Six months after Hurricane Maria hit, a new Puerto Rico is being painstakingly and lovingly carved from the rubble.
Slowly the images of flooded neighborhoods and gutted homes are being replaced by scenes like those outside Lote 23, a popular food truck park in Santurce bursting with visitors, or the recent San Sebastian Street Festival, which drew thousands to the streets of Old San Juan.
‘We look at our amazing progress and towards the future to remind travelers that the best way to support Puerto Rico is by actually visiting. Tourism is a vital contributor to our economy,’ says Carla Campos, acting Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC).
Tuesday marks six months since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. Though the road to recovery has been slow, the country is making progress © Ed Adams/500 Pixels
San Juan may be on the rebound in terms of tourism, but some parts of the island are still suffering in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s aftermath. Hundreds of thousands of rural residents are still without electricity and entire neighborhoods in towns like Maunabo and Corozal have no running water.
But not all towns are off-limits.
Cayey, Aibonito and Salinas are on the mend with restaurants, bars and other establishments fully open. Picadera Fine Food restaurant is worth the drive to the rural town of Aibonito, famous for its panoramic roads that snake through lush mountains.
E’Pura Cepa restaurant in Cayey serves what is arguably the best sancocho (Caribbean beef stew) around and it’s just a short drive from San Juan. El Balcón del Capitán, located in the fishing town of Salinas, is once again serving fresh seafood right on the water.
Above, cars driving through a flooded road in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2017. Below, an aerial view of the same Roman Baldorioty de Castro highway six months after Hurricane Maria © Ricardo Arduengo/Getty Images
According to the PRTC, there are 164 open attractions, 135 open hotels and more than 4,000 open restaurants on the island. Airports are fully functional with over 400 weekly flights coming in from every part of the continental US. Prices are also considerably lower. Flights for March and April start at $95 roundtrip from cities like Fort Lauderdale and go up to $385 roundtrip from cities like San Francisco. And with no passport requirements for US citizens; the dollar as the local currency; and beaches, ancient forts, and other attractions open, Puerto Rico is well-positioned to receive visitors again.
Above, a man rides his bicycle through a damaged road in Toa Alta, west of San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2017. Below, an aerial view of a repaired portion of the highway © Ricardo Arduengo/Getty Images
Highways and roads are cleared and offer beautiful scenery and accommodations, from local paradores (small locally-run hotels located outside the San Juan metropolitan area) to Airbnb treasures, are more than ready to welcome travelers. Visitors should also consider supporting local businesses as they try to stay afloat after the storm, that way every penny spent on the island stays on the island.
Those who have been to Puerto Rico before will find the same appeal and spark for which the island is known, but they’ll also come across a new kind of enthusiasm everywhere they go. Puerto Rico is exactly the same but completely different at the same time. A place worth exploring now more than ever before. Its celebrated landmarks and precious natural landscapes remain, but every experience is now enveloped by a new way of seeing things.
‘We’re as ready as ever to welcome visitors and share our beautiful beaches, bustling attractions, wide range of accommodations and delicious cuisine with all types of travelers,’ says Campos.
Despite the continued hardship and struggle, an unabashed and fearless Puerto Rico is open for business.
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