Puerto Rico’s south shore, from the mountains of Jayuya. Photo by Oqueando.
Say Puerto Rico and a palette of tropical greens and blues comes to mind. But the smallest island of the Greater Antilles archipelago is also among the most environmentally challenged.
Measuring approximately 100 x 40 miles, Puerto Rico is home to 4 million people and more than 2 million cars, and is the site of mega-development construction activities that threaten not only the coastal areas, but also the interior mountain regions.
Now, more than ever, making greener choices for travel in Puerto Rico is crucial.
Puerto Rico’s main airport is Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (airport code: SJU), located within the capital city, San Juan. At present, no train service is available from the airport and most hotels do not provide shuttle service. There isbus service however, as well as taxi service (look for the “Taxi Turistico” designation). When exiting the terminal, look for dispatch stands, where you will receive a receipt and be directed to a cab.
Puerto Rico is officially a commonwealth, or free associated state, of the United States. At present, no passport is required for American citizens who wish to travel from the mainland U.S. to Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s currency is the U.S. dollar. English is widely spoken across the island. The island’s area codes are 787 and 939.
Puerto Rico has incredible geographic diversity, which means that you can enjoy a range of outdoor activities. Bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the north shore and the Caribbean Sea on the south shore, the points between are surprisingly mountainous and feature karst formations, coffee plantations, and El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in North America.
Must-do activities include visiting one of the three bioluminescent bays (also known as bio bays or phosphorescent bays) on the island, which are located in the southwestern fishing town of La Parguera, the eastern port city of Fajardo, and the island of Vieques.
Fajardo and Vieques offer the greenest options for bio-bay excursions, as tour operators in these two areas use kayaks rather than motor boats to enter the bays. A recommended tour operator is Nestor Guishard and his company, Travesias Yaureibo, which is fully owned and operated by Vieques residents.
If you must go a bio-bay excursion in La Parguera, a recommended outfitter is Paradise Scuba and Snorkel. Luis, the owner of this family run operation, can also customize daytime kayak trips in the mangrove’s waterways, where you’ll see iguanas sunning, and windsurfing activities.
Sailing, Scuba, Snorkel
Sailing and snorkeling are also popular activities, and there’s probably no couple who knows the island’s waters better than Bill Henry and his wife, Dr. Ingrid Klich, an earth scientist, owners of the company, Erin Go Bragh Charters. Bill & Ingrid offer full day trips and are rated highly on TripAdvisor for their knowledge, warmth, and sailing skill.
Puerto Rico has good surf, and few places are more popular than the northwestern city of Rincon. If you’re confined to the metropolitan area’s north shore, though, locals favor La Ocho, just a stone’s throw away from the Caribe Hilton, located between Condado and Old San Juan. Another favorite spot for locals is Ocean Park. Just off Park Boulevard, you’re likely to find some ripping surf, as well as a local shop owner who’d be happy to rent you a board or gear for windsurfing and kitesurfing.
If you’re interested in outdoor education, check out the Fideicomiso de Puerto Rico’s guided tours of its properties, Hacienda Buena Vista in Ponce (Puerto Rico’s second largest city) and Cabezas de San Juan in Fajardo. Hacienda Buena Vista is a former coffee plantation located on a massive and gorgeous property; guides offer walking tours of the grounds, particularly attractive to photographers and nature lovers. Cabezas de San Juan is an ecological reserve with several different ecosystems. Be sure to make reservations in advance; neither site permits same-day tours.
Puerto Rican cuisine is heavy on fried foods, surprisingly short on seafood, and is limited in its use of spices. Typical food can be sampled at any of the roadside kiosks (“kioskos”) along the highways and back roads, both on the coast and in the interior of the island. Favorite local dishes include mofongo, a mashed green plantain dish that can be elaborated with either meat, chicken, vegetables, or seafood, lechon or roasted pig (preferably a la varita—on the spit), and empanadillas, dough stuffed with a meat, chicken, or seafood filling.
Hands down, the best and greenest lodging option in all of Puerto Rico is Villa Sevilla Guest House, located in Rio Grande, just outside the El Yunque rainforest and only 25 minutes or so outside of metro San Juan. Operated by hosts Marina and Wally Lawson, Villa Sevilla consists of four lodgings—ranging in size from the smallish La Casita to the three bedroom Chalet—all perched on the mountainside, offering views of the Caribbean. In 2007, Villa Sevilla built a non-chlorinated pool on their property, which is an amazing addition to their carefully tended properties. All lodgings have a kitchen.
For more ideas, please visit our Before You Go Guide to Puerto Rico.
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