I knew I was going to like Puerto Rico. We had vicariously followed our friends on Jalapeño a couple of years ago and drooled over their Puerto Rico pictures from a thousand miles away. And I knew there was a Costco on the island, where I could replenish depleted stores and stock up for further travels (and redeem my cash-back certificate). Plus rain forest hikes, waterfalls, beaches, caves, and good fishing. But when I saw that mountainous island rising out of the sea—I knew why they called it La Isla del Incanto! It is indeed enchanting. It has all the conveniences of home—shopping, US post offices, cell service, and fast internet—and all the charm of an Old-world Spanish colony.
I am amused by the mixture of two cultures all around me—the distances on road signs are listed in kilometros, but the velocidad maxima is in miles-per-hour. They have Walmart, McDonalds, and Office Max, but if you go into one of these stores, be prepared to see only signs in Spanish. Burger King is La Casa Del Whopper. The Costco was as I expected—mostly familiar items, but also local fare, like plantains, Puerto Rican coffee beans and, of course, rum. The people are warm and friendly and completely bilingual. It’s a perfect place to practice your Spanish, but if you find yourself out of your depth, you can switch to English and be understood. And in Old San Juan you will find five centuries’ worth of history packed into a square mile, accessible by foot or by U.S. National Parks’ free tram. You can enjoy a meal of Puerto Rican specialties (like empanadillas or mofongo con churrasco) or go next door to a Wendy’s for a familiar square hamburger.
My favorite parts of our weeklong-stay at Palmas del Mar Yacht Club in Humacao (East coast of P.R.) were our forays into the interior by rental car. My mother-in-law, Mary, had flown in from Florida to spend some time with our family. Together we hiked in El Yunque National Forest and swam in the pools of La Mina River waterfalls, toured the caverns and sinkhole of El Rio Camuy Cave Park, and drove through the Cordillera Central with its zig-zagging mountain roads and breathtaking views. Mary and I went to Casa Bacardí for an informative tour and spent some time watching Rachel swim in the beautiful pool at the yacht club, with views of the Caribbean Sea and Vieques (Spanish Virgin Islands) in the background.
Puerto Rico has met and even exceeded my expectations that it would be like a piece of the United States in the Caribbean. Cool breezes, tropical foliage, rich history, and friendly people combined with easy access to life’s necessities and comforts make Puerto Rico live up to its name, and it will likely be a place we visit again.