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.
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.
(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.
(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.
(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.