When travelling the Caribbean there are dozens of islands to choose from, each with its own uniqueness, which sets them apart from each other. It is for that reason many people prefer cruises rather than flying to individual islands. The thought of unpacking only once is appealing, not to mention standard cuisine without fear of illness.
No matter which island destination you choose you will most always be assured of sunshine, warmth and blue skies. It is no small wonder why many of us choose the Caribbean as a holiday destination, especially with our cold, Canadian winter fast approaching.
One of my favourite islands is the US protectorate of Puerto Rico. I had the pleasure of visiting recently and, although I did not cruise I did stay in the beautiful Westin Rio Dell Mar. Puerto Rico has many advantages, but for Canadians the best is that we can clear customs in Toronto and use the all familiar US dollar as currency.
Similar in tourist lifestyle to Miami, Puerto Rico and its capital city of San Juan are a bustle of nightlife, shopping and fantastic eateries. If you choose Puerto Rico as a destination (as compared to cruising) there are a few things you need to be aware of: you cannot fly direct from Canada, so a two hour layover in a U.S. city lengthens the otherwise 4 hour flight. When I arrived at San Juan airport I had no idea that the drive to my hotel was nearly 90 minutes. Needless to say, I was beat by the time I checked in, however the warm temperatures, sunny skies and friendly people soon made me forget my tiredness.
The property was amazing and the room was incredible. I overlooked the ocean as well as the pool complex and decided to go for a drink at a bar by the beach. The massive size of the beach area gave me a sense of seclusion, even though there were many tourists around. I enjoyed the 30°C warmth the piña colada's were good, but most of all the thought of relaxing was stress relieving in itself.
If laying around a pool or beach with numerous tourists is not your thing, a stroll on the beach or a visit to San Juan is a must. I decided to rent a car and make the journey and was pleasantly surprised to find it took less than an hour. The city looked wonderfully picturesque; narrow streets with colourful buildings, an old Fort and a town square made this a very charming attraction.
I parked my rental and began to walk around, entering several of the many souvenir shops. With T-shirt in hand, I was ready to exit when I spotted a trinket clearly labelled made in China. I chuckled and when I went to pay I noticed the cashier adjusting prices on several goods. She smiled and I asked if inflation had hit the island. She laughed and explained that two large cruise ships were docking. I was shocked and continued on my way and wanted to alert cruise passengers to my discovery and suggest they barter for any purchases.
Feeling somewhat hungry I began to look for local eateries. It took a little searching as I was surprised by the number of American fast food chains there were, especially Taco Bells, but with a little searching succeeded in seeking out several quaint eateries, specializing in local cuisine. I managed to get a table among the locals and was glad I had made the effort. The food was good and service was friendly and fast, indicative of Puerto Rico.
I wandered around for an hour looking beneath the surface of this seemingly pretty city. People seemed proud of their shops and houses and an obvious effort was made to keep exteriors painted and free from rubbish. I enjoy visiting a locale where the need for tourism is appreciated and residents take pride in ownership.
As beautiful as Puerto Rico is I am not convinced more than a day is needed to experience the visit, unless, of course, you are someone who wants to lie on a beach; another reason why cruising is a good option. You can enjoy a one day excursion and leave anytime you want, giving you the opportunity not pay inflated rates for meals and hotels.
Puerto Rico, like many tropical islands is slowly losing its culture to westernization, however there will always be sun, sand and warm temperatures.
Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit photosNtravel.com