drivers can merge into mid-highway. Also, be aware that some of the major highways have some serious potholes due to the tropical weather here. Keep your eyes peeled.

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(3) As of right now (Summer 2015), Puerto Rico is experiencing a water shortage. Some hotels, not all, will have little signs letting you know about this and imploring you to save water. Some are more interested in making sure you have the luxury of guiltlessly wasting water, and won’t say anything. This situation is serious, however. In San Juan, many locals only had water for 24 hours in three days (24 hours on and 48 hours off) when I was there. Through my immersion, I had more of a chance to experience the situation first-hand, and it definitely makes life more difficult in a lot of ways. It would be good for us visitors to do all that we can to not waste this precious resource.

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(4) Finally, to the fun part, when planning your road trip to Puerto Rico, use the roads that run around the entire island to your advantage! There is TONS to see and experience all over Puerto Rico. Make sure that you plan enough ahead so that you don’t miss anything you’d really love to see.

Off Traveling- No Post, But Have Some Pictures!

I am currently in Puerto Rico, doing a Spanish immersion. So, I will not be posting my normal blog post this July 15th. Instead, please enjoy a link to my travel photography Tumblr: http://nightborntravels.tumblr.com/

There will be more pictures posted there soon, but right now there is lots from Japan for everyone to enjoy. 🙂

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