Posted Sept. 17, 2008 – Normally, when people think of booking a trip to Puerto Rico, they think of visiting San Juan or Old San Juan. But tourism officials in the U.S. protectorate say their Puerto Rico has so much more to offer.
“There’s a lot of variety from the two islands of Vieques and Culebra on the East Coast, that can be reached by plane or water taxi, to Porta del Sol on the West side, that has family-owned paradores, haciendas, coffee plantations and mountains with a beauty of their own,” says Terestella Gonzalez Denton, executive director, Puerto Rico Tourism Company. Because it’s a Caribbean island, it’s really great to go any time of the year,”
Vieques and Culebra Islands: The islands boast some of the most amazing beaches in the world and are a great place for eco-tourism. About 19 miles off of Purerto Rico’s east coast, the islands are accessible by plane from San Juan or water taxi.
Culebra, eight miles north of Vieques, is the smaller of the two – only seven miles long and three miles wide – and has some of the most family-friendly beaches and diving. On Culebra Island, you’ll find the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge, which is spread over 1,400 acres of land and is well known as both a nesting area for numerous seabirds and a breeding ground for the endangered leatherback turtle and Culebra giant anole, a native lizard. Those features make it a great destination for snorkeling or scuba diving. The quiet, unspoiled island has little to offer in nightlife, except for few, quiet, safe-to-walk-in-moonlight night spots with the occasional sound of guitar music wafting on the tropical breeze. Find out more at Enchanted-isle.com.
Porta del Sol – On the west coast of Puerto Rico, Porta de Sol translates to “the window to the sun.” Absent of the hustle and bustle of the larger cities, Porta del Sol offers a wonderful taste of local culture. It’s where Puerto Ricans go to vacation. There’s great surfing, beautiful beaches and tiny hotels and family-owned paradores. But that’s just a hint of the diversity it offers. Its restaurants have some of the best seafood in Puerto Rico, tourism officials say. And in the Mayagüez port city of Porta del Sol, there’s a first-rate zoo, historic theater and beautiful plaza.
West Coast – Nature lovers will enjoy walks in the Dry Forest of Guánica, bird watching in the Forest Reserve in Maricao, visiting the bioluminescent bay in Lajas and Isla Mona, the Galapagos of the Caribbean, or seeing the beautifully restored lighthouse. There are also plenty of family owned paradoras hotels like the hacienda el jibarito.
The mountains of West Central, Puerto Rico, provide some of the most spectacular views in the whole island. Two-hundred miles west of San Juan you find the El Yunque rainforest, which is the only USA National Park in the Caribbean.
You'll also find accommodations, such as the Casa Grande Mountain Retreat that are total escapes from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Set in a reformed coffee plantation, the Casa has no in-room phones or television for distractions, but you will find yoga classes conducted in stunning tranquility..
With the largest underwater river system, the Río Camuy Cave Park – just 15 minutes from Porta del Sol – has huge caves for adventure seekers and young explorers. Nearby is one of the largest telescopes in the world at the Arecibo Observatory, which, by the way, was where Jodie Foster’s movie “Contact,” was shot.
“It is extremely safe to drive there,” Gonzalez Denton says of the West Coast destinations. “The infrastructure is like driving along the U.S. West Coast.”
Can you get there from where you are, considering that American Airlines, which was the main airline of the Caribbean, has cut flights? Continental and Delta airlines have stepped up to fill in the gap, tourism officals say. “We have secured 50 percent of those flights back, which provide a wider variety of choices,” Gonzalez Denton says. For more on Puerto Rican travel, go to www. Purtorico.com.