I've been itching for a much needed get away. With work and a super busy schedule, I wanted a few days to sit back and just recoup. This past weekend, I did just that! I decided to visit Puerto Rico, because I'd never visited the island.
Leading up to my trip, people would ask me: "Has Puerto Rico recovered from Hurricane Maria?" I didn't have the answer, but I was intrigued to find out.
Once I arrived, I begin to see the answer was "almost".
While traveling from the airport, billboard signs were still laying atop collapsed buildings, and only skeleton like figures of what used to be homes were left behind. It was pretty clear that some parts of the city remained untouched since the deadly Category 5 hurricane.
Once I settled into the island, I caught up with a native who recalls that day one "he will never forget".
"I lost everything.....my apartment, my car....everything" he said. He quickly relocated to Aruba for about four months. "You don't need a passport to go there, so it was the easiest place to move".
He then left Aruba and headed to Miami where he and 4 cousins shared a small living space. They saw it as an opportunity to cut costs and rebuild. So, they found jobs and were able to save money until the place they called home was livable again. We became fast friends. He is now back in Puerto Rico, and while the island has made great strides, he says the hurricane is still greatly impacting employment opportunities.
Nearly two years after the hurricane, there are still so many people who are displaced. His mother has now relocated to Virginia, his father lives in Chicago, and his siblings are spread across PR and other parts of the U.S.
His story of survival reminded me of how necessary perseverance is for our journey. He left me inspired with a new perspective for my own life and a sense admiration for the Puerto Rican people.
Nonetheless, Puerto Rico is well on its way to a full recovery so if you're interested in visiting, go for it! There's still a ton of attractions the city has to offer. If you decide to maximize your time in the city here are a few San Juan experiences you simply can't miss!!
1.) Visiting Old San Juan (San Juan Viejo)
Almost 500 years of history in one place with historic forts and Spanish colonial architecture. It's the second oldest city in the Americas and the oldest city under the US flag. The area contains tons of beautifully restored 16th- and 17th-century colonial buildings, many of which contain shops, restaurants, museums, hotels.
2.) Touring Castillo de San Cristobal
San Cristobal is the largest fort the Spanish ever built spreading over 27 acres. The fort was built between 1634 and 1790 to guard the eastern gate to what is today, Old San Juan. It was designed to protect against a land attack. Today it offers a ton of history and amazing views allowing its visitors to see across all of Old San Juan.
3.) San Juan cathedral
The San Juan Cathedral, begun in 1540, is known for being one of the oldest cathedrals in the Americas and one of the oldest buildings in San Juan. The body of Spanish explorer, Ponce de León, has laid there since 1913. The cathedral still holds regular services, and tours are available.
4.) La Placita
Great and centralized day or night hangout spot for locals and tourists alike with music, bars, street food, restaurants and a city farmers market.
5.) Eating Mofongo
Mofongo is a Puerto Rican dish with fried plantains as its main ingredient. Plantains are picked green and fried, then mashed with salt, garlic, and oil in a wooden pilón. The mashed plantain is then tops with variations of vegetables, chicken, shrimp , beef , or octopus. It's SO good and packed with flavor!
6.) Exploring El Yunque National Forest
Visiting El Yunque National Forest was by far my favorite part of my trip. About 45 mins outside of San Juan sits a hidden gem of 28,000 acres of tropical rainforest. With more than 400 plant species and more than a dozen hiking trails waterfalls and rivers. The views are unmatched and pictures don't do it justice. You have to see it for yourself!
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