Words by LYA Editor, Images by Michael Hanson
Adventure travel and epic journey are terms that are often intertwined. Yet for travelers constrained by time and distance, a destination often overlooked for its higher-profile neighbors is the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Sitting at the historical intersection of Caribbean and Atlantic island culture, Puerto Rico represents a fusion of Latin and American influences, as well as an entire island ripe for exploration. Eddie Bauer adventure travel guide Julia Dimon explored the island through environments that range from the culture and cuisine of Old San Juan to the natural wonder of Rio Camuy cave system, the luminescence of Bio Bay, and the enclave of El Yunque National Rainforest.
During her circumnavigation of the island, Dimon sleuthed out remote waterfall swimming holes, paddled out by kayak into the natural phosphorescence of Bio Bay, and rappelled into Rio Camuy, the third-largest underground river system in the world. Yet the lush, green landscape of El Yunque made the strongest impression, revealing a stunning biodiversity of wildlife, including tropical Puerto Rican parrots, more than 400 species of native plants, and predictable afternoon downpours in a rugged location that can receive more than 200 inches of precipitation per year.
“We drove into El Yunque rainforest to check out some amazing waterfalls. There were great, grueling hikes with moments where I thought ‘this is really intense,’ ” Dimon says. “We played in the water and were just immersed in the rainforest. You feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, yet we were in the U.S., just an hour and a half drive from the capital of San Juan.”
On the cultural side, Dimon explored the colonial-era history in Old San Juan, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a preserved, walled district of blue cobblestone streets and brick buildings that dates to the 16th and 17th century presence of Spanish conquistadors. Beyond the capital, Dimon also checked out the plentiful road-side stands and tasted the Saturday cuisine of Guavate, a place she called an epicenter of eating, music, cele-bration and community with its packed, family-focused, open-air eateries. “The cuisine is based around rice and beans with a lot of fried foods,” Dimon says. “If you are really into salads and quinoa and kale, this is not the cuisine for you. But it is distinctly Puerto Rican with a strong Caribbean influence.”
Beyond the food and the landscape, Dimon returned impressed. “One of the great things about Puerto Rico is how easy it is to travel there. English is spoken, they use US currency, my phone still worked without long distance charges, and it’s a very short flight from East Coast cities. Yet it has a distinct culture and an exotic vibe,” she says. “So I think for travelers who just want a quick getaway to a Spanish-influenced area with all of these natural resources—the rainforest, the surfing, the hiking—but they don’t necessarily want to travel that far, Puerto Rico is a great destination.”
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