How it is now on the ground in Puerto Rico
Wasn’t sure what to expect on a recent trip to Puerto Rico – US territory suffered a devastating hit from Category 5 Hurricane Maria in 2017 before the second hit of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has ravaged tourism across the world. After Maria, I remember seeing photos of the beautiful rainforest of El Junque Island almost bared, and wondering how different parts of the Caribbean island would recover. But after visiting I am happy to say that the island is more than ready to welcome tourists.
Flying to and from Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan was fairly easy. Passengers arriving from the United States are now required to complete a Travel Declaration Form, but you can do it in advance, and I strongly recommend that you do so. You will receive a QR code when completed. When you arrive, you can then enter the much shorter queue at the end of baggage claim, making it easier to enter Puerto Rico. For unvaccinated travelers over two years of age, a negative molecular or antigenic test (performed within 72 hours of arrival) is also required.
We chose to stay in the popular tourist area of ââCondado in San Juan at La Concha Resort, a beautifully updated Renaissance property that faces Atlantic Beach. The resort impressed me with its security protocols; we had to show proof of vaccination upon entry, as well as at check-in. Once verified at check-in, we were given bracelets to wear (similar to those at theme parks or all-inclusive properties) which served as proof of vaccination. Even restaurants in La Concha, like the popular Serafina, require proof of vaccination, which is reassuring.
I asked Luz Gonzalez, director of sales and marketing at La Concha Resort, about the property’s COVID response. He explained that in addition to maintaining the security checkpoint at the hotel entrance, masks are required in public areas and that guests can use contactless check-in options and special requests via the Marriott Bonvoy app.
âCommunication is the key,â he said. âWe keep our guests informed of all requirements prior to their arrival – and there is pre-arrival communication of hotel events for their enjoyment. We’ve all adjusted to prioritize safety while on vacation. Our guests can freely enjoy our amenities as usual, and we will continue to improve their stay more than ever, in order to make it memorable after such a long time without traveling.
Gonzalez said the station saw an improvement in visitor numbers as soon as the intention to travel increased in early 2021.
âThe accessibility of domestic flights to and from Puerto Rico and the mainland has kept us one of the best options for American travelers looking for a Caribbean destination with outdoor adventures, the nature and many places to explore without the requirement of a passport, “he said.
I have heard mostly positive reviews from shop owners and tour guides in town, although a local ice cream shop owner told me weekends are fine, but days off are fine. weeks have been “awful” for business.
Joe Dunn is a Buffalo native who now runs Triple G Tours (think âGay Gringo Guideâ), a company that offers tours that include hikes to waterfalls, natural water slide adventures in the rainforest, tubing in caves and tours of local beaches. He found that tourists began to return in large numbers around the spring break, as Puerto Rico was a relatively exotic destination that Americans could still visit without a passport. Even when Puerto Rico imposed curfews, the tourist kept coming.
We took a fun half-day trip with Triple-G (they funnily pose as ‘straight-friendly’), and were happy to find that the rainforest was lush and seemingly fully recovered, away from the wilderness. doomsday photos from 2017. The natural slides we tried were invigorating and not too crowded, but we certainly saw a lot of tourists there, as well as on the beautiful stretch of Playa Azul beach where Joe took us .
Learn more about Puerto Rico
(Side bonus: We found out on this tour that you can buy single serve fruity rum punch bags in Puerto Rico, much like adult Capri Suns. Fantastic! Why didn’t it take on the mainland? Consider me officially puzzled. Pro Tip: You can buy these from the airport duty free shop to bring home.)
Another of Puerto Rico’s natural wonders was also affected by Maria: the island and its surroundings contain four of the only bioluminescent bays in the world. Local guides told me that after the hurricane there were concerns that the small organisms that produce these magical light shows were taken away for good. But after three of the berries experienced a drop in bioluminescent plankton numbers immediately after the storm, they all recovered. We booked a Laguna Grande night kayaking tour in Fajardo, about a 90 minute drive west of San Juan, and saw this natural wonder in all its glory. I am happy to report that nature has prevailed.
âPuerto Ricans have taken advantage of unfortunate circumstances to evolve and emerge with new businesses to meet the needs of every customer, local or visitor,â said Gonzalez de La Concha. âLike our property, many businesses in the San Juan area have never closed and have continued to adapt to market demands. Currently, our destination offers a diversity of places to discover beyond San Juan where tourists and locals can indulge in culinary and cultural experiences like never before.
Gonzalez said the resort expects a busy vacation and winter season, similar or better than they experienced in 2019.
âWe have noticed that travelers are eager to visit new places or retreat to the warm Caribbean beaches this winter.â
For the latest information on travel to Puerto Rico, check out the guide below: