The Best Reasons to Visit Puerto Rico 2 Years After the Hurricanes
September 20 is a day of remembrance for Puerto Ricans. In 2019, the date marks two years since Hurricane Maria made landfall and ravaged the island. The loss was immense: more than 3000 deaths, $90 billion in damage and a thrashed infrastructure that left the population in the dark for months, when even the most basic supplies—food, water, gas—were scarce.
Despite the devastation, however, the island was hardly beyond repair—and the recovery (though not yet complete) has made Puerto Rico a model of resilience. Two years in, the island isn't just rebuilt; it's buzzing with creative energy, new enterprises and, above all, reasons to visit. Here are our favorites.
The first sign that Puerto Rico was on the path to renewal was the near-instant return of one of the island's signature colors: green. In fact, El Yunque National Forest saw countless new shoots and buds within days of the storms' tear through the jungle. As U.S. Forest Service ecologist Grizelle González explained to Public Radio International, "leaves and branches that get knocked to the ground fertilize the soil and supercharge new plant growth." The result is that several of the beloved trails, swimming holes and waterfalls and rivers in the nation's only tropical rainforest are revived—and reopened to the public.
But the rainforest is just one of many off-the-beaten-beach experiences for nature lovers around the island. Puerto Rico is also home to three bioluminescent bays—Laguna Grande in Fajardo, La Parguera in Lajas, and Mosquito Bay in Vieques—all glowing again (some more brightly than before the storm) and ready for kayakers. Meanwhile, cave enthusiasts should check out Cueva Ventana and cave tubing on the Tanama River and zip liners will want to soar through the mountains of ToroVerde. Or customize a multi-adventure quest with outfitters such as Proyecto Cabachuelas and Atabey Tours.
Alongside this resurgence of ecotourism, agrotourism has really taken off, too. You can now get your hands dirty during farm tours at the organic farming- and permaculture-focused Plenitud Iniciativas Ecoeducativas. Or head to Frutos del Guacabo to harvest your own salad and hang out with adorable goats. Want to go a bit deeper? Work the land and stay the night at Finca Oro Rojo.
An equally flourishing food scene
The renewed emphasis on agriculture has trickled down to restaurants across Puerto Rico. New spots such as Cocina al Fondo in San Juan are striving to use as much local product on menus as possible, and vegan eateries, such as Café Yoruba in Rincon, are on the rise. The latest farm-to-table experience can be found in Juncos at Bacoa, a collaboration of three prominent chefs—Raul Correa, Xavier Pacheco and Rene Marichal—in a rural setting where you can literally see where your meal grew up. Also new: Spoon Food Tours culinary day trips outside of the capital, including a creative spin on a “chinchorreo,” a party bus that weaves through the countryside, stopping at food kiosks along the way.
What to drink with all of this deliciousness? Rum, of course, the island’s trademark spirit. There are several ways to enjoy it in addition to just bellying up to a bar. Most traditional is a tour of Casa Bacardi, the world’s largest rum distillery—but you should also consider tasting pitorro—the artisanal "moonshine" rum—at Desteleria Coqui in Mayaguez. Or visit the newest rum attraction in Bayamon: the Ron de Barrillito Visitor Center, where you should get acquainted with the island's oldest rum (born in 1880).
Breweries have been bubbling up across the island, too—along with plenty of craft beer bars, from Rincon Brewing Company on the west coast to Old Harbor in Carolina. For the ultimate beach and beer experience, visit Ocean Lab Brewing Co. at Vivo Beach Club in Carolina.
Of course, Puerto Rico is also known for cultivating the “coffee of popes and kings,” and there’s nothing like a cup straight from the grower. At Sandra Farms in Adjuntas, you can actually help with harvest. Or learn about the complete coffee production process at Café Lucero in Ponce. And if you take your coffee with bird and butterfly sanctuaries, don't miss Hacienda La Mocha.
The design world is burgeoning, too
To witness a renaissance in progress, get here fast. Once dominated by the most venerable institutions (think San Juan's Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico and Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, or Ponce's Museo de Arte) Puerto Rico's arts scene is abuzz over smaller collections that showcase the work of the island's most talented up-and-comers (check out San Juan's Museum of Art and Design Miramar and Publica Espacio).
Art is also filling the streets, from the murals of Calle Loiza and Calle Cerra in San Juan to the kaleidoscopic (and yes, Instagrammable) paint jobs on the houses of Yauco. This being Puerto Rico, of course, there's art not just in the streets—but in the plazas, too. For one of the best examples, hit a Thursday Art Walk in Rincon.
Local designers are thriving, too. Shop Marimu for tropically-inspired pieces that were made in the mountains of Puerto Rico. Or check out Retazo, a local, sustainable fashion lab that develops everything from footwear to fabrics.
While this has been a big birthday celebration year a number of the icons—with Condado Vanderbilt turning 100, the Caribe Hilton turning 70 and La Concha Resort turning 60—new hotels are shaking things up, too. By year's end, you'll find Hyatt Hacienda del Mar in Vega Alta, an ALOFT Hotel in Ponce—and Puerto Rico’s first all-inclusive Dreams Resort and Spa in Guanica. 2020 promises more hotel renovations and openings, including the highly anticipated return of the Ritz-Carlton San Juan and El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo. To say nothing of the thousands of additional rooms at resorts, boutique hotels and country inns.
Put otherwise, whatever your vacation tastes, Puerto Rico literally has you covered.